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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I’m dreaming in green; lush, mossy, magnificent green and longing for those first, tentative tips of spring bulbs and pussy willow blossoms.

Soon. Very soon.DSCN7326

While the sun hasn’t shown her rays very often lately, here along the Cutoff the days ARE growing longer and the seed catalogues are tempting us with old reliables and new introductions.

There is a dream of buds swelling here and there. With a hope that is buried and waiting in this long winter, the daffodils and hyacinths are waiting, their tips of buttery yellow and grape are the epitome of patience under the ice and snow.

With our heads bent to the wind, we will brave the gusts and the cold and the snow and whatever else this season may still throw at us. We will layer on extra clothing as the car warms up. Once home again a cup of freshly brewed coffee or a piping pot of tea. Soup is often simmering on the stove, and now that it is Lent, pepper and egg sandwiches are the fare of choice on a Friday afternoon.

I’ve been enjoying tall cups of hot, Mexican chocolate now and again, with my dear friend Kathryn or with my daughter 9781444730302-1-4Jennifer, at a new coffee house that recently opened not far from here. Tom and went there for an afternoon treat on Valentine’s Day. La Fortuna’s owners are third generation coffee producers. Isn’t it amazing how fast a new establishment can become a favorite?

Books, of course, are always at my side. I’ve been reading “The House on an Irish Hillside” by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, and I’ve been pulling out old issues of Victoria Magazine for inspiration . . .

. . .  and I have ben hopping about, chasing sunbeams with my camera – whenever the sun pokes through.

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What are you reading these days?

What are you sipping on?

Where are you going – or where did you just come from?

What are the signs of your season beginning to change?

Will you watch Sunday’s episode of Downton Abbey, the Oscars, or both? Neither?

Are any of you watching in Grantchester?

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Anderson Hotel:Grumpy Old Men

The Hotel Anderson

Katy and I were on a road trip scoping out colleges. We drove north, through Wisconsin to LaCrosse, then west, over the river and through the woods to our first college visit, a night’s rest, then onward and upward to the Twin Cities. It was October 12, 1998. There was already snow on the ground along the river road route we were taking, winding around the hills that follow the Mighty Mississippi. While Katy had a driver’s license, she couldn’t drive with her leg in a cast, so I plugged along, steering us to our next collegial destination.  There were light snow flurries; nothing dangerous, just bothersome in that always dirty windshield with the intermittent wipers sort of way. It was a gray afternoon.

I could sure use a cup of coffee“.  “Doesn’t pie sound good right now?” So, the conversation flowed for several mid-afternoon miles, then we passed a huge billboard.

Whoa, Nellie, slow down!

Did you see that?” “Yes, I did.”  “Wanna go check it out?” . . .

. . . and so we did. We turned the car around, seeing the sign once again as we backtracked. The sign touted Wabasha, Home of Grumpy Old Men.

Have you seen the Grumpy Old Men movies?  Grumpy and Grumpier? Their capers and escapades, ice fishing and love interests are endearing, in a slapstick, sophomoric sort of way. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon had us giggling and guffawing time after time and, well, it was the perfect time on our road trip of serious educational exploration to take a time out.

We followed the signs to the Hotel Anderson. A magnificent relic of times gone by, and a bit of a cat house to boot.

Yes, I took my daughter to a cat house.

I ordered a coffee. If memory serves me, Kate had a hot chocolate. We both ordered pie. Mine was all-American apple. Heavenly, warmed, delicious pie, à la mode, no less, in an old, still operating, historic hotel that was filled with antiques and attitude. On the historic register, the Hotel Anderson was established pre-Civil War, and it is still in operation. Katy and I inhaled our pie and soaked in the charming atmosphere in the hotel’s dining room, glad for a bit of a respite, and a story to tell once we got back home.

My pie devoured, I walked down a narrow, squeaky hallway to the ladies’ room. As I walked back to our table, I perused framed photos, newspaper and magazine clippings on the hall’s wall. Some were signed by movie stars and dignitaries, with more than a few mentioning cats!

I asked our waitress, who proceeded to tell us that, are you ready for this?, guests of the hotel could choose certain appointed rooms and pick out a cat to join them for the night. She invited us to go up the stairs, look into the room where the cats resided and were on view for one’s choosing, so, we did.  The felines were on view from the half-door; all groomed and well-fed, purring and preening and napping – and not the least bit grumpy. We checked out the rooms that were unoccupied, the doors being opened to look in. They were charming and old; good for a simple night’s rest.  All-in-all, it was a most side trip, and one that Tom and I took some years later when the fall colors were abundant.

Several years then passed before I discovered the Ford Treasury cookbooks, which depict famous restaurants I have begun chronicling here on the Cutoff, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Hotel Anderson depicted.

