Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trial and Error: Vegetable Edition

During the winter my boyfriend and I purchased our first house together and the prospect of being a homeowner is a daunting enterprise.  Though we've been in our house for six months  now, there are constant challenges and any romantic notions that I had went out the window very quickly.  The problems that crop up are none that HGTV prepared me for. There were none of those magical makeover moments, nor did those scary Holmes on Holmes issues come to light (knock on wood).  Instead we found ourselves replacing gutters and fantasizing about a life which might include an on-demand hot water heater.  

One of the elements of owning a house of which I was completely ignorant of was the overhauling and maintenance of a garden. As an apartment dweller for most of my life, I never had the need to learn anything about taking care of a garden, and my past as an indoor plant serial killer made my chances of success doubtful at best. Still I approached this challenge with gusto, and did the only thing I knew what to do when confronted by my own lack of knowledge, research.  I bought The Zero-Mile Diet by Carolyn Herriot and used it as my guide to planting a respectable vegetable garden which might bring about something edible.  

The book is structured like a calendar and I found this approach to be very helpful. For each month, there are different topics and instructions of what you should be doing to prepare, plant or harvest your garden.  Particularly being from the West Coast where temperatures are much different than those of other parts of the country, I was happy to find a resource which has advice that corresponds to our unique climate.  Although I think that the advice could be applied to other areas if one were to shift the calendar two months or so forward.  The tidbits of advice which Herriot gives throughout the book are clear and very practical, and I can easily envision myself carrying out some of her tips as I become more confident of my abilities.  

At this point I am doing the gardening equivalent of throwing a bunch of things against the wall and hoping that something sticks.  If anything grows, I will consider it to be a victory and with The Zero-Mile Diet, I feel that I have a better chance.      

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Second Look

I have many books in my past, good books, which I failed to finish for one reason or another.  These books haunt me every time I go to my shelves to pick out my reading material.  Above all others, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and my inability to read it cover to cover, bothered me more than any other botched attempt.  My tastes are fickle with little logic behind my decisions to read or give up and move on.  

When embarking on a recent vacation to a destination with no phone reception, internet or cable, I chose to finally go back to this spurned novel and give it another chance.  This time around, the book was equally as gripping and my understanding of the characters only deepened with my more mature perspective (such as it is).  The plot revolves around a family who are about to spend their last Christmas together in their family home in the heart of the American Midwest.  Leading up to this holiday, each character muses how, for different reasons, they are dreading the holiday and the inevitable confrontation it will entail.  There are three grown children in this family, Chip, an overindulged former academic, Denise, a brilliant chef with a weakness for married men, and Gary, the depressed dictator of the Lambert brood.  These siblings, each with their own serious issues, come together (or butt heads) while trying to deal with their father's ailing health and their mother's denial.  

It is this story about the Lambert patriarch's broken body and deteriorating mind,that drives the narrative and provides relevant insights.  Though the book was written over a decade ago, the plot of grown children looking after their aging parents and having to make tough choices, is even more topical today with the Baby Boomer generation heading into their golden years.  I thought that Franzen's treatment of the dilemma's facing the siblings had a realism which struck a chord with me, though I felt that their dysfunctional lives were a little over the top.  Another theme that appeared throughout the book, was the complex relationship that the characters had with pharmaceuticals.  At the time that the book was written, the concept of people medicating their way out of their problems was new and this theme is played out in the lives of different characters spanning across both generations.  

Although I have pointed out these two themes as being particularly strong, there is a lot of depth to this novel and it really presents a thorough snapshot of American life in the late nineties.  With the constraints of a short blog entry, I sometimes worry about not doing justice to a book which is vast in scope, and this book in particular presents challenges to this medium. After all these years of sitting on my shelf and eliciting feelings of guilt, I am glad that I finally picked this book up again, and took an unexpectedly great journey.