Category Archives: At Home

Book Review: Still Here by Lara Vapnyar

As a book reviewer, I received a copy of this book for free from Blogging For Books to facilitate this review. I received no other compensation and as always my review and opinion is 100% my own. Links within the post are affiliate links (read full disclosure).

Let’s start this review by me telling you that I really enjoyed the book. Now you can keep reading all about it and know that I am not wasting your time!

I didn’t know if I’d like the premise, but ended up very interested:

Four friends who separately leave Russia to live in New York City. The book details how their lives are intertwined, and different since leaving Russia, their expectations and experiences as immigrants in a new city, and how their outlooks on life change, the longer they stay in the US.

For those of you reading from Book Beginnings…the first few line (s) of the book are:

“Promise me you won’t call it ‘Virtual Grave,'” Vica said as they turned onto the West Side Highway.

“You were the one who hated ‘The Voice from the Grave’!” Sergey said.

“‘The Voice from the Grave’ is even worse. We can’t afford a name that’s a downer.”

“Well, the entire idea is about death. And death happens to be a downer,” Sergey said.

From the New York Times Book Reviewe, 100 Notable Books of 2016:

Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina met in Russia in their school days, but remained in touch and now have very different American lives. Sergey cycles through jobs as an analyst, hoping his idea for an app will finally bring him success. His wife Vica, a medical technician struggling to keep her family afloat, hungers for a better life. Sergey’s former girlfriend Regina, once a famous translator is married to a wealthy startup owner, spends her days at home grieving over a recent loss. Sergey’s best friend Vadik, a programmer ever in search of perfection, keeps trying on different women and different neighborhoods, all while pining for the one who got away.

The backdrop of the story is the concept of our digital lives. How we present ourselves one way on social media, either hoping to present our best-selves or the self we want to be. The book raises questions about whether our online life is actually our life, and should it live on once we are gone (dead). The characters in the story debate this idea, and the perception about the value of our digital lives is reflected back and forth as we see the characters live ACTUAL lives.

Huh. Super interesting to me, as I have a sense that I hate Facebook and know everyone presents only what they want people to see, but I also use it a ton for this blog – it is a platform for what I want to show the world about HAG, so I find value in using it in my life. The book was expert in mirroring the absurdity of our digital lives in these characters.

Aside from the story itself, I loved the insight into immigrants from Russia in a city. I liked that I could relate to the characters who were approaching 40 years of age, who were at points in their lives where they are focused on jobs, family, or their futures. I liked that I could relate on that level but also gain some insight into how different living in the US is to someone from outside of it.

Overall Take:

There is romance, technology, contemporary life, urban sensibility and philosophical rambling in here. Maybe not for everyone, but I found it fun and satisfying.

 


Still Here, by Lara Vapnyar
Hogarth Press (reprint), 2017, 336 pages

Ultimate Coffee Chat: September

ultimate coffee

Like that picture? It’s from last year! I have been sharing my coffee-chats for over a year now and you have been telling me how much you like the general-style updates. So I am keeping it up- maybe late and maybe boring, but I am also keeping it real!

Here’s what I would tell you if you and I were sitting on my porch sipping our hot bevvies!

If we were having coffee I’d tell you: It’s freaking cold out here!

I love Fall!

Fall came fast huh? I am so glad since I LOVE fall. All things fall. The weather, the running weather, the smells, the decrease in bugs, the increase in routine, school starting, football stuff, soccer stuff, cozy things all around me like sweatshirts and blankets…I can go on! It goes without too much emphasis then, that I love pumpkin and apple everything! YES. Fall is my guy. I know it’s not quite leaf-jumping weather yet, but I couldn’t resist this picture- the boys were so little! Time is a-flying! Welcome to Fall my friends!

If we were having coffee I’d tell you: I love Fall for running.

Rolling to run

Now, I spoke about running weather. It is p-e-r-f-e-c-t here right now. Cool enough so I don’t run out of steam just because I am baking in the sun, and warm enough that I am not even layering yet. Perfect! Remember last month, I said I needed new sneakers? Well I still don’t have them and I am going okay- I can only think how great it will feel once I actually have some cushion on these feet! I am squishing an 18 week training plan into just 8 weeks (yes, I have a sense that I will tweak my planned runs quite a bit!) I mostly just use a plan so I can have an idea of what I should be running to be ready, but I don’t stay to it hard and fast if I am reducing the time like this- not if I don’t want to be hurt anyway! Do you use a plan for your racing or running? I’d love to know so share- please!

