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I was first introduced to the writings of Doris Kearns Goodwin by the mother of a dear friend of mine. Aware of my interest in history, and a history lover herself, Mary shared a book with me that she thought I might enjoy. Then a mother of young children and working full-time, I stole moments here and there, during my lunch hour, in between chores, children’s activities, waiting for a freight train to pass and often late at night. Slowly, but surely, I consumed Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II “.

Mary was right. I did, indeed, enjoy the book. As time went by, I read other books by Doris Kearns Goodwin and I make a point to catch her on television and radio interviews and to read printed articles about her. She never disappoints me.

So it was, a month or so ago, one fine day, that several emails and texts appeared. “Penny, did you see this (know about this, hear about this)?”

My friends know me well.

 I clicked on the site for Elmhurst College, found the lecture series, secured a ticket, and eagerly anticipated the Rudolf G. Schade Lecture in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel at Elmhurst College.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals: The Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln.

 

Several friends and I arrived early, knowing that parking would fill quickly. We stood in line with other eager and cold ticket holders, waiting for the doors to the chapel to open. We quickly learned the lecture was sold out. Finally, the doors opened, we found good seats, chatted with others we knew, and then the lecture began to an enthusiastic audience of college students, faculty, officials  – and armchair historians.

From the moment Doris Kearns Goodwin walked onto the stage, she held her audience in rapt attention as she related stories and her experiences during her five decades of serving Untied States presidents and researching others beginning with Abraham Lincoln. Her warmth and wit were as real as her depth of  knowledge as she wove facts and insight into a blanket of leadership qualities.

I look forward to reading her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times” in the days ahead.

Have you read any of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books?

“I shall always be grateful for this curious love of history, allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me to learn from these large figures about the struggle for meaning for life.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin

 

 

 

 

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Then . . .

. . . there were chunks of ice, falling en masse, individually, randomly, sporadically. The racket would stop; a calm, silent, pregnant pause that would last a few minutes or an hour, then a fresh volley of frozen winter “fruit”.  Born from an ice storm, the chunks of ice would frazzle the steadiest of nerves as they hit the roof of the house, the skylights, the pavement, the arbor and more.

With frost quakes and frozen cannonballs, we have been experiencing a rather raucous winter,

a winter with tree “fruit” sparkling amid uplifting sunrises and spectacular sunsets.

Snow can be peaceful, pristine and startlingly beautiful. It is a great equalizer; a coverlet, in equal measure on all that it touches, with indifference to income level or social status – at least at first snowfall, before the snowplows work time-and-half or double-time to clear the roads.

Ice, in all its glittering glory, is a lethal weapon when falling from above. It is challenging to walk upon. Its weight bears down on wires, creating outages which can become emergencies for medical needs, heating, communication. We have been fortunate. Our power has remained on, though our cable connections (which include landline, television, and internet) went out the other day. Thankfully, service resumed in a few hours. We really cannot complain.

We are coping, grateful for a warm house, food, cars that start and roads that plowed and are salted.

We have, however, entered into that 5th season –  pothole season. Rough winters and heavy vehicular traffic conspire to create amazing crevices – potholes –  in the pavement. This year, for some reason I have yet to discover, the potholes are harder to see. They are smaller, deeper, closer together and reveal themselves upon impact! I am wondering if the frost quakes have something to do with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it goes, here on the cutoff. Stews and soups, hot tea and books are good for the winter-weary soul (not that I need a reason). More often than not, I can be found near the front window, a blanket on my lap, tea on the table and a book in hand.

On a recent late afternoon, I pulled out an old friend, “An American Year; Country Life and Landscapes Through the Seasons” by Hal Borland. It is a journal of sorts, filled with Borland’s seasonal essays and accompanied by illustrations from a host of “Distinguished Contemporary Artists”.  These are Hal Borland’s words from February, page 179.

The temperature still falls and the wind still roars, but there is smugness here and comfort and companionship. The night draws us all closer together. Surely it was not by chance alone that hearth and heart came so near to being the same word.

 

 

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Sitting in my favorite overstuffed rocker, a cup of tea precariously positioned on a pile of decorative storage boxes at my side with a current “read” in hand, I was quite content in the stillness of the approaching end of day. I like this spot for reading, and other spots as well, but, truth-be-told, I can read a book just about anywhere.

How about you?

