Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

img_1592

Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
img_1593

Read Full Post »

img_1495On a recent November morning, members of the Elmhurst Garden Club gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Elmhurst Public Library for a viewing of a cautionary tale; From Billions to None.

This is the story of the passenger pigeon, which once blanketed the skies from Canada to Florida, breeding, nesting, and passing through more than half of North America. These pigeons were revered by indigenous Americans for their beauty and an abundant source of food. Early settlers, ornithologists, keen observers, and notables documented the billions of passenger pigeons that swarmed the skies in such large numbers that they would block out the sun for two or three days. The fluttering of so many wings would cause drops in temperature. The tons of excrement left on the fields enriched the soil. Their iridescent feathers adorned hats and they became a seasonal commodity in markets throughout the continent.

Until September 1, 1914 – and then there were none!

From Billions to None is the story of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, with the documented death of Martha, the last of her species, who died on that sad September day at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is a fable about the passenger pigeon and what happens when greed, disrespect for nature, what we today might call over harvesting, and how, in the end, there is nothing left. It is the documentation and, hopefully, illumination, of what and how fast extermination of a species can happen. It brings to mind the near demise of the buffalo and the American eagle, and our over harvesting of fish and fowl, and the cause massive outcomes of deforestation.

Joel Greenburg, who is central to this film, went on to write “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”. The image at the top of this post is from Greenburg’s book, which goes further in the documentation of this event. The book can be found here.

We watched the film, at times with a collective, audible gasp at photos of enormous hills of dead passenger pigeons, and how business manipulated political sentiment to continue the practices of killing thousands upon thousands of these birds. Some of you may have seen this documentary on your public television stations. I would like to encourage you to watch this short trailer, and consider asking your local library to purchase From Billion to None as well as  “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”.

Read Full Post »

img_1444

On my way out of Wilder Mansion, following a Garden Club meeting, Marilyn handed me a heavy tote bag. Showing concern, she told me to go home and put my foot up. She also encouraged me to spend some time enjoying her book which was weighing down the bag.

I have been missing my long walks with the seasonal shuffling through carpets of fallen leaves, as well as observing the many migratory birds stopping for sustenance and rest at local watering holes. Trips to the local forest preserves have all but abated, though I have been enjoying drive-by leaf peeping.

Marilyn’s book was a welcome diversion for me.

I have heard nature photographer extraordinaire, Mike MacDonald, speak and was aware of his inspirational book, “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”. I had not yet journeyed into his luminous creation. Since I cannot physically wander the wilds around me, I truly appreciated being able to vicariously roam them by leafing  through this glorious book.

Mike MacDonald wears many hats, including humorist, poet, naturalist, speaker – and photographer. His command of lyrical prose and eye for natural beauty are hallmarks of his talent and are gifts to the reader of “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago”.

My own nature wanderings came to mind through Mike MacDonald’s exquisite images of prairies, savannas, and preserves. I instantly became an armchair traveler and felt a wee bit smug knowing that I have actually frequented many of them. I was also humbled, curious, and anxious to journey to so many more that I either have not been to, or was not even aware of. Some are but a few miles from our home, others just over the Wisconsin or Indiana border or an hour or so away.

With his breathtaking photography , MacDonald takes readers to oak savannas and mystical fens, through the changing midwestern seasons amid the changing light of day and the dark of night when the prairies alight with winking and blinking movement. Bull snakes and egrets and dragonflies offer startling scenery and interesting photographic dilemnas. From Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the McGinnis Slough in Palos Park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, such natural wonders abound in the greater Chicagoland area.

“My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago” is more that a coffee table book. It is a photographic celebration of the diverse ecosystems and prairies of Illinois, filled with evocative prose and poetry, humor and facts, tips on photography and insight into wildlife – and more. Much, much more.

I am grateful to Marilyn for lending me this treasure. It has allowed me to travel to some of my favorite preserves, to explore so many I did not know about, and to experience the sunrises and sunsets and seasons in Mike MacDonald’s “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”.

