What I Read: December 2016

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I’m almost surprised at how many books I finished in December, given the harried schedule I felt like we were keeping and having a new baby. But I keep my routine of a hot bath and book before bed most nights (SELF CARE for the win), and it keeps me reading most days. Plus several of these were easy, two-sittings kind-of reads.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – In episode 40 of the What Should I Read Next Podcast, bookstore owner Holland Saltsman mentioned this book alongside The One-in-a-Million Boy and The Sparrow as favorites of hers. Since I love both of those latter two books, too, which are vastly different, and I thought the description sounded wonderful, I decided to pick up Arthur Pepper. 

Widower Arthur is fairly reminiscent of A Man Called Ove – he’s hiding from his neighbor, wondering what to do with the rest of his mundane life without his wife. But the stories diverge greatly. Arthur finds a charm bracelet that belonged to his late wife; he doesn’t remember ever seeing it nor does he understand where the charms came from. This book tells of his journey to discover the sources of the charms … and maybe some things about his wife he didn’t really want to know.

Although in some places his search just seems too easy and unrealistic, I liked the tale, especially his relationship with the neighbor and her son. It was sweet and fun, a little like Ove but maybe without the emotional pull being as high.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – I mentioned this book in my top 11 of 2016 post the other day. It takes a really interesting nonfiction book to catch my attention. This one is a parenting book that focuses on parents, not children. Senior tackles the question of how modern parenthood affects all kinds of parents with both research and her own firsthand observation of families. While she definitely finds that parents are stressed by the current definition of childhood and overscheduling, Senior isn’t judgmental at all. The whole book is easy to read, packed full of information, and a little too relatable for this mom.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Dark Matter was a big hit among the women of the book discussion Facebook group I’m in. It came out in July, and was an Amazon Book of the Month. This is the kind of book where it’s better to know very little going in and simply experience it; let’s just say that Jason, the main character, is whisked away on a trip to the grocery store and wakes up in a realm that isn’t his. The physics of this premise definitely go over my head (and my husband, the mathematician who was a physics minor, says, “It’s bad physics, but it doesn’t really affect the book”), but I still enjoyed reading this thriller. It’s incredibly readable; I think it took me three days and my husband two days to finish. I wasn’t quite as enamored with the book as some of my bookish friends (like Amy Allen Clark, who listed it among her favorites of 2016), but enjoyed it as a quick, interesting read. I’m always up for something a little different.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – I really loved Yoon’s 2015 book Everything Everything. It’s one of those books that I like even more the more I think about it. So I was super anxious to get my hands on The Sun Is Also a Star after it was released in November. In it, we meet Natasha, whose family is Jamaican and in the middle of an illegal immigration crisis, and Daniel, American-born of Korean parents, who is facing his future with confusion. These high-school students meet by chance, and the whole book takes place over the one day they spend together. Daniel’s poetic spirit and Natasha’s insistence on realism and science will both capture your heart. I loved it, and will quite happily read anything else Yoon writes.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – This is not a book with a lot of plot. If you’re looking for something plot-driven, this is not going to be your book. But if you enjoy a good character study, you will probably delight in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Lucy, now in middle age, reflects on some weeks she spent in the hospital in the 80s. Through this reflection, we learn about her parents, her upbringing, her time raising her two daughters, and how these things influenced the rest of her life. Most poignant is her troubled relationship with her parents, coming to a head as her mother visits her in the hospital.

Strout does an amazing job really capturing a character. To me, this was well worth the short time it took to read.

Chains by Laurie Hale Anderson – I found this in the library while searching for something YA to read. And here’s the thing: I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read this book. My December brain was too frantic, and I just couldn’t give enough attention to this story. Isabel is a young slave girl during the beginnings of the American Revolution, sold from a kinder owner to an upperclass, Loyalist couple in New York City. The picture of slavery in NYC alongside the information about the Revolution was very interesting. The characters are vivid, and honestly, I would like to read the other two books in the series. I just need to wait until I have more brain space for them.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – Strangely enough, once on Christmas Break I had plenty of brain space to dive into Vance’s 2016 memoir, extremely relevant to this election year. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, pretty close to where my parents were born and raised. He tells the story of his grandparents, who left rural Kentucky for a better life in Ohio, but carried with them the “hillbilly” lifestyle. Growing up poor, with a single mother, among drug and alcohol abuse, Vance was destined to repeat the mistakes of those before him. And yet, Vance went to Ohio State and then Yale Law School and is a lawyer in California. How did he escape? What made it different? Can anything be done to help those in the same cycles of abuse, divorce, and poverty?

While his conclusions might not be especially hopeful, his story is powerful. I grew up middle-class with the knowledge I would always have meals, no one was going to hit me, and I was going to college. This election has, honestly, been really puzzling to me, as I know it has been to many. And this book did help me get a little clarity on how this all happened.


I’m working on a few more books, but that’s what I finished this month. How about you?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

Favorites of the Week

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Favorite picture: Libbie in her Bushbaby headband project for school.

Favorite links:

Recipes I want to make:

Reading offline: I recently abandoned Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – just too graphic and icky for me. Last night I picked up When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson. I thought it might be just another so-so mothering memoir, but I am really enjoying it so far.

Saturday Linky Love

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Saturday Linky Love button


Over the river and through the woods, to Nana’s house we go …

Here are some links to read while you travel/veg/digest all the cookies you just ate.

