Friday, November 9, 2012

Recent Reads

Remember when I was going to blog about the books I've been reading?  Yeah, so obviously it didn't happen. I mean, I wanted to, but.... Here's the reason I'm not a very good blogger - I let really little things stop me in my tracks. I feel like a book review is worthless without a picture of the cover. And last time I did book reviews, I had to hunt down the pictures, copy stuff out of different tabs from Goodreads, blah dee blah. I'm so lazy. But anyway, tonight I noticed a helpful little button on Goodreads that was new to me called "Blog Your Review." So book reviews are BACK!

I'm still aiming for 50 books in 2012. Goodreads says I'm 4 books behind, but I might sneak in some YA quickies to catch up! Shhhhh.... a legitimate reader would care more about the literature than the goal, but my competitiveness will win out over, well, everything every. single. time.

I've been reading pretty great stuff lately. Unfortunately (fortunately?) one of them was my favorite book of the year, The Fault in Our Stars, and after reading that, nothing else seemed very good. I finished it a few weeks ago, and since then nothing can compare (2 U!).

So here are my latest reviews. I kind of hate it when book reviews on Goodreads spend all kinds of time summarizing the plot, so sadly, you'll have to hunt down the plotlines yourself, but these are my thoughts on my latest reads...

 The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though at times I found myself skimming over the descriptions of the beautiful Guernsey islands, I loved this book's description of Vivienne, a wife and mother who tries to find her way during the German Occupation of WWII. It was so easy to recognize myself in her relationship with her daughters, and I found myself wondering how I would react in the situations with which she was presented. Good moral questions, interesting characters, and rich relationships between then. I very much enjoyed this book and would read it again, even though it was a little bit slow at parts.

View all my reviews

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Started this book at 9:30 tonight. Started tearing up about halfway through. Started actually sobbing with like 100 pages still left to go, and didn't stop. Finished the book at 12:30am with red, puffy eyes and soaking wet sweatshirt sleeves. Not a spoiler, I hope - the book is about teenagers that meet in a cancer support group - you know it's going to be sad.

This was a heartbreaking, unflinching story about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. Her perceptions on how her eventual death will affect her parents about ripped my heart out. Her love story with Augustus is beautifully written. The characters are a little bit ridiculous in how they speak, in a Dawson's Creek, pretentious, wanna-be adult kind of way, but honestly, I grew up with some kids that talked like that, so it didn't feel fake to me.

I've thought a lot about how to write a love story, how to show in writing, that compatibility, that comfort, that perfect fit. And John Green's got it figured out. I loved the love story, loved the relationships of the two main characters with their parents, just kind of all-over loved it. One of my favorites of the year.

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Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Gone Girl" is the story of a husband and wife with a strained marriage, which comes under scrutiny when the woman comes up missing.

I thought both main characters were well-written and believable, as was the disintegration of their marriage. I felt the issues they struggled with, and they way they handled them were believable. The plot kept me interested, and took twists and turns I didn't expect.

Part of me wishes I'd read the book earlier, before hearing that it was everyone's favorite read of 2012, because I think my expectations were a little too high. But I did enjoy it. I'd read it again if I came across it on vacation or something - and that is actually a compliment, since I really never re-read books. :) The book did have frequent strong language and swearing, so it's probably not for more conservative readers.

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The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a story going back and forth in time between the narrator, and the life story of the woman she is interviewing. I loved the woman's life story, but I felt that when the story when back into "real time" that it interrupted the magic. Overall, not a favorite. I finished it because I wanted to find out what happened to the twins, but I ended up doing a lot of skimming over the interviewing parts.

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Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel like I'm missing something by not loving this book, as it's on so many "favorites" lists. I kept waiting for a plot point to suck me in, and it just never happened. I've read many other reviewers saying that they were sobbing throughout the story, and I didn't even get teary-eyed. Maybe I couldn't get into it completely because I read it over the course of a week or two, when normally I read books in a night or two, or maybe it was because I just read "The Fault in Our Stars," which seemed much, MUCH sadder to me, but for whatever reason, I didn't love this as much as everybody else did.

