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Being the Best Fit   Leave a comment

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Becoming, by Michelle Obama, loitered on my nightstand for months; I’d pick it up, read a little and abandon it again. Despite rave reviews from friends who’d read the book, I was initially underwhelmed. I wasn’t interested in her piano lessons and other accounts of her childhood. Yet, I stuck with it and was rewarded with what proved to be an engaging memoir.

During Obama’s time in the spotlight, I was impressed with her friendly, accessible demeanor and forthrightness. I came to appreciate these same attributes in her book. She truly came from humble beginnings. Her close-knit family, personal drive and obvious intellect helped propel her to the popularity she enjoyed as First Lady.

Obama shares her life story moving from those early years (piano lessons included) to her teens, from college to a high-powered legal career, from meeting Barack to becoming a mother. Each of the book’s sections highlights a specific period: “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us” and “Becoming More.” The latter focuses on her life in the public eye as the wife of the first African American president, her efforts to exceed expectations because of a sense that many wanted the Obamas to fail and her determination to create some semblance of a normal family life for her daughters.

Through an easy-going, almost conversational tone, Obama’s narrative evokes emotion, pride and, at times, dismay. This is about someone you’d like to meet. She’s already invited you into her life through her deeds. The book simply adds an exclamation point.

Becoming
Four-and-a-half Book marks
Crown Books, 2018
426 pages

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Against the Odds   Leave a comment

 

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Fans of Trevor Noah will hear his voice when reading Trevor Noah: Born a Crime. His humor, sensitivity and ability to engage his audience are evident from the first chapter.

Noah recounts his experiences growing up in South Africa. He is the son of black South African woman and a white German father. Interracial relationships were forbidden.

Interspersed with his personal accounts of his childhood and adolescence are explanations of Apartheid. Consequently, Born a Crime not only entertains, but also educates. Hypocrisy and racial discrimination are dominant themes.

Yet, Noah learns to rely on his street smarts. He discovers early that language is a great equalizer. Thanks to his mother, English was the first language he learned. He picked up several others as a child he saw the ways his mother used language to “cross boundaries, handle situations, navigate the world.”

This was not the only important lesson from his mother. She instilled in him the importance of an education even if it took years for him to appreciate its value.

Religion, poverty and domestic violence also are addressed in Noah’s memoir. His mother was religious, to the extreme. His attempts to avoid going to church, which would be an all-day activity on Sundays, were thwarted by his mother’s deep faith.

Noah doesn’t sugarcoat his past, neither as the biracial son born out of wedlock, nor some poor decisions made in an effort to overcome economic injustice. His mother always has his back and her faith in God never wavers.

Trevor Noah: Born a Crime
Stories from a South African Childhood
Four Bookmarks
Speigel & Grau, 2016
304 pages

Our Once Lively Dog   7 comments

 (This is obviously not a review of a book or restaurant, just my feelings today.)

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              Jackson’s last day in the sun.

Today I said goodbye and thank you to Jackson, my shadow/companion of the last 12 years. This Pointer mix, we adopted from the Humane society filled our hearts in ways we never imagined. Andrew gets credit for picking him. Later he slept on the floor with Jackson that first night home. We had two sons in high school and one in college when he joined our family.

Each of us has special recollections of our exuberant dog, who until the last month, still had a lot of puppy in him.

He could be annoying whenever someone came to the door. He didn’t jump as much as bounce around. He knew which friends  meant a hike was in store, and he was always ready for a hike. This morning was no exception. His weakened state didn’t deter his desire. As much as he wanted to keep going, I knew it had to be short.

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                                    With our Swedish son’s shoe; he didn’t chew, he just liked it nearby.

Jackson is the third dog I’ve had as an adult. I think each member of my family considers him theirs. Having said goodbye to the others, including those belonging to friends, I expected this to be somewhat easier than it was; not so. Perhaps it’s because he filled another role when my husband and I became empty-nesters.

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                                                 The view from one of regular morning hikes.

He greeted me with a hug each morning, although this honor was later shared with my daughters-in-law. Even as adults, with pets of their own, my sons remained devoted to Jackson. Their sadness intensifies mine. So, I’ll try to think of Jackson’s happier days, because they’re among mine, too.

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                      Jackson’s first day home.

Posted June 24, 2019 by bluepagespecial in Uncategorized

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Love and Sacrifice   1 comment

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An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma is creatively written drawing on Nigerian folklore to tell a modern story of love, personal freedom and expectations.

Chinonso, a chicken farmer, meets Ndali, a young woman about to jump off a bridge. He convinces her not to leap, and they go their separate ways. His parents are deceased, his sister estranged. Ndali is in pharmacy school and is the daughter of a wealthy family. She tracks him down, they fall in love, and happily ever should come next.

