Apt. 11D Gift Guide 2019 – Steve's History Book Selection

by Steve, blog husband

For Father’s Day, Jonah got me a video game I’ve had my eye on for some time:  Total War – Three Kingdoms. I’ve been a fan of the Total War series for years.  This new game, however, was to be a departure from the rest of the other fightin’ and buildin’ games in the series.  This one was to focus on characters and their relationships with each other. Good friends help each other out. Two characters who hate each other, you can’t get them to cooperate.  How does a motley crew of random personalities turn into a harmonized team?

Which leads me to the only book I recommend this year.  It is the best I have read in a very long time. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese classic.  And for good reason. Lots of action, heroes and villains, drama across generations.

Romance takes place at the end of the Han Dynasty.  China is disorganized, warlords run amok. The brute Dong Zhou.  The mighty Lü Bu. The crafty Cao Cao. The loyal Lord Guan. The virtuous Liu Bei.  The brilliant Zhuge Liang. And the victorious Sima Yi.

They all have their weird quirks.  Cao Cao would ask his advisors for ideas and advice, and when one of them suggests something particular insightful he would exclaim “Just what I was thinking!”  That cracked me up every time. Liu Bei’s strict morals drove me nuts; always falling short of greatness because he would not sacrifice his better nature. No Machiavelli he.  I was actually sad for half a day when Lord Guan was captured and executed. Xiahao Dun, shot in the eye, pulls out the arrow and swallows his eyeball. Yikes! I’m still thinking about that.

Is it history?  Sort of. It is somewhat historical, based upon annals written during the era, with a lot of literary license taken by author Luo Guanzhong.  And the end product is so much the better because of Luo’s artistry. Rather than a chronology of who did what to whom, here is a ripping good saga, complete with tales of honor and treachery, not to mention quite a few tips on how to best manage people.  How does one balance differing personalities? What motivates a team? There is a reason why people still read this book 700 years after it was written.

Romance offers the reader a lot to digest (including Xiahou Dun’s eyeball!  Sorry, couldn’t help it). Read the Moss Roberts translation, it flows naturally yet is still direct, plus it includes notes and commentary.  Other translations are stilted, too literal, out-of-date. I will continue to turn to this classic for years to come.

Apt. 11D Gift Guide 2019 – Food

I usually have the TV on in the background as Steve and the boys get out of the house in the morning. Lately, Dan Buettner, the National Geographic writer, has been talking up his new book, The Blue Zone Kitchen. When he comes on the TV, I usually stop putting away dishes and organizing my daily to-do list, and watch the segment.

Buettner has made an entire career around looking at the five areas of the world where people live the longest — Sardinia, California, Japan, Greece, and Costa Rica. His questions are always the same: What are those people doing right? What can we learn from them? The answers are clear. It’s lifestyle.

People in those areas have a life purpose that doesn’t end when they turn 65. They don’t immediately retire from a job, plop down in front of a tv, and remain there until heart disease and loneliness destroys them. The grandmas take care of grandchildren. The men keep fishing and providing for their families. They walk everywhere. They eat communally. All good stuff.

Now, he’s focusing on the foods that they eat. What are the commonalities? The answer is low meat consumption, lots of beans, vegetables, and fruit, low dairy. It’s interesting because so many of the fad diets put lots of those foods, like beans and squash, on the no-no list. Because we eat a pretty standard Mediterranean diet here, I am a fan of Buettner. In fact, this book is the only cookbook that I’m interested in right now.

We eat a lot of vegetables. At Sunday’s farmer’s market, Steve and I load up on at least four bags of vegetables. It’s fairly random. I grab whatever looks happy that day — leeks, cabbage, lettuce, corn, beets, radishes — and then figure out recipes later. The Sunday before Thanksgiving was the last day of the market until May, so I loaded up on squash, potatoes, carrots, and onions — items that would last in the bottom shelf of the pantry for a couple of months.

Because I work from home, I’m able to experiment with cooking. I probably spend more time in the kitchen than most people these days. If I was working in an office in the city, I might maintain our diet by planning ahead and cooking bigger batches of food every three days. But right now, I do this in my own disorganized fashion starting at 5:00 every day.

I do all this, not because it’s super healthy, but because it tastes good. I like the challenge of turning something humble and even ugly, like a turnip, into art. Because I was raised by the Italian side of the family, I associate food with love; it’s how I show my family how much I love them.

So, let’s talk equipment. What is in heavy rotation in my kitchen these days? What needs regular replacement?

The key to cooking vegetables properly is knowing how to clean them and cut them up. Everything else is simple – you roast them, sauté them, steam them, stir fry them, eat ’em raw. But you can’t get past square one without the prep work. Mostly that takes some practice, but good equipment is also important. So, you need the following items: three or four great cutting boards, an excellent set of knives, a colander, and a sharp peeler.

I like to pile up my cutting boards on the counter, because the wood is a nice accent in my white kitchen.

Another important, but often skipped step to cooking dinner is to transfer the food from the pots on the stove into serving bowls on the table. I know a lot of busy parents skip this step and just serve the food out of the pots on the stove, but that simple transfer of food from pot to bowl is essential. It keeps the food from over cooking. It makes everything look more appetizing. Somehow that two second step turns dinner time into an event.

