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Summer Sci-Fi Read-a-Thon

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I’m playing around with a lot of different reading possibilities lately, both for myself and to experiment with some ideas for my profession.  Read-a-Thons intrigue me, and when Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading posted a Sci-Fi Read-a-Thon, I decided to jump on board.  The Read-a-Thon lasted one week.  It gave me the opportunity to go through my TBR (to be read pile) and pull out the science fiction I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten to yet.  The photo above is what the TBR looked like, plus Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older and Dawn by Octavia Butler, both on eBook.

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I took a look at the books, and decided to start with the smallest first to see how many I could read in a week.  That meant Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was up first.  This book was recommended to my by friends on a few different occasions, and I had not yet seen the film.  That means I could also use this book for the Read Harder 2016 Challenge in the category that asks you to “Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie.  Debate which is better.”  The Road was beautifully written, and does a good job painting a picture of a physically bleak and desolate world.  The story felt drawn out at times, but I’m pretty sure this was intentionally done by the author.  It is a very thoughtful read, and I’ll be pondering it for a while.  I also watched the film this week for the Read Harder Challenge.  I was surprised by how closely it stuck to the book.  It incorporated a lot of the smaller stories, but the flashbacks seemed to take up more time.  While the film wasn’t bad, I think this type of contemplative story works better as a book.

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Next on the list was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.  While I love science fiction, I haven’t yet read any of Asimov’s classic work.  I enjoyed the 2004 film by the same name, and decided to give the book a shot.  (By the way, the film and the book have very little in common!)  When I first picked up this book, I was under the impression that it was a novel.  It’s actually a connected collection of short stories that Asimov wrote during the 1940s.  The reading felt a little bumpy until I figured that out.  A lot of thought went into the writing of this book, and a lot of thought needs to happen on the part of the reader.  It is intriguing to try to problem solve the “Three Laws of Robotics” alongside the characters.  I did struggle a bit with this book, and I had to continually remind myself that it was first published in 1950.  I had issues with the portrayal of the main female character, Robopsychologist Susan Calvin.  What Asimov did with this character might have been forward thinking at the time, but it now feels dated to me.  I feel I should read more Asimov, but I may skip forward a few decades to see how his prolific work evolved over time.

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I haven’t read an eBook all year, so I decided to choose from one of my eBooks for my next read.  One of my goals is to read more diversely by reading more books by authors of color.  Octavia Butler is an important science fiction author who has been on my list for a while, so she was a good choice.  I decided to read Dawn, the first book in Butler’s Xenogenesis series.  This means it also counts for the Read Harder Challenge, since it fits the category asking you to “read the first book in a series by a person of color.”  This is one of those books that really makes you think, as good science fiction should do.  I experienced a range of emotions while reading this story.  I was uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, and contemplative, but all in an intellectually curious way.  I definitely plan to read more of Octavia Butler’s work.

Totals for the Seasons of Reading Science Fiction Read-a-Thon:

  • Books Read: 3
  • Pages Read: 803
  • POC Authors: 33%

 

Bonus book!

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And now, for something a little different.  In the middle of the Read-a-Thon, I came across Kameron Hurley’s essay collection called The Geek Feminist Revolution.  I ordered it, and it arrived as I was reading I, Robot.  While the author writes science fiction and fantasy, it was a collection of non-fiction essays.  I told myself if I finished three regular science fiction books, then I could read this one.  I love science fiction.  However, some events in the fan community in the last few years have been very disconcerting (to say the least).  I’ve been following controversies like GamerGate, the attempts to co-opt the Hugo Awards, and the Cosplay is Not Consent movement.  Hurley addresses similar issues in her book, and I’m excited to read her perspective.  So far, I’ve finished Part I of V in the book, and I’m enjoying it.

I’m glad I participated in the Read-a-Thon.  It got me reading more Science Fiction and I enjoyed the new authors I discovered.  I read more than I thought I would and I had a good time.  Thanks to Michelle for organizing a great event to kickstart some summer reading! #SciFiSummerJune

SciFiSummer

Reading in 2015

 

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My Year in Books

I realize I read many more books this year than in years past.  I think this was due to consciously rearranging my time to allow for more reading, reading more comic books and YA lit (I joined a YA book club), and due to the Little Free Library (LFL) I started this past spring.  Stewarding the LFL prompted me to read a lot of books before I put them out on the shelves.  It also was a great way to share books from my own shelves that I knew I wouldn’t read again, but I also knew other people would enjoy.  Why let books just collect dust when someone else can read and love them too?  (Don’t worry. I have some books that will never leave my house.)

