Category: Books, Film, and Music

Books I Read in 2014

January 15th, 2015 — 8:53am

Last year, for the time, I kept a running tally of the books I read. Now, it’s interesting to look back at that list and see how my interests and priorities shifted during the year. I started with a heavy focus on food memoirs—diving into former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s hilarious memoirs, followed by Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, in preparation for my trip to Paris last spring. I also read a few books for work along the way, as well as a collection of short stories from one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro. When I found out I was pregnant in July, I began reading baby books in earnest.

My two favorite books that I read in 2014 were Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and the last book I read, City of Thieves by David Benioff. I wish every high school and college graduate could receive a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s a beautiful collection of advice columns dedicated to answering questions about life and love.  Strayed is wise and compassionate, and her responses are so deeply personal.

I’m just finishing up my first book for 2015—Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I should start another list, but something tells me I’m not going to have quite as much time for reading this year.

Books I Read in 2014
Tender at the Bone:Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Seams Unlikely by Nancy Zieman

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…for Good by Mark Bittman

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme

Dear Life by Alice Munro

Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice in Love & Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the help of 50,000 Strangers) by Daniel Jones

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Chery Strayed

The Guide to Having a Baby: Important Information, Advice and Support for your Pregnancy by Robin Elise Weiss

For the Sins of My Father: A Mafia Killer, His Son, and the Legacy of a Mob Life by Albert DeMeo

Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Baby Bargains: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on baby furniture, gear, clothes, strollers, maternity wear, and much, much more! by Denise and Alan Fields

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering by Kelly Wels

City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff

Comment » | Books, Film, and Music

DLS Presents Alice Waters

March 28th, 2014 — 5:39am

DSC02373Last night I went to see Alice Waters speak as part of UW’s Distinguished Lecture Series. I was surprised and pleased to find myself surrounded by hundreds of other people who seemed to prefer the lecture over watching the big Badger basketball game. Alice Waters seemed surprised, too.

Alice waters is known as the mother of the farm to table movement. She is the owner of Chez Panisse, the famous restaurant in Berkley, California that pioneered the locally grown, organic food movement. She’s a chef, author, food activist, and vice president of Slow Food International.

Waters recounted the incredible meals she enjoyed in Madison during the day. I was especially pleased that she gave students from Slow Food UW accolades for a delicious dinner they had prepared for her that evening. People say it all the time, that Madison is the Berkley of the Midwest. It really is, said Waters. She also gave props to Madison’s farmers’ market, which is known as the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the United States. While she is pleased with the growth of the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market in San Francisco, we don’t have 300 vendors like you do!

Waters then launched into her prepared remarks, opening with a quote from Gloria Steinem: public education is our last truly democratic institution. She then built a case for how all of the issues in our lives are an outgrowth of one bigger thing—a deeper, systemic problem: our fast food nation. Waters explained how it dominates the way people eat in this country, and it’s not only bad food, it also affects our culture, behaviors, expressions, work, architecture, politics, and the way we interact with each other (or don’t). Fast food nation degrades our human experience and produces uniformity—everyone is the same everywhere.

Waters also talked about how our expectations are warped—we want things now. But the best things in life take time. Like cooking, learning, getting to know someone. Furthermore, she talked about how we have a very twisted idea of availability—you can buy a tomato in the middle of winter in Switzerland, or a papaya in the Midwest. Seasons stop mattering. The local culture, and what’s happening here, becomes devalued.

One of her biggest pet peeves, she shared, is the the confusion between affordability and cheapness. A discounted price is artificial—there is a cost somewhere, whether it be our health, livestock, the environment, human rights, international relations, etc. Things can be affordable, but they can never be cheap. The deals cost us so much more.

Waters also talked about words that have become elusive—like organic, local, natural, fair trade, and fresh. They’ve been used and misused. What do these words really mean anymore? Words that once had meaning have been highjacked and used for presentation and marketing. She used the example of how you can feed cattle grass for two weeks and call them “grass fed.”

Underneath every problem, we have fast food culture, Waters summarized. She recounted a bumper sticker she had seen a while back: If we are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap and easy.

