Mommy and the Money

How could I resist a request from a dedicated reader ;)? Here is a special Sunday edition of Reading with the Carruths!

My infatuation with the Goldstones expands to the other side of fiction. I just finished reading Nancy Goldstone’s fiction detective story, Mommy and the Money. Goodreads.com has a big mix up where this book is concerned. I thought I was getting a second edition of the first book she wrote, Mommy and the Murder, but unknowingly, I got the sequel. Never mind, I read it anyways. I am glad I did.

Elizabeth Halperin is a single mom who inherited a fortune after the untimely demise of her husband — a murder she was accused and reluctantly acquitted of (see Mommy and the Murder). Mommy and the Money opens on the beautiful Berkshires where Elizabeth and her 3 year old daughter live quite comfortably in their newer, larger house. A victim of champagne on an empty stomach, Elizabeth finds herself regretting a night spent with a long time admirer, an admirer who is later found killed on the vacant site of his proposed shopping mall. Quickly Elizabeth is pulled into the world of her admirer’s real identity and a multi-million dollar, international scandal.

I have to say, this was a fun read. I had suspected Nancy to be the funny one and I seem to be right.  This is just a fun, quick mystery story, nothing more, nothing less. It isn’t dark or psychological, gory or allegorical. Just a fun,…with multiple homicides, Berkshires culture and spa days. Even though Nancy Goldstone catches you up and gives all the pertinent information from the first book. I still think I’ll go back and read it. That is, if my library can find it.

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Houseplants

I read an article online while we were house hunting which claimed you should have one houseplant per 100 square feet of your home to help remove toxins from the air. I was all kinds of gung-ho about this idea and imagined my house being filled like an English garden.

Know who else likes houseplants?

Toddlers.

035So, houseplants took a back burner to EVERYTHING ELSE IN LIFE! But recently, the same article came across my newsfeed on Facebook and I was convicted. I was also suddenly aware of the millions of toxins I must have been breathing in. Everyone else must be feeling convicted and grossed out too, because at least three different stores I went into had potted house plants marked down.

The problem we have with plants inside is readily accessible dirt. Come to find out, we don’t actually have that many flat surfaces above 4 feet to safely display a plant; anything on the floor would immediately be up-rooted and since I don’t think plants would flourish too well tucked in the closet, we have pretty limited options.

I will not hang an ivy from the ceiling, Toxins or no toxins, I won’t do it.

After a $5 trip to Home Depot turned into a $30 trip, we now have a few plants around the house. As I find more elevated safe places for plants, I hope to fill in the 12 or so more we need.

Kitchen Window
Kitchen Window

Do you have plants inside your house? Do you like them for their air purifying properties or just for the look? How do you keep little hands out of big pots of dirt?

A Mountain of Crumbs

Usually when such a blessing as a date night comes along, Ryan and I choose to stay in, order Chinese food and watch tv shows as loud as we want (we’ve been alternating between Firefly and Slings and Arrows). But a few weeks ago, when my parents wanted extra penance watched all three kids for a few hours, we decided to get out of the house and stay out. After dinner we went to our old stand-by, Barnes and Noble. Since we had a little extra money in our pockets, Ryan suggested we make a game out of the bookstore trip — split up and each look for a book the other would enjoy.

We both turned up with books by Ann Patchett

To further prove we are two peas in a pod, we both admitted to picking something else out first then at the last minute switching to Patchett thinking it to be the safer choice. While I still maintain that Ryan would enjoy reading Bel Canto, he went home happy with my first choice. Ryan’s first choice for me was a discounted, buried memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs.

For the past 5 or so years, I’ve been interested in Russian history. Mostly, I’ve read about Nicholas II and the beginnings of the Bolshevik Revolution. To say I’ve been actively interested in this for 5 years, and have covered less than 50 years worth of time, says something; Russian history is dense and mysterious! I’ve enjoyed diving into a culture I knew little about (even after spending a week in Siberia, go figure!) and slowly becoming acquainted with it. Having a fair understanding of Tsar to Lenin to Stalin, I enjoyed jumping ahead to a time I can more personally relate to.

