The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Book Review

So – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Okay.  I’m not really sure where to start with this one.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away bits of the story, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want to hear anything about it until you do, proceed with caution.

This book had the potential to be really great.  Newly married couple, they get pregnant right away – madly in love with each other, all the hopes and dreams of a new relationship and a marriage about to welcome a baby into the mix.  There is a twist thrown in though that changes everything, forever.  Norah goes into labour in the middle of a snowstorm and David, who is a doctor (albeit the kind that fixes broken bones) is forced to deliver his own child.  The only thing is, this is 1964, and they were unaware that there was not one, but two children ready to enter the world on that snowy night.  The first child is born, a son, who seems perfect in every way.  The second child a daughter, comes next and it is obvious to her father and the nurse that is there to help them, Caroline, that she has Down’s Syndrome.

Driven by secrets and memories from his past, a driving need to protect his wife – who is in and out of it during the birth process and is not aware of what is going on, and their newborn son from the sorrows of having to deal with the life and probable early death of this little girl, he gives her to Caroline, asking her to take her to an institution.  He then tells his wife that their second baby died.

Caroline takes Pheobe, the baby girl, to this institution but is unable to leave her there and instead leaves town and raises Phoebe on her own.

The story goes from there, spanning over a 20+ year time frame.  You see how one act, remaining a secret can corrode the family from the inside out.  There are tons of issues from this – David dealing with this secret and eventually realizing that he did the wrong thing, Norah dealing with the loss of her daughter, and Paul, their son, dealing with having to grow up in this dysfunction, which seems perfect from the outside, but the hairline cracks in the finish grow larger and larger each passing year.

I think the problem that I have with this story is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Sure, the years go by, things happen, people grow, people grow apart.  But these people kept going in circles.  It was just a constant story of people that loved each other but couldn’t show it.  Norah and David, David and Paul, they would take one step forward and then 50 steps back.

To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t stand the character Norah.  I expected to be sorry for her and to like her, just because of her circumstances.  Alas, this was not to be.  I have never lost a child, thank God, and I can imagine that it would be the worst pain ever in the world.  It would take time to get over.  In a way, you would never get over it.  But Norah just comes across as weak.  When we experience loss in our lives, we deal with it, and we move on.  I know that saying that makes it sound easy, which it isn’t.  But we do what we have to do to move past and live life for the living.  Norah never got past the “death” of her daughter, but instead of turning to her family and her husband for help, she resorted to drinking, affairs, and whatever other escape method she could come up with.

The story of David was actually quite tragic.  Coming from a poor past, where he lost his sister when she was very young, he truly believed he was doing the right thing when he sent Phoebe away.  Of course he realized that he never should have, but he ended up living out the rest of his existence with this huge weight on his chest that he was never able to get rid of.  Yes, his action was what started all of the dysfunction in this family, but I don’t like how the story is laid out with the blame placed entirely on him.  Things happen to people in life.  It is how we deal with these things that shape who we are.

Paul actually bugged me quite a bit too.  It seemed to me that David loved Paul more than anything in the world, and tried to connect with him time and time again.  His concern when Paul decided to pursue music was born out of a true concern for his son.  Not that he didn’t recognize his talent, not that he didn’t believe that he couldn’t do something with it.  Coming from a past where you had nothing makes you want to make sure that your kids grow up with something.  It’s hard to get past that.  Paul came across to me like a bit of a spoiled brat that pouted when he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear from his father and turned it around to his father not loving him.  What he failed to realize that his father loved him enough to ask the hard questions and take the hard stance.

The one person in this story that actually got a great deal in life was Phoebe.  Yes, she has Down’s Syndrome.  She has difficulties, and she will never really be able to support and look after herself.  But she was raised in a loving environment, by a woman that was strong enough and capable enough to care for her, and fight for her rights to education and health care.  Even though Caroline was not her biological mother, she loved her as much as, or possibly more than she would have if she had carried her herself.  Nothing in this story shows me that Norah had the tools to deal with raising a special needs child, and I have a feeling that she would have let that destroy the family just as much as losing her altogether did.

Overall it was good.  Frustrating, yes.  But good.  Not great.  I read the book in a few days, which says to me that it flowed nicely and was interesting enough to keep my attention.  I just feel that with a basic story like this, there were so many possibilities, and I was left at the end saying…..meh.  But hey, there must have been something good in the writing, in order to cause all these reactions, emotions and ramblings from me – good or bad.

 

Tea Loaf

I adore this recipe.  I believe it’s called Tea Loaf because of the tea in the recipe, but it is also wonderful to enjoy with a cup of tea.  I often like to have a loaf of some kind handy for breakfast, lunches, or a snack at any time.  This one is definitely one of my favourites.  I got the recipe from Anna Olsen, on Food Network Canada.  She has amazing desserts and all kinds of recipes.  This does not disappoint.  It’s a great choice for anyone with allergies to eggs, as there are none in this loaf.   It’s incredibly moist and delicious served alone or with a spread.

