Monday, September 26, 2011

Summer Bucket List Item No. 3 (Kind of): Book 4 of 26

Weeeelllll, I spent the better part of August on the road, so I kind of had to replace reading on the beach with reading on an airplane. Either way, I got my fourth of 26 books read (I'm hoping for a laid-back winter, apparently).

My fourth book was Our House in the Last World by Oscar Hijuelos.

The Details
This is Hijuelos' first novel (his second novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love," won a Pulitzer). This book, like many of his, focuses on a Cuban family in New York City. The Santinio's moved from Cuba to New York in the 1940s, and the story follows them through their life - first focusing on the mother and her pleasant childhood in Cuba, her romance with the father and their decision to move to America, and then the young lives of their two sons Horacio and Hector. It's a story about immigration, a story about family and a story about American culture in the 1950s. And, equally important, it's a story about longing for another life.

My Take
I think one of my favorite things about Hijuelos' writing is his ability to tell a story in a way that's both beautiful and terribly sad. A mother who longs for her life in the last world, constantly comparing what she no longer has to what she used to have. A younger son who's haunted by memories of a country and life he's never known. A hard-working father who struggles with juggling American life and familial responsibilities. An elder son who does everything he can to get away. The American dream put into perspective.

It's not a fast-moving book but a book that lingers with you. Words and scenes that stick with you and that you come back to a few days later. One of my favorite parts, toward the end:

"I did not turn out to be a bad man, and it was because Pop, deep down, really loved the family. If he had hated us I would have burned out. But we went beyond survival. He gave me something that was simple. I keep saying it, the ability to feel love. And having that makes it easy to give."

What I Liked
I like that Hijuelos so eloquently paints the picture of his characters. From chapter to chapter, character to character, you envision what everyone looks like. And you relate to them. Good people, not-so-good people.  There's something about each one that you can appreciate.

What I Thought Could Have Been Better
This probably isn't really a reflection on Hijuelos so much as a reflection on my's a book that you can fairly easily put down and come back to like an old friend. Each time, it was just there waiting for me where I left off, and it didn't matter if two days or two weeks had passed. I could read five pages and suddenly decide I wanted to do something else, and sure enough, it would be there waiting right where I left off when I came back to it. Again, that's not really a bad thing. I just never felt a sense of urgency.

My Takeaways
Life isn't always easy. Now, I'm sure that comes as the biggest understatement of all time. But, I think it's something we sometimes forget. Or we think things are harder than they really are. It's good to have a little perspective every once in a while.

And, in another complete genre switch, next up is The Last Single Woman in America.

Summer Bucket List Item No. 2: Whatta Deal

Okay, so I actually had to split this into two separate activities (one with one friend and then one with three others), but you'll remember this as the Groupon/Living Social item on my summer bucket list.

First up, $20 worth of burgers at French Meadow. Yes, I love French Meadow. It's one of those perfect places both at night and during the day.

I went with the free range turkey burger as my burger selection: hormone free ground turkey with Eichten's local Gouda and caramelized onions, as well as lettuce, tomato, pickle and chive aioli, served on an organic sprouted bun. The burger is served with organic tortilla chips and homemade salsa. Of course it was delicious :)

There was a handy half-off any bakery item or dessert FourSquare check-in special that I just couldn't refuse, so I also ended up with the triple chocolate mousse cake. Oh, so good. But, oh, so rich. I didn't eat all of it. A. because it was huge. B. because it was just too much sugar for me.

As for the next activity, $32 worth of lake-time fun via Wheel Fun Rentals.

Now, there are many Wheel Fun options - canoes and kayaks, bikes and surreys. With so many decisions, you'd think it would be a difficult choice. But, we went straight for the good, old-fashioned, four-person paddle boat.

An hour-and-a-half chock full of teamwork, bickering, exercising, relaxing, seaweed flinging and water splashing. Ah, bliss. Here are a few of the photos from our journey, mostly taken on Lake of the Isles.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Touring the 9/11 Memorial

While in NYC last week, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. It was a powerful experience to say the least, and I thought I'd share a few photos of my visit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer Bucket List Item No. 1: Art Perchance

Well, it's been a busy last few weeks, so I'm making an admittedly slow start on my summer bucket list. That said, I've fully completed one of 10 activities: the MIA's Third Thursday Art Perchance event.

Intrigued by the promise of carnival-like games, cocktails and the chance to win free art, a few friends and I gathered outside of the much-loved art institute on a beautiful Thursday night.

For a few hours, we made our way through a number of fun art-inspired games, collecting prizes and raffle tickets along the way.

There was Sand Man Dollar Land

Dali Fishing

Bowling for Brancusi and more
It was a great opportunity to see some of our favorite works come to life in a fun way and to mingle with other art enthusiasts. While we didn't win any of the raffled art, we did bring home a number of kitschy swag items - in the form of fake mustaches, patriotic sunglasses, sheriffs badges, handkerchiefs and more.

I could definitely see this turning into one of our fun annual summer activities.

I'm cautiously optimistic that I can still cross off a few of the other summer activities...stay tuned!