In the past year I read more comic books, went back to reading more Science Fiction (my favorite genre), rediscovered audio books, and I tried to read a lot of things that were on my list for a long time but I never actually picked up.  Out of the 89 books I read, 17 were comic books (mostly trade compilations), 23 YA lit titles, 8 were audio books, and 5 were eBooks.

Goodreads List

Goodreads has a cool feature this year that shows all the books you read in a fun visual format.  Feel free to check out the books I read in 2015.

The Read Harder Challenge

I am looking for ways to diversify my reading.  This summer, I stumbled upon Book Riot.  It was kind of like falling down a rabbit hole.  Book Riot is a whole community of book lovers, with blogs, podcasts, and more.  This is where I found the Read Harder Challenge.  Book Riot is big into helping people get out of their comfort zones and read more diversely.  This challenge was designed to help readers do exactly that.  The categories I found most intriguing included a book originally published in another language, the authors over 65 and under 25 categories, a book published by an indie press, and a book award winner.  In the past, I read a lot of books in translation in college (especially from Africa), and I read more from Asia when I taught Asian history.  This category reminded me how great these books can be, and I plan to read more.  When I started looking into indie press titles, I learned a lot more about that part of the publishing industry.  I also discovered a self-published book I really liked (I’ve been leery of self-pub books after some bad reads).  The award category had me looking through lots of different titles, and my TBR pile (to be read) became significantly larger.  I am glad they included a category on comics and graphic novels.  I think these books should get more attention.

If you’re curious which books I read for this challenge, you can check out my challenge list out on Goodreads or LibraryThing.

Around the World 2015

Since I’m looking to read more diversely and start to read more books in translation, I found the Around the World book challenge an interesting visual representation of what I’m reading.  Through mapping my books, I realized that I read a lot of books set in New York (about 12%, with mentions of NY in even more books).  I didn’t read anything set in South America.  I will see what I can do to broaden my reading more in 2016.  Here is my map:

Online Book Services

I discovered and used some online services and apps this year that enhanced my reading life.

First, I played around with a few subscription reading services.  I loved Oyster, and I am really bummed it is shutting down.  The variety of Scribd, with audio books, comics, and now sheet music, is fantastic.  I’m also currently tinkering with Audible.  Between Audible and Scribd, I have access to a plethora of audio books that actually means I now look forward to doing the dishes and folding laundry!

Did you know there are sites online where you can trade your books out?  I decided to explore this a bit.  I signed up for both PaperBack Swap and Bookmooch.  They both run a bit differently from one another.  I’m not sure these sites really save you a lot of money compared to the cheap used books available online (unless you end up getting some nice hardcovers), but they do add a bit of serendipity to what you end up reading next.  I started using them in November, so I’m still deciding if they are worth it for me.  So far, I’ve sent out 13 books and received 8 books.  If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll tell you more about my experiences.

This year I started getting books from Goodreads First Reads program and LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.  I got 5 free books in exchange for my honest review of each title (one of these books is in my top 10 list for 2015).  It seems to be easier to get these free books from LibraryThing as opposed to Goodreads.  This may be because less people use LibraryThing, so there is less competition for the books.  I’ve gotten 4 titles from LibraryThing (including 1 eBook) and 1 title from Goodreads.  There are other sites like NetGalley where you can sign up to get ARCs (Advanced Readers Copy, or copies of books given away before their publication date in exchange for reviews).  However, I’m not using that site just yet.  For now, I am sticking to options that provide physical copies of books I can put into the Little Free Library when I’ve finished reading them.

If you are looking to connect with other people who love reading, there are communities of book lovers, as well as Little Free Library stewards and patrons on Instagram.  It’s been enlightening to follow what people are doing with books and LFLs on social media.  You can also find sizable reading communities on Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter.

My Favorite 2015 Reads

Here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most or learned the most from this past year (in no particular order).  A note to those working with students: I think the Alexander Kwame’s The Crossover will be fairly popular.  I can’t wait for it to come out in paperback so I can start handing it out.