Ingredients:

2 cups + 2 tbsp hot brewed earl grey tea

1 cup rasins

2 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup butter

6 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour 2 cups hot Earl Grey tea over raisins and set aside to soak.

In medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices.  Cut in butter until blended thoroughly.  Add tea with raisins and stir till smooth.  Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from loaf pan.  Stir together remaining tea with icing sugar and brush over loaf.

This loaf will keep for probably up to a week if kept wrapped tightly or in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Every so often, it seems like we go through times in life where a lot of things are happening to a lot of people.  For example, sometimes it seems like everyone we know is getting married, or there are babies being born everywhere we look.  Everyone is buying a house, or buying a car, or changing jobs.

As we get older, it is inevitable that we start hearing more and more about people dying around us.  We start losing aging relatives and friends.  Last year I lost my favourite uncle and two very beloved great aunts.

In the past week or so, I’ve received news about two very different stories of passing.  The first was of a man that lives in our area, mostly whom we know to see.  We weren’t close friends, or even acquaintances.  He was a relatively young man, 66 years of age.  Married 40 years, two married sons, 4 young grandchildren.  A well respected man, known for being someone of few words, a loving husband and grandfather, as well as a very hard working farmer.  Came in the house last week and mentioned to his wife how tired he felt, the next minute he died of a massive heart attack.  No warning, no chance.  One minute here, the next – gone.

I also received news that a friend of mine lost her grandpa.  A different story in many ways.  Similar in others.  He was also a well liked, well respected man, well known as well.  He though, was 98 years old.  His legacy that he left behind was huge.  Seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, twenty-one great-grandchildren.  He had been ailing in recent years, requiring daily care, but overall had been doing well.  He passed peacefully, and though everyone was sad to see him go, everyone acknowledged that he had lived a long and full life, and though he would be missed, perhaps it was time for him to go.

Both stories had some meaning for me, though I felt very impacted by the first one.  It really hits home that the old saying “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” is not only true, but can apply to anyone.  It can apply to me, and to those that I love.  And it doesn’t even have to be health related.  Accidents happen to those in perfect health.

Listen to me, getting all morbid here.  The point of this post was not to drag everyone down, but to remind, as we all need reminding – that life is so precious.  All those things that we put off, saying we’ll do tomorrow.  All those things that we mean to say – oh, we’ll apologize tomorrow, tell him/her I love them tomorrow.  I’ll hug them tomorrow, make that phone call tomorrow.  I know that in todays world, things are busy, and there is no way possible to do everything today.  But don’t put off the important things that only take a second.  Give your kids an extra squeeze.  Spoon up behind your spouse in bed for a while and tell them you love them instead of rolling over and going to sleep.  Have no regrets.  Live your life as though you will be gone tomorrow, and never let circumstances come in between you and the important things.  Tomorrow is the gift – and it’s not guaranteed.

We all hope to live a long, happy, full life like my friends grandpa.  Many of us will.  Just in case though, remember this:

“Fear of death follows from fear of life. Anyone who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain

Chicken Stove Top Bake

Here are my supper plans for tonight.  This basic recipe came from the Kraft Canada website.  This is literally from start to oven in 10 minutes and then you can play with your kids (or throw in a load of laundry, clean the bathroom, make lunches, read your book) while it bakes. It’s a great mid-week meal.

Ingredients:

2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in cubes

2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup

1 cup sour cream

2-3 cups frozen vegetables – your choice – I like peas and corn – thawed.

1 cup grated cheddar or marble cheese

1 pkg chicken flavoured Stove Top stuffing mix – can use low sodium if preferred.

1 cup hot tap water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a bowl, combine Stove Top mix and water and stir to combine.  Set aside.  In a 9 x 13 baking dish, combine chicken, soup, sour cream, veggies and cheese.  Mix until well combined and smooth out so ingredients are level in baking dish.  Sprinkle moistened stuffing mix evenly over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly. If the veggies are frozen, sometimes I like to bake without the topping for about 20 minutes or so, then add the topping so that it doesn’t get too crispy.

You can eat this on it’s own, sometimes I’ll make mashed potatoes to go with it to make it stretch a bit, or else a nice loaf of crusty bread goes great as a side.

There is another variation of this recipe that uses shredded cooked chicken and a mixture of 1 cup biscuit mix and 1/2 cup sour cream with a bit of milk mixed together and dolloped on the top instead of the stuffing mix.  This only requires about 20 minutes in the oven and it’s incredibly good as well.

Enjoy!

