Shabby Background

Monday, August 25

A moment in an English major's world

Last time I checked I was an English major. But I probably must have been in one practice too long to wonder what I was doing when I presented a financial report on the recent University Games.  Shouldn't I be reciting the prologue to the Canterbury Tales over tea? Too long a way into the past.

I appreciate the Vietnamese lunch that followed though. Then up the 11th floor auditorium I was given an impromptu job. It seemed closer to more familiar uses of an English degree - judge stage productions. So I sat flanked by a former US accountant to my left and a former BBC recording assistant to my right. We were an eclectic trio. The score sheet made me smile inside. Each production I was about to watch and judge was from those story books read to me when I was little.

I like to be enchanted even if it's raw numbers I am reporting on sometimes. Many things could amuse one in an English or Classics major's world. But before I wax persnickety over pedantry I look back to what I did before I realized who was playing Snow White (a male colleague in his early 50s). I saw Cinderella's slippers in my post-modern Melissa wedges and how I accessorized that day.  

Sally's Blue Monday

Thursday, July 31

Nobody loves a cynic

"Is that your house?" I turned and saw our vice president looking admiringly at my computer screen. "Boss, I wish...! Then, despite author Rick Bayan's claim, I probably would love a cynic the way his dog sighs in tolerance of his acid at life." I smiled at the veteran MBA as he exited the office.

From the first moments I skimmed The Cynic's Dictionary I thought it was too interesting to gather dust in a flea market pile. I took it home and carried it in my purse at work. Here's a list I made to remember this book by -

1.  First off, Rick Bayan assures would-be readers that he is not a cynic of the hard-boiled school, but actually a disgruntled idealist.  The cynicism that crackles throughout his dictionary is a 'romantic's disgust over wanting life to be a melodious waltz but times have given us rap instead.'

2.  The Cynic's Dictionary contains bile, spleen and other dark, unwholesome humors

3.  The book targets an age that -
  • scoffs at virtue and nobility
  • makes culture heroes out of strutting rock musicians
  • prizes the ugly and obscure in art
  • turns men and women into carping adversaries, and bright collegians into undifferentiated corporate bureaucrats
  • rewards greed and glibness
  • tells us through the dictates of "political correctness" what we are allowed to think and say
4.  A word on the book's predecessor, The Devil's Dictionary
  • has been brilliantly warming the chilly hearts of cynics, and naturally an underappreciated book at least among mainstream readers and critics
  • author Ambrose Bierce took on all of humankind as the target of his wrath 
5.  The author's (Bayan) intentions are
  • to snipe at the gods and toss brickbats at human nature
  • take up arms against sacred cows, unholy terrors and irritating little gremlins of the modern era
6.  What the author tried to accomplish
  •  to distill the essence of the offending phenomenon into a few well-chosen words, and to give those words an ironic twist that will leave you chortling inwardly with satisfaction
7.  The author maligns
  • endless arrays of special-interest factions
  • corporate henchmen
  • jargoneering professionals
  • teenage barbarians
  • media tastemakers
  • smug connoisseurs
  • mobsters
  • new-age mountebanks
  • turncoat humanities professors
  • politically ostentatious celebrities
8.  Again and again the author:
  • goads the obnoxious
  • defends the defenseless
  • attacks bullies from the incomparable safety of the printed page
9.  The author amuses himself by:
  • skewering ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged betes noires
  • playing with words after a long day's work
  • aiming a righteous barb at something vile
10.  If anything in the book offends you - please bear in mind that Bayan crafted his definitions 'the way a caricaturists sketches a face with an eye to the possibilities for whimsical exaggerations.'

11.  If you wonder how could the author be so unrelentingly negative, Bayan assures you that The Cynic's Dictionary is 'as much an elegy for old-fashioned virtues and pleasures as it is a diatribe against decadence'.

12.  Bayan's word to other aspiring scribes, daunted perhaps by the slim odds of finding a sympathetic publisher, "Write it anyway!"