I’m lucky enough to have a new kitchen with deep drawers where I pile up my various serving platters and bowls. I heavily rely on a set of really basic white bowls from Crate and Barrel, as well as some super colorful bowls from Le Souk. I just picked up an inexpensive set of three nesting bowls from IKEA that I’m using a lot.

We finally got an Instant Pot, but that’s Steve’s baby, so I can’t talk about it much.

Alright, this post is long enough. My running buddy is pinging me to meet up with her.

Apt. 11D Gift Guides 2019: Camping and Travel

We love camping. We have a large shelving unit in the basement filled with equipment, so we can take off for a weekend trip on a moment’s notice.

Here’s a blog post of one of our trips this summer and another post with products that we use and love.

REI is having a big sale right now. I like their men’s base layer crew top, sleeping pads, women’s jacket, and pullover.

At Amazon, check out the headlamp, tent, sleeping bag, lantern flashlight, stove, and a rooftop car carrier for all the crap.

This year, we traveled to North Carolina, England, Scotland, Toronto, and Chicago. Next year, we’ll do more, because travel is something that binds my family together.

Our current suitcases are ten-year old Samsonites, which I purchased at Kohl’s using Kohl Bucks. I’ll probably upgrade next year. I do love Tumi, but they might be a notch too high of a price point for me. Maybe we’ll do a TravelPro.

As I’ve said before, I love packing for travel. This year, I used a universal adaptor, a travel pillow, travel backpack, packing cubes. I’m looking around for the best travel jewelry case, but haven’t decided which one I love the most.

Apt. 11D Gift Guide 2019 — Cyber Monday For Me

This is just quickie post of the deals that I’m checking out right now. Mostly it’s clothing that I want for the holiday season.

Because I work from home, my uniform are jeans, blouses, and boots. I have daytime versions and nighttime versions. I am not a yoga pants around the house girl. I feel pretty strongly that just because I work from home, I still have to put on contacts, make-up, and a decent outfit. After all, I’m out and about town seeing people during the day, too. I’m not living in cave.

I rely a lot on J. Crew, the Gap, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic for the girly blouses. They’re all having 50% off sales right now. At J.Crew, I like this one, this one, and this one.

Steve and I have been binge-watching Schitt’s Creek for the past month. One of the characters, Alexis Rose, is a modern Boheme who wears a lot of flowery dresses and floppy hats. So, maybe that’s why I really love this flowery dress at the Banana.

For the rare work event, I have a handful of dependable, comfortable, packable outfits. I just picked up these pants and blouse. These shoes needed a little breaking in, but now they’re conference-ready.

I’ve gotten way pickier about sweaters in recent years. This is one way that women over 40 can make mistakes. I hate itchy woolen cowl necks and bulky cable knits. I like items that can be easily stripped off, makes me look skinny, and/or are super soft. I have one J. Crew cashmere sweater that I wear nearly every day. I think I need another. They are 50 percent off at Garnet Hill today.

Apt. 11D Gift Guides 2019 – Tech

I’m going to start with tech products, because there are so many cyber deals today.

We’re an Apple family. So, I have an iPhone, an iPad, and an iMac. Jonah has an iBook for college. I need to upgrade my iPhone this year. My old iPhone 5S still works, but I need a better cell camera. I think I’m requesting the iPhone 11 this year. With the new phone, I’ll need a new case, too.

Because we use these products for years and years, I don’t mind spending big bucks on this items. Also, they are cross-over items, meaning I use them for work and for fun.

Good headphones are a must for the boys. Steve and I use wireless earbuds for running.

Ian is a Nintendo Switch kid, while Jonah uses Xbox. I’ll do game recommendations later.

Accessories like multi-port plugs and wifi extenders are frequently used.

I use my Nikon 5100 nearly every day to take pictures of the kids or books for my Etsy Shop. I leave the camera in the kitchen, so it’s always ready to record an especially good dinner. The camera is ten years old and still works too well to replace yet, but if I was going to upgrade, I would go for a camera with wifi, so I could more easily post pictures to Instagram and the blog. A former photography teacher told me that he leaves his good camera at home for typical evenings and slides a smaller camera in his pocket for quick, spontaneous shots. I haven’t done that yet, but would consider it.

2015 Gift Guide – Mega Post, Part Two

Thanks, guys, for clicking and buying through Apt. 11d. Let me throw up another quick post, before returning back to my article. Ah, virtual shopping is so much better than writing.

  1. Ian wants a Bongo Drum, but this green ukulele is pretty sweet.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is an OCD-miracle.
  3. Jonah is going to Germany this spring with his German class. That’s his big present this year. We’ll wrap up a bunch of travel gear as a gift. We got this Shave Kit  for a fraction of the price at Macy’s.
  4. I’m making tiny canvas prints for my neices with their artsy, non-selfie, Instagram pictures. If you use Canvaspop, make sure you search for a coupon. They’re always half off.
  5. Steve likes to pretend that he’s not a Wall Street stiff by wearing hipster t-shirts on the weekend.
  6. This is probably the first year that I haven’t bought a video game for someone. Jonah is still addicted to last year’s purchase — FIFA 16 & SteelBook (Amazon Exclusive) – Xbox One.

Alright, time’s up. More tomorrow. The oldies are here.