Tag Archives: summer

summer blue (30/99)

Blueberries 2 - 6-28-2016

Blueberry - 6-28-2016Blueberries - 6-28-2016

Tonight’s blueberries, from the backyard.

Tomorrow’s breakfast.

Summer is here.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #30 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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sunday salon/ currently: reading, writing, blogging … and possibly hiking (28/99)

Sunday Salon banner

After a much busier-than-usual week (two work events, two get-togethers with friends), I’m feeling the need for some downtime.  Nothing is on the agenda today, my preferred way to spend a Sunday. I’d also prefer spending it on the deck, but since it’s a few degrees shy of 90 as I type this, indoors in the a/c seems to be the better option.  There’s the usual straightening up/cleaning to do around the house (which may or may not get done) and meal planning for the week.

Summer Reading … 
LaRoseShades of BlueFelicity

Since my last visit here in the Salon, I’ve finished three books: LaRose by Louise Erdrich, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, an anthology edited by the amazing Amy Ferris, and Felicity by Mary Oliver.

Of the three, Shades of Blue had the most impact on me and has earned a spot on my Best Of list for 2016. The honesty and courage of these writers as they share their personal experiences with mental health, addiction, depression, suicide, and grief is incredibly moving.  There’s something in every story that connects with you, which is the point.

Modern LoversI need to spend some time with Modern Lovers today. I’m reviewing this one for the Post-Gazette and that deadline is approaching quickly.  This is better than I expected; I judged it by the cover and immediately thought “fluffy beach read.”  It is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but sometimes you need that. And after this week (and this month’s depressing news cycle), I do.

So far I’m up to seven books for the library’s Summer Reading program.  (Magazines count for this; three of my “books” are actually periodicals.)  My goal is 20 and I’d like that to be heavier on the books than magazines.

Writing … 
The Girl starts a week-long Teen Fiction Writing camp tomorrow.  I would have loved this when I was her age. She did a similar program last year with this organization and really liked it.

Taking a Liking to Hiking …
The Boy is participating in a fabulous day camp program this summer for teens with Asperger’s. It emphasizes social skills and a lot of outdoor time.  They’ve been doing short hikes (approximately 4 miles, which certainly doesn’t sound that short to me). Surprisingly, he’s become very interested in hiking, trails and especially streams, and has expressed interest in continuing this when camp is finished in two weeks.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh is a great area for hiking so I’ve been looking into some possibilities for him and I to do some occasional short hikes together.  (If any local readers have suggestions, I need them as this is — quite literally — new territory for us.)

Blogging
#99DaysSummerBlogging is still going strong.  By the end of this week, we’ll be 1/3 of the way finished. (And so will summer!)  I’m slightly revising my approach to this project, though. One of my main motivations for doing this was to actually write every day. Admittedly, that’s been difficult as some posts need a few days to come together and I’m not a fan of posting something just for the hell of it.

I’ve realized that writing every day doesn’t mean the same as writing a brand new blog post and publishing it every day.  I’ve decided to give myself permission to write some posts in advance. That way, those can be pulled out of Drafts and published on days when I want to spend longer on other posts — or even other writing projects.

And speaking of which, a review is due soon, so back to my book I go.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #28 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

 

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sunday salon/currently … memorial day weekend edition

Sunday Salon banner

It’s a steamy start to the summer. (And yes, while the calendar may not consider it to be summer until June 21, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer in my book.) Yesterday my car’s thermometer said it was 95 degrees outside. I’m really not kidding when I say two weeks ago it was so chilly that I wore turtlenecks to work for three days.

I’m on our enclosed deck, enjoying being outside for as long as I can stand it. It’s humid enough to have the box fan going, which helps for now. We don’t have any grandiose plans this weekend. The usual appointments and errands. The Girl needs some summer clothes and that’s on the agenda for tomorrow.