The author, Elena Gorokhova, is roughly my parents’ age, plus or minus 5 years. Growing up in the Leningrad, she describes her school years in a way that very well could have been my own parents’ childhoods. Spending summers at the family dacha or taking the red kerchief of the Pioneers could just as well be summers on Belle River or a Girl Scout badge ceremony. It’s only as the author ages and grows in both knowledge of the English language and cynicism of the Soviet Union, do the differences between the worlds appear. The author watches her stalwart mother, so like the Party she loves, cling to a bright future which is no longer on the horizon. She longs to leave their disillusioned life for something better. Something English.

It would seem life on the other side of the iron curtain is intriguing, no matter which side you’re on. I was fascinated by the day to day life of Russia in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Both in what seemed normal and what was stiff and uncomfortable. My only complaint being that the author seems to loose steam at the end. The gusto and poetry she writes with fizzles out and the book just sort of ends. Nonetheless, I would heartily recommend it.

I am very glad Ryan found this book…and surprised me with State of Wonder last week so I can read it too 😉

P.S. I’ve had “A Mountain of Love” stuck in my head ever since starting this book.

The Living Room Progresses

It gets very boring

Continuing work on the public rooms of the house, I painted all the wood stained trim in the living room to white. Now everything matches! Well, at least in that room. Thanks to all who voted on the back door (9 votes dark stain with white trim 3 votes grey door and white trim), I painted the trim white and left the door alone. I plan to sit around and stare at it all day until I can decide what I want next.

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Trim BA

I cleaned the door with Old English wood polish and that has helped the color. If we decide to keep the wood stain look, I will either get stain a smidge darker or put on more sealer to give it a sheen again. Ryan doesn’t care for the stain contrast with the white trim, I’m still reserving my judgement until I can take those funk-nasty blinds down and replace them with something nicer.

As of now, our living room looks like this:

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I like to think of it as sporadically decorated 😉

General Tso Chicken!

Happy Birthday to me, indeed! For my birthday last week, after much shameless hinting, I was given a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Diana Kuan!! I was so excited, and knew exactly which recipe I wanted to try first — General Tso Chicken!

I had heard the General Tso story before. Following the Mandarin style foods that were popping up around New York in the 1970’s, an American chef created the smokey sweet General Tso sauce which became a fast hit. So much so, restaurants in China adopted the sauce as their own. Wherever it came from, General Tso chicken is delicious! I had terrible heartburn during my pregnancies and had to lay off even the mildest of spicy foods, but no more!

The preparation is similar to the sweet and sour chicken I did before from the same cookbook: 1 inch cubed chicken is washed in egg white, coated in corn starch and deep fried. For the General Tso, the chicken is marinated in the egg white with soy sauce. and Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry). After the chicken is fried, the prepared sauce is put in the hot pan to thicken up then tossed with the chicken.

For her sauce, Diana Kuan combines: chicken stock, tomato paste, soy sauce, white rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, red chilis and garlic. When all is said and done, this is such a delicious meal! At first bite, the sauce is smoky, almost sweet, then you get the subtlest, tastiest kick from the chili. This is also a sauce which can easily be adjusted sweeter or spicier. Unfortunately, I discovered at the last minute that we were out of corn starch and had to substitute with flour. It still turned out great, but there is a big difference in the crispiness from fried chicken coated in flour vs corn starch.

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This meal took a little bit more preparation and ingredients. I felt like I had to clear my schedule for it. But it was well worth it and definitely something we look forward to making again. Next time I  make it, it will be much quicker I suspect.

Now that we have the cookbook all to ourselves, we are also excited to pick out new things to try. She has some intriguing noodle dishes I’m pretty curious about 😉

Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America

A good book is one that makes you want to keep reading. Lying-In has left me urgently searching for more books on the subject of American childbirth.

Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America (Goodreads link)

This book took me just over three weeks to read and I think I’ve been talking Ryan’s ear off since the first chapter. The book chronologically follows the plight of laboring women in America from the Colonial period through the early 1970’s (later expanded in the 1980’s). The book explores the developments of midwifery, medical doctors, labor demographics and how American standards compared with European contemporaries. The book also marks the pendulum swings of understanding pregnancy and childbirth in our culture — from a natural process where a woman finds her fulfillment as a midwife, supervises and supports to a pathological state which threatens the life of a woman and requires the intervention of medicine and specialists to save her. The authors also track the shift in American birth culture away from a social support system, where a mother is attended by many women who run her house for months as she lays-in recovering and nursing the baby, to the modern sterile hospital births of the 1970’s where labor is attended by hired, generic hospital staff and a mother is responsible physically and financially for her own recovery.

This is one of the more fascinating books I’ve read in a long while. While the author’s biases for natural labor and minimal interventions are obvious, a great deal of effort is made to balance perspectives. Certainly not all obstetricians are misogynistic sadists. Likewise, not all midwives were hygienic, well experienced caretakers. Despite the authors’ best intentions, one cannot help but become indignant at the American point of view on prenatal and postpartum care and the government and insurance systems that dictate them.

The book was written, I believe, as a text book and is, indeed, quite dense in material. I read carefully, but expect I missed a good bit by reading it straight through. It was originally published in the mid 1970’s and later expanded at the end of the 1980’s to include further developments, such as changes in maternity leave laws and the wholesale acceptance of sonogram technology and genetic screening. It was sobering to read about Twilight Labors of the 1950’s and 1960’s knowing that is when my own grandmothers were delivering their babies. It also made me chuckle to read about the increased, repeat Cesarean section rates of 1987 knowing that Ryan and I were among them.

Furthermore, it was fascinating to see how even modern practices and stereotypes have their roots in American history: male doctors and female nurses, voodoo midwives, prenatal testing etc. The book sparked quite a few ideas for further thinking and reading, like: how does childbirth affect a woman’s femininity, or rather, does a woman’s femininity affect her labor and childbirth? And why the hell aren’t I having babies in Scandinavia instead of America?! If I’m lucky enough to put my thoughts together, I will happily share.

This book reminded me of:

Madwives: Schizophrenic Women of the 1950’s (Goodreads link)

P.S. This book makes 22 read this year, 8212 pages!

Help Me Decide: Living Room Door

Regretfully the most public rooms in our house are the ones lacking the most decoration. My in-laws wonderfully painted the walls of the living room before we moved in and Ryan hung my curtains. But that’s where the decorating stopped. I’m not sure how long it will be before we can do some of the bigger projects I have in mind for the front of the house, but one thing I can do now is paint trim.

In true late 1980’s fashion, our house has wood trim. We are slowly making the transition to all white. Ryan and my dad worked tirelessly to replace all the baseboards and quarter round in the house, so all that’s left for me to do is paint the door ways. Needless to say, this simple task just hasn’t happened yet. Emboldened by my laundry room however, I’m ready to start working to get all the door ways painted.

Which brings me to the backdoor.

Back Door
Back Door

The backdoor is in the living room leading to the carport. It is solid wood with a lackluster medium dark stain. My original plan was to paint the whole thing and trim white. Like our front door:

Front Door: White door with White Trim

But now my heart doesn’t know what it wants. I want something that is fresh and clean, that’s the main purpose of painting in the first place. I like the look of color painted doors as well. I thought I could paint the door two shades darker than my grey walls with the same for the trim.  I was just about decided when one of my favorite bloggers, Sawdust and Embryos threw out this idea: dark stained wood with white trim. We have large, dark stain, wood beams on our cathedral ceilings. Sigh. So now I don’t know what I want. What do you like best? You can vote below

Door and Frame painted the same color?

Real Simple

White Frame with colored door?

Thrifty Decor Chick

Our my newest obsession, stained door with white frame:

Sawdust and Embryos

If I do something other than a white door with white trim, should I do the same with the front door? I don’t even want to talk about curtains yet!