book challenge 2007 update

As I roll into the last quarter of the year, I’m pausing to take stock of how well I’m doing on my own personal book-related challenges.

As expected, I have had no trouble actually reading, but a bit less success powering through some of the denser works that have been sitting by the side of my bed for years. Of the books I’ve read this year, just over half have been from the public library, and quite a few more have been books I’ve acquired this year. Only about 20% of what I’ve read have been books I’ve had kicking around my shelves for years. Which means, oh math whizzes, that on the order of a quarter of the books were books I acquired this year in one way or another.

I think I’ve done pretty well at not buying books. There are a few measures for ‘pretty well.’ I purchased very few new books at full price (the works of China Miéville that I didn’t already own in order to get them signed because I’m a geek that way; Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent book; the new books in two fantasy series that we read; two books by Canadian authors; and Sherman Alexie’s new novel for young adults). I purchased several books from the bargain table that I’d been wanting to read for some time or couldn’t resist once I’d read the cover (The Big Year is solidly in this last category). And, I obtained quite a few used books during the time I volunteered at the bookshop (many of these are cookbooks, actually, although a good few were ones I subsequently read for this challenge). Oh, and: I purchased at least one exhibition catalogue new.

I’m not sure what this says about me beyond the obvious: I like books.

Looking ahead to the next 10 weeks, my goal for the end of the year is to write reviews for the books I’ve already read. I trickled off with this at about book 20, so that means 30 or so reviews, which is roughly 3 per week for those following along at home. I’m on it.

book challenge 2007 update

book challenge 2007 progress report

At the end of month two, I have faced two major hurdles in my efforts to not buy new books this year, and come over them slightly battered. Vows were meant to be tested, right? Slips are an opportunity to get back on the wagon, right? Right.

In January, I visited Powells for the first time, and managed to limit myself to the purchase of used books (mostly poetry volumes) only. The whole category of previously owned books is an admitted gray area in my challenge: they are new-to-me, and they constitute more books that will need shelves in my home. In terms of managing the numbers of piles of books, then, it doesn’t get me there. In terms of managing the percentage of our budget that flows into book purchases, it improves the situation somewhat, although of course isn’t as good as just not buying anything. I hesitate to invoke that stalwart truism of consumer capitalism, ‘I could have bought even more, so what I did buy is small by comparison.’ Nonetheless, when it comes to visiting the most well-known independent bookstore in the country, I have to say: it could have been worse.

This past week, I smacked head on into my second hurdle, and it gave me a Texas thumpin’. Having chosen to attend an in-store reading, I was unable to resist buying the new book by one of my favorite authors, as I didn’t want to miss the chance to have it signed. In this instance, my vow to not spend money on books was in open conflict with my long-standing vow to purchase the books of authors I want to support when those books come out (rather than as remainders). In the end, the latter won out, and I was similarly unable to resist buying his book analyzing international law using Marxist theory, as I’ve been eager to read it and waiting for the less expensive trade paperback version to become available. And then, well, it became a matter of damage control, and I managed to leave the store with only an additional two books: his collection of stories that I’d not yet picked up, and a book on competitive birdwatching that hooked me in the first pages of the introduction.

Moral of the story: don’t go to bookstores, especially not well-stocked independent ones, and definitely don’t pick up books from the sale rack to leaf through while waiting in line for the loo.

book challenge 2007 progress report

1st cookie date — chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

My main holiday gift to my partner this year was a cookbook, Great Cookies. It is, as the title leads one to believe, a cookbook entirely consisting of cookie recipes, over 300 of them. The author does include in the ‘cookie’ moniker some types of bars (i.e. Florentines), balls (i.e. peanut butter ones), and culturally specific confections (i.e. Palmiers) that others might call sweets or pastries. I’m just sayin’.

While I’m sure we could have happily just read cookie recipes all year long, the gift also included a weekly date to make cookies together. He will get to pick the recipe each week (because it’s his gift) and I will make sure we have the ingredients and show him how to, for example, beat egg whites and things like that. I imagine we’ll max out my technical expertise somewhere in, let’s say, April, at which point we’ll either make simpler recipes or learn together.