13. And here are samples on which I started chuckling at first and then burst out laughing
  • cynic: an idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision
  • denial: how an optimist keeps from becoming a pessimist
  • author: a writer with connections in the publishing industry
  • academia (my world, lol): a chronic disease characterized by a compulsion to write lengthy specialized treatises in unintelligible vocabularies for the purpose of rising in the esteem of those similarly afflicted 

Thanks to our hosts: Blue Monday  * Thursday Thirteen

Monday, July 21

The Client

"From now on, you'll do nothing but read books." 
- Dianne Sway to her eleven-year old son Mark on The Client by John Grisham 

It's never blue, it it? I mean blueberry pies. I had a slice for brunch today as I finished reading a legal thriller. At least there was a pretty decoupage napkin to go with it and a good ending to a riveting story. But then I paused and decided that it's too pretty for the crumbs. Here's what I'm talking about -

With this post I begin to document books I have read, or something to remember a book by. I wish I did this for those many other books I read in the past but well, it's never too late and I hope to catch up. So without further ado here are 13 random things about THE CLIENT by John Grisham.

  • It's amazing how lies grow. You start with a small one that seems easy to cover, then you get boxed in and tell another one. Then another. People believe you at first, and they act upon your lies, and you catch yourself wishing you simply told the truth.
  • Children are not to be interviewed without first talking to the parents.
  • A person who knows something about a crime, and withholds this information from the FBI or the police may be found guilty of obstruction of justice.
  • Every citizen owes to society the duty of giving testimony to aid in the enforcement of the law.
  • The most effective defense lawyers are those who keep fighting away from the issues.
  • Cameras and reporters attract lawyers like blood attracts sharks.
2. What I learned:
  • Knowing or not knowing a dangerous information can spell the difference between life and death.
  • Technically, a client is supposed to pay a lawyer something as a retainer.  Once it is done, they go from there. A single dollar is fine.
  • Lawyers pick for details by asking pointed questions and they skillfully and fearfully dance around delicate information.
  • Time is critical so you move fast because evidence disappears and memories fade. Big corporations move slow.
  • A doctor can put off the press or order the FBI out of a patient's room.
  • The attorney-client privilege is almost sacred.
  • The Juvenile Court is the unwanted stepchild of the judicial system
  • allegations are based partly on facts and partly on assumptions
  • an attorney trying a case cannot participate in the same trial as a witness
  • there's no law against dodging subpoenas.
3. My is-that-so moment:
  • People from New Orleans speak with a clipped drawl.
  • Amber and Alexis happen to be two of the most popular names among strippers and whores in the French Quarter.
  • assistant prosecutor in New Orleans; fifteen thousand bucks a year in 1975 
4. What made me chuckle:
  • Lawyers just get in the way.  You have to pay them money, and they object to everything.
  • Lawyers are a pain in the ass
  • "What kind of lawyer is she?" "Mean as hell. Shrewd as the devil."
  • The press is going to ruin this country.
  • Her figure was obscene - tiny waist, healthy breasts, slender legs.
  • Research was to be done by egghead scholars.
  • Half the lawyers on television were laboring away on cases they wouldn't get paid for. The other half were sleeping with beautiful women and eating in fancy restaurants.
  • She's a lawyer and she doesn't want money?
5. What I want to read more about:
  • "I'm not hired. I'm retained."
  • "Indict me."
  • Miranda Rights
  • innuendo
  • Civitans
6. Food and drink mentioned
doughnuts, tomato juice, black coffee, beer, sprite, lasagna, oats, sandwiches, spaghetti, ice cream, hot cocoa, shrimp remoulade, roast beef, horseradish and pickles, onion rings, peach cobbler, tea, wine, corn on the cob, sweet potato sticks, cinnamon rolls, chocolate milk, diet cola, Snickers bar, apple Danish, "cheesecake at Cafe Expresso in The Peabody"