So if that’s fast food nation, then slow food culture is the complete opposite. Waters painted the picture of how slow food is richer, deeper. It’s not flashy. It’s involves customs, it’s connected to nature, and it’s traditional. Slow food has it’s own set of values like ripeness, integrity, community, friendship, and honesty. It’s enduring, enriching, and joyful. Pleasureful and meaningful. Slow food values are inside each of us—we’re just waiting for them to be awakened. All it takes is a spark for that part of us to come alive, for behaviors to shift.

Waters then shared several of the transformational edible education projects she’s either been part of or initiated—like The Edible Schoolyard at a middle school in Berkely that has inspired a movement and thousands of similar programs around the world, or The Garden Project at the San Francisco Jail. Education has to be the number one priority. We have to lift up the teacher and the farmer. Once our senses are stimulated and opened, we’re empowered.

Comment » | Books, Film, and Music, Madtown Lovin'

Pink Martini From Paris to Madison

March 7th, 2014 — 6:27am
Pink Martini at the Grand Rex, Paris - April 2013

Pink Martini at the Grand Rex, Paris – April 2013

Nearly a year ago, I made my first trip to the City of Light with a few girlfriends. One of my favorite experiences was seeing Pink Martini at the Grand Rex. It was just so perfect for the evening, for the trip, and for Paris.

It’s hard to explain the unique sound of Pink Martini—the best I can come up with is a combination of jazz and swing. But it’s so much more than that—in a recent article bandleader Thomas Lauderdale described the music as “unusual and beautiful and almost ambassadorial in a way. It crosses generations and cultures and languages.” During the Paris concert, lead singer China Forbes performed songs in at least eight different languages, and invited on the the stage multiple collaborators from all over the world.

Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater, Madison - March 2014

Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater, Madison – March 2014

Last night, nearly a year since our trip, my Paris travel mates and I met up for Pink Martini at the Capitol Theater in Madison. It was the first time we’d all been together since our trip last spring. It seems like only yesterday we were in Paris, but clearly some time has passed—one of us is now married (me!) and another has a baby on the way.

We had dinner at Chez Nanou, a charming French crêperie and bistro on Williamson Street. It seemed fitting that we not only enjoy a French meal, but crêpes specifically. We all remembered devouring our favorite crêpes of our trip to Paris from a street vendor (Deli’s Café) immediately following the Pink Martini concert.

We were late for the concert last night (thankfully, we just missed a song or two), just as we had been late for the show in Paris. Pink Martini, crepes, and four fashionably late fun ladies—it was the perfect reunion.

Crêpes from Deli's Café in Paris.

Crêpes from Deli’s Café in Paris.

Crêpes from Chez Nanou in Madison.

Crêpes from Chez Nanou in Madison.

Comment » | Books, Film, and Music, Vacation and Travel

Tri Therapy Review

March 20th, 2013 — 4:53am

Dano Book CoverLast week I finished reading Tri Therapy, a memoir written by my good friend, Dan Tyler, who more commonly goes by  the nickname “Dano.” I met Dano through triathlon—we’d often run into each other at races, and he was also a frequent customer at a triathlon store I worked at a few years ago.

Dano is one of those people who always has a smile on his face and is generally enthusiastic about life. While I’ve always known Dano to be generous and community-minded, he made a big impression on me last year when he was the first person I knew to buy tickets to a “farm to table” fundraising dinner I had planned for work. Although he doesn’t even own a television, he told me that he still recognizes and appreciates the great value of public television and wanted to support me and my work.

When Dano asked if I would be willing to read his memoir, I told him I would be honored. From our conversations, I knew Dano had poured his heart into the project, and I was eager to read his story. Plus, I don’t know too many people (or any) in their thirties who have already tackled writing and self-publishing a memoir. That’s impressive in and of itself.

Tri Therapy is about Dano’s experience training for and racing endurance sports, and the fundamental truths he has discovered along the way—like living in the present, practicing gratitude and helping others as part of a community.

What I learned about Dano by reading his memoir is that he is incredibly self-reflective and introspective. He is in tune with who he is, and what he wants in life. Dano is  unwaveringly committed to doing his part to make the world, his community and sport better. He has a good sense of humor. And he is continually learning, growing and seeking to  improve himself.