Which books did you enjoy the most in 2015?  What did you notice about your own reading?  Do you have any reading challenges you want to try out for 2016 or enjoyed in the past?  What have you learned about the book world or your own reading habits you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear from you.

Woman vs. Closet

This week I attacked my nemesis and won – the Closet!



There is nothing like having a baby that will make you view your wardrobe in a whole different light.  I have been staring at my closet for quite some time, wanting to tame the beast lurking in the corner of my bedroom.  I’m the kind of person that ponders things awhile before actually doing it (haha!).  That, and restructuring how I spend all my time now that I’ve got my little girl, meant that it took me awhile to get started.  Three weeks ago, I discovered Project 333, and I decided that was my home project for Spring Break.  And for the first time ever, I found myself actually excited to clean my closet!

So while I didn’t plan to adhere strictly to Project 333, I felt that it was a good baseline to work from.  After all, most of us only wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.  So how hard could it be?  Plus, I’ve certainly never been accused of being a fashion queen or a clothes horse, so I thought this might be a good approach for me.  I have always hated clothes shopping and I tend to just go out and buy whatever I needed and be done.  I think this approach will help me be more deliberate about what I purchase and get me to focus on quality clothes that I really love and that love me back.

I was reading up on getting started with Project 333 and dreaming of a closet where my clothes could hang wrinkle-free, when Tsh at Simple Mom announced Project: Simplify! I thought, “How nice. Another decluttering spree. Someday I might do one of those.” Then she revealed Hot Spot #1.  And yup, you guessed it.  The closet!

So I figured, what the heck?  I’ll combine Project 333 and Project: Simplify! to hopefully get the results I want.  So here is the approach I took:

1. Took some before photos of the monster.  It’s always nice to see the progress you’ve made. Plus, I’m addicted to the “big reveal” from watching too many home improvement shows.

2. Emptied the closet and sorted my clothes into type (dress shirts, jeans, workout clothes, etc.). Took pictures of the crazy pile.

3. Scrubbed and vacuumed the heck out of the closet.  Who knew a clothes rod could get that dirty?

4. Counted up what I had, a la Project 333.  For some reason, I was excited to do this.  I think because it was a way to easily quantify my progress and take stock of what I really own.

5. Sorted things into 4 categories using the How to Make Space guide:

 

Pile #1: I love these items. They fit me well and I wear them frequently: Keep

Pile #2: I want to keep this but I don’t know why.

Pile #3: These items don’t fit me or my style: donate.

Pile #4: These items aren’t in good condition: trash.

 

6. Developed how I would like my closet to be organized.  This includes incorporating my three dresser drawers into the closet, so everything is in one spot.  I like to be able to see all my clothes.  After all, “out of sight, out of mind” is one of the reasons I ended up with such a messy closet in the first place.  And just a note: I didn’t want to buy more organization containers.  So the organization drawers you see in the after photo were also in the before photo.  It’s almost like a Where’s Waldo kind of thing.

7. Returned the clothes I love to the closet, trashed what needed to be trashed, donated, and set aside my “I want to keep this but I don’t know why” pile.  I will be going back to that pile after letting it sit for a bit to see if I really want to keep what’s in it.  If I use something, great.  If not, time to donate.

8. Counted up what was left and took some after photos for the “big reveal.”

 

Items of clothes in my closet:

Before – 210

After – 47

I reduced the clothes in my closet by 78%!!

I am very excited about this.

 

Before….

 

After….

I am now left with the clothes I love, rediscovered some that I’d lost, and everything can hang nice and wrinkle-free.  I may or may not participate in the rest of Project: Simplify!, but I really appreciate the closet hot spot coming along when I needed it.  I am kind of excited to see what the next hot spot will be.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll do that too…maybe… ;)

CSA Update

Creative Commons photo by Annie Y. Wang (jwannie on Flickr)

Here is an update of my CSA experience thus far.  In my quest to find better quality food for my family, I’ve decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture Farm).  While they offer vegetables, eggs, bread, flowers, and various meat, I’ve started out with a simple fruit share.  So far I’ve had 5 weeks of CSA fruit.