Read Full Post »

1 9 5

mccook-libraryIt was my first time behind the wheel after “The Fall”. Apprehensive, I mentally mapped out a route along roads less traveled with destinations that didn’t require me to get in and out of the car.

Bank – ATM – ✔️

Drive-up postal box ✔️

Coffee – ✔️

Library – ???

My library card had expired a month ago. I needed to renew it. To do so, meant going into the library.

I live in a city that does not have a library. Sad, I know, BUT, it is a very nice city that tries to treat her residents well, and does so in what I feel is a rather nice way. To own a library card, we must buy one from another municipality. My city, however, will pay half of the charge, up to $100. That means, if a neighboring library sells you a card for $200, the city will reimburse for half of that. Not a bad deal at all.

For many years, I have purchased my card from a small library with a healthy tax base in the next town over. It is the library where I was ‘mullioned” a few years ago. They are such nice folks, recognize me, and are part of a very large library system, which allows me library privileges in a very large inter-library loan system.

Most of you know my love of libraries, and how I often frequent them.

I have a “library habit”.

The librarian told me she could renew my card, but, the fee had gone up. She suggested another library, equidistant from our house, that was offering my city and another a card for $100. (which means it would end up costing me $50).

Of I went, down the road, to a charming library, nestled in a small but established residential area that was surrounded by thriving industries and major expressways. I parked on the street, closer to the entry than my own back door. Doors automatically opened and I was greeted by non-other than the head librarian, who asked if she could help me. I assured her I was fine, in spite of my very fat boot, and said that I was interested in getting a library card.

This library, dear reader, and this librarian are everything a library should be! Not only was I welcomed with open arms (and a handshake), but, I was introduced to another library patron, Betty, who lived in my own city, and invited to come to a once-a-month coffee hour at the library.

My maiden voyage, after The Fall, was going pretty well – until . . .

. . . no, I stayed on my feet. It was while one of the librarians was entering my information from my expired card. The head librarian had just handed me a welcoming tote bag, and filled it with all sorts of useful items and the library’s brochure, as she offered me a chair to sit on. The registrar asked a few questions, then, casually said “it looks like you have some outstanding fines“.  I could not imagine what fines they might be, but,  I did remember returning a few items last month a day late.  I asked how much I owed.

One ninety-five!

How could that be? Surely I would have received a notice for such an outstanding fine, either via email, phone call, or, gasp, the U.S. Postal Service. I was flummoxed, fretting, and forlorn, for sure!

The registrar kept entering information on her keypad. I wondered if she was tapping out code for “felon in library – owes bigly” (sorry, I couldn’t resist that).

I endorsed a personal check for the library card fee, handed it to the registrar, and asked who I should make the check out to for the fine, calculating how I was going to square such an unexpected deduction in my checkbook. There HAD to be a mistake, but, one should not leave such outstanding debt dangling like a hanging chad (sorry, again). If I didn’t ante-up, would I be arrested? abandoned from libraries for a millennium? book lice sent to monitor my every page turned?

Oh, don’t worry. You can pay it anytime?“.

Are you sure? That’s a big fine. Can you check again and tell me which library I owe the money to?

She noted the items: two books, an audio, and I could remit payment another day.

Just that for $195.00?

We stared at each other, for a moment, maybe two, and then the registrar replied, aghast, “Oh, no! I wasn’t clear. That is $1.95!“.

It is good, is it not, to have a good laugh, even at one’s own expense, on a maiden voyage in a medical boot while renewing a library card?

Dewey Decimal is still used in libraries, or adapted for modern-day usage, but, that one distinctive decimal point is the one that can cause chaos.

Off I hobbled,  with all of my goodies, a new book, and a smile over my faux pas . I’ve needed a bit of an adventure, and I had one, once again while in a library.

Read Full Post »

Meanwhile, grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon and add the juice to the rind”.  Ruth Reichl.