Grumpy Old Men, and the Grumpier sequel, are always a hoot to watch, especially in winter. There are some hilarious ice fishing scenes, love scenes, and an inordinate amount of “potty talk”, all in the Minnesota town of Wabasha.

Across the river from Wabasha is the town of Pepin.  Pepin is where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and where she and her family crossed Lake Pepin, in winter, to begin their journeys across the prairies. One of these days, I need to visit Pepin.

Have you seen either of the Grumpy Old Men movies?  Do you have a favorite scene? Do you have a favorite pie?

 

 

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“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.” Jorge Luis Borges

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The photo above was my last view of a sunset, two days ago. So rare have sunsets been this January that I almost forgot how magical one could be. It has been so gloomy and gray. I know I really should not complain. We have not had the snowstorms other areas have had and this is certainly a milder winter than last year’s – at least so far.

With all these gray, gray days, I’ve indulged in a few more cups of coffee and tea than I usually have. The result is a look reminiscent of a current movie. What do you think? Do I deserve an Oscar?

Photo on 1-26-15 at 11.15 AM

Then, there was a long and sleepless night that resulted in this,

4-up on 1-25-15 at 4.34 AM (compiled)

which probably was influenced by an overheard conversation between four fellows, one of whom regaled the others with a tale about a vacation he took a decade past. He was, I overheard,  on a cruise ship that became stranded off the coast of Alaska. It was a rather riveting tale, full of drama and fear, rocking and rolling, waves and weather, and a vow to never set sail again.

I tried not to listen. Really, I did, but, gosh and by golly, it was such an adventure that I just pretended to have my nose in a book. The chap seemed sincere. His table mates seemed to believe him. It didn’t matter, for it was so gloomy and grim and cold outside that I might as well have been stranded at sea as well and so, I engaged in art of eavesdropping.

The chap was rolling like waves in a storm as he told of panic aboard and of those who tried to stay calm. There were helicopters and deck chairs dancing, seasickness and worry. He claimed a depiction on some adventure channel and then . . .

. . . snip, snap, snout, his tale was told out.

The men put on their hats and coats. Still talking, they followed him out the door and my mind followed my nose back into my book, “Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good” by Jan Karon. It was there that I came across Jorge Luis Borges’ quote, which was, I thought, quite timely, and just the kind of raw material I needed to shape this winter night’s post.

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DSCN7068“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

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DSCN7053 - Version 2One of our garden club’s many activities occurs mid-January. Members gather to discuss a book related to horticulture, conservation, the environment, gardening, or other such earthy subjects. While the temperatures usually hover just north of zero, and snow is most often underfoot, it is the perfect time of year to read about earthly matters.

Our book this year is was a fairly new release. Laline Paull’s “The Bees” is an anthropomorphic tale about life in the hive with a lowly sanitation worker, Flora 717, as the protagonist. She is an unlikely heroine; too big, deformed, a lowly Sage, and a secret that could be her demise. While some of us loved the book, others emphatically did not. This, of course, was the perfect mix of perspectives for a chatty discussion, the hum of which must have buzzed about the halls and walls of the Elmhurst Library this week, channeling the very hive were “into” .

Have you noticed that it is the books one does not necessarily like that illicit the best conversations?

In between character development, authenticity, and the lewd behavior of drones, we nibbled on honeyed treats. Pictured above is a plate of apples with honey for dipping, nestled upon a bee’s tablecloth.  We tasted from a honeycomb, drizzling honey onto blue cheese and crackers. There were honey cookies and honey glazed walnuts and pretzels, all anchored with a bee skep – amongst some of the sweetest worker bees I know.

I keep a saying close at hand; a reminder to watch what I say.

Lord, make my words as sweet as honey, for tomorrow I may have to eat them. 

As an added bonus to me, whilst flipping channels once again back in my own comfy hive, Ulee’s Gold was playing. It is a movie I enjoy now and again, along with a Van Morrison song featured in it that I have posted before. This one is from the trailer to the movie.

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DSCN7010Sun. Glorious sun. It visited me here on the Cutoff. It warmed my bones as it cast its rays over a precarious pile of TBR books, and illustrated the need to chase the dust motes away.

I have been spending time reading Willem Lange, who wrote a favorite story of mine, Favor Johnson, can also be found in Lange’s Tales From the Edge of the Woods. A compilation of  stories from radio broadcasts, “Where Does the Wild Goose Go”, sits on the top of this pile. It has kept company on these bitter, cold days.

Just under Lange’s autobiographical book of essays is a reader’s copy of a book I loved. You will, too.  “Not Without My Father” by Andra Watkins is a companion book to her breakthrough adventure/mystery/ghostly book,  “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”.  I wrote about here.

