Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#14: 10 Days Veggie - COMPLETE

So I may or may not have almost eaten bacon 3 times in the last ten days...bacon is too good people. These 10 days were not a challenge beyond that. I made sure to plan my meals (maybe over-bought on the veggies at Trader Joe's on the first of the 10 days!!), and just followed in the footsteps of my lovely roommate Jamie! I learned that what I knew about being a vegetarian was very limited. Had no idea there were differences in the type of vegetarian you can be other than if you eat fish you are a Pescetarian! I guess I followed the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, because (let's be real) giving up bacon is tough enough, goat cheese and fried eggs is a whole new level.

First Meal: Fried egg, goat cheese, and roasted asparagus on ciabatta :)

My two days that were the hardest were both Sundays. First Sunday I went to a new brewery in town, Station 26, to attend their Bluegrass Brunch where they had doughnuts and a BBQ truck and released a new brew - Coffee Vanilla Cinnamon Porter. The one doughnut I was eyeing was Maple Bacon, so that was out, and then I wanted to get a side of baked beans, but that also was cooked with bacon :-/ I survived of course. Ended up spending less money. And maybe saved a calorie or two ;)

Station 26 Brewing Co. - Bluegrass Brunch

The next Sunday I was invited to my Aunt and Uncle's house for a BBQ and, although I had lots of delicious veggie options (which I ate and was very stuffed), I still wanted to have the chicken kebabs and hot sausage...#firstworldproblems.

I think that what I learned is if I were more committed to the cause of being a vegetarian, I could most certainly do it. But since I just don't get weirded out by eating things attached to a bone, I will stick with my occasional steak, chicken, and BBQ but realize I get plenty of protein and satisfaction out of a vegetarian lifestyle - so maybe just plan more veggie meals throughout the week and save the meat for eating out :)

Thanks for following along on my 30 Before 30 ride and I will leave you with this Buzzfeed devoted to all things bacon:  17 Mouthwatering Bacon-Wrapped Snacks :)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Alyssa's 30 Before 30 List :D

I have now been 29 for one whole week! This is my last year in my twenties and I think that should call for some time of reflection and some time to consider what I'd like my thirties to bring. I have very few qualms about turning the big 3-0. In the past 3 decades I have lived in 3 different countries, visited 9 more, received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from a great school (Go Blue!), gone bungee jumping, seen my sister get married and have the cutest child in the entire world - no bias here..., survived amoebas, learned a new language, confronted my own numerous weaknesses (still workin on these!), skied Colorado mountains, met so many amazingly beautiful people, cried, laughed, and loved countless times in the company of countless friends. And all of that being said, there's still a lot more to do and see :)

I've had a few acquaintances do a list of 30 things to accomplish before they turned 30. Not all of them started in their actual 30th year, but that just means mine have to be easily quantifiable and most of them have to be free or relatively inexpensive to make sure I can get them done in time! I have tried to make all of them things I have never done before, but some of them are tweaked so at least its a slightly new experience (i.e. instead of 'Take the GRE' - which is something I have to get done this year but something I have done once in the past - I put 'Take a GRE prep course'- something I haven't done before!). I am hoping to have folks join me in most of these endeavors, so if you read over this list and see something you want to do with me, let's plan it!! Here we go:

1. Go to Peru
2. Climb a 14er
3. Explore Fort Collins
4. Get arm definition (gotta be specific here people!)
5. Do the 'incline' - hike in Colorado Springs
6. Skydive (but only if a cool spot presents itself - no need to just waste money, right?!)
7. Have a crazy LoDo girls' night
8. Hike Hanging Lake
9. Spend a fun weekend away with my sister, one with my mom, one with my dad
10. Take a GRE prep course (uhg.) 
11. Get a new job (my current position's grant funding is up in September- so this HAS to happen)
12. Start a garden
13. Do a sprint-tri
14. Go vegetarian for 10 days
15. Have 1 solo dance party/month 
16. Host a BOMB dinner party at the Logan Lodge
17. Explore two new U.S. cities
18. Buy myself a bouquet of flowers every week for one month
19. Read 6 new books & re-read a favorite
20. Learn to drive a stick shift
21. Take a road trip with someone new 
22. Spend one weekend without technology in America
23. Open a champagne bottle with a knife!
24. Go to 6 new museums/cultural spots
25. Get my 'jump' on at jumpstreet
26. Find a new volunteer opportunity
27. Try 10 new foods
28. Try 10 new beers Too easy...Modified to: Visit 10 new breweries! 
29. See 6 shows I've never seen before (live performance)
30. Learn to make a perfect martini & old fashioned 

Want to join me?!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Good To Be Back!

