Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Help: Book & Film Review

I read this in June when I saw it mentioned on someone’s blog.  This was before I even knew a movie based on the book came out a couple months later.  Israel brought it home from the library on a Tuesday and I literally never wanted to stop reading it—I even took it with me to work just in case I had any down time to read.  Even if I didn’t, I just wanted it with me.  That’s always a good sign, right?  Two days and four-hundred and sixty-four pages later, the book was finished.  Out of the 14 books I’ve read this summer, this one was hands down my favorite, which is why I decided to write about it first.

The story takes place in hellishly hot Jacksonville, Mississippi in the 1960s, when the issue of civil rights was at the all-time boiling point.  The chapters alternate focusing on different black maids and the families they served.  It was a sad reality for them that the white children they pretty much raised and loved for years would grow up and wonder why they were treated differently, only to sadly change their own attitudes toward these women who took care of them. 

Skeeter, a white woman who wants to track down her own maid who raised her, decides to write about this controversial subject. She brings courage and hope to the black community, while also giving Skeeter the courage to break down the barriers and pursue her own dreams.

I couldn’t stop talking about this book for months and Israel knew how much I loved it, so he surprised me with tickets to go see the movie a couple of weeks ago.  Although obviously they couldn’t fit every single plot line from the book in, I thought they stayed pretty close to the story.  And the casting was spot-on.  Celia was exactly how I pictured her, with her squeaky high mouse voice and tightly fitting dresses.  I loved it.

Do yourself a favor and first, read the book.  Believe me, you’ll be hooked and it won’t take you long at all to finish it.  And then treat yourself to seeing it depicted on film at the theatre.  

Summer Reading List

I've been reading like crazy this summer!  I think this is the most books I have ever read in such a short span of time from June until now.  I have a few reviews coming, but I don't think I will write a review of every single one, maybe just a short one.  Anyway, here's what I've been reading lately:

1.  The Help

2.  *Cooking for Mr. Latte

3.  Vanishing Acts

4.  Sarah's Key

5.  The Centurion's Wife

6.  The Paris Wife

7.  Kite Runner

8.  Water for Elephants

9.  Her Fearful Symmetry

10.  My Sister's Keeper

11.  The Walk

12.  *Eat, Pray, Love

Currently reading:

13.  The Alchemist

14.  Bright's Passage (was THRILLED that Josh Ritter's first novel had just come out!)

* = didn't finish

So, these have all been pretty interesting books.  Ironically, I really only liked about 4 of these books.  Weirdest one?  Definitely Her Fearful Symmetry.  Favorite?  The Help.  Hands down.  That will be my first review to come later today.

What's on your reading list?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Simple Split Pea Soup

I had never really fancied peas much until college.  Ah yes, those were the days of no responsibilities, sleeping in, going to class in my pajamas, climbing water towers, scouting out adventures, pulling ridiculous pranks with Rachel Wa, and staying up until 3 A.M. while still managing to catch my early 8 A.M. class just a few hours later.  

I remember the exact day when I started to grow an appreciation for this small, starchy vegetable.  It was my freshman year at Washburn and I was hanging out with Rachel Martin almost every day, or at least every other day.  One Sunday after church, she invited me over to her house, then at Mrs. Gordy's, and she made us a truly unique lunch of defrosted burritos, mac-n-cheese and peas.  We ate as we watched Howls' Moving Castle.  

Rachel told me I should mix the peas and mac-n-cheese together, contrary to my very confused face.  And something beautiful had been born-- a comfort food that would last me through the rest of my college years.  

While my affair with mac-n-cheese and peas continued on, I had no idea that such a thing as Split Pea Soup existed until I moved to Miami.  My husband had ordered it at a restaurant shortly after our honeymoon, and I stole a taste from his bowl.  While it's not fancy, it's definitely not pretty, its simple flavor and texture is so satisfying.  

So, I give you my simplified version of this soup, but this is no puny soup.  It's hearty and very thick.  I hate to say it, but peas just aren't that photogenic and I debated for a while whether to even put up a picture.  But I just I couldn't bring myself to take a photo.... but you must take my word for it that this soup's delicious!  Here's what you need:

Simple Split Pea Soup:

1 T. Olive Oil
1 Onion, Chopped
1 Bayleaf (Or 1 tsp. ground)
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 C. Dried Split Peas
1 1/2 tsp. Salt
6 C. Water
2/3 C. Chicken Broth 
2 Carrots, Steamed and Finely Chopped
1/2 tsp. Dried Basil
1/2 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
1/2 C. Chopped Parsley

In large pot over medium heat, saute oil, onion, bayleaf and garlic for five minutes, or until onions are translucent.  Add peas, salt and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for one hour to one hour and a half, stirring occasionally.

