Summer Reading

5 Jun

Inspired by markers, broken sunglasses, and Horrifically Bad Album Covers.

I’m driven to write on this muggy, lazy Saturday for a few reasons. I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks, but after I get caught up in some mindless blog surfing, it inspires me. I also like to think that creating something of my own sure beats crappy Saturday afternoon TV. (I say this after I was sucked into at least 45 minutes of ‘Stick It’ on ABC Family, TV cinema at its finest.) I would say that blogging ranks in mental stimulation somewhere between ‘Stick It’ and reading War and Peace…you can decide exactly where.

Speaking of reading, I sure have been doing a lot of it lately. I guess I should have braced myself when I found out that for a summer English class I needed to buy more novels than there are weeks in the summer semester. Three weeks into it, we’ve flew through four–The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, Sula by Toni Morrison, Tracks by Louise Erdrich, and White Noise by Don DeLillo. Not exactly my idea of summer reading, but I guess it depends on your definition of summer reading. Mine just so happens to be along the lines of the Shopaholic series.

The Crying of Lot 49 left me scratching my head, and even now I probably couldn’t recall to you what happened in that book. I loved Sula and am regretting not seeing Toni Morrison when she was at Penn State this Spring. I tried really hard to enjoy and appreciate Tracks, but at the end of the day, it didn’t really do anything for me, and I never finished it. White Noise has probably been my favorite so far, in terms of overall entertainment. I can’t really say a whole lot about it other than it’s kind of depressing but hysterical, in an offbeat way.

I’ve decided that for me, my enjoyment of a book tends to be diminished when the knowledge that I’ll have to write a paper about it is hanging over my head. Don’t get me wrong–I love reading a complex book (as long as it’s good, doesn’t give me a headache, and keeps complicated words to a minimum), drawing my own ideas from it, and discussing it while I hear what others have to say. But when it comes to compiling my thoughts into a intellectual, compelling thesis, that’s when my brain turns into oatmeal.

I would love to have a class where we just read, discuss the meaning, and leave it at that. No papers, no pressure. If I taught a class, that’s what I would do. About Confessions of a Shopaholic.

-Bren

Darn You Sally Forth.

17 May

Yesterday, Sally Forth shot me down with this lovely comic in the Sunday paper.

(Kindly click to enlarge and read. It’s an important part of the following rant.)

Well thank you Sally. Of all days I decide to actually take the time and read your nonsense and your not funny life with your lame witicisms, you totally take my hopes and dreams of having a productive summer and fart on them. I WILL journal every day and I WILL NOT worry about baseless fears or ill-defined concerns. I WILL get things done. And I will NOT curse my own name come December, because it’s going to be the best summer ever! Gosh darnit.

Here are some of my goals for the summer. And they’re way better than silly Sally’s:

1. Do well in class. (Yes, boring. But necessary.)

2. Don’t spend money on dumb things. (Definition of ‘dumb’ will be decided on a case-by-case basis.)

3. Work out every day after class. (If the dang gym is actually open when it’s convenient for me.)

4. Do abs every day. With my 80’s Throwback 8-Minute-Abs friend. (As long as he promises to make me look like those girls in the video.)

5. Buy new swimsuit for inspiration.

6. Tackle the 50 Banned Books That Everyone Should Read that I found on Google.

7. Learn how to cook and not freak out.


Summer Result: Bren has the best summer ever.

That’s all.

Shh…

3 May

  Bren is finishing up her Junior year of college. 

If she makes it through the week in one piece, get excited for a new chapter in A Swell Cup of Bren… 

A Fabulous Summer. 

See you all in a week. 

-Bren

 

Only chocolate will get me through.

How to Survive Finals, Bren-Style:

28 Apr

Finals season is upon us, and hunkering down to complete the semester has become as challenging as it is to get a table at Starbucks. Lucky for you, you are in the exclusive bunch who get to tap into my thoughts a few days week, and I have some new and exciting methods to get you college kiddos through the next few weeks, and for a small fee*, I will share them with you.

*Payment methods accepted: Cash, Check, Hugs, Kisses, Chocolate, New Clothes, Clementines, and Pretty Jewelry.

1. Abide by the 3 C’s: Coffee, Chocolate, and Cursing.
Obviously desperate times call for excessive caffeine consumption. While you’re waiting for the coffee to kick in and getting in the zone plowing ahead on your work, you don’t even realize that those danged mini chocolate eggs leftover from Easter magically pop into your mouth, one after another. Once you are sufficiently caffeinated and sugar-buzzed, you may work at lightning speed, but you’re also to a point of irritability where everything just makes you want to swear. Just for this week, it’s OK. Have at least one breakdown. Call your mom. Cry if you must. But then take a deep breath, another swig of coffee, and keep going (and don’t curse too loud when you can’t fall asleep at night because your mind is racing).