99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Tomorrow starts my attempt to blog for 99 consecutive days. I’m thrilled that a few of you are joining me in this little project.  (You can too. Participating is intentionally very low key. No real requirements. No linkys. If you like, feel free to use the button above for any #99DaysSummerBlogging posts.) The accountability factor makes this more daunting (can I really keep up this pace? what if I run out of things to write about? what happens on the days I have a migraine?) but also exciting.  I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of writing every day and clearing out some of those half-baked posts in Drafts.

Big Book Reading Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

Another summer project that I’m taking on is the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge hosted by my friend Sue of Book by Book.  I usually participate in this because it only involves reading one book that’s at least 400 pages between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Definitely doable. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a partial list of what I’ve read for this challenge in previous years (links go to my reviews):

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins (572 pages)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (415 pages)
With My Body by Nikki Gemmell (462 pages)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (436 pages)
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (630 pages)
The Years by Virginia Woolf (435 pages)

Currently Reading …
LaRoseWith 372 pages, my current read — LaRose by Louise Erdrich — is just shy of qualifying for the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge. It’s a fascinating novel about family and culture.

Currently Listening To … 

Sin in the Second City

Still listening to Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. Part of the reason is because I work in an semi-open office environment, which can be challenging when one needs to concentrate. I usually just hit Shuffle on my entire music collection and And every day, I hear at least one song that seems to describe the day — or our current situation, or something, or someone I’m thinking about, or a memory — absolutely perfectly.

These are the songs that resonated most this week:

Linking

A few weeks ago, I purchased The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson because it seems like a book I’m going to want to own. Although I haven’t started it yet, Hilton Als’ feature on Maggie Nelson in the April 18 issue of The New Yorker (“Immediate Family”) makes me want to read this very soon.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) has a great list of mental health resources for teens In addition to books (fiction and nonfiction), blogs, and websites, there are apps that link to immediate crisis intervention and online discussion groups.

Once in a Lifetime is a new blog to me, thanks to Keith’s and my connection through Pittsburgh Bloggers. Keith’s post “A Month of Mental Health, An Eternity of Suicide”  makes some great observations about the hypocrisy of the media’s relentless messages of perfection and its embrace of Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m a big fan of the Netflix series “House of Cards.” In this article from The New York Times, Robin Wright may have more in common with Claire Underwood than we previously thought. #FUCU2016

Some thoughts on … well, the power of our thoughts.

What are you thinking about on this Memorial Day weekend?  

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Make a Splash with 99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Every year, the same thing.

“Summer went by too fast!”

“How can it be back-to-school time already?”

“It seems like summer just started!”

We make bucket lists, grand plans to make the most of these lazy, hazy, crazy days.  We vow to keep summer simple, to enjoy the moments that matter.

And then September arrives and those days become a blur.

Did you know there are exactly 99 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day?  A lot can happen in that time.

A lot that’s worth remembering and sharing with your words and photos.

Inspired by my friend Emily Levenson, who recently did a #100DaysBlogging project, I have decided to try something similar.

Introducing … 99 Days of Summer Blogging!  Starting this Monday, May 30 and continuing through September 5, 2016, I plan to blog every single day.

Yes.  Every. Single. Day.

For 99 days.

Why am I doing this?

  1. Because I need the discipline of writing every day. I do.  I need to practice Ass in Chair time when it comes to writing and actually GET THINGS WRITTEN.  I need to get better at writing first and editing later, instead of writing a sentence and immediately start futzing with word choices.
  2. Because at this moment, I have 206 blog posts in Drafts.  A very, very small percentage of those are actually completed. The rest are half-baked concoctions.  Some of those may become #99DaysSummerBlogging posts. If I’m doing any new writing on them (e.g., finishing a partially-written book review) then it counts.
  3. Because I need to spend a little less time on Facebook — and by spending time here instead of there, my writing will get stronger.
  4. Because I want to start thinking more strategically about planning potential posts (I need to do an editorial calendar) while at the same time tapping into my creativity and cultivating ideas for potential writing projects. I’m always thinking, “Oh, I could definitely do a post about that!” or “This is a perfect blog post.” And then the idea or the moment vanishes, lost forever.  I’m excited about seeing what those nuggets hold.
  5. Because writing and connecting is how I work through things that I’m dealing with and how I gain greater insights about what this life is trying to teach me (even though I may be a stubborn learner). At the same time, some of the issues our family is working through aren’t ones for the blog so there’s that. But maybe a photo or a quote will be.