Hot Artichoke Dip

I’m going to play poker with the girls tonight, and this is what I plan to take with me for everyone to munch on.  There are variations of this dip all over the place in different cookbooks, websites, etc.  One of them is kraftcanada.com – a go to place for me when looking for a recipe.

Ingredients:

2 cans artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped.

2 cups salad dressing (like Miracle Whip)

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese.

1 tbsp minced garlic or sprinkle some garlic powder.

Sliced green onions (optional)

1 bag pitas – not the pocket kind

vegetable oil

seasoning salt

Directions:

Combine all but the last three ingredients in an oven safe dish.  Bake uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.  You can put it under the broiler for a few minutes if you like the top browned.

Serve with pita chips, method below:

Cut pitas into triangle wedges, about 8 per round.  Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.  Toss to coat.  Bake on cookie sheet, watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn.  You just want them lightly browned.  Turn once during baking.  You want them to retain some of their chewiness.

You can make this dip ahead of time and bake off at the last minute.  You can also do whatever variations you would like.  Some drained frozen spinach would be a nice addition, or some finely diced red peppers, or oil packed sundried tomatoes.  Jazz it up to suit your tastes.  If you’re in a pinch you can also just serve with store-bought tortilla chips.  The big restaurant style so you can get lots of dip on your chip!

Enjoy!

Men of the Otherworld – Book Review

Last night I finished reading “Men of the Otherworld” by Kelley Armstrong.  I want to preface this by saying that I have already read books 1-10 of the “Women of the Otherworld” series.  I love all these books and how they depict the women in them as strong, intelligent, and resourceful.

The men obviously play an important role in the other books, but only as how they are related to the women.  We hear little bits of their stories, of their pasts, but none of the true meat of it, and always as told by the women in the story….with the exception of Lucas, who has that sexy geek thing down to a science and whose story is also quite interesting and I’d love to hear more about him – hopefully in further books.

This story begins with Jeremy – the current Alpha of the American werewolves.  You don’t know much about his story from the other books.  This gives you an insight as to what the pack was like under a different Alpha, and of how completely different Jeremy is from his father – Malcolm.  We learn the circumstances surrounding Jeremy’s conception, and see his mother for the first time.

The bulk of this story is about Clayton, and the tale of his “childhood,” though really only from the bite onwards.  It’s as though his pre-bitten life didn’t exist.  This is an interesting story, especially told from Clay’s point of view.  He has an interesting mind and way of looking at things.  And apparently, complete obliviousness as to how completely gorgeous he is.  You get an insight of the true relationship between Clayton and Jeremy, and realize that considering Clayton’s state of mind when he was discovered by the Pack, there truly would never be anyone as suited as Jeremy to remove Clay from his wilderness home, civilize and raise him.

The book covers Jeremy’s rise to power as Alpha and cuts off pretty much right before he meets Elena.  It then jumps ahead to present day.

The POV switches and Jeremy is the voice now.  I won’t say much, only that I hope that the last tale in the book, with Jeremy and Jamie is a precursor to a future tale, where Jeremy can hopefully find out more about the other side of his parentage, his mother.

Overall, an excellent read, especially for those Women of the Underworld fans who agree with me that the werewolf tales concerning Elena and Clay et al are the best and most exciting in the series.

As these stories go – 5/5 stars.

 

Chicken Georgia

This is my plan for dinner tonight.  This dish was inspired from watching the amazing Paula Deen one afternoon and seeing her make it.  My husband looked at me and said – “Oh my, that looks good!”  I realized I had everything I needed in the house to make it so I did.  I’ve tweaked it here and there to suit our tastes, and it’s become a family favourite.  As usual – the measurements are eyeballed.

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and Pepper for seasoning

Butter and olive or vegetable oil – she used straight butter, I use a bit of both.

One onion – diced

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 lb. white button mushrooms – sliced

your favourite BBQ sauce – for brushing – my own tweak

4-6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled – also my own tweak, but come on…it’s bacon!

shredded mozzarella cheese – well…lots.

Directions:

Heat butter and oil in large skillet that has a cover.  Add onions and cook slightly.  Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until onions and mushrooms are tender.  Cover if necessary.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Put them in the pan with the mushrooms and the onions, making sure that the chicken is fully in contact with the pan.  Cook covered for until chicken is cooked a little more than halfway through, probably 6-8 minutes.  Brush exposed side with BBQ sauce and flip the breasts.  Brush the other side with more sauce, and sprinkle each breast with some of the crumbled bacon.  Cover everything with mozzarella cheese.  As much or as little as you like.  Cover and allow chicken to finish cooking and cheese to melt, probably another 6 minutes or so, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.

Serve with whatever side you enjoy – mashed potatoes, fries, rice – have all been tried and enjoyed by us.  Baked potato would probably be good too.  It’s quite rich, so it’s great with just a side salad as well.

Enjoy!  This is a good one! 🙂