7. Phrases / lines I like:
  • ...was on the floor between two shelves of books with his shoes off...
  • reading financial statements by candlelight and waiting for dinner
  • fishing in the mountains
  • It was a big house of English Tudor design, with dark wood and dark brick and ivy covering all of one side....
  • buried deep in law books 
  • She would take the first sip like a wine connoisseur, smack her lips like a rabbit, then pass judgment on the coffee.
  • A soft wind gently rustled the leaves of the huge black oaks between the porch and the street.
  • Reggie flipped through a thick book under a lamp. It was midnight.
  • she curled under a quilt and sipped tea while reading a book titled Reluctant Witnesses
8. Media and product brands: Virginia Slims, The Godfather, LA Law, M*A*S*H, Escape from Alcatraz, Lear and Citation jets

9. What I remember from childhood: the Bic pen 

10. Oh my love for things old!
  • "Senator Dauvin, an antebellum relic from the Civil War"
  • A large family portrait hung above the sofa. It was an old photograph of the Love Family, matted and framed by thick, curly wood.
11. I rather relate: 
  • In high school I had this teacher who was like a drill sergeant. We hated her, but she made us learn.
  • He was a good boy when he was little, but then his father got him and just ruined him.  This was after the divorce.
12. My ex-husband would be familiar with this: "Strippers. Get them a job, then an apartment, buy some clothes, feed them nice dinners, and then they get culture and start making demands."

13. This is just me: I get the impression that John Grisham doesn't like Ronald Reagan.

Thanks to our hosts: Thursday Thirteen / Favorite Things / Blue Monday

Monday, June 23

Vietnamese pigeon

starter: sweet potato soup

 Sunset party on the liner deck: fried spring roll and Vietnamese wine

Oh to travel! And to eat. Somehow I neglected saying anything about what I ate in Vietnam last week. Food on board Glory Cruise was not far in taste with what I am used to. Thailand and Vietnam are neighbors after all.

Our very first meal preceded the food adventure we did that evening. We joined locals on sidewalk mini stools in the Old Quarter as we explored the menu. I had beef noodles which was yummy. But my friend was brave. She ordered fried pigeon which was served with, and I quote her, "head, beak and feet intact."

 crazy girlfriends

The server, after asking where we are from, was friendly, "our president was in the Philippines last week." And to that one of us replied, "Indeed. Talking partnership, eh?" "China," he smiled and took our order.

I observed my friend eating like a pro and wondered if her appetite had anything to do with how she can stitch a lacerated forehead or extract a cyst at work (girl's a doc). She encouraged me to try and I only released a frustrated croak, "fly away! skyline pigeon fly..."  I'd rather stick to art museums.

But I have no problem trying anything else. Here's a list of  13 Vietnamese dishes that you may want to try if you haven't already.  I have tasted nos. 1-6, 8 and 10, and I would love to eat them again, except number 10. My faves are nos. 1-3.

1.  Pho beef noodles in salty broth with herbs

2.  Chao Tom grilled shrimp in sugarcane stick

3.  Goi Cuon (spring rolls) pork, prawn, vegetables, rice vermicelli wrapped in rice paper

4.  Rau muong stir fried river weed (morning glory) seasoned with garlic

5.  Bahn koht dainty, little pancakes made of coconut milk, shrimp, mung beans and spring onions with dried shrimp flakes as topping

6.  Nom hoa chuoi  banana flowers, green papaya, carrots, cilantro and chicken with peanuts and salty fish sauce dressing

7.  Bo la lot grilled ground beef wrapped in betel leaf 

8.  Ca tim kho to diced and sauteed eggplant with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar and minced meat

9.  Xoi glutinous rice mixed with chicken or pork and preserved eggs topped with dried shallots 

10. Ga nuong barbecued honey marinated chicken legs, wings and feet

11. Com chay (vegetarian) rice crispies with mock meat like fake rubbery snails

12. Banh mi baguette filled with cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh cilantro and chili sauce

13. Dau phu sot ca chua (tofu in tomato sauce) fried soy in fresh tomato and spring onion coating, seasoned with fresh herbs

