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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

 

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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Courage

“What makes the flag on the mast to wave? What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot?”  Cowardly Lion

–  from the Wizard of Oz”- L. Frank Baum

 

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I laughed, not at Dee, but, at myself as I recognized my own unique abilities to trip, to stumble, to drop things. My own mea culpas emerged as I read of her many public ones in her time as a postulate, a novice, a nun, a scholastic.

I cringed, not at Dee, but at myself as I recognized in her words my own younger self; unsure, exacting, looking toward a sainthood neither of us could achieve.

I learned, from Dee, as I became transfixed at the strict order in the life of a Benedictine nun, especially in the 1950’s and ’60, and at the beauty, the solitude, the silence and the strictures of living in community.

I cried. In the end, I cried, not in sadness but in humbled appreciation for the well-wrought words and graciously shared memories of Dee Ready. Her journey in belief, her years in the convent, and her profound honesty expressing her life-long search for self makes this a compelling book to read.

As I closed “Prayer Wasn’t Enough; A Convent Memoir”, tears streamed down my cheeks as a surge of gratitude grabbed my heart in the gift of the blessing of Dee Ready’s book.

I first met Dee through her blog, coming home to myself, about eight years or so ago. I hovered around her posts for a time before finally commenting, appreciating her writing, her stories, her honesty and her kindness. Over a period of time, Dee posted memories of her life in the convent, as well as many other stories of her remarkable life. What shined in all her posts is her humility, her kindness, and her advocacy for those less fortunate. Over the years since I first discovered Dee’s blog she has become a friend and an inspiration.

I was, as all of her readers were, excited to hear that her memoir was about to be published and anxious to read it once the book arrived at my door.

“Prayer Wasn’t Enough . . . ” opens with a transcendent moment in Dee’s life that leads her to become a Benedictine nun. Her story takes us to the convent adjacent to the college she attended and through her many years at the convent and in the schools she taught at as a scholastic nun.

There is so much packed into this precious book, from the more intimate details of a nun’s habit to the intricacies involved in daily service when living in community, I found myself fascinated by Dee’s descriptions of the well-ordered daily life in the Benedictine nuns, the Hours, the way the sisters were sent out to teach in the Catholic schools in a wide area through many states. I was amazed by the support Dee received in going forward with pursuing higher education during summer months and I laughed out loud at some of the small acts of defiance the younger nuns in her order acted out.

This book is as much about Dee’s acceptance of self as it is about her life as a nun. It is a fascinating read that I hope you will soon discover.

For an insightful interview of Dee Ready, please check out Debra’s blog at https://breathelighter.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/dee-ready-an-interesting-read/#comment-30900

Prayer Wasn’t Enough by Dee Ready

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As good ideas have a tendency to do, this one rose like dumplings in a bubbling pot of chicken stew.

The idea, the Field School Book Group, now aged to perfection, has been meeting and discussing books – and just about everything else – for 30 years!

Our bookish circle of avid readers was a spontaneous outgrowth one evening following a PTA board meeting. Parents and the principal from Field School gathered to tend to the usual business at hand. Chatting over this-and-that afterwards, the idea emerged and we’ve been meeting happily ever after.

While none of us now have children attending Field School, several grandchildren do. A few of our members are former Field teachers and most of our members live close to the school, while several travel a little further afield to attend. Some of us have been members since the beginning and a few of us are relatively new, but, I can honestly say that we all fit in like well-developed characters in a novel and that each member brings me to books I might not otherwise have read and add interesting thoughts and points of view to our discussions.

We’ve read everyone from Noah Chomsky to Judy Blume, and everything from  “Hatchet”  to “The Gold Coast Madame”. We have had the pleasure of hosting a few authors who have joined us in discussions of their books, both as part of our monthly meetings or on a more casual venue (think wine and dinner/coffee cake).

We are, shall I say, a “gabby” bunch and sometimes we talk about the book. Actually, we always talk about the book. When we began, three decades ago, book discussion questions were hard to find. Now, they are as easy as the tap of computer keys and many books have discussion questions in the back of the book.

We occasionally take excursions after reading a book. A tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park followed a reading of Nancy Horan’s “Loving Frank” with lunch at Hemingway’s Bistro.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a tour of the location of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition after reading The Devil and the White City by Erik Larson.

Isn’t the tea candle great? One of longest attending members, Sharon, presented each of us one at our recent January meeting, where we have a very lively discussion of “Mrs. Poe” by Lynn Cullen.

Are you in a book discussion group? What have you read lately?

Amazing authors who have spent time with the Field School Book Group:

Tracey Bianchi https://www.amazon.com/Green-Mama-Guilt-Free-Helping-Planet/dp/0310320364

Andra Watkins http://andrawatkins.com/?wref=bif

Tyra Manning http://tyramanning.com

 

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When the dog bites,

when the bee stings,

when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.

 

Days, even months, sometime become quite filled with the issues at hand leaving scant moments for posting here. This has been the case since my last post here along the Cutoff. So it is, dear friends, that I have not written for a while. I just wanted and needed to take a few moments to thank you all for continuing to stop by – even in my absence – and for being such a steady presence in my life.

Thank you!

That old dog did bite and the bee did sting, but, I do want to share some of my favorite things from the past month or so, including these munchkins, who aren’t so little any more, and who spent some time here at Thanksgiving. We baked, and colored, made silly pictures on Photo Booth and enjoyed so many special moments together.

Ezra asked if he could decorate a wee tree that was sitting in his bedroom. What a clever young boy he is.

At a particularly glum time last week, the super moon appeared and it followed us all the way home.

I’ve read a few books that kept my attention and thought that you might be interested in them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope to be back posting more often soon as I pray you are all well and enjoying this season whether you are entering summer or into winter and especially thinking of those of you in harm’s way with the fires burning in California.

 

 

 

 

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