Do you have a favorite spot where you like to read? A chair, perhaps, or on the couch, in the cafeteria, or your car? Really, Don’t laugh. Natural light pouring in from the sun roof on brilliant day naturally illuminates the words on a page, especially for those of us who find the need for “cheaters”.  It  isn’t a very practical place for a long read, but works quite nicely when stopped by a freight train, but, I digress. Do you like to be wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace or propped on a beach towel at the pool? Do you need complete silence or mood music?

This is the first page in my Reading Women engagement calendar. The painting, by Adolphe Borie, brings to mind my Greek grandmother who read to me while I sat on her lap. She would turn the pages and tell the tales, even though the book was often upside down and without illustrations. Yia Yia could neither read nor write, but, she gave me a love of books sitting on her lap in much the same way as Borie’s painting.

As my mind was wandering with bookish thoughts as sipped a new tea, I realized that it has been awhile since I have shared some books that you might enjoy and asked what you might be reading. Here are few books that captured my interest over the past several months.

“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: We are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”  

from “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would also like to recommend this wonderful tea. It was a gift from a dear friend who knows how much I enjoy tea along with literature.

Literary Tea.

 

 

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Tom awoke even earlier than usual to shovel the drive and carve a path to my car before leaving for church to help with set up for Sunday service. I heard the door close and lingered a little longer under the warmth of the covers, then padded down the stairs where the kettle was filled and sitting atop the stove. A few tea bags and a cup and saucer were set out, as they are every morning, waiting for me. I forget to thank him, far too often, for his thoughtful gesture each morning – a gesture for which I am always grateful.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

G. K. Chesterton

I took the long way home after church, as I often do. It gives me time to ponder and pray, to sing along to tunes with the volume at “rock the car” loud, or to simply hold close the gift of silence, solitude, and scenery. I drove through stately old neighborhoods with bumpy brick streets and wound through pleasant subdivisions and past neighborhood parks that brush the suburban landscape.

I had a William Kent Krueger audiobook playing in the car today. “Sulfur Springs”. Krueger’s mysteries hold my attention. I appreciate his writing, in part for his ability to create with words a vivid sense of place and in part for strong character development in his tense, tangled mysteries, which are usually set in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. In this latest book, I was taken along with Krueger’s main character, the protagonist of most of his mysteries, Cork O’Connor. A frantic call from Cork’s new wife’s son on July 4th thrusts the reader into the oppressive summer heat of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. This was, actually, a welcome change of scenery as the heater in my car was being fussy.

I headed toward the sloughs and preserves that I often visit. The Saganashkee Slough was frozen and still and reflected the mood of the frosty afternoon. I sat for a few moments then turned onto the route home.

A summer monsoon was drenching the Sonoran desert in Cork’s audio predicament while the temperature gauge in my car showed an outdoor temperature of 19 degrees (F). Homeward bound, I made a quick stop at Crawdad Slough, curious see if there were any ice skaters gliding across this pond. With nary a blade or a hockey stick in sight, I turned the car around and was greeted by this heavenly glow which arrived, as if on cue, to  guide me home.

 

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As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, I am reminded of a book of fiction I read over a year ago and wrote briefly about here.  “A Star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith, is a fictional account of a real act of Congress in the aftermath of the Great War.

In 1929, the United States government passed legislation that paid for Gold Star Mothers to travel to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in battle in WWI and were buried there. More than 6,000 Gold Star Mothers made this journey over a  three year period following the enactment of this legislation. They traveled, at the expense of the United States government, from all over the country to New York. The women had some time to rest after their journeys, then boarded ships and made the long crossing to France where they again rested and explored Paris before they continued their pilgrimage to their sons’ graves at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Verdun.

In this fictional account, Cora Blake, the main character, travels with other mothers from all walks of life. Cora is from a small fishing village in Maine. Other mothers are from the midwest, the Pacific Coast, big cities and farms. They are rich, poor, of color, and immigrants who came to America only to lose sons who left to fight the war. As dissimilar as they are, they are all joined in their loss. The mothers are referred to as “pilgrims” journeying to see their loved ones’ graves. Secrets, prejudices, fear, intrigue, murder and deception are all part and parcel of the story, as well as understanding, closure and both the good and the not-so of the military.