Of course, her parents disapprove not just because he is a chicken farmer, but because he isn’t well-educated. He decides to pursue a college education knowing it will be a long process. An old friend arrives boasting of life in Cyprus where it’s easy to find a good-paying job and finish college in less time than in Nigeria. The friend makes the necessary arrangements; Chinonso sells his flock, his house, gives his friend money and leaves Ndali to become a better man.

Chinonso’s chi, inner spirit, narrates Chinonso’s story to the Igbo deities, of which there are several. Most paragraphs, directed to one or more in particular, are full of lengthy details foretelling of something ruinous to come motivated by Chinonso’s deep love for Ndali.

Chinonso believes in his decision; Ndali is less sure. His journey is a roller coaster of hope and despair, which the reader shares with Chinonso. This is far from uplifting, yet the narrative lingers long after the last page.

An Orchestra of Minorities
Four Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2019
448 pages

Ann Tyler’s Clock Dance   1 comment

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Clock Dance is distinguished from Anne Tyler’s other works because of its setting. Yes, Baltimore does figure into the plot, but not immediately. Other locales provide the initial settings. The story doesn’t come alive, though, until the main character arrives in Charm City.

Three phases of Willa Drake’s life ultimately influence her character: as a child when her mother randomly, and temporarily, leaves the family; as a college coed considering whether or not to accept a marriage proposal without finishing her degree; finally, in her sixties when she receives a call to come to Baltimore from Arizona to care for Cheryl, the 9-year-old daughter of her grown son’s injured ex-girlfriend, Denise. Yes, that’s a tenuous connection.

Before Baltimore, Willa is widowed when her boys are teenagers. They grow up, she remarries and has little communication with them. The surprise request is from Denise’s neighbor who sees Willa’s number on a list of emergency contacts. It takes some persuasion, but Willa agrees to help people about whom she knows nothing. In the process of caring for others who need her, Willa discovers a sense of belonging she hasn’t experienced.

Tyler’s characters are vulnerable, real and endearing. Cheryl is a no-nonsense kid whose strong sense of independence comes from being the daughter of a single mother. The author brings Baltimore to life through descriptions of Denise and Cheryl’s neighborhood and its quirky residents, of which there are many.

Although somewhat predictable, Clock Dance is a charming tale of the need to belong.

Clock Dance
Four+ Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2018
292 pages

LA Food Bowl Part I   Leave a comment

Iranian rest

The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl is more than a celebration of food, although it certainly plays a major role. It’s also about the city’s culture and the various neighborhoods comprising the metropolitan area. Each contributes to the literal and figurative flavor of the city. Time constraints restricted us to only two of the month-long events – although we did dine at other restaurants during my recent five-day visit.

Iranian dinner menu

Every Wednesday in May Momed has offered an “Immigrant Dinner” featuring cuisine organized by an immigrant friend of the restaurant. We hit on Taste of Iran with guest chef Bita Milanian. The menu featured two appetizers and three entrees. We ordered one of everything. The most unusual, or new to me, was the Borani-e-labu. Diced roasted beets mixed with Persian yogurt gave this soupy, savory starter the color of cotton candy. (Sorry no photos.) The only problem was not enough pita with which to sop it up.

Iranian meatballEach entrée featured a blend of ingredients rendering it new to the palate: Kufteh: combined fresh herbs, ground beef, rice, barberries and walnuts. This was softball-size in shape and dressed with roasted yellow and red peppers.

Iranian chickenFava beans, lentils, pomegranate seeds, citrus, raisins, other rices and dates were among other components incorporated into the dishes.

Momed is short for Modern Mediterranean. It’s located in a residential area of Atwater Village.

Momed

3245 Casitas Ave.

Los Angeles, Calif.

LA Food Bowl Part II   Leave a comment

frites

Across town we enjoyed another LA Food Bowl event: Frites Fete at 189 by Dominque Ansel. This focused on something completely different: frites, aka pommes frites are French fries.

frites salad

The three-course meal began with an endive Caesar salad served with a cloud-like gougere made with gruyere,  hints of nutmeg and chili pepper. The entree choices were a choice of moules frites, steak frites or mushrooms. We all wanted the steak, but were curious about the mussels. Fortunately, we were able to order an appetizer serving, which was plenty. This was creamy, rich and as decadent as dessert.

frietes steak

Thinly sliced pieces of rare hanger steak in a house made demi glace was tender and grilled to perfection.

Of course, the frites were meant to be the star of the evening, but were overshadowed by the entrees. Still, the seasoned, crispy yet pliable fries were not the stuff of fast food establishments.

Dessert included a choice of tarte tatin: a puff pastry base topped with caramelized apple, caramelized banana or spiced pear. My favorite was the Fosters-like banana served with a generous dollop of crème fraiche.

In addition to what was served, was how. We had an exceptional server who was attentive, patient and had a good sense of humor – all were appreciated.

Ansel is, perhaps, best known for creating the cronut in New York City years ago. He opened a bakery and 189 in The Grove in Los Angeles in 2017.

189 by Dominque Ansel
The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, Calif.