If we were having coffee I’d tell you: I just finished a great book 

…which I will review in depth later this week on the blog, but it is so relevant for NOW. It’s this one:

In a quick snippet: It’s about four Russian late-thirty somethings who met in Russia but all live in NYC now. It revolves around a questions of our virtual lives- how we actually live in real life versus on Facebook or social media in general. Sounds boring, but to care about the book means to be invested in the characters- and I was. They are well thought out and interesting to me, as a window of what it is like for them as immigrants in the United States, but also how we share the commonality of the absurdity of online-lives. Pretty interesting, right? Stay tuned for a full review.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you: That’s all really.

Oh! Wait! I forgot too- I have been re-painting my upstairs bathroom!

Repainting this ugly thing!

Look at this beast! So ugly- but so useful. I will have to do a post on that too- I painted the cabinets (this times-two) and walls, and actually some of the hardware too- some of the paint they have now is awesome! It has awoken (waked?- what is the word for this?) in me both a love of painting and hate of it. I am not sure yet  how I feel. It is making the rest of my house look perfectly awful though, so I need to get cracka-lackin’ and paint the rest of it! Good thing I am STILL not working right?! Ha! Gotta look on the bright side my friends, keeping it sunny!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend and I loved sharing my porch with you this month!

I am linking up with my other bloggers this morning over at

Thanks for coming by to chat~

This post includes affiliate links, which does not mean you pay a penny more when purchasing through my link. It means that in helping you easily find some of my favorite products, I receive a small commission if you purchase. Thank you so much for supporting Hardly A Goddess! *P.S. I only share products I truly love! For more information, see my full disclosure page.

Classic Sugar Cookie Cake

classic sugar cookie cake

I adapted this from the Dixie Crystals pure white sugar package- yep. Sometimes the best recipes are from the back of the box, if you know what I mean? This is no exception! I love Dixie sugar, and last year was lucky enough to receive a crap-ton of it for Brunch Week– like 12 bags!

So now that my kids are getting off the bus after their first day of school…I am welcoming them home with this beauty!

Classic Sugar Cookie Cake

Isn’t it cute? My kids made so much fun of my writing…”Does that say, Happy 1st Dan?”, “What is that, Play Doh?” No…no it is not. brats. No….just kidding. {sigh}

Okay, so I wrote a little welcome with my butter cream recipe, that isn’t super pretty but you know they did fight over the icing, so I over-did it a bit! They had seconds too- cuz that’s the nice-mom I felt like today.

I adapted it to use canola oil instead of butter. The recipe calls for a cup of butter, and that is two whole sticks. I don’t really want all that saturated fat with my old lady arteries, so I typically substitute 3/4 cups of canola oil for every 1 cup of butter. This has worked great for me most times with cookies only. Here’s the recipe as I made it:

Classic Sugar Cookies made into a Cookie Cake

Ingredients

3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 375*. Spray a 9″ cake pan with non-stick spray or rub with butter (or margarine) completely.
  • In a large bowl, add the oil and sugar. Stir to combine.
  • Add in the egg and vanilla and mix.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Add to the sugar mixture and stir until combined.
  • Add the sprinkles and mix completely.
  • Press the mixture into the bottom of the cake pan, using your knuckles to evenly spread it.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes at 375* until the edges are just lightly browned.

Classic Sugar Cookie Cake

For the optional butter-cream frosting:

In a large bowl, add:

  • 3 TBSP. softened butter
  • 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 tsp.vanilla
  • 1 TBSP. milk

Mix with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add to a plastic bag, cut the tip off, and pipe your letters. That’s it!

Classic Sugar Cookie Cake


I have a non-chocolate eater in my world, so I opted for sugar cookie flavor. I added some jimmies (sprinkles for you non North-easterners) and frosted the letters with my easy butter cream frosting, but you could also use ready made frosting or even just stick a little hand lettered-sign in the middle with a tooth-pick! Let’s make this easy shall we?

It pops out super easily after it cools too, so it’s better to slice up into sections:

 

classic sugar cookie cake

Well it is super easy and kind of a nice little welcome home at the end of their day. I am sure it was hard work having to NOT be on a screen, and NOT lay around in your PJs all day! I feel their pain and so I hope this helps ease it a little bit~

classic sugar cookie cake


Classic Sugar Cookie Cake