Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris April 26, 2009

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 1:52 pm

Joshua Ferris’ first novel, Then We Came to the End, is an unusual and entertaining depiction of office life during a time of budget cuts and layoffs. There are not many novels that center around the life of an office, and the narration is also unusual. Ferris uses first person plural, “we.” The narrator is not a character in the story — it’s the everyman office worker. But while the narrator is anonymous, the use of “we” includes the reader — it is as if we are part of the office crowd, part of the narrator’s “we.”

There are many quirky characters that work at the novel’s advertising agency. But far from being entirely comic, they have life problems that arouse our sympathy. As more and more employees are laid off, we root for the novel’s characters to keep their jobs, if only to keep them in the story. There are two situations that run through the story that threaten to become melodramatic but never do. One of them, involving an illess, provides a heart to the novel, a contrast to the semi-wisecracking tone of the rest of the novel. This section is also narrated in the third person.

There are grievances and acts of rebellion that keep us lauging.  For example, when an employee is laid off, others rush in to exchange chairs.  All is well until they realize that the petty tyrant of an office manager has all the serial numbers.  There is a scramble to retrieve original chairs, as everyone fears getting laid off for the minor infraction of chair-stealing.

Then We Came To The End is an entertaining and quick read, highly recommended especially if you can relate to office politics.

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Cupcake Liners, or My Almost Disastrous Attempt at Baking Cupcakes April 20, 2009

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 2:56 pm

cupcakes1 

Los Angeles Unified School District just has too many kids per class, or so I thought last night when faced with making cupcakes for the 36 kids in her class for her birthday.  Three dozen cupcakes!

My daughter is reading Twilight, so she wanted red velvet cupcakes with white frosting, decorated with a single red M&M in the center.  No problem.  I’ve made red velvet cupcakes before.  I even got smart last year and bought silicone mini cupcake pans, figuring it would have to be mini cupcakes to feed a class of 36.  However, I ran into a couple, er, glitches this year.

First, I discovered that I had no red food coloring.  Since it was already late at night, I rummaged through the pantry and found an old cake decorating kit that included some food coloring.  I put in some of what looked like red, and only when the batter turned a lovely pumpkin hue did I realize that I had put in orange by mistake.  When I tried to add red to cover up my mistake, the batter turned a muddy shade of brown.  My daughter burst into tears and I wasn’t feeling too great myself.  But that was only the beginning.

I baked two pans of mini cupcakes with no cupcake liners.  Remember, these are silicone pans, and I’ve baked cupcakes in them many times with no liners.  Only this time, the things wouldn’t unmold.  Picture the scene — I have muddy brown “red velvet” cupcakes that won’t unmold, a mixing bowl full of batter, un unhappy daughter, a need to bring something to the classroom to celebrate my daughter’s birthday in her last year of elementary school, and a high stress level.

Since I had a lot of batter left, I decided to bake full-size cupcakes (using liners this time), hoping I could eke out 36.  Yes!  I got exactly 36.  At around midnight, I wondered whether dads would ever stay up this late making cupcakes, or just moms, and who was correct in the matter.  (Actually, my brother-in-law would, but he’s a special case.)  At 1:00 a.m., I was finished baking and cleaning up.  In the morning, I frosted and decorated them, and dropped them off at school.  Yes, I was late for work, but we all have our priorities.  I’ll find out tonight how my daughter and her classmakes liked them…..

 

Playing for Change, the documentary April 10, 2009

Filed under: Music — wendy @ 5:36 pm

My very first blog entry was on the documentary Playing for Change (filed under Music or the December 2008 archive).  In Playing for Change, music producer Mark Johnson goes around the world recording musicians playing Stand By Me.  It’s so beautiful seeing musicians from all countries and styles of music playing one song together, I actually get teary every time I see the video.  Aside from loving music, Johnson’s larger point is that music is a unifying force and that even in counties with terrible poverty and high disease rates, music provides a small amount of respite.  

I originally saw the Stand By Me video on Bill Moyers’ Journal.  Now I’ve seen the entire documentary, Playing for Change.   In addition to the fabulous Stand by Me, there are many other songs, some by a single chorus and others, like Stand By Me, where musicians from around the world play one song together including a great rendition of One Love.  Almost all of the musicians are not well known, but Bono and Keb Mo make brief appearances.  They blend in well and do not overpower the song.  

I saw the documentary on PBS, so I don’t know whether it’s available anywhere else yet.  The Playing for Change website provides minimal information, but is about to be redesigned April 15, so check back soon.

 

Trail of Crumbs, by Kim Sunee

Filed under: Books,Food — wendy @ 4:30 pm

Trail of Crumbs’ subtitle is Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home.  This is another of the many memoirs I’ve read about food and Europe.  Kim Sunee was abandoned at age three in Korea and was adopted by a family from New Orleans.  After college, she escapes to Europe in an attempt to find her identity.  She falls in love with the man who founded LOccitane and lives a privileged life in Provence and Paris.  However, she lives at the whim of this man and still seeks her own identity.