Through his stories, I loved picturing Dano going door-to-door up and down his street, introducing himself to neighbors and asking for donations to support Team in Training—“You’re going to see me out here running in the snow over the next few months and I’d like to tell you why.” Or the second time he waited in line early in the morning to register for Ironman Wisconsin, prepared with a whole carafe of coffee, a folding camp chair, a blanket, and ample snacks to share. I also loved picturing Dano going through Ironman aid stations jokingly asking volunteers for fois gras, cavier and beef wellingtons. Or Dano, stopping mid-stroke during Ironman to wave at his family standing on the top of the Monona Terrace (and amazingly, they saw him and waved back. Both years!). To me, these stories sum up the essence of Dano.

I found myself frequently highlighting sentences and passages that struck a special chord with me. Some were inspirational, others made me stop and consider—am I doing enough to give back to my sport and encourage participation among those newest to it? How do I practice gratitude? What are the aspects of my races I remember most now and why? Are my goals and approach to the sport sustainable? What bigger life lessons do I take away from my journey of training for and racing endurance sports?

There are so many takeaways and life lessons in Tri Therapy for endurance sport veterans and newbies alike. Dano is on to something. The races really do teach us so much about life.

Comment » | Books, Film, and Music, Racing and Training

Favorite Albums from 2012

February 19th, 2013 — 12:50pm

The records that were spinning most often on my turntable in 2012 include: Give You the Ghost, Polica; Faithful Man, Lee Fields; Bloom, Beach House; Fear Fun, Father John Misty; Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird; and Blood Rushing, Josephine Foster.

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Yo La Tengo at the Barrymore

February 6th, 2013 — 1:08pm

Last night we saw Yo La Tengo at the Barrymore Theater in Madison thanks to tickets from my brother for Christmas. I always love gifts that are more of an “experience” than stuff. The opportunity to see a band I’ve not listened to much before was a welcome adventure. The band played two sets—the first was more of an acoustic play list, and the second was more lively and jammy with intense guitar solos. It was a good show and a fun Tuesday night outing.

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An Evening With Radioactive Author Lauren Redniss

October 18th, 2012 — 6:08am

On Monday night I attended a presentation by Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Currie: A Tale of Love and Fallout. The book was selected this year for Go Big Read, UW-Madison’s common reading program. Admittedly, I was disappointed when I first picked up the book. As science was always my least favorite subject in school, the idea of reading about radioactivity seemed less than thrilling. And it also looked like a children’s book—complete with, what I assumed to be, superfluous illustrations and the overuse of color and cute fonts.

But luckily, my initial impressions turned out to be completely wrong. It was one of the most interesting and unique books I’ve ever read. It’s poetic, artistic, scientific, historical, and in so many ways, defies categorization. Redniss uses the interplay of art and text to tell the story of Marie and Pierre Currie—their love, work, and the modern repercussions of their research.

What I found so interesting about the book is the combination of all the creative elements, and how Redniss weaves them together to amplify the book’s themes and form deeper meaning. For example, the images in the book are made using a process called cyanotype printing (representing the “internal light” of radium). Furthermore, Redniss created the book’s unique font after being inspired by the formality and imperfection of title pages of manuscripts at the New York Public Library, and named the font Eusapia LR, after a spiritualist whose seances the Curies attended.

It was great to attend Redniss’ presentation on Monday evening at UW’s Union South. She talked a bit about what inspired the book (a combination of wanting to expand beyond her New York Times Op Art pieces and tell longer stories, coupled with a desire to incorporate elements that her previous book didn’t have). She also showed photos from her travels while researching Radioactive, provided a glimpse of pages from her sketch book and demonstrated how she pieced together one illustration in the book. Redniss ended with a brief reading from Radioactive, and provided a preview of her current project—apparently she was inspired to work on a book about weather after joking to a friend that, after Radioactive, her next book would be about “rainbows and clouds.”

Through it all, I loved her sense of curiosity, humility, beautiful smile, and how genuinely honored she seemed to have had her book selected for UW’s reading program.  She mentioned how grateful she is to have the opportunity to explore, write and create. I can’t imagine more fulfilling work.

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Mexican High Review

October 2nd, 2012 — 10:03am

During my 24+ hour travel day on the way home from Spain, I read Mexican High, a debut novel by Liza Monroy. Larry had checked it out from the library  after we read an entertaining “Modern Love” column by Monroy in the New York Times in late July (“When Mom Is on the Scent, and Right”).

