The Idiot

The Idiot coverThe Idiot
by Elif Batuman
Penguin Press (March 14, 2017), 429 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $14.16

Author Elif Batuman enjoys paying homage to Dostoevsky. She titled a previous book The Possessed. But Dostoevsky is not why I bought the present volume. I am a sucker for college campus novels and The Idiot is one of those. The novel also received excellent reviews, so I thought it would be worth my time.

The novel begins in 1995. Selin, the daughter of well-educated Turkish immigrants, is entering her first year at Harvard. Email is just starting to be widely used. Selin decides to take a class in Russian. One of the students, a senior, is a brooding figure named Ivan. Selin becomes obsessed with Ivan and develops a friendship with him. When Ivan heads to Cal Tech they continue their relationship via email.

Selin is a very smart woman, but not great at managing relationships. She continues her (strictly non-physical) relationship with Ivan even when she learns he has a girlfriend. She becomes part of a program teaching English in Hungary to be near Ivan over the summer in his homeland.

The writing in The Idiot is engaging and the book kept me entertained. In the end however…

(and here comes a spoiler—something I rarely do)

…we realize that it is Selin who is the idiot for continuing to have feelings for Ivan, who has a serious, ongoing relationship with a woman his age, who is off to study elsewhere in the world, and who will never return her affection.

spicy chile grilled chicken

This recipe has been in my database since 2010. Spicy Chile Grilled Chicken appeared in the July 2010 issue of Coastal Living. The use of the “e” in chile grates on me somewhat, but it is acceptable in some circles. In fact it is an issue that continues to be debated. There is an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times from back in November 2000 on the subject.

spicy chile grilled chickenForget about the spelling, however. Let’s talk about the recipe. I had a boneless chicken breast in the freezer that I wanted to grill so I opened up my recipe database and found this. It calls for a whole chicken, but it worked just as well on the breasts. I used a red chili (snicker) because that is what my local Sprouts had on hand. I marinated it for a full eight hours.

It turned out great. I served it with a packaged rice pilaf mix.

pausing for a moment

Two members of my Toastmasters club: Diane and Betty.

angel statueDiane was a member before I joined. She was a vivacious, outgoing person. She was also somewhat scattered. There is a certain order in which you are supposed to give your speeches in the Competent Communication manual in order to get your Competent Communicator award. She did not give the speeches in order and she often gave speeches completely unrelated to the manual. Consequently I got my Competent Communicator award before she got hers, and by the time she qualified for her award I was vice president of education and was the one to submit the award.

Betty was a senior citizen who decided to join Toastmasters. She was also an outgoing person who was determined and  intense. She suffered from some serious vision problems, having macular degeneration, so she required a lot of assistance. She also got confused easily and had to have things explained multiple times. She was, however, a thoroughly enjoyable person and gave some really good speeches.

Diane had surgery several weeks ago for what turned out to be ovarian cancer. On Thursday we learned that the doctors had deemed Diane’s cancer to be terminal. We also learned that Betty had a stroke.

I am therefore taking a moment to shed a tear for Diane and to send healing prayers to Betty.

This also gives me a moment to pause and be grateful for all the blessings that I enjoy.



two years

Two years ago today the moving van arrived at our new house here in Hemet. It was a Friday.

moving vanThe moving van arrived at our house in Gilroy first thing in the morning on Cinco de Mayo. It was a Tuesday. We had a lot of stuff and the movers were there all day loading everything, including my Toyota Corolla.

Terry and I spent the night of the fifth at the Best Western in Gilroy and boarded Tasha at her resort. We got up early on Wednesday, had breakfast, picked up Tasha and headed south. Tasha was a good girl for us on the trip as we drove down I-5. When we got to the Grapevine we gave her a tranquilizer to keep her calm as we drove through the L.A. Basin. She snoozed most of the way.

As we got close to our new home I realized that the transponder to get through the community gate was in the back of the car, so I stopped at a Rite Aid to pull it out. Tasha got excited. “Is this where we get out?” No, Tasha, just a few more miles.

We arrived at our new, empty home and set up the air mattress. Tasha thought that was really cool. We spent two nights on the air mattress and the moving van arrived about 9:00 am on Friday. Tasha was delighted to get reacquainted with her familiar smells.

Here it is two years later. Tasha has adapted well. It is a very different life for us, but much of it is good. We have a lot to be grateful for.

moving in

Sacred Music Friday: Holy Holy Holy

Arranged by Samuel Metzger

a new avocation

Terry has a new avocation.

Terry’s birthday is in early December. Shortly before her birthday last year she asked me for a combined birthday and Christmas present. The JoAnn Fabric newspaper ad had listed an entry-level sewing machine at a ridiculously attractive price and she asked me to get it for her.

Terry sewingI was happy to do so. Now I don’t generally frequent that store, but I ventured in. I wandered around aimlessly in what was an extremely busy store and saw no sewing machines. A helpful salesperson told me that they were behind the front counter. I got in line and purchased it for her.

She has been working at reacquiring the skills she let lapse after high school. On a recent Saturday she took a sewing class with our great niece. She really enjoyed it. The instructor told her that she had an excellent beginner’s machine that would do everything she needed right now.

Progress is slow because she is busy with other things as well, but it she continues to move forward. She just finished a shirt which turned out very nicely as her first venture.

shrimp cocktail

shrimp cocktailA number of years ago, before we moved down here, we came down to visit and my brother and sister-in-law took us up the hill to Idyllwild where we had lunch at Cafe Aroma. Terry had a shrimp cocktail that consisted of pesto, horseradish, and cocktail sauce. She enjoyed it so much that she has been making our shrimp cocktail that way ever since.

Originally she layered it as they did at Cafe Aroma. But eventually she created three sections so that all three sauces were available right there on top. The last time she made it I bought a loaf of garlic bread at Sprouts and heated it up on the grill.

It made for a really nice Sunday dinner.