2. Stay in the moment.
Don’t think about summer. It’s a common misconception that when, in the midst of finals that make you want to pull your hair out and kick small animals, you should keep your eye on the prize and think about the fabulous, relaxing days of summer that are to come. But really, what good does thinking about how swell life will be in two weeks do for you right at this moment? Personally, it just makes me cranky that my current situation is not sleeping in and sipping margaritas on the beach. Plus, you then start reminiscing about summers past, and then you get on Facebook to look at old pictures, and then you notice that everyone in the world is suddenly engaged, and then you go on tiffany.com and just do some browsin’ and before you know it an hour has passed, and…oh, what’s that you say? Not everyone does that? Carry on….

3. If you can’t focus, use your energy in another productive way
Take your restlessness and put it to good use by dusting months of grime on your furniture, running around outside, playing with puppies, doing cartwheels…by the time you’re done you’ll be too tired to do any real work, but at least you have something to show for your distractions.

4. Don’t look outside.
Pick out whatever you can about the weather that makes being outside the most undesirable thing when compared to studying. For example, “Yes, the sun is shining, but it is just so darn windy that I DEFINITELY wouldn’t want to be out there right now. Because it would mess up my hair”. Or, “It may look nice and sunny now, but it’ll probably rain.”  “Never mind that I’ve had zero physical activity in the past 3 days. I don’t want to go play tennis anyway.” You get the idea. Effective? Not really. But reading that has put off your schoolwork even more, which is really what led you here in the first place, right?

What are your tried and true methods of buckling down? I think I could use some new ones….

-Bren

Next Time: How NOT to get work done. Exhibit A: Failed attempts at spinning-in-a-pretty-dress self portraits.

TA DA!

A Tale of a Girl and Her First Car

22 Apr

My little sister is driving. If that doesn’t make me feel old, than I don’t know what else does (except, oh, everything else about my current life).

Um. Clearly not old enough. And who's the goofy looking one on the left?

All this talk of growing old has led me to some reminiscing, about the olden days of ‘when I was her age’ (a very long four years ago). I received a car when I was 16, only because a coworker of my father’s happened to be selling one for super cheap. Friends, allow me to introduce you to Gertrude.

Everyone has an unreasonable, human-like adoration for their first vehicle, right? It’s safe to say she may have been my first love (this was before I was aware that the best was yet to come, as far as love goes). With her 90s-tastic outer shell, plush red seats, automatic windows, and cassette player, Gertrude was a sight to behold, way ahead of her time in an age of luxury vehicles.

...and boy was I snazzy driving it.

Gertrude saw me through the summer before, and through, senior year. Sunny days called for rolling the windows down (no AC, babyyy), popping in an 80s cassette scored from Goodwill, and letting the wind whip through my hair. Life was good.

However, towards the end of the school year, I started to notice that Gertrude just wasn’t acting herself. She had gone through numerous procedures to get her back into driveable (and inspection-passing) status, and I began to realize that they were starting to take a toll on her health.

After a snowstorm, I began to drive down the street with some snow still on the hood. As I turned on the heat, snow began spewing through the air vents into the car. Not a good sign.

One day, I was driving home from a movie, and noticed as I pulled out of the parking lot that steering all of a sudden took a little extra muscle than I had remembered. By the time I turned into my neighborhood, making a turn required the force of my entire body to turn the steering wheel the right way. Also not a good sign.

When I left the parking garage after shopping downtown, putting on the breaks as I skidded down the cement ramps made an awful, echoing, screeching noise, not unlike the screeching sound played in the Psycho shower scene.

I denied that slowly, Gertrude was slipping away.

I remember getting the call one day when Mom told me that, after her final visit to the shop, that Gertrude’s time was up. She’d be returning home to get taken away to the junk yard where firefighters would practice using the jaws of life on her. I found peace in the fact that she would be used for a noble cause (like an organ donor!) but it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

Cleanin' her out.

I decided that, against my parents cautions, I was going to take her out for one last spin. Some friends and I hopped in one summer night, and drove downtown. Stopped at a red light, someone in the car pointed out: “Is that steam coming from your hood?”

Yes, it was time.

