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Good Reads, the 2014 Edition

LuckyUsAs we pointed out in last week’s issue, all the year-end book lists are out, from the NYTimes 100 Most Notable, to the Washington Post’s 50 Best in Fiction and NPR’s picks -- pretty much every publication that reviews books has weighed in. 

I may not be that prestigious, but I once produced a public television show about books and authors (a dream job until the funding ran out) and I absolutely love to read. In my professional life, I read two to four newspapers a day, and numerous web sites and magazines. So when I want to just kick back, I mostly choose fiction.  In no particular order, here are my favorites for 2014.

We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
This debut novel is actually included in most of the year-end lists, and deservedly so. It’s a big fat, multigenerational Irish-American family saga centered on a nurse named Eileen Tumulty, born in Queens in 1941. Good name, because Eileen’s an incredibly strong woman whose life is indeed quite tumultuous as she deals with everything from family alcoholism to a husband with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Sounds depressing, but thanks to beautiful writing, it’s not.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Fowler
While this is a similar title to my first pick, it’s a very different family story. At the beginning, we meet Rosemary, “meandering” through her fifth year at U.C. Davis, thinking about the brother she hasn’t seen in 10 years and the sister who disappeared 17 years ago. Her father is a psychology professor who brought his experiments home. Rosemary was an extremely chatty child, probably to make up for her sister’s verbal shortcomings. It will be more fun to read if that’s all you know.

Read more: Good Reads, the 2014 Edition

A Duct Tape Halloween

ProjectRunwayThe simplest Halloween costume I ever made for myself was the year in college I went as a jewel thief. I wore black jeans, a black turtleneck, and a mask with two eyeholes cut out of black cloth. I carried a flashlight and tied a bag full of colorful Mardi Gras necklaces to my belt. It took about 10 minutes to assemble, and that’s only because I messed up cutting out the eyeholes the first time (they were too far apart).

Since then, I’ve made many costumes for my kids -- Annie Oakley, a Confederate general, hobbits and hippies. I’ve discovered the joy of glue guns, Velcro and felt fabric (no hemming necessary).

But when it comes to me, I’ve pretty much avoided going to adult Halloween parties -- in large part because I wasn’t interested in mustering up the energy to create a costume for myself.

Duct tape has changed my mind.

Read more: A Duct Tape Halloween

Before Summer Ends...

icecreamThere’s less than a month to go before summer ends -- the official end date is Sept. 22 at 10:29 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time -- but now is not the time to feel bad about all the things you didn’t get a chance to do.

Instead, seize the day -- and the Labor Day holiday weekend -- to have some fun before fall arrives! What should you do? Glad you asked.

Grab a cone. Go to an ice cream, frozen yogurt or gelato shop and get yourself a double – with sprinkles. Then sit down outside somewhere and enjoy it. Take your time.

Go to the beach and watch the sunset. Honestly, what’s not to like about a barefoot walk in the sand at the water’s edge?

Take a long walk.

Binge watch a TV series. Orange is the New BlackScandal and House of Cards are all supposed to be great, but I’m thinking it’s time finally to give my attention to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.   

Eat something in season. Tomatoes, peaches, raspberries and plums are in season, which means they taste they way they should.  

Read more: Before Summer Ends...

Furoshiki: A 1300-Year-Old Answer to Plastic Bags

Talk about enjoying the box more than the present it contains.

When I was a kid, our family would occasionally receive gifts from my parents’ friends in Japan. What I remember most is not the presents themselves, but the intricate wrapping. These gifts were positively in lockdown, but no one had used anything so gauche as tape to secure them.

Instead, the gifts were sealed with wrapping paper that had been cleverly folded in the most unexpected ways. My skill at refolding the paper after the gifts had been extracted turned out to be good for absolutely nothing after the GPS in my phone replaced paper maps.

I had forgotten about these feats of wrapping until a bunch of reusable grocery bags fell on me as I opened my pantry door. (Yes, I’m that organized). Those bags are making me nuts, and there are alternatives. The folks at BlueAvocado make a side-carrying bag out of recycled everything that is surprisingly comfortable. The Europeans have their grocery bags of string, which I admit I once thought were ridiculous.

But the Japanese. They’ve got it down, and they’ve had it down for oh, about 1,300 years. Using a sequence of clever folds, called furoshiki, the Japanese have figured out how to carry just about everything using just a big square of silk or nylon. (Other fabrics work too, but it’s easier to negotiate the knots using silk or nylon).

Read more: Furoshiki: A 1300-Year-Old Answer to Plastic Bags

A *Third!* Helping of No-Calorie Comfort Food for the Brain

We’re well into summer and if, like me, you haven’t yet taken a vacation, it’s time for a break – a mental break, that is.

For me, that means turning to my no-calorie, comfort food alternative: online videos that shift my mood or rest my brain. As I’ve noted in two prior editions of no calorie comfort food for the brain (here and here), I watch these videos not because some are viral video darlings, but because they do what comfort food is supposed to do: Make me feel better.

Here are my summer 2014 picks, with length in minutes noted. Enjoy!

1. Simon’s Cat (1:41).  British animator Simon Tofield, interested in learning how to use Flash technology so he could put some of his creations online, ended up creating a charming series about a mischievous and intelligent cat. There are more than three dozen animations to choose from, but I recommend starting at the beginning with the first in the series, “Cat Man Do.” The cat tries to get Simon’s attention so it can be fed. Anyone who knows cats knows how good this is. Meoww.

Read more: A *Third!* Helping of No-Calorie Comfort Food for the Brain



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