Mexican High is about a girl named Mila (short for Milagro) who moves to Mexico City for her senior year in high school after her mother, an American Dipolmat, is reassigned there. Needless to say, Mila has spent much of her life being the “new girl” in school. As she struggles to fit in and discover who she is, she experiments with the dangerous freedoms that are a way of life in Mexico City. Although she arrives unsure of herself and unable to see beyond the “blanket of smog” and “dreary brown-stained buildings,” she leaves with a much better sense of self and a deep appreciation for Mexico City and its colorful chaos.

Interestingly, Monroy is the daughter of a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, who also spent her high school years attending an international school in Mexico City. Although she states at the beginning of the novel that, “this is a work of fiction marginally inspired by actual places and the lifestyles that accompany them,” I can’t help but wonder which parts of the novel are closer to her actual experiences than others.

There are several parts of the story that seem unbelievable to me (spoiler alert). For example, Mila just happens to stumble across a man she believes is her father, someone she’s never met before, but is certain she is related to based on his appearance, in one of the largest cities in the world. And guess what, she’s right. Or that Mila is accepted to Harvard after spending her entire senior year more or less in a drug-induced, class-skipping haze (maybe it’s the former admissions counselor in me that makes me shake my head). But a few stretches of the imagination certainly make for an interesting story.

More than anything, the novel provided me with an interesting glimpse into elite Mexican society and its extreme wealth and reliance on political corruption and bribes. It was eye-opening to me, yet I know it’s just one small piece of life in Mexico City.

One thing is for sure, Mexican High made for a great companion during a beast of a travel day.

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Andrew Bird in Madison

September 27th, 2012 — 4:47am

Last night I saw Andrew Bird in concert at the Overture Center in Madison. It was the first stop in Bird’s 25-show fall tour, which includes stops in the UK, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Sweden. It was my first time seeing Andrew Bird in concert. And as I told Larry back in June when I first bought the tickets, there’s pretty much no other musical artist I’d rather see live in concert right now than Andrew Bird.

Besides minor technical difficulties at the beginning of the show (a distracting crackling noise), the performance was fantastic. I particularly liked when the musicians went acoustic, and anytime Bird picked up his violin. I also loved the helix-shaped figures floating above the stage that served as the perfect visual accompaniment to the music. I’m looking forward to Bird’s newest album (a companion piece to Break it Yourself), Hands of Glory, which will be released on October 30. For a more in-depth review of the concert, Aaron Conklin wrote a great review of the show for 77 Square.

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Sleepwalk With Me

September 26th, 2012 — 4:19am

I recently finished reading the book Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories by comedian Mike Birbiglia. Midway through the book, I saw the film by the same title. Both are based on true, personal stories from Birbiglia’s life—growing up, navigating relationships, struggling as a fledgling comedian and dealing with (or not) a dangerous sleepwalking condition.

I was first introduced to Mike Birbiglia’s work a few years ago through episodes of This American Life, to which he’s a regular contributor. Mike uses an observational comedic style that I really enjoy, sort of poking fun at everyday life and things society has come to view as totally normal. For example, here’s a great excerpt from the book:

At Catholic school a lot of your teachers are nuns, and they’re always talking about this guy Jesus who everybody’s afraid of but everybody loves, because he loves everybody. And a long time ago some people killed him, and it’s not totally your fault, and don’t be scared or sad, because he’s living forever, next to God, who’s his dad, even though he is also God. And also there’s this Holy Spirit part too, that no one really understands. But all three guys are everywhere, at all times, just in case you need to talk anything out.

And it’s funny how they roll it out to you when you’re seven. They’re like, “There’s this guy Jesus, and he totally loves you.”

And you say, “Oh, okay, great.”

And they say, “And you love him too, right?”

And you ask, “I’m sorry, do I know that guy?”

And they say, “you know, from the picture of the cross? That guy loves you…and you love him.”

It starts innocently enough, as innocently as man-boy love can start. Then it starts to get a little heavier. When you’re eight they just casually throw it out there: “You know, he died for your sins.”

The book and film are worth checking out. There were several moments during each that I found myself laughing out loud. There were occasions, however, when I felt for his former girlfriend, Abby, or thought to myself, Mike, now you’ve just gone too far. If you had stopped like two sentences ago, that would have been funny. But now, this is a little awkward.

But in many ways, Mike is awkward. And that’s what makes him so funny.

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