on the night circus.

It’s a book, by Erin Morgenstern, about a circus of dreams. Or dreamers. I can’t remember which.

To me, it was more nightmare than dream. Possibly because I have been stranded for several hours, and will be stranded several more, in LAX, waiting on a plane that was delayed by all the bad weather today, and I’m grumpy, and it will be Thursday night before we reach our final destination.

Anyway, the Night Circus revolves around an interesting idea, but it reads more like an outline of a piece that would have served far better as a short story than an actual novel. It’s populated with too many characters, and it’s patched together with a bunch of hasty, non-linear scenes. Some written awkwardly in second person, the rest just written awkwardly.

I’m being completely honest. I downloaded this book on Kindle to read while we travel, so I had no idea what the Night Circus was supposed to be about, and once I got started I couldn’t even tell the primary from the secondary characters. I kept cheering for the wrong folks.

I’ll try to summarize: two old and obviously demented magicians pit their pupils against each other in a never-ending battle of the magics. Actually, it’s more of a competition–who can outdo the other in spells and charms–than a battle. And it all takes places over many, many years–during which the characters (except children) never age or change–at the Night Circus, a black-and-white nocturnal carnival. The two competing magicians eventually fall into passionate, chandelier-shaking love.

I can’t remember what happens after that. I think the only thing I remember is that the Night Circus is supposed to be so magical and enchanting and always smells like caramel and smoke.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that, if you read it, you like the Night Circus better than I did.

Also, happy hump day!

on spaghetti sauce.

I hope you all are having a marvelous start to 2014, but I also hope you haven’t burdened yourselves with New Year’s resolutions that will only bring you guilt and failure. Before the ball dropped, I thought briefly about resolving to do away entirely with sugar and carbs (which I try, very hard I might add, to avoid anyway), but I’m not very good at following rules, so I didn’t make any resolutions this year after all.

However, I am trying to be as mindful as possible about what I put into my body, and that’s where this no-noodle spaghetti dinner came from.

I’m a big fan of spaghetti for multiple reasons. One, it’s a one-pot meal. Two, you don’t have to have a recipe to make it. Three, it always makes a much larger pot than I expect, which means leftovers and less meals to cook later in the week! Hurrah.

Here is how I made spaghetti recently (which I suppose is not really spaghetti, since we don’t eat any noodles anymore) and what I used:

1 ½ pounds ground beef

¾ pound Italian sausage (or three links)

1 large chopped onion (more if desired)

2 chopped green peppers

2 boxes of pre-sliced baby bellas

5 cloves minced garlic

4 bay leaves

Oregano, basil, parsley, tarragon, marjoram

2 jars of pasta sauce

1 big can of diced tomatoes

Half a little can of tomato paste

¼ teaspon cocoa powder

½ cup or so of Marsala, or any alcohol, really

(A swirl of honey, if you need a sweetener for your tart tomatoes)

salt and pepper to taste

I dumped my ground beef into a large stockpot with one large chopped onion. I’m not sure it matters terribly much what kind of beef, but I prefer ground sirloin, or whatever has a less fat percentage. If you use a higher-fat beef, then once it’s browned, just pour off the extra fat so you don’t have puddles of it floating on the top of your sauce.

Anyway, go ahead and brown your beef. If you’re really on top of things, you might add your Italian sausage at the same time (we like the kind that is freshly made, with a lot of fennel), crumbled, but I wasn’t that on top of things, so I just let my ground beef go ahead and cook. Since it wasn’t fatty, I didn’t pour any excess off, and then I added two chopped green peppers, garlic, and mushrooms.

A note on mushrooms: I love baby bellas, and I got pre-sliced because I was tired and lazy, but you can do whatever mushrooms you like. I’ve never tried any other kinds, but I would advise staying away from white button mushrooms, they just look gross to me.

I also added my jar of tomatoes at this point. I know, I know, there’s probably BPA in those cans, but I didn’t have a Mason jar of garden tomatoes on hand, so whatever. I used organic, does that count for something? And you can add your sauces at this point, too, and your sausage. Pretty much everything else on the list.

I used Marsala, but you don’t have too. Cab sav is fine, however much you want to dump in there, I would just recommend simmering your sauce uncovered if you make it really runny. You also don’t have to add cocoa powder, and you can add more than I did, but I have in my head that it deepens the sauce or something, I don’t know.

