Thursday, September 30, 2010

Books: Empire Falls by Richard Russo

During the fiction workshop that I took this summer, I wrote a story that I had been thinking about for over a year.  It focused on two girls who were best friends living in rural Maine.  I was extremely focused on two things in this story: one, I wanted the reader to really understand the relationship between these two girls, how close and entangled they were at a time in their lives when they should start to develop their own identities; and two, I wanted to explore the feeling of being stuck in a small town where there are few opportunities but no one seems to leave ( my characters spent a ton of time at the local diner, since one of their mothers worked there). 

The story was generally well-received, even though I knew it needed more work, so I was happy with the feedback.  The instructor noted at the end of his comments: "Have you read Empire Falls by Richard Russo? It's also about a small town in Maine and most of it takes place in a diner." I didn't know much about the book before then so I was surprised that it sounded so similar to the basis of my story (coincidentally, Olive Kitteridge also takes place in Maine.  What a popular state!). 

I picked up a used copy of the Russo book while on vacation (in Maine, where else, right?!) but it took me a little while to get into.  I had a few false starts before I decided to skip the intro which was 20-something pages in tiny italics.  It detailed the history of the wealthiest family in town but without knowing any of these people, it was hard to stick with it.  I'm glad I jumped right into Chapter 1--the book itself is slow at first but it's so worth it.  By the time I was half-done, I couldn't put it down and was dying to know what happened next. It totally puts my own story to shame but makes me want to work on it until it's at least half as good as this novel. 

Everything about the setting is unique, ironically, because most everything is such a usual situation.  A town passed its prime, lots of 'quirky' townspeople, yet no one feels like a caricature.  Not one of the individuals is all good or all bad--they all have relatable traits.  I felt like I knew the town (after almost 500 pages, it should be that way too) and could drive right to it and visit the Empire Grill.  But the best part is that Russo has some surprises in store.  Right when I thought I knew how the book would end, an ending that I thought would be satisfying in its own right, he creates even more tension and a horrific incident that changes the lives of all of his characters. 

Everyone in Empire Falls is familiar in some way--everyone knows someone like Miles, the main character, who is passive to a fault and lets things happen to him without taking much action.  The heart of the story makes readers think about their own lives, how they act or react to things that happen and how to make themselves better people.  I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for sure.  I will note that every five chapters or so, there is a chapter that recounts the past that is written in tiny italics.  I don't mind italics or tiny print, but reading 20 pages or so of it was distracting.  Keep going, though, and you'll be rewarded at the end, just like the characters in Empire Falls

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunday Mornings

On Sunday mornings, I make coffee, sit on the couch with Anthony and watch CBS's Sunday Morning.  It's a really wonderful show filled with human-interest pieces and unique features.  For some reason, I thought that we were the only ones watching this show, tuning in to see Charles Osgood in his snappy bow ties and Bill Geist on his wacky road trip adventures, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of my favorite bloggers, Ashley and Aron at Hither and Thither watch weekly too! 

This show has such a homey feeling, and it makes me think that this is what it was like years ago when televisions were a new addition to households, with families coming together at a certain time to be entertained, informed, etc. Even the nature segments at the end of each episodes are delightful.  There isn't a voiceover so the viewer can actually hear the chirping birds or the branches breaking under the weight of grazing moose.  I especially loved these three recent features (it was hard to choose!).

Anyway, if you are ever up before 10:30am on a Sunday, check out CBS.  Hopefully, you'll love Sunday Morning as much as we do. 

Image via

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday Brunch: Bella's Cafe

On Saturday afternoon, I joined my good friend, Arabella, for a delicious brunch at Bella's Cafe in Westville, New Haven.  I'd never been to Bella's but had heard great things about it and, as a brunch lover, I was definitely up for a visit.  On weekends, brunch/breakfast is served until 4:00pm so we headed over around 12:30pm for a midday meal. 

Our food was absolutely wonderful.  Since we were really hungry (and everything on the menu looked great), we decided to each order an omelet and then share a dessert of french toast stuffed with brie, which was a daily special that came highly recommended by our waiter.  Even though the omelets were great, the home fries and the toast (thick slices of Italian bread) were even better.  We were so full that we considered nixing our french toast order but I'm glad we didn't.  The blend of the warm, sweet bread and the savory cheese was a really good combination. 

The atmosphere in the restaurant is really welcoming and, even though this sounds silly, I love the glasses, which were large, brightly-colored and somewhat translucent.  This meal was my favorite part of the weekend, and now, I can't wait to bring Anthony with me sometime soon. 

Photo courtesy of Bella's Cafe website

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Shoes

For the past four months, I've been looking for shoes to wear at my brother's wedding.  As a bridesmaid, I have a specific dress to wear but the only limitation I have with regard to shoes is that they have to be black.  Sounds easy, right?  Unsurprisingly, I've had a lot of trouble but today, while helping my mom find her own wedding outfit, I came across the perfect pair.

