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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

It has been awhile since I’ve picked a book up and was unable to put it down. I have had a good run of audio books, but, one can only spend so much time “reading” in the car, so, I took my chances when “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit” called to me at one of the libraries I frequent.

The La Grange Library has several racks of new books, movies, and audio just beyond the entryway. Upon those racks, are a few select shelves of books with a bright yellow sticker proclaiming LUCKY DAY. These are often newer releases and popular books; books readers hope to get their hands on but haven’t been able to.

Michael Finkel’s “The Stranger in the Woods . . . ” stood there, looking directly at the door as if waiting just for me to enter. On my honor, it beckoned me, held my gaze, and what was I to do? I snatched it up and moseyed on down (well, actually on up) to a comfortable spot, sat down, peeked between the covers, and promptly checked the book out.

LUCKY DAY books are granted for one only one week. They can be renewed.

A shy, intelligent, twenty year old man from a peaceful Massachusetts childhood takes off one day, leaving his family, his job, his possessions and his new car and walks into an unfamiliar Maine woods where he remains, alone, for twenty-seven years.

Chris Knight survives brutal winters and never-ending solitude hidden in a small, well hidden clearing in the forest, amazingly close to others. He is content with his existence there. No one notices him. He lives by his wits – and by burglarizing the summer cabins nearby, as well as a summer camp. He takes only what he needs to survive, including canned goods, soap, National Geographic magazines, sleeping bags, propane tanks, mattresses and batteries. He steals almost exclusively on moonless, early winter nights, hopping across rocks in the dark, never leaving tracks behind. He takes only from summer residences and the camp, leaving year-round homes untouched. He has robbed some 1,000 times.

Community members are perplexed, terrified (especially those who are robbed repeatedly) and troubled. Some blame their children or neighbors for missing things while others wonder if they are just becoming forgetful.

Chris Knight manages to avoid or disarm alarm systems, motion detectors and sensors. He is masterful at picking locks, opening windows and otherwise finding ways to enter, always leaving homes in good if depleted condition. He takes only what he needs to survive and understands that stealing is wrong!

One night, after setting up silent alarms, Sargeant Terry Hugh’s’ beeper goes off. He catches the thief, demands he hit the ground, calls in reinforcements and thus begins the end of decades of robbery and the beginning of this story about the fabled hermit, now known as Chris Knight.

Michael Finkel, a journalist who lives in Montana, first hears on the news of the arrest of Chris Knight, a loner with a hermit-like existence. He is curious about a man who had not spoken or interacted with anyone in more than two decades. Mr. Finkel writes a letter, includes copies of some of his own stories and sends them to Knight in prison. They correspond and Finkel eventually visits him there, attends his trial, and eventually writes this captivating story. I suspect will one day be a movie.

“The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit ” was an enthralling narrative of 200 or so pages – and it left me hoping that no hermits were living here along the Cutoff.

Have you read an “un-put-downable” recently?

 

 

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I was wandering about on an unexplored path in Lyman Woods when I spotted crocus pushing through the remnants of last Autumn. Not yet open, they were  a wee bit of optimism on a cool and cloudy day. The path was muddy and the grayness of the day lent an air of melancholy to my mood.  These determined early spring bulbs offered an antidote of encouragement. Here was life, in its simplest of forms, in budding blooms and clinging to decaying logs on the forest floor.

Sometimes, we just have to look to find hope just beyond our footsteps.

The day turned misty and there were not many folks walking the woods, so, I stayed closer to the entrance, exploring the small, still sleeping gardens near the nature center, scoping it out for future visits with our Up North family. As I shuffled about, I could hear a chorus of spring peepers in the near distance, which called me further along a rustic path.

As I walked,  I wondered aloud –

 “What is that I see beyond this tree?”.

A little library calling me.

One never knows where a Little Free Library will appear. It may even pop up in a forest.

Of course, I opened the small little door, well appointed with a knob fashioned into a twig. There were several books inside, and I found these two, which I know will be enjoyed by our grandchildren – and their mommy who is known to go owling when she hears the hoots of owls late at night.

What discoveries have you made along your paths lately? Have you found any good books?

Owl Moon image from here

Owl Babies image from here.