Do these issues resonate for you, too? If so, jump right in … the water’s fine. These posts don’t have to be Pulitzer worthy. (Trust me, mine won’t be.) Perfection isn’t what this is about.  Rather, #99DaysSummerBlogging is about cultivating our craft, capturing ideas and thoughts, and carving out some time for reflection and stillness among our words.

99 Days of Summer Blogging starts Monday, May 30 — Memorial Day here in the United States. (And if it’s not summer where you are, no worries. You can still participate.)

I’m not doing a linky thing for this. Rather, if you’d like to participate, simply do a post on your blog and link back to melissafirman.com.  Feel free to grab the button, too.  (That’s an actual photo taken by me during a beach vacation — “downnashore” as we say where I’m from — two years ago.)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

 

Will you be taking the 99 Days of Summer Blogging plunge?

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Weekend Cooking: Toasted Avocado and “Chicken” Sandwich

Toasted Avocado and Chicken Sandwich

Every summer seems to bring its own particular food or simple meal that I become completely obsessed with and crave nonstop. Before going gluten-free, it was pasta salad  – which I still love, of course, but it’s been difficult finding the right GF pasta that can make it into a second day of leftovers. There also was the summer of hummus, cucumber and tomato sandwiches. So good.

This year belongs to the avocado. More often than not, my go-to dinner is smashed avocado and tomatoes (a humble guacamole, nothing fancy) for dinner with tortilla chips. That’s it. I don’t need much more than that.

Avocado toast is all the rage on many of the food blogs I read.  I hadn’t really been swayed to try it one way or another, but it certainly wasn’t out of the question because, avocado, yo.  I’ve been instituting “Buffet Night” once a week  – usually a Saturday or Sunday – where dinner becomes a free-for-all, a smorgasbord of still-good leftovers where at least one damn thing on the table is bound to meet the approval of everyone in this picky-eater family.  So one night we had some leftover mock chicken strips but not quite enough to make fajitas for all or something resembling a meal.

I had an avocado that had just reached perfection, and I looked at it and the fake chicken strips and thought, hmm … this has possibilities. And so, the Toasted Avocado and “Chicken” Sandwich was born.

(This is definitely not a Melissa Original, by any means; a Google search on “avocado and chicken sandwich” yields 2 bazillion hits, but I certainly felt like a brilliant five-star chef.)

It’s so easy. And so good. All you need to do is toast some bread (I used Aldi’s gluten-free white bread), and mash an avocado. Spread on the toast.  Add chicken. I used Beyond Meat’s Lightly Seasoned Chicken Strips. You can add tomato, as I’ve done on several occasions.

A simple and satisfying summer sandwich.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

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Flight Behavior Completes the Big Book Summer Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

With tomorrow being the first day of school for my kids, this is the unofficial last day of summer in our house. It’s also a good time to give a wrap up report on my progress with the Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by my friend Sue at Book by Book.

I like this challenge because it’s low-key and fairly easy, making it perfect for the summertime. Sue keeps things simple: read one book of 400 pages or more. Even if I only read one book – my average for this challenge – it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.

(If you think you’ve got what it takes to tackle a chunkster or two this week, you still have time to join the challenge, as it doesn’t end until September 1.)

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver was my choice this year. Originally I had selected The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, but I couldn’t get into that one.

At the beginning of this story, Dellarobia Turnbow is a unhappily married wife and mother living in Appalachia – and contemplating cheating on her husband. While en route to meeting her lover, she turns back upon noticing that an entire field of her family’s mountain is aflame. It’s a sign of something bigger, she thinks, and indeed it is: rather than fire, the vision is thousands of monarch butterflies that have migrated north from their native habitat to rural Tennessee because of the effects of climate change.