Reading offline: Shift by Hugh Howey (prequel to Wool)

Just a note that this linky is for your own linkposts. If you have just one favorite post you want to share, leave it in the comments, OK? 

So, what did you read that was great this week? Link up here. You can grab the code for the button in the sidebar, if you want. Please link back to Vanderbilt Wife and add the PERMALINK to your post, not your home page.

Day 18: Hrm.

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This is the first day I haven’t had a post written in advance. I have two paragraphs of one, but I don’t think that’s going to work.

And all day I had a massive headache.

At 2:40 my son (22 months) cut his finger badly on a folding chair. He had to go to the campus health clinic and then an urgent care to get Dermamond-ed back together.

My in-laws are here.

No post tonight. See you tomorrow.

Eating by Ancestry – Wrap-Up

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As I have lamented on here, having strep throat really screwed up my plans for eating German food for a week. But, that’s life, right? I did want to go ahead and show you the recipes I have made, as we bought all the groceries and are still making our way through the pile of recipes I printed out.

Himbeer Kase Strudel (Raspberry Strudel)

Was it good? I liked it! I actually made a few cups of just the custard part and baked them with a raspberry or two and I liked those better than the actual strudel.

Did I make any alterations to the recipe: I halved it, and made the filling in the food processor, which was perfect for getting a really creamy filling.

Would I make it again in “real life”? I would definitely make the filling and bake it as custards or use it as a cheesecake filling! {I found that, not suprisingly, I had a very difficult time handling the phyllo and have no desire to work with it again, anyway.}

Frikadellen mit Bratkartoffeln (Fried Meat Patties with Fried Potatoes and Onions)

Was it good? We really did not care for the flavor of the meat at all. It’s a beef-pork mixture, which isn’t bad … I guess I was just expecting hamburgers and it was a lot more like meatloaf. Also, I hate onions that aren’t really cooked, and I KNEW I should have sauteed these before adding them to the mix, but I didn’t. And thus, I hated them. The potatoes were pretty good.

Did I make any alterations to the recipe? We did not have any marjoram or celery seeds, so we just omitted those. (I say we because this was my worst strep day and mostly Mr. V cooked and I was the sous-chef.) We also found the linked recipe very vague and had to make up a few steps ourselves.

Would I make it again in “real life”? No.

Rouladen, German Beef Rolls

Was it good? I thought the rolls were delicious. Mine were the only ones with pickles, and I felt that the tang went so well with the beef, bacon, and tomato-winey sauce. I’m pretty sure Mr. V hated them. He did not like the unrendered bacon. David liked the meat. He really likes meat.

Did I make any alterations to the recipe? I did not have a bay leaf for the broth. Nor did I have any really good way of keeping mine tightly rolled, but they still turned out fine. Note to self: buy toothpicks.

Would I make it again “in real life”? Only if I were just cooking for me or for my dad’s side of the family (the hearty, German side).

Rotkohl (German Braised Red Cabbage)

Was it good? YES! The sweet-and-sourness of it was simply fantastic. I never make cabbage at home because no one else will eat it, so this was a great treat for me.

Did I make any alterations to the recipe? I cut it in fourth. I didn’t use the apple because I don’t like cooked apples, and I didn’t use the cornstarch thickener.

Would I make it again “in real life”? For me or to take to an event or potluck, YES. Maybe just as a good lunch during the school year with a piece of pork. It’s not too difficult.

I did end up with, well, 3/4 of a head of cabbage left over. So I consulted my Facebook page and decided to try my hand at lacto-fermenting it. Ingredients: cabbage, apple, salt. Let sit for 3 days. We’ll see how that turns out!

I also made Gechnetzeltes, which is a pork saute with mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce. As my fever was high and I had to go lay down and let my mom finish it, I did not take any pictures! But I did eat a little and it was delicious. I do think I would make it again, although probably leave out the mushrooms to better suit my husband and daughter.

So, in conclusion: I really like German food. My husband does not. My baby likes meat. My daughter likes nothing that is not macaroni and cheese. (OK, that’s not true, but she did not like most of these meals.)

I enjoyed cooking the new recipes, when I wasn’t burning with fever. And I liked the simplicity of ingredients. I can see how cooking from one region – what we would probably think boring – is so much more cost-effective than the way we cook, from a culinary spectrum.

Thanks for dealing with me during this short journey!

Worth the Living

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On Sunday, Easter Sunday, we sang “Because He Lives.” And the line I can’t delete from my brain is, “Life is worth the living just because He lives.”

Why wasn’t it enough?

For one of our friends, the kindest person I’ve met, the one whom every girl was ready to marry just weeks into the freshman year of college … why wasn’t it enough anymore?

Zest for life shadowed by depression and circumstances. How could someone who loved life and others so much become so isolated? So desperate that life simply wasn’t worth the living anymore?

I don’t know.

I do know the scary edge of depression and the feelings of solitude. I know Paxil and Zoloft and they have been my friends. I know the desire to hide under my covers and sleep it all away. I know screaming and crying and wanting but not wanting to be alone. I know the what-if moments.

It’s hell to find out someone you love but haven’t talked to in years has taken their own life. To wonder what could have made it that bad and not know, have no inkling. To think, if I had called, if I had commented, if I had known …

It’s not about me and it’s too late for thinking. Only time for sorrow and flowers and tears for a ripped-apart family.

Maybe it’s not too late for one of your friends, though. Call somebody you love and say hi. It’s better to risk embarrassment at how long it’s been then to look back and have to wonder.

In loving memory of Michael James Clements, 1981-2012.