The book has been compared to Eat, Pray, Love, and is similar in the sense that both authors are privileged women whom you want to shake for being so insecure and dissatisfied when there are so many serious problems in the world.  The author of Eat, Pray, Love, however, doesn’t take herself that seriously, so you can eventually laugh off her insecurity and enjoy her journey.  Kim Sunee, author of Trail of Crumbs, takes herself very seriously — there is no humor in the book at all.  Although I understand that being abandoned as a toddler combined with growing up as the only Asian in New Orleans would cause a child anguish, Sunee’s unhappiness seems so deep that I wonder whether she would have preferred the physical discomforts of growing up as an abandoned child in Korea to the emotional discomfort of the rootlessness she experiences.  She describes her adoptive parents as distant, unable to express love, and she only expresses love for her grandfather, who taught her to cook and imparted his love of food to Kim.

The book does have lovely descriptions of France and the exotic locales that the author and her boyfriend visit, and has descriptions of the food she cooks along with recipes.  Still, the recipes almost seem like a gimmick, as the book is much more about finding an identity and the search for “home” as it is a food memoir.  Despite the fact that I could not relate to the author and grew impatient with her insecurities, this was still a book that I stayed up late reading, enjoying the setting and living the lavish lifestyle vicariously through Sunee, while waiting to discover whether she finds herself.  Having written a best-selling book about her experiences, I can only assume she’s making progress.

 

Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 2:31 pm

Slammerkin is about an 18th century prostitute, taking us from her life on the London streets to a small town in the English countryside where she goes to find a different life.  I was both frustrated and interested for much of the book.  Frustrated because the main character, Mary Saunders, becomes a prostitute for a silly, avoidable reason.  To escape her tedious life with a harsh mother and harsher stepfather, she loses her virginity for the sake of a beautiful red ribbon. She longs for a life filled with beautiful clothes, where she can surpass the class system that has her destined for dull manual labor her whole life.  At the same time, it was interesting to read about the world of 18th century prostitutes, and Donoghue introduces interesting characters.  I could sympathize with Mary Saunders’ longing for a life other than what seems her inescapable destiny — a seamstress or some equally tedious labor in a small town.  She enjoys school and would like to use her mind.  However, the life she ends up with is far from giving her what she wants.  The only dream she is able to fulfill is to buy nice clothes, which seems a shallow motivation for becoming a prostitute. 

The book becomes more exciting near the end, as Saunders’ hopes for a better life begin to unravel.  Some of the action at the end seems over the top, but the author’s note at the end of the book puts the book’s events in perspective.  Overall, not earth-shattering, but a pretty entertaining and quick read.

 

“Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls” and “Rules”: compared April 4, 2009

Filed under: Good Golly Miss Molly! — Molly Schiffer @ 5:05 pm

These books are both about girls who face difficult situations and make helpful and wise rules to help and eliminate these situations. In “Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls” we have ten-year-old Allie who is the new kid. At school, she meets peacemaker Erica, love-frantic Sophie, and spelling bee champion Caroline. As Allie tumbles headfirst into the first day of school, they are by her side. Soon, a gaggle of fifth-grade girls think her 5-year old brother is cute, and she swaggers into the room confidenly. As the teacher introduces her, a bully named Rosemary makes fun of her brother, and vows to beat her up after school. But with the help of her new friends and her premature kitten, she realizes that Rosemary isn’t as mean as she seems. Throughout the book, she mentions rules that she makes up about real life situations.

In “Rules” we have twelve year old Catherine, who is excited to learn that another twelve year old is moving in to the house next door. There is only one problem. Her brother, David, is literately mentally retarded. To help him so he will learn more easily, she comes up with rules like: “knock before entering the bathroom”. Soon, the girl moves in, but there is another problem. The new girl seems to be bonding with the boy who calls David a retard! All the while, Catherine is bonding with 15-year old Jason, who cannot speak. To “speak” he uses message cards, which he points to. But, quoting the dust jacket, pretty soon “it’s her own shocking behavior that forces her to ask, what is normal?”

These stories are alike in many ways. My friend Hannah suggested “Allie…..” and my friend Saphira suggested “Rules”. I liked these books both very much.

 

Pandora Radio

Filed under: OeMmaG!! — eclaireintherain @ 4:55 pm

When I type www. into my browser, the first suggestion is Facebook. (They are in order of most visited :]) But right below that comes Pandora-www.pandora.com. What is Pandora? Well, it’s an online “radio station”. You create an account, log in, and Pandora will guide you through the rest! Basically, you type in the name of a song or artist that you like and Pandora will play you music that is similar to the song or artist. (If you want to add more artists, just click on the add variety button from the menu). That’s how I discovered more songs of Jack Johnson. It’s also how I discovered Adele. Her song, Chasing Pavements, almost won a Grammy. But I don’t like that one so much, and it didn’t even play on Pandora. Pandora plays the music of the artist that is lesser known. Instead of that song, they played a blues song by Adele which I think is better than the song that became popular. I discovered Adele by putting in Amy Winehouse, and they also played lesser known Amy Winehouse songs which are way better than Rehab, which is the song that became popular. I liked John Legend before, but I only knew a few of his songs. Pandora played him, and it inspired me to get the album out of the library, listen to it, put every single song in my itunes library, and discover that JOHN LEGEND IS AWESOME!!!!!!! (Does anybody sense a blog entry coming up……) So Pandora: 4 out of 5 stars. The only problem is that when you first start listening, they repeat some of the songs when you open the page again. But when you listen to them as often as I do, you find awesome new music every day!! To listen to my Pandora radio station, click here.

UPDATE: apparentely, you have to create an account to listen to my radio station….but that doesn’t matter since after reading this you will create one anyways, right? :]