The butterflies’ flight from the only home they’ve known serves as a symbol for much larger issues and themes in the novel, all of which Ms. Kingsolver handles with the skill of a writer that knows the science behind her facts and knows how to craft a gorgeous sentence to draw her reader into the drama.

I listened to Flight Behavior on audio (it’s 17 hours long) and while I enjoyed the novel, I think I would have liked it more had I read it exclusively in print.  (I also have a copy on my Kindle, and that’s 610 pages.). Barbara Kingsolver’s narration was fine, but one of my pet peeves as an audio book listener is female narrators “doing” male voices, especially those with an accent. That irks me to no end and that’s fairly prevalent throughout the audio version.

Recommended. 3.5 stars out of 5

 

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Weekend Cooking: Conflict Kitchen

Conflict Kitchen

I’ve been spending my lunch hour in Venezuela.

Or, rather, as close to Venezuela as one can get without leaving the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which is where Conflict Kitchen has set up shop. You can find Conflict Kitchen on scenic Schenley Plaza, right in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus.

Judging by the lunchtime crowds (there were 14 people ahead of me in a fast-moving line on Friday, including four of my coworkers) and a recent Pittsburgh Magazine blog post naming it one of The 8 Best (Not) Restaurants in Pittsburgh, I’m not alone in my love for this place.

The concept is fantastic: Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events. (From the Conflict Kitchen “About” page on its website.) 

This week was a spectacular one weather-wise in Pittsburgh: mid-70s most days, a light breeze, no humidity, just absolutely perfect. Truly, it doesn’t get better than this, in July or otherwise. Feeling adventurous, I checked out the menu online and decided to take a short stroll across Schenley Plaza for lunch.

I was undecided between the tequenos (crispy -fried pastry wrapped queso blanco served with guasacaca, a fresh avocado salsa); the cheese empanada, the ceviche salad, or the arepas domino. I settled on the domino.

Conflict Kitchen - arepas domino

It’s a griddled corn cake (two patties) stuffed with queso cheese and black beans.

Heaven.

For $3.50.

Trust me on this: you cannot get lunch in the “Burgh for the likes of $3.50. And this works just fine for me as lunch when I haven’t brown-bagged my own. If I was especially hungry, I might add a second domino to my order or perhaps a tequeno (assuming I can get my hands on one, that is; they’ve been sold out of the damn things almost every day this week when I’ve gotten there).

I’m completely sold on Conflict Kitchen now. (‘m a bit late to the party, as usual; friends have said that the Cuban and Afghan incarnations were very good, too.) The service is pleasant and efficient; on the day when 14 of us were in line, a gentleman came out and took our orders, brought them back to the kitchen, and they were in progress before we got to the front. Conflict Kitchen knows their clientele is mostly a working crowd on their lunch hour – mixed in with the Pitt and CMU students, of course – and does a good job catering to both.

Venezuelan food is nowhere in my culinary repertoire – I’m pretty certain I’d never eaten anything from there until Tuesday – and Venezuela’s politics and why we’re in conflict with them did not even enter into my mind until this week. I mean, it simply didn’t.  I like to think of myself as a fairly educated person, but the reality is I’m a suburban wife and mom of two kids who works full-time. Not that that’s an excuse – it’s not meant to be – it’s just not where my day-to-day focus is.

But for a few minutes in line at lunch, while reading Conflict Kitchen’s handout accompanying my arepas, I can learn something I didn’t know about the Venezuelan people and their culture, their perception of Americans and our government, the influence of oil, and the internal polarization of their country.

And come September, spend my lunch hour in another country doing the same thing.

Note: This post was NOT solicited, sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated in any way by Conflict Kitchen. It represents only my thoughts and opinions. All arepas consumed were paid for out of my and The Husband’s paychecks. 

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) Weekend Cooking - Newreviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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