It’s been almost two years since I have found myself ready to jump back into the blogosphere after my unexpected and hasty departure from Mali and the Peace Corps. There was a coup d'├ętat in Mali in March of 2012 that resulted in the evacuation of all US citizens – which included all 180 Peace Corps Volunteers. After the initial coup – which you can read more about on the Wikipedia page -  all volunteers were told to consolidate in our local capitals and wait out the decision from the US government about our future within Mali. Two weeks later we were in Accra, Ghana completing our Peace Corps ‘Transition Conference’; working on resumes, interview skills, and sitting in counseling sessions. Not a small change and not an easy time emotionally for any of us.

It took about 3 months for reality to sink in that that part of my life had finished and a new chapter needed to begin. I spent that time traveling around the US visiting family, friends, and lots of RPCVs who I could talk to about the crazy change that just happened in our lives! I wanted to find a city that felt right. A place I could push myself in new ways and feel at home and hopefully a place I could be close to nature. My list of visits included: New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington DC, Atlantic City, Portland, Seattle, and the two that ended up being my favorites – Denver and Baltimore. My friends and family graciously took me around to the non-touristy parts of each town so I could try – in very limited time – to get a feel for what living there would be like. In the end, Denver felt right! I moved out in August 2012 without a job or a place to call my own, but a place to stay for a month or two with family who held out open arms and provided great advice :)

I’ve been here for a year and a half now, and it feels pretty awesome. I have wonderful people around me, made some fantastic new friends, have the greatest roommates, coolest house (its also literally super cold since its ancient), and get to visit the mountains on a near weekly basis. My wonderful fella knows all things Colorado outdoors and has been a wonderful ski partner this season. I have found a few places that my volunteer time feels productive and inspiring, and have been working as a Community Engagement Coordinator for a little over a year now. Things are better than I would have expected after just picking up and moving while hoping for the best! There are still so many places to explore, things to do, and people to experience life with here, hence my return to my blog. My 29th birthday is coming this month and that has led to my decision to create a list of 30 things to do in my life before I enter my 4th decade in this crazy world of ours! Time to take life by the horns (once again) and get some things done that I have been wanting to do for a while…

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sweet Home Moribila

    As I near the end of my times as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in Mali, I find myself wanting to pinpoint specifics.  What have I learned in these 20+ months?  What will I take back with me to the United States?  What are the things I hope to never, ever again take for granted?  And what am I really going to miss about this place?  I decided it would be best to focus first on those things I will think about, once home, that will bring a smile to my face and those pieces I’m likely to yearn for.  I only have a few months left in Moribila so I want to spend this time appreciating those things I may never get to experience again:

10. Orange Toothless Smiles ~  Old men and old women alike are often encountered in a giggly, gregarious state due to cola nut consumption!  Cola nuts are hard, bitter nuts that have an effect similar to that of catnip (from what I’ve been told).  The cola nuts turn what’s left of their teeth bright orange.  I will most certainly miss the interaction with folks in this state :)

9.  Waking up with the sun to the sounds of village life ~  I go to bed each evening between 9 & 10pm.  To wake up with the sun around 6:30 is refreshing and something I’m not sure I have ever done sans alarm clock in the States.  The rhythmic sound of the pounding of the day’s millet is not a bad way to rise either. 

8.  Mangoes, Degue, and Didegue ~  Honestly the only 3 foods I will miss from Mali.  Degue is a sweet sour milk drink with millet balls mixed in (sounds terrible but its oh so wonderful).  Didegue is a past made for special days like the beginning and end of fast in the time of Ramadan.  It is made from millet, honey, sugar, peanuts, and sour milk, mmmm!  These are 3 things I know would never be recreated or taste the same outside Malian borders.  Sad.

7.  People shouting my name from the far corners of town ~  I’ve lived 2 years as a celebrity.  Mere sight of me induces children to run my way, shake my hand, and greet with the flawed but sweet ‘Caba? Fanta, Caba bien?!’  I get to sit at the Mayor’s table for special events and am told how pretty I am every day!  These aspects of celebrity aren’t bad, aren’t bad at all.