“My Kitchen Year”, page 97

img_0547

In between a long morning event and an early evening obligation that meant Tom and I each being on our own for dinner, I had a sudden craving for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup). I had just dropped some mail off at the post office when the craving hit; that urge that is felt for something sweet or something cold or, well, for something comforting and reminiscent of one’s own history. The fact that I had taken a few moments that afternoon to indulge in a few pages of Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook, “My Kitchen Year” may have been the ticket to this urge. It was the passage in which she describes snow falling her feelings after the sudden end of Gourmet Magazine, then notices a lemon on the counter – and begins making Greek Lemon Soup!

With about 30 minutes “to kill” and the realization that a small, local. La Grange restaurant, The Grapevine, was just a few blocks away, I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter and ordered one bowl of Avgolemono soup!

The Grapevine’s Avgolemono is as close to my grandmother’s soup as I have ever eaten. It tastes like lemon, and chicken, and rice and it brings me back into her nourishing embrace. While I make, rather well, many of my Yia Yia’s meals, this soup is one I do not make, so, I appreciate having a good source  nearby.

I found a small table, poured a glass of water, settled myself and soon detected the unique aroma of toasted sesame seed. A basket of warmed Greek bread was set before me, followed by a steaming bowl of my favorite soup. I stirred it slowly, in part to cool it off, in part to see the pieces of chicken and rice floating in the lemony broth, and in part to appreciate the enticing dance of steam spiraling upward. I added a few dashes of pepper and stirred it in, recalling the time my sister went to add pepper to her lemon soup, unaware that the lid was not secure, dumping most of the pepper into her soup. Yia Yia was upset, for she had filled the shaker and had not secured it well rendering the bowl of soup was no longer edible. Things like that mattered in our house. Food was not to be wasted.

Odd, sometimes, is it not, what memories come to us over a bowl of steaming soup?

Equally interesting how words on a page can stir our emotions and lead us to do something unplanned, like ordering a bowl of soup.img_0548

“I stood for the longest time simply staring down at the bright yellow ball, reveling in the color, allowing the oil to perfume my fingers. Then, almost unconsciously, I began grating the zest, concentrating on the scent, stopping every few seconds to inhale the aroma.” page 96

I took my time eating my soup, enjoying the bread, savoring the flavors and textures, before heading out to my next engagement, and I thought of the words that wended their way into my thoughts and looked forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl’s book, filled with the “136 recipes that saved”  her life in the year after Gourmet Magazine ceased.

Have words on a page ever led you to making or eating a favorite dish? or a new one?

Have you read “My Kitchen Year” or any of Ruth Reichl’s other books?

Were you a fan of Gourmet Magazine?

 

Read Full Post »

I came across “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” while looking for Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”. I was hoping to find the audio of the latter book, which we will be discussing at our September book discussion, and hoped that it would keep me company on my recent trek Up North. Instead of the prescribed book, I took home the audio of “The Glass Kitchen”  by Linda Francis Lee and the Bryson audio, which I finished before my trip.  “. . . The Thunderbolt Kid” had me so engaged that I found myself inventing reasons to get in the car to listen to it. (I only listen to audio books in the car.)

So, let me begin . . .

Bill_Bryson_-_The_Life_and_Times_of_the_Thunderbolt_Kid

I was laughing so hard that at one point I needed to pull the car over, flashers on, as I played a passage again. It was a chapter in which Mr. Bryson explained learning to read from the Dick, Jane, and Sally books. Chances are, if you grew up in the 1950’s, lived in the midwest, and attended public schools, you learned to read with Dick, Jane, and Sally. Once you learned to read, you practiced how to avoid an atomic bomb by hiding under your desk. You went to Saturday matinée, with double features, at the local movie theater, and, if you were Bill Bryson, you learned how get the candy out of the vending machine, with hilarious consequences.  If you grew up in the ’50s, you experienced an explosion of changes in the United States (and in other countries as well), including television, packaged dinners, white bread, the advent of super highways and freedom to roam the neighborhood from dawn until dusk.