Add carrots, parsley, basic and pepper.  Simmer until peas and vegetables are tender and soup is thick-- about half an hour.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Day

Yesterday was truly just... a day.  It was worse than my birthday.  A terrible, hot, frustrating and waiting day.  After some confusion with the power company, our power was shut off on Saturday.  We called them that night and worked it out and they said they might be able to send someone over the next morning.  We threw some ice in the freezer and got out of there (I don't think I need to mention how hot Miami is in August).  We spent the night at my mother-in-law's house and headed back the next day to brave the heat for one more day (or so we thought). 

We were expecting the power guys to come in the morning yesterday, so I left the house and spent a couple hours at the library.  I came home, expecting there to once again be A/C and hoping to salvage most of the food rotting in our fridge.  No power still.  So I called and apparently someone had come by but cancelled the order (without letting us know) when he couldn't get past the security door.  We had figured that if they had successfully turned it off without us letting them in, there wouldn't be any problems for turning it back on.  But apparently, the person who resets the system has different "powers." 

They resubmitted our request, apologized for the inconvenience and told us someone would be by between noon and midnight-- quite a large window.... and I had to stay inside our hot apartment all day to make sure they could be let in.  I spent the whole entire afternoon until Israel came home close to 7 reading My Sister's Keeper, which is an excellent book.  We called again and then again once more three hours later.  By this time it was about 10:30 and no one had come yet.  Israel and I couldn't bear the heat inside, so we ate McDonald's and played the Alphabet Game outside our apartment.  When we called the last time, we had been informed that our appointment had been rescheduled for the following day (again without notifying us).

This is the moment when you have to speak to someone in charge to get things done.  Israel asked to speak to a supervisor, and apparently that department is already closed at midnight.  But he told us he would try to send someone over.  And finally, when we were delirious with heat, our power guy finally showed up at 11:30 and our power was restored. 

Today, I'm dealing with the aftermath of our fridge, which is basically throwing everything away that went bad this weekend (which is pretty much the entire contents of our fridge).  Awesome.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Hello, friends.

It's been a while since I've written anything, and I just wanted to let you know I'm still here.  It's been a bit of a crazy week, and on top of that, my laptop charger is broken.  I've ordered a new one online so I should be getting it in the mail sometime this week. 

I've been writing down several recipes for the last few weeks as I experiment with new ones in the kitchen, so I've got a few to share with you, including sugar cookies (created entirely by yours truly), split pea soup, and several casserole dishes.  I've also been reading like a madwoman so I've got several book reviews to share with you.

I'm not always sure what to write on here because lately my life has been pretty routine, not that I don't like it.  In general, my days begin with running or working out, eating a leisurely breakfast, heading to the library and applying for jobs, and back home for a few hours of reading a new book and then starting on dinner.  I know that may seem pretty luxurious to most of you, but honestly, I really would rather be working.  It's hard not to feel guilty for not quitting my job, because we're not in the kind of financial position for a one working person household.  So I continue to look for jobs and applying like crazy.  It's definitely a tough market out there right now. 

On another note, I got a bike!  It's a gift from my mom and Bekah, and it's such a blessing.  I was getting pretty frustrated with running as my only form of exercise, and it's so wonderful to have a bike again.  I haven't been on one in a year!!  It's definitely my preferred mode of working out.  Yesterday, I took it out for a spin around the golf course/country club trail and around some of the surrounding neighborhoods.  Yay for bikes!

I will write again soon.  I just have to steal one of those limited computers at the library.  But I shall do it.  Alos, a Happy Birthday to Renae, Mom and Justin who all have birthdays within four days of each other. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blowing the Lid Off: A Macy's Exposé

So, for those of you who don't know yet, I quit my job a few weeks ago.

Basically, Macy's sucked.  A lot.  I dreaded going to work, I was always stressed out and even after I had gotten home, I would still be thinking about it.  I've never worked in such a hostile work environment.  I only lasted there a couple of months and I don't know how people can stand working in retail for much longer than that.