6.  Trail running in the Moribila ‘back-country’ roads ~  My one time of the day that is ‘just me’ time alone on the trails getting ready for the day ahead.  I cherish this time and know its going to be challenging to find an activity anywhere near as peaceful back in the States!

5.  Laying in my hammock reading or listening to the radio ~  I know I will never again have the chance to read as often as I do here in such a reader-friendly environment, nor will I get to sit beneath the stars and listen to BBC for hours each night.  This second year has been busier (thankfully) so I really appreciate those times I get to read a really good book (or even a so-so one that reveals something new to me).  I know I will forever see reading in a different light because of this experience.

4.  Laughs with the women ~  Most of the time I have no clue why they are laughing.  I’m sure sometimes it’s at me (okay maybe with me) and other times even if I could understand the words, I wouldn’t ‘get it’!  But I laugh too, especially when I ‘get it’.  Because seeing these incredible women who work so hard and have such a serious life let loose a little and enjoy each other is something to cherish. 

3.  Children’s inability to still hips and feet in the presence of a beat ~  No matter the time of day, the amount of people standing around, or if they are fully clothed; a beat starts and the children start dancing and I LOVE it.  How could you not?!  It puts an immediate smile on my face, and theirs :)

2.  Fanta Goita II ~ This really is a catch all for all the wonderfully sweet children in my host family and nearby concessions, but Miss Fanta takes the cake since she is my Namesake in Mali and therefore my charge is to take care of her and love her more than the rest!  Which is no problem since I certainly do, so so much.  Giving or showing affection for another person in Mali is not something that is culturally acceptable.  These kiddos have been my only source for hugs for months of my service and I really, truly do not know what I would have done without them, their questions, their smiles, their giggles when I tickle them, and their affection.  These babes will likely be what I miss most from Mali on a daily basis.

1.  Relationships Built ~  I fear that the relationships I have built here are ones that could have fostered no other way in no other place and that once I leave this place they will be something I always try to retain and regain and yet its certain to not be the same.  My family in Mali will be hard to stay close with as communication challenges will abound.  My relationships with my fellow PCVs will be so so hard to leave even though I know we will see each other again Stateside.  I know that the closeness we share here will be something that no one else will be able to understand.  These people have been my only source of support on some days and have certainly helped me through some of my toughest times in Peace Corps, and therefore life.  I have been blown away by the support I have received from friends and family at home while I have been here, so I can only hope I will be blessed to have friends here that stay friends when I return home so we can continue to support each other through the many remaining chapters in our lives.  Mali PCVs, Moribila Folks – THANK YOU!  I’m going to put as much energy in appreciating you all in these last 4 months as possible :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

    One of my best friends will be disappointed in me once knowing this, since peanuts are her ultimate enemy, but I eat peanut butter and/or peanuts every day of my life here.  I find it is one thing I can consistently find that provides me protein and nutrients.  Before arriving in Mali I had the notion that I would get to eat quite heathfully and mostly organically.  The reality is far from that supposition.  With the arrival of sickness after sickness I, for the most part, stopped eating with my Malian family as they use untreated water and rarely wash their hands with soap.  This has left me to cook each and every meal for myself, and with market once a week and no refrigeration eating organically, let alone healthfully, is incredibly challenging.  When I arrived home for vacation in September after 15 months in Mali many folks were shocked that I wasn’t skinny as a rail since often rural Africa is associated with hunger.  Truthfully, in Mali, hunger isn’t so much the issue.  Families here always – well almost always- have something to eat, even if just because the culture of hospitality here won’t allow for a neighbor with food to allow another neighbor to not eat.  The problem lies with nutrition. 