Bryson’s parents were both journalists of some renown in Des Moines, Iowa. Bill often went with his father, who covered sports, especially baseball.  His parents were both a bit of a character, though loving and kind and fair. Although I grew up a “public” while Tom grew up a “private”, we both enjoyed these stories as I shared the finished discs with him. I will warn you that we both had trouble talking about the various chapters for all the laughing that gushed forth.

” . . . The Thunderbolt Kid” is not all about humor, however. It is about the middle of the 20th century, with all its promise and all its fears, atomic bomb testing and food additives, DDT and doctors that made house calls. It is about the heyday of comic books, super heroes, refrigerators, medicine and advancements, both good and bad

It is also about the demise of small towns and a simpler way of life.

It is, in a large part, our own stories of the 1950’s.

51FniK0n8cL

As I had already finished ” . . . The Thunderbolt Kid”, I took the audio of “The Glass Kitchen” along for the ride instead. I’ll admit, I was drawn to the cover and the word “kitchen”.

This book made for pleasant company as I navigated my route. It was an “easy read” about Portia,  raised by her grandmother who runs a restaurant in Texas called The Glass Kitchen. Portia and her sisters are as different as sisters often are. It is Portia who has the gift of “the knowing” . Recipes and meals come to her, as they did to her grandmother, that portend both good and bad occurrences.

When her grandmother dies, Portia, the youngest of the three sisters, moves to New York City where her siblings now live and where they were willed a three-story apartment by their beloved great-aunt. Portia, broke and uncertain of what to do next after her husband, a Texas politician, divorces her for a woman who carries his child, moves into the bottom flat. Her sisters have sold their own apartments.

This is a love story and a bit of mystery. Gabrielle, the owner of the other two apartments, which Portia’s sisters sold, is raising his teenaged daughters in the two flats he has remodeled. Their mother, his wife, has died in a car accident. Portia becomes their cook – and more – as the story grows. Some of it is predictable, some a bit of a surprise. There is a nasty grandmother and wicked uncle, secrets and turmoil – and it is also a story of food, the book’s chapters framed around meal courses.

I enjoyed listening to this book as I drove the otherwise lonely miles.

51Ux6SOdH2L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

J. Ryan Stradal’s book, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest”, was a Christmas gift from Tom. It was languishing since the holidays on my never-ending pile of books  – until it suddenly jumped into my hands, where it stayed for just a few day while as I devoured its pages.

This is the story of Eva Thorvald, told in chapters by various people in her life; her father, Lars, an excellent cook who loves her, her mother, Cynthia, a sommalier, who abandons her and Lars. Her aunt and uncle, who raise her as their own. We meet a high school boy who yearns for her and a cousin who has no time for her and a cast of many more. Eva, and food, are the main characters in the quirky book that made me laugh aloud and made me sigh.

I must admit, there were a few times I almost put “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” down, but, instead, I kept turning the pages, for just another piece of this morsel of the great Midwest, for it is the people and the palate of Midwesterners that hold this story together. From lutefisk to church competitions for the best bar cookies, and the modern farm-to-table movement, this book is a moveable feast of family and friends and survival.

Food, more food, and the 1950’s.

What has been on your reading plate lately?

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal from here .

Image of “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” from here.

Image of “The Glass Kitchen” from here.

 

Read Full Post »

tumblr_nnmhcgF3sR1rms43oo1_1280

Simple Things

Paper.

Scissors.

Pencil. 

Glue. 

Simple things we didn’t have.

Simple things once taken for granted. 

Stolen. 

Bartered.

Traded.

Simple things brought great risks. 

Zlatka, page 258, “Paper Hearts” by Meg Wiviott

A book, written in poetry, just broke my heart. I closed it, felt a heaviness clutch my soul and wondered at how the human spirit can shine through the very worst of times..

I first heard of “Paper Hearts” through an interview of Meg Wiviott on El Space – The Blog of L. Marie. As with many of L. Marie’s posts, an author and book captured my attention. Based on a true story, “Paper Hearts” has been sitting on my book pile for many months – until the other day. I don’t know if it was the sad passing of Elie Wiesel, or maybe the terrors in the world right now and the unsettling political rhetoric, but, something compelled me to pick this book up and read it – and it is yet another book of this summer that I could not put down.