“Not Without My Father” is about Andra, and her father Roy, an engaging, larger-than-life, storyteller extraordinaire. Roy was Andra’s “wingman” as she hiked the Natchez Trace in 2014. It was a remarkable personal achievement, and an arduous trek, to promote “To Live Forever. . . “.

“Not Without My Father” is their story;  a father and a daughter and their lifelong journey, as well as their very personal adventure along the Natchez Trace.  More information can be found here,

“Half Broke Horses”, midway down the stack, is by Jeannette Walls. It is my book discussion group’s January selection.  Does anyone else cram for their book discussions? Here I am, in the winter of my life, still pulling “all nighters”. I know it will be a lively discussion later this week, but, I do need to get cracking on it. Our little book group has been meeting for 27 years!  We are pre-Oprah – and still going strong. We read Walls’ autobiographical work, “The Glass Castle”, a few years ago. It kept us chatting well into the night. I’m sure we will have a similar discussion with “Half Broke Horses”.

“All The Light We Cannot See”, by Anthony Doer, is on loan from my dear friend, Marilyn, who keeps me challenged with insightful reads.  Highly acclaimed, this is certain to keep me turning the pages; soon. I hope. Have you read it?

There are a few Pulitzer’s on my pile, as well as a biography I brought home from the library; “Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life”, by Susan Hertog. I will need to renew it soon. So it goes with my best intentions – they are forever being renewed. How marvelously convenient it is that library books can be renewed in the middle of the night in the comforts of home.

“The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week)”, is doing its best to hold up two-thirds of the pile. It came home with me last fall when I discovered it in the Morton Arboretum’s gift shop. I was rather intrigued by such a long title, and, of course, it IS about food. I have read a bit of it and can’t wait to take a bigger bite.

Enough, already, about dust motes and the best intentions of this sluggish reader. I think I will pour myself  a cup of some freshly brewed coffee, whose aroma is as intriguing as “The Feast Nearby …”,  and maybe savor an Ethel cookie from the diminishing Christmas stash.

What are you reading? What awaits you on your literary pile? Do you always read what is in your pile of books?

Ethel Cookie on Cup:Saucer

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51dmwhFgvxL._SL400_Did you know that numbers can be calming, intriguing and unifying; a means with which to connect three novel characters statistically unlikely to become a unit?  I didn’t. Nor did I know how entertaining mathematical story problems could be. After reading a compelling review about a book I had not heard of, and knowing I would be spending a good deal of time in the car, I ordered the audio version, and have since enjoyed listening to “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa.

In this sweetly rendered story, a professor of math, an insightful housekeeper, and her ten year-old son spend their days together, introducing themselves anew each morning, and eventually becoming a unique family of sorts in the process. They do this amid conversations about prime numbers, the properties of zero – and Japanese baseball stars.

Ogawa’s novel is about a mathematical genius whose short-term memory is 80 minutes. He suffers from irreversible brain damage from a long ago a car accident. While he retains his mathematical gifts, his days begin getting re-aquainted with his housekeeper, always asking her what her birth date and her shoe size are. Perfect numbers connect them in time, no matter what he has forgotten about their last 80 minutes together.

The housekeeper is a sensitive and astute unwed mother trying to eke out a living while raising her son, who is named Root by the professor (because his hair resembles the square root sign) Root is the only character with a name in the book. In the course of the story, the professor insists that Root comes to his cottage after school each day rather than return home to an empty house. The professor recollects who Root is with the help of one of the many stickers, penned with pertinent details of his daily life. He wears the stickers, some faded with age, pinned to his suit. Root’s mother, the housekeeper, is the story’s narrator.

As Ogawa’s story entranced me, I found myself taking the longer way home or sitting in the grocer’s parking lot five minutes longer. My car idled in our drive as prime numbers and equations came to life and I found myself wishing the professor had been my Algebra teacher as he gently engaged Root in the art of baseball statistics and encouraged the housekeeper to dig a bit deeper in thought by helping Root with problem solving and in understanding how the answers to problems are reached.

I cannot remember reading a more engaging book, simply told,  about numbers and relationships. While I experienced “The Housekeeper and the Professor” on audio, it is a book that revealed itself to be one that I want to hold in my hand and experience through the words on a page. I will read it again, with my eyes instead of my ears. It is just the sort of book that stays with the reader long after the ending has come.

I should also add that “The Housekeeper and the Professor” is one of those books that was masterfully translated from Japanese into English.  It is one of those stories so beautifully told that it’s essence has stayed with me long after the words ended and one in which I found myself longing to share with you, dear reader.

This would also be an intriguing book for discussion.

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