Monday, July 12, 2010

The Best Fruit Dip Ever.

Credit for this goes to my sister-in-law, who served it one of the first times that I ever met her.  My parents and I went to visit my brother and his then-girlfriend at the house they were renting for the summer in Charlestown for a little cookout.  One of the things that C served was cut up fruit with this fluffy, green, delicious dip.  I don't remember if it was a picky when we first got there or a dessert, or how much of it I had to eat before I finally asked her what it was, but I will never forget how excited I was to learn that it was just Cool Whip mixed with some instant pistachio pudding mix.  That's it.  Probably don't mix the whole packet of instant pudding mix into one tub of thawed out Cool Whip, unless you want it to be really stiff and really pistachio-y, but just sprinkle in a little at a time and mix in enough to suit your taste.  I usually use fat-free Cool Whip and fat-free pudding mix, so unless you're following Michael Pollan's rules (more on that another time), it's not even bad for you!  It's amazingly simple and completely delicious.  Maybe this is a common knowledge kind of thing, but I was floored the first time I had it, and I've made it a few times recently to great applause, so I just wanted to share.  It's too tasty to not share!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

D-Day by Antony Beevor

Last August, J and I traveled to New Orleans to meet friends who were there for a conference.  We spent three days in the city, which we love, and we saw and did a few new things that we had missed on previous visits.  One of those things was a visit to the National WWII Museum.  I was interested, but not thrilled with the prospect of spending a full day there.  I could've spent three days there.  Seriously.  And ever since the one day that we spent there, I've been a little obsessed.  I've always been sort of fascinated by the way that the Allied nations and their citizens could pull together against a common enemy, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that I can't even imagine that in today's selfish, self-centered society.  It's always been the civilian side of things that interested me, though.  Until last summer.  Now I find myself absorbing every second of military history from the period that I can get my hands on.

This book was a random pick-up at the library for me.  It was sitting on an endcap with a bunch of other "new arrivals" at the front of the library, and the cover just jumped out at me.  I picked it up, unsure if I'd even crack it open at home, or if I'd just flip through a little, or if I'd actually endeavor to read the whole brick of a book.  When I told J I was unsure about it, he talked me into reading it.  It took me three weeks to read, because I'm sort of military illiterate still, but it was excellent.  When I say I'm military illiterate, I mean that I don't really know the basics of military hierarchy - battalions and regiments and companies - it just doesn't entirely make sense to me yet.  I'm getting there, but it's slow going.  Ranks still sort of confuse me too.  Add to all of that the fact that this book isn't strictly an Allied point of view, but it also explains a lot about the German positions, with all of their 15-letter German names for everything, and I think it's understandable why this was such a slow read for me.

All of that aside, though, this was an excellent book.  Any failings were my own, and not the book's.  There were a TON of maps, which I think is vital to any military history book.  I learned more about the geography of Northern France than I ever thought I'd know.    The book covers the period from shortly before D-Day through the liberation of Paris, and provides a pretty detailed overview of the route there.What I really liked, though, was that this was not as strictly American as most D-Day books I've come across.  It presents a more broad take on the whole invasion, including equal attention to all aspects of the Allied troops, as well as the German perspective, and the French, and most importantly, the French civilian, perspective.  It felt like the time spent on tactical and strategic components and on the more emotional, human, side of things was a very good balance.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in getting an in-depth, objective, candid overview of the Normandy invasion.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Buddhism for Busy People by David Michie

I've always had some level of fascination with Eastern religions generally, and with Tibetan Buddhism in particular, and I suppose that was what led me to pick this audiobook up from the library in the first place.  I don't often browse at the library, except for audio books.  I usually reserve the books that I want, and then just run and to pick them up from the desk.  I sort of like to use audiobooks as an opportunity to learn something, or to listen to a book that I might not otherwise have read, so I tend to browse for them, and I've come up with some good ones lately, but this one in particular struck me so much that I thought it required it's own post.
I'm not a Buddhist, and up until the past week or so that I've been listening and really thinking about this book, I would've told you that I was a Lutheren, and I guess really, I still am.  I was raised, baptised and confirmed in the Lutheren Church, and I have always really liked my religion.  Actually going to church hasn't been a huge part of my life lately, I admit, but I often think about my faith and about how it fits into my life, and it is very important to me, though not always outwardly so.  In listening to David Michie's partly-autobiographical, partly instructional, and partly introductory text book, thought, I've come to realize that whether I recognized it or not, Buddhist principles have already been a part of my day-to-day life for a long time.  Listening to this book on my way to and from work for a couple of weeks helped to center me, and helped me to put a number of things in my life into perspective.  At the same time, though, and perhaps more importantly, it called a number of things in my life into question.  I feel silly calling a book life-changing, but at the least it was certainly eye-opening for me.  Somehow, what I know of Buddhist teachings and principles (which is admittedly fairly minimal) just makes sense to me, in a way that my own faith never really has.  I am more able to accept and understand these principles than I am many of the teachings of my own judeo-christian upbringing.  Granted, basic tenents of these faiths are largely the same - do unto others and all of that - but it's more than that.  Buddhism seems, to me anyway, to be so much more focused on the teaching and learning and sharing and understanding than on the idea of "worship," which recently is what I have come to question.  It just sets better with me to be guided than to worship, I guess.

So now I find myself in an interesting place, and I feel as though I have some work to do.  I am beginning to work on more actively incorporating what I know and understand of Buddhist principles into my life, but cautiously so.  I have only a small idea of what I don't know, and I understand how much more I have to understand.  I'm not sure I want to "be a Buddhist," or even what that would entail, but I know that I want to learn more and I want to find myself some help in that learning, and I know that I find a level of solace in what I do know that I have not found elsewhere.  I'm also not in any rush to renounce what has always been my faith and my church, because I know that I still believe in it.  Somehow I just don't seem to take from it what I feel like I have always (and especially recently) needed to get from it, if that makes any sense.

A few months ago, I read Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, and I think the biggest thing I took from that book related to religion.  Rant Casey used to say, as he was riding around crashing cars, just at the moment of impact, Rant used to say, "this is what church should feel like."  He said the same thing just after he had an orgasm, and at various other times too, but what I get from that is that faith and enlightening and religion is not and should not be the same for everyone.  I think that live music, especially in a big arena or stadium with thousands of people all singing along, that's what church should feel like.  Or doing volunteer work.  Or the kind, smiling eyes of a stranger you pass on the street.  Or literally stopping to smell the flowers on a warm, sunny day.  It should feel warm and open and happy.  I'm not sure when I've ever felt warm and open and happy when I was at the church where I grew up, but I can think of a lot of times when I've been at a show and stopping singing along myself in order to listen to the thousands of voices enveloping me, and at those times I've though, if not in so many words, that it was what church should feel like.  Daily, I look for examples of things that church should feel like, and I think that's an excellent way to appreciate the little things.  And isn't that what it's about, in so many ways?