I hope that all of this will be facilitated by the new electric hand mixer and non-slip counter pad I recently acquired, with my birthday gift certificate from his mother. I’ve never owned an electric mixer before, much to the surprise and consternation of our friend who got tagged to mix the buttercream frosting for our holiday cookies last month. I witnessed many puzzled looks of pain and concentration on his face as he creamed the butter with a wooden spoon and then resorted to the potato masher (an implement only purchased this past year as well; I used to just use a fork) to meet his electric mixer frosting standards. In the end, the frosting was great, completely uniform in texture and color, which nudged me—along with our collective sore shoulders—to look into an electric mixer.

In the end, I’m glad I did, because Great Cookies presumes you have one and doesn’t use instructions like ‘cream’ but instead ‘mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.’ Am I alone in believing that you don’t need an electric mixer to bake, just a strong arm? I didn’t realize that they had become so much the norm.

At any rate, tonight was our first cookie date, making it also the first time we used the mixer. We made chocolate chip peanut butter cookies (p. 36). The recipe was more labor intensive than the ones we’re used to (my pfeffernusse recipe with a gazillion ingredients comes closest), but we followed the instructions and used the food processor for the sugars and the mixer for the butter. I had a little trouble with keeping the mixer steady while creaming the butter, but I expect it will get easier as I get more used to handling it. Later steps went more smoothly, and our shoulders certainly aren’t as sore as they might have been in the past with all this mixing.

The cookies themselves are tasty, and they look nice and even, with uniform consistency. We were both expecting a cookie that was more ‘peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips’ and we got ‘chocolate chip cookie with peanut flavor.’ Given that, we probably won’t make this cookie again; it’s a lot of steps for a chocolate chip cookie. And, while it tastes nice, I put it in the ‘I’d eat it if I wanted a cookie, but I wouldn’t get in any fistfights over it’ category.

overall ratings:
ease of preparation: 3.5
match to expectations: 2.5
‘the cookie itself’: 3

1st cookie date — chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

setting intentions for 2007

Welcome, new year!

I have quite a few big intentions for 2007. They mostly involve creating daily habits: daily walking, daily zazen, daily yoga, daily vitamins, daily reading, daily writing. I could add ‘daily drinking coffee’ and ‘daily watching the birds out my back window,’ but those are habits I already have pretty well established. I could also add: weekly cooking, weekly art-making, weekly yard-beautifying. To sum up: it is my intention in 2007 to create the life I want to be living.

I’m proud of myself for fending off another offer to return to teach in the spring (my beloved little honors class). I don’t know what kind of employment, if any, I’ll seek out this year, but this spring will mark the first time I’ve not taught college for two semesters in a row in 9 years. That seems like an important achievement for me.

One thing is certain, though. I’m definitely looking forward to getting this year on the road and seeing what 2007 has in store for me.

setting intentions for 2007

reflecting on 2006

This past year included several good changes for me. I bought a house, I left teaching, and I moved to a new state.

I also learned to do two things I’ve wanted to learn for years: how to use a pottery wheel, and how to make art mosaics. I plan to work in both these media during the coming year, and it’s always nice to be able to accomplish something on my list of things to do in my lifetime.

On a smaller scale, I successfully knitted two scarves–one for me, and one for my toddler pal. I technically learned to knit in 2005, but these are to date the only two things I’ve successfully completed, and I have yet to learn how to knit things that are not rectangles of some kind. I have yet to return to studio painting, but I painted my dining room and one bathroom, and I have plans to paint nearly every other room in our house. I am nowhere near as skilled a painter as my grandfather, but I was pleased to paint the rooms without using edging tape, and with only minimal drips on the plastic (I haven’t taken the leap of some in my family of not putting down plastic at all).

This past year I also lost my pet hamster, Ernest, to old age. When I got him in 2004, it had been 10 years since the last time I’d had a pet. He was a good little guy, and well worth the $8.99 we paid for him.

All in all, 2006 was a full and swiftly moving year. It’s left me with lots to build on for 2007.


mosaic mirror
My first mosaic project, made during the mosaic workshop I took in Ann Arbor, inspired by my grandparents’ blueberry farm.

reflecting on 2006