  • Week 1: Apricots & Apple Cider*
  • Week 2: Apricots & Cherries
  • Week 3: Apricots
  • Week 4: Pitted Pie Cherries
  • Week 5: Break (between crop harvests)
  • Week 6: Peaches

So far, I’m fairly happy with my fruit.  I drive to an old-fashioned neighborhood grocery store once a week to pick up my share (if you’ve lived in Manistique, think Barney’s).  It’s a little place in the middle of a residential area that carries various groceries and has a small butcher shop.  You bring your own bag, initial on the master list that you’re picking up your shares, and grab what you ordered from the right boxes.  You have to be careful that you grab only what you ordered, or you can mess everyone else up.  My only complaint about this so far is the location.  I’m guessing it’s great for business to have all that traffic through the little grocery on CSA days, but it’s just about the most inconvenient location for me to get to in town.  If that’s the worst of it, I’ll live.

I have been trying not to buy fruit on my regular grocery store trips, since we paid for this fresh fruit up front.  The two exceptions are bananas (I need a lot of potassium right now and I’m not willing to give those up) and I bought some fruit the week there was none from the CSA.  This has been working out fairly well.

Knowing I have a week to eat my fruit before getting more reminds me to get going and do something with it before it spoils.  Sometimes I’m not so good at that, especially if it gets pushed to the back of the fridge and out of sight.  I did end up tossing out just a few apricots that went bad and some of the cherries.  I don’t actually like cherries and the husband didn’t think they were very good.  The Colorado cherry crop has had some tough issues this year.  The cider was awesome and I can’t wait to hopefully get more this fall.  I’ve never eaten apricots very much and I had fun figuring out what I’d like to do with them.  I found this recipe for Breakfast Apricot Crisp, which is great with vanilla yogurt.  I also realized that apricots are very good in morning cereal or granola, or just for snacking.  I made some cherry pie for my husband with the last batch of cherries and he said they were much better than the canned variety.  I froze half of the pie cherries for later use.

So far, things are working out well.  Let me know if you have any questions or recipe ideas!

*”Cider is not in season!” you say. Nope, but it’s a substitute to make up for the 95% crop loss of cherries in CO this year.

Recipe: Gumbo

Creative Commons photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

Gumbo is a true American dish.  A combination of a French roux, Choctaw file and local seafood, African okra, and Spanish bell peppers, tomatoes and onions.  The dish goes back at least as far as the 1800s in the American South.

My first knowledge of the dish came from watching the old G.I. Joe cartoon in which the character Gung-Ho would make Gumbo for his Cobra fighting pals.  I was always curious about what this dish really was.  Then I lived in Alabama for two summers, where I discovered cajun food.  At first, I had this image of cajun food being burned (blackened) and too spicy.  It was not something I was eager to try.  But I had some friends who knew better and brought me to one of the best restaurants I’ve had the pleasure to enter (Cajun or otherwise).  There I discovered what good cajun food is all about and later decided to try my hand at making my own.

When I first started experimenting with cajun food, I was annoyed because a decent amount of the recipes would not list amounts, just ingredients (especially when it came to spices).  This is because the amounts are up to the personal tastes of the chef.  So while I have listed spice amounts in the recipe below, feel free to change these and experiment with other spices.  Feel free to play with any of the ingredients to create a dish you really enjoy.

Gumbo usually has three different types of meat: seafood, poultry and pork.  I typically use shrimp, chicken and hamburger because they are easy to get.  Traditional gumbo uses sausage, not hamburger.  The preferred types are Andouille and chaurice.  Tasso is also used (cured pork shoulder).  I make the personal choice to use hamburger because I’m not a big sausage fan.  However, I do spice up the hamburger to my own tastes when browning it.  Also, while most Gumbo is more of a soup consistency, the husband and I prefer a dish that is more of a hearty stew.

This video is a little cheesy, but it explains what a roux is, along with the difference in colors and flavors.