And for the herbs, you can use any you have on hand, too, but those were close by so I dumped them in. I like a lot of herbs. If you add honey, make sure you add it once your sauce has finished cooking and you’ve taken it off the heat.

We served ours over steamed green beans, tossed with olive oil and sea salt, but you can choose any veggie you like. I prefer roasted zucchini slivers, but that’s hard to come by in the dead of winter.

Happy dinner!

on savasana.

For ten or eleven years, I’ve been practicing yoga.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I have ended in savasana.

I generally close in a forward bend, a favorite being baddha konasana, but I rarely roll backward, flip my palms up, and breathe in corpse. I guess that, when I’m crunched for time, it just doesn’t become a priority. I lie on my back when I sleep (sometimes). I don’t see the need to do that when I’m awake, and there are sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, and a load of laundry I forgot about in the washer, and I feel like I’ve done enough if I managed to get into monkey or maybe some kind of modified pigeon.

I was thinking about this earlier, when I was plotting my afternoon in my mind, and thinking about how long I would have to practice yoga, and which postures I should do, and mentally writing off corpse.

I don’t know how to meditate.

Isn’t that terrible? I practice yoga, and I follow Jesus. Yoga leads toward meditation (or, at least, from what I’ve studied, it seems like that is what the asanas are designed to do). The Scriptures call us to be still. To meditate. To know. And yet I never do that; I don’t even know how. I could blame it on our fast-paced culture, I suppose, or the Christian tendency to shy away from meditation. But there are no excuses.

I have not learned how to be still.

You know why? I think I know why.

I think, deep down, I am terribly lazy.

Meditation is not mere stillness. It’s an intention, a focus, a deliberation. It does not come naturally, and it does not come easy. And I know very little of it. I practice yoga, but I stop before I have to stay for too many long minutes in savasana. I read the Bible, and I pray, but I do not wait in silence for a response. I am chronically lazy in my mind and in my spirit.

I think that, today, I may just start there. In savasana. Not at the end, but the beginning. And maybe I can learn something of repose.

Happy Sunday!

on In Her Shoes.

The book, not the movie. The only knowledge I have of the movie is that it stars Toni Collette, who is in so many movies that I do like (Sixth Sense, obviously; Little Miss Sunshine, of course; and, more recently, The Way Way Back).

But this is the book, by Jennifer Weiner, and I bought it at our local used bookstore because it was only a couple of dollars and I needed something that I wasn’t emotionally invested in to read during my bubble bath, just in case I splashed water on the pages, and it looked perfect for that. Paperback, already creased, a fat chunk of easy-reading chick-lit.

And it was mostly easy to read, although very rarely actually enjoyable.

My biggest problem? I didn’t like any of these characters. Rose and Maggie are sisters, both complete opposites, so you’d think if you didn’t like one, you’d like the other. Oh, not so.

Rose is incredibly boring. She wears granny panties, eats bran cereal, becomes a dog-walker (or something, I wasn’t really paying much attention at that point). We’re told that she has lots of friends and is successful, and that her closet is overflowing with gorgeous shoes. She is also overweight, which, to me, is just ridiculous. If she eats bran cereal and rides her bike religiously, why are we continuously reminded that she’s overweight? While, on the other hand, Maggie eats terrible food and drinks too much, and she’s thin and beautiful. That just got on my nerves.

Maggie is not at all boring, though less believable a character than Rose. Maggie has a learning disability and an acting career that’s about as successful as Joey’s on Friends (except he does get on Days of Our Lives). She’s immature, needy, steals Rose’s shoes (and eventual co-worker boyfriend), and racks up bills that she never pays.

The majority of the book revolves around Rose and Maggie’s moving in together, fighting, and then Maggie leaving to live in Princeton’s library and discover her future as a basically homeless, literary genius, then subsequent personal shopper, while Rose finds herself in dog-walking (or is it sitting? Can’t remember) and falling rapidly in love with a different (less attractive) colleague.

Honestly, I really do think that Jennifer Weiner is talented and good-humored, but there just wasn’t much going on in this book besides sibling rivalry (and descriptions of all the shoes that Maggie steals from Rose).

So, all in all, this really was a good choice for a bubble-bath.

Happy chick-lit reading!