    Meat is very expensive in Mali, especially for village folk, so protein has to be found in other sources, mainly peanuts, dried fish, and beans.  They don’t however add lots of vegetables to the sauce they make with the peanuts or on top of the beans.  To the beans they add an amazing amount of oil and sugar and eat them with bread.  To the peanut sauce – oil, salt, and hot peppers.  When they do add veggies or meat the men of all ages get first crack at these portions leaving little to none for the women or children – who are the ones actually doing most of the hard labor.  Because they are so busy all day every day, they then require a lot of carbohydrate energy, which can easily be found in rice, cous cous, millet, pasta, corn flour or wheat flour.  The sad part is that the rice and pasta are white and refined so nutritionally almost fruitless.  There are certain sauces that do better than others.  The Malians use leaves (bean, onion, or tree) to add nutrition to the sauces, and those are easy to find and therefore cheap, but they aren’t used enough.  The most popular is the okra sauce, often with dried fish, then the tomato and onion sauce – which often, strangely, has spaghetti strands mixed in – and then the peanut sauce.  If there were enough vegetables and meat (fish, chicken, goat or beef) to give each consumer a proper serving size, things wouldn’t be so bad.  The practice, however, is to take a large scoop of millet (with the 4 fingers of your right hand) and dip it quickly in the sauce bowl, retract and eat.  This means only a little bit of sauce – and therefore nutrients – get consumed with each ~1/4 cup of toh.  With the rice and cous cous dishes the sauce is poured over a huge portion of rice and the veggies and meat sit in a pile in the middle.  Since eating is done from a communal bowl, whoever eats the fastest or grabs their share of the goods first ‘wins’!  Once the sauce is gone, they fill up with the leftover plain rice at the bottom of the bowl. 

    All of these things make staying nutritious hard for me while eating a Malian diet.  My two favorite meals are rice with peanut sauce and beans.  Even when I ask – which I do every time and get a look of pure astonishment – for no oil to be poured on top – there is still quite a good amount used in either preparation or just naturally, as with the peanuts.  Since I am forever a guest here, I do get a better portion of the meat and veggies when I do eat with the village, but still its maybe two 2inch chunks of meat and a few pieces of sweet potato, pumpkin, or cabbage.  The bigger issue is the very smell of the most nutritious (i.e. leaf filled) sauces cause my stomach to churn, yet alone actually eating it!  And, have you noticed that I have yet to mention any fruit?  Well that’s likely because on a regular basis the only fruits available to me are oranges (which are really like big limes with very little flavor and even less juice) and bananas.  Now I like bananas and all but as my only legitimate option?  Rough.  I LOVE fruit, especially apples with their delightful crunch and sweetness, so as you can imagine this has been the hardest part of eating in Mali.  Well, that and the lack of cheese ;)  The thing that changed my life last year was mango season!  There are mangos everywhere and they are big, juicy, and perfect.  I didn’t even like mangos before coming to Mali and now my mouth waters just thinking about them 6 months later!  Its also why I think I really didn’t mind hot season, just sat in my hammock eating mangos all day in the 110 degree weather!  I just have to be careful or I could end up developing an allergy as some of my friends did this year from overconsumption! 

    So as a PCV it is then our job, when possible, to talk with folks about how to make their eating more nutritious without making it lots more expensive.  Its important for the people in my region to make beans more often, add dried fish to their sauces, and to use leaves in as many meals as they can.  For other regions, like Sikasso, its encouraging gardeners to save some of the beautiful veggies and fruit they produce for their own families instead of just taking in all profit.  All of us have the hard task of trying to encourage the families to give the larger portion of protein and veggie portions to the children and women (especially the pregnant ones).  Any little bit helps.  In my case, I have done a few radio shows on the importance of nutrition for especially young children and pregnant moms.  Also, any time I see a child with a reddish tinge to their hair (a sign of malnutrition) I say something to their father – since he's in charge -  if he’s around, or mother if not, that they need to give that child extra beans, meat, and leafy vegetables. 

    Obviously, growing up in Dearborn, I was ignorant about the whole structure of food production and consumption in a farming community, as likely many of you reading this are.  It was helpful for me to understand the difference between food insecurity – healthy food not available all year round – and what people experience as true hunger.  Nearly every child has a distended belly because the lack of protein prohibits their muscles to form properly, but they are eating, just not correctly.  Its very rare to see an overweight person in Mali, but those who are, are seen as wealthy and romantically more desirable.  Most of these folks live in the bigger cities or work in positions that don’t require going into the fields and have people to help them make food and clean their homes.  Every woman in my compound is incredibly fit despite the oil and carbs because they work so hard!  To keep myself from gaining weight here – which would be incredibly easy – I go for jogs in the morning and I ask for no oil and I cook meals for myself – even if they do contain lots of carbs and few veggies (except for right after market day when I overload!).  This is all just to show that even things you think are safe to assume about a place can often be misleading.  This topic area is a comparatively nice one to try to change minds towards leading healthier lives.  The topic is less personally taxing for me as it is not an area of cultural difference that challenges my values.  Malians love to talk about money, even if its how poor they are, so its not easy to offend them that way, but it is hard to get them to see how choosing to buy tea and sugar everyday instead of meat or vegetables is hurting the health of their family.  Since the men control the money and also get the majority of said nutrition making the point is often hard won, but all the more reason to encourage women to be educated and hold paid positions in their communities!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hey Mom! Look What I Can Do…