I liked the characters, I liked their relationships - I loved reading about the relationship between Greta and June. The storyline just wasn't very interesting to me, for whatever reason.

I wouldn't mind a re-read next year to see if maybe I like it better, because it sure seems like everybody else does.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How To Make Amazing Mashed Potatoes (just in time for Thanksgiving!)

Let's all take deep breaths and come down from Election Week with some comfort food, shall we?

So until I married my husband, I had no idea that people, like, ATE mashed potatoes for anything other than Thanksgiving. Did you know people just have them as a side dish for regular dinner sometimes? That's because they're actually super easy to make. Since my husband taught me his chef secrets to mashed potatoes, I am now the designated Mashed Potato Master at my house.

A note on deciding on the amount -  I go with 1.5 Russet potatoes for each adult if they are a side dish in a regular meal. If I am making them for something like Thanksgiving where they are one of many dishes, I go with just one per adult. This is plenty, with leftovers, but you never want to be caught running out of the mashed potatoes!

So here's how to make good old basic mashed potatoes....

Simply Perfect Mashed Potatoes
serves 8-10 (click here for printable version)
12 Russet potatoes
3/4 c. milk
4-5 T. butter, plus 1 T. for topping
2-2.5 t. Kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 c. sour cream

Peel potatoes and chop into cubes. Place into stockpot filled with cold water. Salt the water and turn on your burner to medium-high heat. Cook potatoes just until they break easily when pierced with a fork, like this:

Do not overcook your potatoes! You'll notice here that this chunk of potato isn't falling apart or anything - you don't want mushy, grainy potatoes here.

Drain potatoes in colander and empty into bowl of your Kitchenaid mixer. Use regular paddle attachment and turn on low. Measure out milk, butter, sour cream, and salt and add to potatoes. Turn up speed, and continue to mix. Stop periodically to scrape down sides of the bowl.

Mix potatoes to desired consistency. I like mine pretty smooth, like this:

Spoon into bowl, top with another tablespoon of butter, and serve!

This recipe is SUPER flexible. If you don't have sour cream, leave it out. Use any type of milk and sour cream that you have (I used skim milk and low-fat sour cream here since that's what was in the fridge). Just definitely don't use margarine - mashed potatoes deserve real butter! If you use regular table salt rather than Kosher, you may want to increase the amount a little bit, since Kosher gives you a little more bang for your buck. The amounts of all the ingredients are super flexible as well if you like a different taste or texture, and this is a good base recipe to add herbs, garlic, or whatever. The only thing I will say is that the secret to the delicious taste of these potatoes is plenty of salt. The salt is what brings out the flavor of the potatoes, so don't leave it out. Start with 2 teaspoons, and keep adding by the quarter/half teaspoon until they taste amazing. Don't go all the way to 3 tsp. of Kosher salt, though - that's a little too much (um, or so I've heard). Mmmmmmm..... now go enjoy some carb-y, comfort-food deliciousness!

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I'm Politically Liberal BECAUSE I'm a Mormon, Not in Spite of It

It's somewhat of an anomaly to be an actively believing Mormon, and an actively voting Democrat, but we do exist. I've been asked, "How are you a Democrat even though you're Mormon?" I'm not politically liberal even though I'm a Mormon. I'm politically liberal because I'm a Mormon. The ideals and beliefs of the Democratic party align more closely with how I interpret and believe the doctrine of Christianity and Mormonism. In essence, we are here to take care of each other, to love each other, to worship how we would like to, but "allow all men the same privilege." I would rather over-serve than under-serve the needy, rather too much of my money goes toward helping others than not enough.