The recipe I use is a variation of this Louisiana Shrimp and Eggs Gumbo recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped or can of diced tomatoes w/green chiles
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (options: crawfish or crab)
  • 1 lb hamburger or sausage
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup okra
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • Consider other seasonings to meet your tastes (hot sauce, red pepper, Cajun spice, mustard, paprika, sage, cumin, parsley, etc.)
  • 3 cups cooked rice (I prefer brown/white mix)

Directions

  1. Prep all the veggies & meat.  Chop all the veggies and add to one big bowl. Brown the hamburger and grill or saute the chicken (add spices to both to meet your tastes).  I typically leave the shrimp in the fridge until it’s time to add it.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy pan/stock pot. Stir in flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly, until roux is dark brown; be careful not to burn.
  3. Add onion and garlic, and cook until slightly wilted.
  4. Whisk in water.
  5. Add all the spices (bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, cajun spice and more to your taste).
  6. Stir in veggies (celery, green onions, tomato, green and red peppers, & okra).  Simmer for 1 hour.  Be sure to stir on occasion.
  7. Add shrimp, hamburger/sausage, & chicken; simmer 15 to 20 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  8. Serve gumbo over rice.

Optional Additions to offer at the table: Shredded cheese, hot sauce, Cajun spice such as Tony Chachere’s, dipping style chips

I couldn’t resist adding this clip……

What’s your favorite Gumbo recipe?  What ingredients do you prefer to use?

My CSA Adventure

Creative Commons photo by Peter Roome (lakewentworth on Flickr)

I try to always be on the lookout for “real food.”  As a result, I decided to join a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA farm.  In a nutshell, a CSA farm is a partnership between “a farm and a community of supporters that provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food.”  Or put another way, a group of people commit to buy and pay for a local farm’s crops in advance, kind of like a subscription.  You can read more about CSA’s here.  Every week you pick up your assortment of food you’ve ordered from the CSA at a designated location.  I’ve decided to start with a small share of fruit this year and try it out.  So every Tuesday I’ll have fresh fruit for my family.  Our CSA is actually located in Colorado, where they have more water and a better growing season than in Wyoming.

Why have I decided to go this route?  Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Quality – Moving from Michigan’s fruit belt to the plains of Wyoming has been an interesting food experience for me. While the quality of beef is fantastic, the produce is shall we say…less than desirable. (Pretty sure I was just spoiled most of my life, but still!)  The farmer’s market season is pretty short in my town and the grocery store produce (in my own opinion) is not only of poor quality, but pricy to boot.  Who wants to pay a lot of money for crappy hot-house berries with no taste?  Certainly not me, if I have an alternative.
  2. Creativity – One of the fun things about CSAs is that what you get every week can change according to what is ready to be harvested.  This has two benefits for me. 1. I’ll hopefully start eating things I wouldn’t normally think about (I can get stuck in a “food rut”). 2. I love cooking and this gives me the chance to explore new recipes and play around with new ideas.  And I hope eating seasonal food will keep me more excited about cooking dinner after a long day.
  3. “Real Food” – I like to eat food with ingredients I can pronounce.  Also, if your food is going to contain sugar, it might as well be real sugar (not chemical substitutes).  Real fruit has the bonus of natural fiber to help your body process sugar more effectively.  These two things put a lot of canned fruit off my list (plus it tastes funky. See #1 above.)
  4. Supporting the Local Economy – I believe it is important to support local businesses and my community.  This is just another way to do that.
  5. Eating Local – There are many reasons to eat locally grown food rather than something shipped in from another hemisphere.  Here are a few of those reasons.

I will post an update later on to let you know how my CSA experience is going and if I think it panned out the way I thought it would.  In the meantime, what questions or thoughts do you have?  Have you belonged to a CSA?  What were the pros and cons for you?  What other ways do you have to procure quality fresh produce? What are your ideas for cooking peaches, pears and apples? (Because I know I’ll have a lot!)

Welcome

Creative Commons photo by James Marvin Phelps from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, MI

Welcome to my blog.  The name My Resa is an English/Swedish combination in which resa means “journey.”  This is basically a way to share experiences with my far-flung family and friends and a sounding board for some of my crazy thoughts.  Please feel free to comment (think of it like Facebook).  To do so, just click on the speech bubble found at the bottom of the post you would like to comment on.

Note on Blogs: For those of you who are unfamiliar with blogs, the most recent post shows up first (with the exception of this one, because I “stickied” it).  So if you read it top to bottom, you’ll be going “backwards” in time.  If you want to read the posts in order, scroll to the bottom of this page, click over to the last page, scroll to the bottom, and read the posts in reverse.  (Yes, I know how weird that sounds.)  If you’d like to get email notification when I update the blog, just click on the email subscription link on the right side of the page.  Let me know if you have any questions about blogs.