    I take a brisk but lengthy walk with 3 determined women about my age making our way to the cotton fields.  We arrive, strap rice sacks around our waist to be filled to the brim with cotton.  The heat is already blazing and its only 8:30am – looks like I’m in for a tiring day.  I look to my left and 6 or 7 women are quickly making their way up and down the rows of cotton and I turn to my right and there is my 9 year old brother Bema.  Not only is Bema smiling and greeting me, as he is one of the most courteous 9 year olds I’ve ever met, he is also dominating me in his plucking of bulbs of cotton hidden within  their sharp natural containers.  Typical.  My first day cotton picking I had to leave after just 2 hours because I ran out of my (filtered and bleached) water.  I’m fragile.  My family likes to remind me of this daily telling me to take a rest from my hard work of book reading or move my chair out of the sun.  Well the second time to the fields I thought I was more prepared with 2 full Nalgene’s (64 oz.) of water, but I still found my water supply diminished by lunch break.  Of course there was still plenty of work to be done, so who could take me back? (believe me I would get lost somewhere in the corn fields and have a search party sent for me) Well my 4 year old brother Bakary of course!  He easily navigated the 10 foot corn stalks, rows upon rows of budding millet, and stripped cotton fields to get me on the trail leading back to our house.  Although I only picked 1/5 the amount of my counterparts I still got some village cred for participating!  Everyone wanted to see my ‘battle scars’ on my fingers and arms the day after and many people expressed how Malian I was having done that :)

    I tell this story to highlight how amazingly incompetent I am in the Malian context of life, especially when compared to the incredible competence of the children.  In the States we are so concerned with the safety of our little ones that I think we create some unnecessary dependence and self-consciousness.  More than any other thing here, I have learned to see the resilience of children.  I still find myself saying “Be careful!” to the kids everyday, but really I know they have tested their limits, will continue to do so, and have lots of brothers, sisters, and cousins to make sure that don’t step too far beyond that line.   My 7 year old host sister, Setou, carries my little 8 month old namesake, Fanta, on her back any time mom needs to be doing other things.  Setou feeds her (non-breastmilk meals), plays with her, and on top of that is in charge of many of the household chores (sweeping the concession twice a day, washing the dishes and her own clothes, and occasionally plucking and prepping a chicken for lunch).  Ask my 7 year old self to try to do any one of those things, besides play with a sweet little babe, and you’d be up a creek without a paddle.  Just sayin’.  I go for my runs in the morning and often see 6-11 year old boys, sometimes alone, sometimes with 2-3 others, herding sheep, goats, and massive cows with massive horns (can you hear my own fear?!) up through the trails to try to find some green for them to munch on.  They just have this confidence about them where the cows, 6 times their size, know not to f*ck with them.  Excuse my language, but seriously!  Just hear the tone in their voice when they move 20 of them this way or that.  I’d move too.  Any time tea is made a small boy is summoned and trusted to retrieve fresh hot coals from the cooking fire to start a smaller fire to boil the tea.  And nearly every time I make the tea, using this fire, I burn myself on the pot.  See…fragile.

    Now I realize most of you would ask where the time for the children to be children is, and some days I find myself wondering the same.  But most days, I watch them interact, even while working, and they find just as many ways and opportunities to tease and taunt each other (as siblings and cousins should do, right?!), make toys our of sticks and cans, get scrapped up after chasing each other round and round town, and dance to any and every beat they hear or make.  If we look back at when our grandparents and great grandparents were kiddos, I bet their amount of time for ‘play’ was pretty similar, because it comes with the life of farming for a living.  Perhaps ‘time for being a kid’ in the way we tend to think about it in the States is a luxury of development.  Perhaps its cultural.  I think only time will tell. 