I'm not writing this to convince the other 90% of Mormons out there to vote Democrat. I know better. I don't know everything about politics, and I'm not going to go head to head with angry commenters. I'm just writing this in hopes of having my voice heard, so that maybe there are a few people out there who might think of "liberals" differently, more lovingly, more gently - maybe realize we're not so different from you. The leaders of the church constantly plead with the members to be civil with each other in the area of politics, yet I have been told by members that I should not have a temple recommend, should not hold leadership callings, and that I am amongst the "lowest of the low," all because I lean liberal politically. I'm serious - it's so ridiculous. Just.... be gentle. You use your vote, and I'll use mine, and let's just respect each other.

Here are the primary reasons I feel that the Democratic values and ideas align with my Mormon/Christian ideals:

There's a phrase most people are familiar with - a "bleeding heart liberal." This is how I would describe myself in every sense of the word, and proudly. Do I believe in taking care of others maybe too much? Yes, if those are the options. Jesus Christ taught us to love and take care of one another, and despite the flaws in the welfare system, that is what it's there to do. Is there abuse in the welfare system? Of course. But that's between them and God. But I believe that it is my job to give some of my material "wealth" to others so that they can make it through a tough time. I love these scriptures in Mosiah 4:
16 And also, ye yourselves will asuccor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the bbeggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
 17 Perhaps thou shalt asay: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
 19 For behold, are we not all abeggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

Yes, people abuse welfare. Of course they do. But guess what? Many people might view it as welfare abuse when a Mormon family accepts welfare so that the husband can go to school and the wife can stay at home with the children, when she is otherwise perfectly capable of working. Or when a woman drops out of college to get married at 19 because she believes God wants her to be a stay-at-home-mom. If you get to decide those things are okay for your family, then go right ahead - BUT you have to allow that other families are making the best choices for them, even if it doesn't make sense to an outsider, just like your choices might not make sense to someone else.

I don't believe that Christ would stand at the border between the United States and Mexico and turn people away. "Sorry, you were born in the wrong country. Bummer for your kids." No. And I definitely don't think that the Christ I believe in would spew the kind of hateful diatribes toward "illegals" that I have heard so many times from members of the Church.

Although I know that not every immigrant into this country is a good person, all the illegal immigrants I have met personally have just wanted a better life for themselves and their families, and I don't think we should be denying that to anyone. While my ultimate dream would be open borders, full amnesty for immigrants working and/or attending school would be a great start.

I think for many members of the church, this is where the disconnect lies - how an active member of the Mormon church can align with a political party that generally supports abortion and gay marriage. It is my view that when you choose to live in a country that is governed by a democracy, you are choosing a life where the morals of the country are governed by the majority. If the majority of this country feels that abortion rights and gay marriage should be protected, then I am fine with that. Just as I get to choose my set of morals, so does everybody else. Sometimes they coincide, sometimes they do not - and that's okay with me. I often think of the 11th Article of Faith here: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." If I want my vote on moral issues to be respected, I have to respect others'.

I whole-heartedly support health care reform. I don't believe that there is a perfect solution for a country the size of the United States. However, I do believe that everyone should be able to access health care, that people should not be denied because of pre-existing conditions, and that the President should be taking steps to actively change the way that health care functions in this country. Again, I believe this falls under the umbrella of taking care of our fellow man. No one should have to go without health care, especially children.

When we were young marrieds, we could not afford to pay out of pocket for the type of health insurance we needed to have babies. Without a trace of guilt, I signed up for a state program for middle-income families that allowed us to pay a percentage of our income for maternity and childbirth costs, and we were able to have three beautiful children. We also could not afford several hundred dollars for their private health insurance, so there was a period of time where they were also on state insurance. Do I regret using those programs so that we could have kids? No, not for a moment! And now that we're in a better place financially, I don't begrudge my income going toward state programs for other people. I believe that we should take care of each other.

 Obviously there are so many issues here I'm not even touching. But these are the issues that matter the most to me, and I appreciate you reading my thoughts on them. As we go into the election this week, and deal with the ramifications of it in the weeks, months, and years to come, it is my hope that we can all keep in mind the words of President Hinckley: "Political differences never justify hatred or ill will. I hope that the Lord's people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties."

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