In France, Mrs. Blake (Cora) befriends a disfigured American journalist, Griffin Reed. Griffin was wounded in the trenches. He has a “tin nose” and hides behind a metal mask. An expatriate, Griffin was exposed to gas attacks while covering the war. So many soldiers were wounded by these horrific attacks  during WWI.I found Griffin’s story hard to read as I learned more precisely of the aftereffects of gas attacks. He survived his injuries only to battle the demons of drug addiction for his pain, both physical and emotional, as he is slowly dies of lead poisoning contracted from the metal mask he wears to hide his facial deformities.

“A Star for Mrs. Blake” was, for the most part, an engaging read about an actual program instituted by Herbert Hoover following WWI as the Great Depression consumed the country. It deals with the tragedies of war, prejudices, injustices, death as well as illustrating historical events of the era, travel during the 30’s, social classes and so many other issues. Mostly, it deals with the loss of loved ones. The book had me heading to Google to read about this particular legislation, ocean journeys, gas poisoning, lead poisoning – and more. Have you read this or similar books?

In closing, as this posts on Veterans Day, thank you to all veterans who have served, who have given the greatest of sacrifices, who still do. My hope, especially today, is that we extend the best of medical care to our veterans; for their injuries that are visible and that we can see, and for injuries that we can’t. 

The book cover is from Amazon

 

 

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I knew I was in for a treat as soon as we opened the door. With a name like Copper Hen Kitchen and Bakery, I was intrigued which did not recede as followed the hostess to a table.. Walking past a bakery case under exposed beams and rough walls, the Copper Hen appeared to be a congenial spot and it was, indeed. The oversized napkins – more dish towel than napkin – added to the allure. That our daughter, Katy, had eaten there before with a friend and they thought I would like it touched me and added to my joy in the experience.

There was much on the menu that tempted me, but, the Farmhouse Salad had my name on it! I have seen many salads in my internet and cookbook wanderings of late with poached eggs atop. Poached eggs are something that you either like – or don’t (I do) and this was a perfect opportunity to try one on salad greens with roasted mushrooms, cashews, ricotta, nuts (I think they were cashews) and a light vinaigrette. I only wished I had ordered a side of toast, but, got along quite nicely as I “licked the platter clean” in this delectable farm-to-table restaurant in Minneapolis.

 

Sated, Katy and I left the Copper Hen and made the short drive to a bookstore I have been wanting to visit. I don’t remember who first suggested Birch Bark Books, but, if you are reading this, thank you, thank you. A sign on the door asked that visitors not take photographs. I will try to paint a picture in words of Birch Bark Books, a cozy, neighborhood independent establishment. Birch Bark is overflowing, in a warm and welcoming way, with a wide offering of books. From cookbooks to mysteries, outstanding children’s selections to poetry and books on nature, there is truly something for everyone at this unique shop, which also sells native artwork, jewelry, baskets, cards and much, much more. The store and is adorned with items that speak to the land and its people.

From Birch Bark’s website:

“We exist to keep real conversations between book lovers alive. We exist to nourish and build a community based on books. We are a neighborhood bookstore, and also an international presence. Our visitors come from Minneapolis-St. Paul, from every U.S. reservation and Canadian reserve, and from all over the world. We are different from all other bookstores on earth!”

Birch Bark Books is ” . . .  a locus for Indigirati — literate Indigenous people who have survived over half a millennium on this continent. We sponsor readings by Native and non-Native writers, journalists, historians.”  It is an amazing local establishment in which I felt both at home and in awe.

Birch Bark Books is owned by author Louise Erdrich. I invite you to explore Birch Bark’s website by clicking the link below to read more about the store, the interesting history of the building, an online shop and photos, which include the birch bark canoe that hangs from the ceiling of the store.

Of course, I could not leave Birch Bark Books without a book.

Have you read anything by Louise Erdrich?

 

https://birchbarkbooks.com/ourstory

http://www.copperhenkitchen.com/menu

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“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we, as a species, could stop for a few minutes whatever it is we’re doing, and look up at the sky? If we could catch the beat of the rhythm, older than history, and understand that this is the way things were meant to be? if we could bequeath our children not an urge to get ahead, to achieve security, to get theirs? – but instead just to be, and to let their imaginations soar to the call of wild geese flying?

Willem Lange

from “Canada Geese”, “Where Does the Wild Goose Go?” 

 

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