   What I can say I know now is that any Malian child past the age of 4 is a greater asset to any community or family here than I am at 26 years of age with a Master’s Degree.  Ouch.  All is well though because I think this will make me a better mother when I choose to embark upon that chapter of my life.  Other people may not approve of my child being tied to my back or to letting them explore their own limits that might seem scary to others, but I know they can do a whole heck of a lot more than I ever realized on their own.  There will still be limits to my ‘madness’, i.e. the whole “here 3 year old child, take this knife and cut up those sweet potatoes for me while I go pull some water from the well” or “sure you can play in the still extraordinarily hot ashes and coal from my cooking” won’t go over well with me.  I find myself continually highly nervous when these episodes come about and I think for good reason, since just yesterday little 5 year old Douda came over to show me his half burned off toe.  The difference, I find, lies in the strength of the community here and their ability to look out for one another.  Some days I am walking through village and I run into a small pack of 3 year old girls running around enjoying their home all alone.  They aren’t in any real danger, but its something I certainly had to get used to – no mom, no dad, no babysitter watching.  Eventually I came to realize someone, maybe not as close by as I would like, but always someone, had an eye on those kids even if none of them were theirs.  In Mali, I get to experience just how a whole village really can raise a child, and a highly capable one at that!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

14 months…50 books!

After promising numerous people numerous times that I would post a list of all the books I have read since arriving in Mali, I am finally doing it!  I figure, why not wait til the number is pretty impressive right?!  I also think that after giving myself some time to digest them all I am able to provide a pretty solid Top 10 List.  I’ll start with that and then move on from there in Alphabetical order by Author’s last name, here we go:

  1. Middlesex – J. Eugenides
  2. Kafka on the Shore – H. Murakami
  3. The Fountainhead – A. Rand
  4. East of Eden – J. Steinbeck
  5. Anil’s Ghost – M. Ondaatje
  6. Love in the Time of Cholera – G. Marquez
  7. Island – A. Huxley
  8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X – as told to A. Haley
  9. Everything is Illuminated – J.S. Foer
  10. The Kite Runner – K. Housseni
  11. Islam – K. Armstrong
  12. Sense and Sensibility – J. Austen
  13. When the Rainbow Goddess Wept – C. Brainard*
  14. Wuthering Heights – E. Bronte
  15. Palestine, Peace not Apartheid – J. Carter*
  16. A Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar – T. Cathart & D. Klein
  17. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day – P. Cleage
  18. The Valkeries – P. Coehlo
  19. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – J. Diaz
  20. Drown – J. Diaz
  21. The Count of Monte Cristo – A. Dumas
  22. The Rules of Attraction – B.E. Ellis
  23. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha – S. Erdman
  24. The Corrections – J. Franzen*
  25. The Twenty-Seventh City – J. Franzen
  26. Dove – R.L. Graham
  27. Beneath the Wheel – H. Hesse
  28. Jonah’s Gourd Vine – Z.N. Hurston
  29. Brave New World – A. Huxley
  30. The Liar’s Club – M. Karr*
  31. Strength in What Remains – T. Kidder
  32. The Poisonwood Bible – B. Kingsolver
  33. The Girl Who Played with Fire – S. Larrson
  34. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – S. Larrson
  35. Big Machine – V. Lavalle*
  36. Wicked – G. Maguire
  37. ‘Tis – F. McCourt
  38. The English Patient – M. Ondaatje*
  39. Cry the Beloved Country – A. Paton
  40. The Tenth Circle – J. Picoult
  41. My Ishmael – D. Quinn
  42. Story of B – D. Quinn*
  43. Fieldnotes on Democracy, Listening to Grasshoppers – A. Roy*
  44. The Reader – B. Schlink
  45. The Grapes of Wrath – J. Steinbeck
  46. The Help – K. Stockett*
  47. Anna Karenina – L. Tolstoy
  48. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
  49. Eureka Street – R. Wilson
  50. Native Son – R. Wright*

My two least favorites I would have to say were Anna Karenina and The Grapes of Wrath, sorry, I thought they were both terribly boring.  I have put a (*) mark next to the books that would be included in a top 20!  Hope you enjoy :)