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. . . and other sweet treasures.

I couldn’t find the recipe. It wasn’t in my recipe files, nor was it in a small notebook with Hollie Hobbie on the cover, a gift from a student a long time ago. Inside it are old, faded favorites with tell-tale splatters.

No luck!

The recipe for Fruit Pizza was given to me by my friend, Linda, who first brought this delectable delight to my family many moons ago. Jennifer liked it so much that I asked for the recipe. Maybe it was in the Field School Cookbook. Linda’s children attended the same elementary school as Jennifer and Katy, so I thought it might be in there.

No luck!

I love these recipe books that come from PTA’s, women’s auxiliaries, civic organizations, etc. I call them church lady cookbooks, and I keep them, even if there is only one recipe in them that I use. These are the best of recipe books, for no woman puts in her worst recipe, does she (or he)?

At any rate, I could not find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, even in the school cookbook, but, I did come upon my friend Donna’s recipe for Lemon Sherbet! Donna served us this refreshing and sweet delight as desert for our book group’s annual Christmas Book Discussion in early December.  The tartly sweet frozen sherbet, along with a tray of Christmas cookies, was a perfect complement to her dinner. Then and there, I decided to make sherbet for our Christmas Eve dinner. This young lass helped me. The Lemon Sherbet accompanied not only our Christmas Eve deserts, but, our Christmas Day festivities as well.

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Ezra and Kezzie (and Papa) also frosted Ethel Cookies, an old family favorite. Our kitchen became a confectionary lab for young hands as we slid on a floor covered with powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Both children awakened before their Mommy and Daddy on Christmas morning. Kezzie was eager to make Pinch Cake, a Christmas morning tradition ever since our own daughters were young.

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Unable to find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, it occurred to me that it was one of our Jennifer’s favorite treats and that I must might have put it in a cookbook I made her – and I had! She brought it over on Christmas. We made it later in the week to bring to Aunty Jenny’s.

It is always a joy for me to bake with our grandchildren. It is rewarding as well; not only for our taste buds, but, the for the ritual of baking for them, showing them how we prepare the food we eat, and, of course, eating the things we make.

The first step in making fruit pizza is to make the cookie crust. It is basically a sugar cookie base patted and rolled onto a pizza pan and baked.

Kezzie was quite the young expert at rolling out the dough and patting it in the pan.

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When the cookie dough was done, we let it cool while we made a cream cheese frosting.

Then, like any good pizza, it needed toppings. Kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were carefully placed around the pizza, with both children topping if off. Ezra LOVES fruit. It seemed the perfect kitchen activity for him (and it was).

Round and round the pizza they went with circles of fruit marching along in a palatable parade that made for a perfect desert at Aunty Jenny’s and Uncle Jason’s Gnocchi Night!

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Do you have a church lady cookbook (or more)? How about a fun fruit desert? Are you doing anything to bring in the New Year, and, lest I forget, Happy New Year to all!

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img_1406Navigating the rough, tumultuous afterlife waters, rails, and hidden corners of Nowhere is, well, it is complicated. Nowhere: a place where suspenseful characters, who have died under questionable circumstances, must complete an assignment in order pass through to the world of the truly dead. So it is in Andra Watkin’s riveting “Hard to Die”, a sequel to her first journey to Nowhere, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, where Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, finds herself seeking her assignment while circumventing characters even more notorious in the afterlife as they were in real life.

A mix of historical fiction, after-life exploration and spy thriller – this novel is as hard to put down as it for the protagonist, Theo, to die, and it is as riveting as “To Live Forever. . . “ where Meriwether Lewis first appeared. Merry, as he was known by in his time and place, is featured again in this sequel.

Set in the spy and counter-spy intrigue of the 1950’s, Theo becomes entangled with Richard Cox, a former spy turned West Point Cadet, along with a host of other characters, some spies, some otherworldly agents, all who help to keep the pace of this book moving.

The Christmas season is a perfect time for readers to visit ghosts of the past and present – and Andra Watkin’s book is just the book to read as we drift into the longest nights of the year, and it just might be the perfect gift to give or receive.

(Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton. Theodosia died at sea. )

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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.

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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.
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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”.

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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”.

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