In my mind, I've been picturing a black shoe, possibly patent leather, with a peep toe and a kitten heel.  Here's what I purchased:

Black suede and patent leather peep toe flats with adorable flower adornments.  And they are super comfortable.  What a great find at just the right time.

Bandolino shoes purchased at Macy's

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All-Star Top Chef Season!

Last night during the Top Chef Season 7 reunion special, Bravo announced that next season is an all-star season!  It's sad to admit how excited I am about this--I've spent years watching Top Chef and every season, I feel like there are just a couple of chefs that should get a second chance.  Here's their chance!  It's going to be so interesting to see if one contestant consistently comes out on top or if they switch around--they are all such strong players.  And I just want to throw my two-cents in and say that after the last three seasons of women making it to the finals only to leave right away, I would love to see a female win, perhaps Carla from Season 5 (Hootie-hoo!), Jennifer from last season or Tiffany from this recently-ended Washington DC-themed season.  I can't wait until December!

Picture of all of the contestants scheduled to appear on the Top Chef All-Stars season, courtesy of

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

 Photo of Dana Hotel in Mission Bay, San Diego
The past few weeks have flown by.  With my brother's wedding and all the preparations that go along with it, I haven't had a spare minute.  Last Friday night was the bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, which was a great time and well-worth the work though.  Then, my dad's birthday was Sunday so I had my parents, grandparents and my brother and his fiancee all over to our small apartment for brunch.  Overall, it went well and I was a little impressed with myself because three of the dishes that I made (home fries, scones, and bacon cheddar biscuits) were things I had never made before and they still were pretty tasty!

And now with just a few weeks until the Big Day, I'm so excited to look beyond the wedding and make plans for November and December.  Fall and winter are usually the seasons when I meet up with close friends from college that I hardly ever see, and I am really looking forward to that this year.  Also, I keep telling myself that we can't go on vacation now (even though the only thing I want to do is go away for a while) so it didn't help that I just received an email from my favorite hotel in San Diego offering very inexpensive rooms--I am having trouble not booking two tickets to California, grabbing Anthony and making a beeline to the airport. 

Even though it's only Wednesday, I want the weekend to be here already.  Friday can't come soon enough!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monarch Migration

Today, I received this e-mail from one of the attorneys in my office:
Dear West-Facing Window Colleagues: 

In the last hour, I have seen three monarchs float by my window heading south, which leads me to   believe the fall migration has begun ( and that I need to focus more on my work.  

As soon as I saw this message, I turned around and looked outside until I saw one too.  For some reason, the sight of this little creature fluttering through the windy sky really touched me.  I wrote back to my colleague:  

I just saw one myself!  Thanks for letting us know, and for giving me a reason to stare out my window for 7 minutes. 
He sent me the perfect response back:
So tiny and so far to go!
He couldn't be more right.  Good luck to all of these beautiful butterflies heading south for the winter and braving the unknown skies ahead.   I'll keep an eye out for you in the spring.

The map that my coworker sent along showing the migration patterns of the monarch butterflies

Image via
Cloud photo from weheartit

Monday, September 13, 2010

Preparing for the Bridal Shower

This coming Friday night is my future sister-in-law's bridal shower.  I've been running around for weeks trying to get the perfect gifts, making decorations (the party is being held at my parents' home) and trying to find something cool but casual to wear.  With only a few days left, it seems like I've crossed off most of the tasks on my list, which makes me feel less stressed.

Yesterday, I spent all day with my mom making cookies for the dessert table.  We cut of sugar cookies in the shape of diamond rings and wedding cakes, and I decorated all of the wedding cake-shaped cookies, which took me forever.  In the end, I really loved them though--hopefully, everyone else will love them, too!

I'm really looking forward to posting photos of the shower and can't wait to celebrate my brother's upcoming wedding in 3 weeks!

A picture of my wedding cake cookies--we used royal icing and colored sprinkles for decorations. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

End of Season Peaches

This weekend, we went to see Anthony's mom.  His mom doesn't like chocolate but she loves fruit so after I saw these peach shortbread bars, I decided to make her a little treat.

I browned butter for the first time and even though I don't think I browned it enough, it added a really nice flavor to the shortbread crust.  The peaches I used were really ripe and sweet and went well with the crumbs on top. 

Here's what my peach shortbread looked like:

And here is a picture of the shortbread that Deb from made:

I cut the bars into small rectangles and packed them into a container.  I really hope that she enjoyed the snack with a cup of tea. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More good news!

With yesterday's exciting news still fresh in my mind, I couldn't be happier to see the Design*Sponge New Haven guide that I wrote posted on Jauntsetter, one of my favorite blogs (and one that I already gushed about in a previous post)!  September is going well so far...

Photo of New Haven, CT, courtesy of Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Design*Sponge Today!

If you get a chance, head on over to Design*Sponge today and check out their new city guide on New Haven, Connecticut, written by me!  I can't tell you how excited I am to have my work featured on one of my favorites blogs!  Thanks, Design*Sponge!