Monday, June 16

To travel is to eat

A certain Michelle Shapiro says that (title) in a poster on Pinterest and Beach House Turks and Caicos commented: 
Make sure while you are traveling you are eating.  Not only to survive, but to explore the culture. They [sic] way people eat and the different types of foods and spices can explain a lot about a culture, with no words at all you can be inspired by so many different things associated with eating alone.
I was in Vietnam recently. And explore Vietnamese food I did. The photo is taken from one of those meals during our Halong Bay cruise.

A Vietnamese blogger who lives in Australia says that "up until 2006-2007, Viet cookbooks were so few and hard to understand. I guess before Asian cuisines become popular in the western world, describing native Vietnamese ingredients was not easy. Now, things have changed for the better! There are more ingredients available, and some excellent cookbooks on Vietnamese cuisine have been published."

This is a list of Vietnamese Cookbooks:

1. The Little Saigon Cookbook by Ann Le (reviews)
2. Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan (reviews)
3. Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn (reviews)
4. Authentic Recipes from Vietnam by Trieu Choi & Marcel Isaak (reviews)
5. My Vietnamese Kitchen by Uyen Luu (reviews)
6. The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen (reviews)
7. Recipes from a Vietnamese Kitchen by Ghillie Basan (reviews)
8. The Vietnamese Market Cookbook by Van Tran (reviews)
9. Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen (reviews)
10. Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham (reviews)
11. The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen (reviews)
12. Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen (reviews)
13. Wild, Wild East: recipes and stories of Vietnam by Bobby Chinn & Jason Lowe (reviews)

Thanks to our hosts: Favorite Things * Thursday 13Blue Monday

Monday, May 19

Me and Mr Darcy

The truth is I haven't read a page of Alexandra Potter's story. At least not yet.

This is one of those times when I just sit an hour or two in a tea room, my dreams weaving by themselves.

Have you ever had a similar moment?

Monday, May 12

Pig out

Sometimes I pig out. This was a self-reward for working like a dog the past few weeks. Michael Crichton's Timeline was my mind's horse ride to the past.

Thursday, April 3

In celebration of International Children's Book Day

Do you write in your books? Highlight? Make notes? Or do you like to keep your copies as pristine as possible?
Yes, yes, and yes. I want life easy whenever I fancy going back to something in the book. But it's no, no, and no for books in my collector shelf.  Booking Through Thursday


April 2nd, which is Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, is also International Children's Book Day.  

What were your favorite stories as a child? One of mine is Rapunzel. My heart still skips every time I see or hear any reference to her. I couldn't resist taking her photo when I saw her again while exploring Universal Studios Singapore last year.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" my mother would read to me. While she did not neglect the fairy tales, she made sure I had a bounty of  Bible stories, and this is a list of those stories with keywords I remember and links in case you fancy reading more.

1. Baby in a basket - Moses, Miriam, Aaron, Jochebed, Nile River, Egypt, adopted by the Princess, papyrus reeds, Pharoah, Hebrew slaves (Photo and story in a devotional)

2. Joseph's new coat - jealous brothers, colors, doting Dad (Wikipedia commentary)

3. The first Christmas - Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary, angels, star, shepherds, frankincense, myrrh, King Herod, ('Away in a manger')

4. David and Goliath - slingshot, my first introduction to giants and snipers (story summary)

5. Go wash in the river - leprosy, Jordan river, my first introduction to army commanders (EG White writings)

6. Elijah and the time of no rain - King Ahab, ravens, manna, brook Cherith, my first introduction to droughts and prophets (Elijah's Prayer)

7. A room and a boy - headache, childless couple, being kind to strangers, widow of Zarephath, one of my first introductions to resurrection

8. Barley loaves and fishes - food multiplying, feeding thousands (story in song by Corrine May) Why they say 'fishes' I have yet to find out