Told alternately in the voices of Zlatka and Fania, we follow each girl from the Pruzany and Bialystok Ghettos, into packed cattle cars to concentration camps. Auschwitz. Ravensbrück. The Malchow armament factory. Forced marches. Starvation. Fear. Atrocities. Disease. Death.

In the midst of all the despair, Zlatka does the unthinkable. She makes a small, heart shaped book, sewn together with a thread here, another one there, crafting pages that fold inward. Friends secretly pass the heart shaped pages to each other, writing birthday sentiments. Zlatka’s small creation becomes a book of birthday wishes for Fania’s twentieth birthday. Any one of these 51w829OOxIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_things, if discovered, would be reason for execution. The little heart book unfolds to greetings, such as

When you get old, put your glasses on your nose, take this album in your hand and read my signature again, My love Fani, Mina.” 

Zlatka’s action was a remarkable act of sacrifice for a friend, as it was for each of the girls who wrote a birthday greeting to Fania. Forbidden acts punishable by death. Fania is deeply touched by her friends’ acts of caring, kindness, and creativity and doubly surprised by the birthday cake Zlatka makes, using rations of moistened bread formed into the shape of a cake. Fania carries this little book with her, also an act of defiance, keeping it hidden, close to her heart, under her flimsy dress.

“Paper Hearts” is a moving novel, based on a true story of courage in unthinkable, inhumane conditions in German concentration camp during World War II. Reading it during in real-time, when rounding up people because of their religion, ancestry, and any number of reasons, brought to me a heightened feeling concern.

 While I enjoy poetry, I will confess that I wasn’t sure how reading “Paper Hearts” in poetic form would feel. I can tell you that it feels quite comfortable and does not distract from the prose at all. I can also tell you that each and every poem, chapters in “Paper Hearts”,  stand on their own. Simple Things, quoted at the beginning of this post, is an example. This is a young adult book, but, it is a book for adults as well. I encourage you to read it, perhaps share it with a young person in your life, and never forget.

“Paper Hearts” comes with an extensive glossary and bibliography.

The real Zlatka’s testimony can be found here. Click on Solidarity.

The image above is Fania’s real birthday book, which is on display at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial and Centre. More information can be found here and here .

Image is from Simon & Schuster Canada here

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

Digging for Dirt

Behind the scenes with the team at Winterbourne House and Garden

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Mike McCurry's Daily Blog

Creative information about Real Estate and Life in the Western Suburbs of Chicago

El Space--The Blog of L. Marie

Thoughts about writing and life

leaf and twig

where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry

mirandasnotebook

Your Guide to a Stylish Life

Apple Pie and Napalm

music lover, truth teller, homey philosophy

Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth

My Chicago Botanic Garden

A blog for visitors to the Garden.

Living Designs

Circles of Life: My professional background in Foods and Nutrition (MS, Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, RDN, LDN) provides the background for my personal interests in nutrition, foods and cooking; health and wellness; environment and sustainability.

Women Making Strides

Be a Leader in Your Own Life

thekitchensgarden

farming, gardens, cows, goats, chickens, food, organic, sustainable, photography,

Middlemay Farm

Nubian Goats, Katahdin Sheep, Chickens, Ducks, Dogs and Novelist Adrienne Morris live here (with humans).

The Cottonwood Tree

Exploring the Life, Times and Literature of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Book Snob

FOR DISCERNING READERS

teacups & buttercups

An old fashioned heart

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Analysis and reflection from someone endlessly fascinated with Louisa May Alcott. Member/supporter of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, the Louisa May Alcott Society and the Fruitlands Museum.

breathelighter

Reducing stress one exhale at a time ...exploring Southern California and beyond

Kate Shrewsday

A thousand thousand stories

Blogging from the Bog

musings from and about our cottage in the West of Ireland