I have a lot of stories to share about the craziness of Macy's.  So, this may become a series of blog posts.  For now, I'll tell you all about my first couple of days there.  I worked as a floater between all the different lines in Cosmetics and Fragrances.  I could pick up whatever shifts I wanted online (this was my favorite part) for whatever line had an opening.  After completing a rather extensive training day on the POS (a type of register that basically has everything on it... your schedule, a clock-in system, not to mention handles all the sales, returns, etc), I began my first day in Fragrances working with another girl who was supposed to show me around.  Every employee has a sales goal for the day that is calculated on the computer, based on what department you're scheduled for and what line you're working in that day.

Although I had gotten plenty of training in the general sense of sales and about Macy's, my manager never trained me in my department.  So, my first night was a pretty short shift (6-9) and I ended up opening a Macy's account, by sheer luck.  This was my first and only account I opened, much to the managers' disappointment.  This is their number one priority, above sales and customer service, no matter what they tell you in training.  I was never in their good graces because I opened only one account the whole time I worked there (they tell you that you should be opening at least two accounts a week).  I would habitually ask, "Would you like to open a Macy's Account to save 15 percent on your purchases today?" but after they usually rejected my awesome offer, I just gave up.  I would never want to push that card on people when a ton of credit cards are usually not a good idea.

For you Macy's shoppers, always decline to open a Macy's account.  It's a scam and they're only asking you to open one so they can get Macy's points or to please their manager.  So, my first day I walked around all the Women's and Men's Fragrances and began to get familiar with their scents.  It went by pretty quickly and with the help of one of my co-workers, I closed my register and went home.  Two days later, I was to open at Clinique.  I showed up, expecting someone else to be working with me to at least show me around, but to my surprise I was going to be the only one for three more hours.  I had never opened a register, so naturally I began to panic until a bleach-blonde aggressive New Yorker (let's call her Lion Queen) came over and barked, "Are you new?"  I told her yes and that I would love any help she could give me since no one else was coming in for a while.

She helped me open the register and an announcement came on the PA for all employees to collect in the Men's Fragrances section for the daily "morning rally." After this very cheesy meeting, I went back to my place in Clinique.  Every counter keeps their supplies in locked drawers and you have to unlock and relock the drawer each time you get something out.  So, since I didn't know where anything was kept and nothing was labeled, I began to unlock every single drawer to get an idea where things were.  Keep in mind also, that Clinique and most every other line has a ton of not only different makeup products, but also a ton of skin care products.  And I knew nothing about any of them, because I hadn't been trained at all.  So the morning progressed and I handled a few customers' transactions, but I was completely stressed out.

Fast forward to the last hour of my shift, and I had the most difficult customers of the day.  One woman was trying to make a return off of something she didn't have the receipt for, nor had she paid with a Macy's card or credit card to look up her previous purchase.  I politely told her that I was new and to please have patience with me, so I called someone in another line and asked them to come over to help.  The woman began to grow very impatient with me and yelled at me, "Forget about it, I just want my money back!"

A few minutes later, a young teenage girl came up and listed off the names of three products she needed.  I told her to be patient because I didn't know where anything was kept, and she was pretty nice about it at first.  After I had spent probably close to fifteen minutes finding everything she needed, I brought her purchases up to the register, and the girl asked, "I'm going to get a free sample, right?  Cause I'm not just going to buy all this and not get any."  I told her that I didn't know where the samples were kept so I apologized and she threatened again, "Well, I really need a mascara sample or I'm just going to go to Bloomingdales."  I told her again I didn't where they were, I wasn't trying to keep them from her intentionally, and so she just left her things there and left.  This was my very last customer of the day, and I left as soon as I could and called Israel crying.  My first day on the job and I already hated it.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll explain the daily morning rallies!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This Land is my Land

I never realized how beautiful Kansas is until I left it.

I don't think anyone who leaves the home they grew up in appreciates it for what it is until they've lived somewhere else.

My heart aches for home.  I miss the ability to drive thirty minutes in any direction and already be in the country, surrounded by huge skies and landscapes that stretch for miles.  I miss the sunsets-- glorious explosions of pinks, oranges and purples jetting across the sky.

I can't wait to be back there next month.  By the time we are there, it will have been nine months since I left... which is the longest amount of time I've ever been gone.  I'm eager to be back in my home state.