Gertrude sat idle in the driveway for a few weeks, counting down the days until she would be taken away. The last time I saw her was the summer morning I woke up to the sound of a tow truck out front. I sat up in bed, and peeped out the blinds, only to see her hitched up to the truck, making its way down the street. I swear I heard her singing….

Weeeeeee’ll meet againnnnnnn, don’t know whereeeeee, don’t know whennnnnnnnnn…………”

Then, I think I went inside and played some sad spirituals on the saxophone.

My Life in 6 Words

21 Apr

Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in 6 words. He has said that he considers it his best piece of writing:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.


Profound.

In class yesterday we were told to come up with our own 6 word stories. All of mine seemed to take an autobiographical standpoint about my current state of affairs. You can read them all together, or one at a time. I guess it’s kind of like a poem….but I don’t really like poems. So it’s not a poem at all.

Sunshine makes me stop being cranky.

Born, raised, hasn’t left State College.

Need to leave State College soon.

Growing up so fast—marriage soon?

Happy and perfect for each other.

Cheap clothes are my favorite thing.

What shall I do with life?

Too much stress=too much caffeine.

Sick of college—is that bad?

Need money, don’t want to work.

Three dollars in checking account. Shit.

I’m sleepy. Don’t really know why.

Left oven on all night; whoops.

Need some chocolate right about now.

Spring has sprung...for real this time.

Bon Appetit!

20 Apr

This is a tale of a girl who just wants to be a domestic diva.

Over the weekend, I watched Julie and Julia. I can’t help but want to cook every time I watch that movie. Actually, first I can’t help but want to eat, but second to that comes this longing to create beautiful meals. Of course, I’d prefer for it to be effortless, just like in the movies, to wear a swingy skirt and red lipstick and flit around the kitchen, adding just a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that and VOILA, dinner for my ravenous and adoring husband. And then naturally, the chirping birds and forest critters clean up my kitchen as I sing a little song about how life is grand.


Part of a recent Nutrition project was to create a menu for the day, that fulfilled all the requirements of the Food Pyramid, and to actually cook the dinner. I told my fabulous boyfriend to come over for a free dinner, because yes, this was a school project, but I always love to cook for my man. After some careful planning, I decided on the following for a healthy, nutritious and delicious feast:

Grilled Rosemary Chicken
Grilled chicken breast marinated in lemon juice, rosemary, and garlic.

Fresh Asparagus Risotto
Creamy risotto tossed with asparagus and Parmesan cheese.

Honey Ginger Carrots
Steamed carrots glazed with honey and lemon juice with a hint of ginger.

This was quite a far cry from my usual capabilities. I tend to believe that as long as I have a recipe, nothing can go wrong. One might say this belief is a little flawed. And I might say you’re right.

First hurdle: Grilled chicken requires the use of a grill, which I have never touched before in my life. After beginning the risotto and boiling water for the carrots, and an unnecessary lashing out at Ian and my dad to “stop hovering”, my mom sent the boys to the grill to get the chicken started. (This whole thing was quite the family affair.)

10 minutes later, the chicken was done. Apparently grills are really fast. So it hung out in the oven for awhile.


Risotto is a much more involved process than I had anticipated. After sauteeing the chopped asparagus, I added 1 cup of Arborio rice to the pan, and added chicken broth and water. One. Cup. At. A. Time. And each time, the next cup was not to be added until the last one had been previously soaked up by the rice. They say a watched pot never boils. Well, watched rice does not absorb either.

Finally, the pot of water was boiling and ready for the carrots. As the little buggers boiled, I opened up the spice cabinet, assuming there would be Ginger among the 12 million spices that every household somehow has. After emptying the entire contents of the spice cabinet, there was no Ginger to be found. Cue unnecessary meltdown #2.

Boyfriend to the rescue, who suggested brown sugar instead of ginger. A+ idea! He took over the carrots, while I went back to the risotto.

Had just added cup #2 of water/chicken broth. Only 5 more to go. With approximately 10 minutes between each addition. I decided right then and there that risotto was the biggest pain in the ass, and I declared this to Ian. All this cooking was making me grumpy.

Beads of sweat, hair is curling, and risotto is taking forever. Obviously pleased.

Finally–what seemed like 3 hours later–the last cup was added, and it was ready. After I stirred in some white wine, asparagus, and Parmesan cheese, it was time.

Despite the slightly dry chicken due to it’s prolonged basking in the warm oven for about an hour, this was really a fabulous meal. If I do say so myself.

All worth it.....right?

Then, I got a call this morning from my mom who kindly pointed out that I had left the oven on all night with one lone, parched piece of chicken crying by itself.

Julia Child I am not. But I will get there one day.

-Bren