9. Esther the brave queen - Hadassah, "If I perish, I perish," Haman (ministry to children)

10. When God washed the world - flood, rainbow, ark, Noah, animals marching to the ark by twos, fours, sevens (discussion)

11. Daniel and the lions - thrown into a lion's den (story)

12. Zaccheus the cheater - corrupt government official, short man, sycamore tree (story)

13. Jesus calms the storm - winds and waves, sleeping soundly through a storm, trust (lesson ideas on pinterest)

Thursday, March 27

Ads on Inferno

Dan Brown's Inferno is noted for product placement in a review. Examples are cited like nos. 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 13. I researched the rest.  Links to the photos, which are obviously not mine, are provided. Some of these you may recognize at first glance. See which ones.  The brands are provided below.  Let's have fun:
1. iPhone

2. Sweatpants (The Glamorous Housewife)

3. Book (

 4. Warren Buffet has a time-share in this company (Blogs WSJ)

5. Storage bag (Serenity Through Simplicity)

6. "Glasses for scientists" (Best Image Optical)

7. Ladies in Lavender were given choices of jackets for their guest (Le Chocolat)

8. Cruiser (Charterworld)

10. Wheels (Wiki Commons)

11. Speak softly love (Old Films on blu-ray)

12. His Holiness is on board (The Rat Zinger Forum)

13. You may have stayed here. (Stelle Firenze)

2. Juicy / 3. Paul Ehrlich's The population bomb / 4. NetJets / 5. Ziploc / 6. Plume Paris / 7. Harris Tweed / 8. Dubois SR52 Blackbird / 9. Brioni / 10. Fiat / 11. The Godfather / 12. Frecciargento /  13. Grand Hotel Baglioni

Thursday, March 20

So that's him!

"May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you and all your heart might desire." - IRISH BLESSING

For St Patrick's Day this week I have 13 male Irish writers from as far back as sources provide, their claim to fame, one of their works and a quote by each them. Funny how I thought Samuel Beckett was 18th century. See which ones you may recognize at first glance as the author of a novel, play or a quote familiar to you. In my case I recognized mainly the work first (except nos. 5 & 6) and had several so-that's-him moments. Here's hoping you have fun with the list as I enjoyed putting them together.

1. Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797) known for his aesthetic treatise "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful

"Our patience will achieve more than our force."

2. Oliver Goldsmith (1730 - 1774) known for his play She Stoops to Conquer and novel The Vicar of Wakefield

"I love everything that's old - old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine."

3. John O'Keefe (1747 - 1833) known for Wild Oats

"A glass is good, and a lass is good, and a pipe to smoke in cold weather; The world is good, and the people are good, and we 're all good fellows together."

4. Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745) best known for Gulliver's Travels

"A man should never be afraid to own that he has been in the wrong which is but saying that he is wiser today than yesterday."

5. Bram Stoker (1847 - 1912) best known for Dracula

"Despair has its own calms."

6. Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900) remembered for his epigrams, only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, play The Importance of Being Ernest

"When I was young, I thought that money was the most important thing in life.  Now that I am old, I know that it is."

7. George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950) awarded the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

8. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature

"In dreams begins responsibility"

9. James Joyce (1882 - 1941) best known for Ulysees

"Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why."

10.  Clive Staples or C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963) best known for The Chronicles of Narnia

"There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, 'Alright then have it your way.'"
11. Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989) awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature (gave away all of the prize money)

"In the language of extinction, precision is next to godliness."

12. Frank McCourt (1930 - 2009) best known for Angela's Ashes and won a Pulitzer Prize for it
"The master says it’s a glorious thing to die for the Faith, and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live.”

13. Seamus Henney (1939 - 2013) awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature
Fellow poet Paul Muldoon said, “He was the only poet I can think of who was recognized worldwide as having moral as well as literary authority.”

“I can't think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people's understanding of what's going on in the world.”

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