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Reading Notes

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 . . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

While Stretching My Legs

IMG_9731I find that I need to get out to stretch my legs and ease my back on long car rides, especially if I am driving alone. The urge to move a bit and take biology breaks add extra time to the journey, but also afford an opportunity for exploring. The Wisconsin rest stops along the usual route to our Up North family are safe, clean, and often quite scenic and most have historical markers or honors to veterans. The scenery becomes more breathtaking, the terrain more varied, as the road wends northward. The trip remains just as interesting on the return route.

The weather could not have been better Tuesday as I headed south toward home. Finding myself in need of a walk, I decided to exit the interstate in Janesville and visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens there. It is a mile or so from the exit and a little piece of paradise, much of which is maintained by volunteers.

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So . . . I took a little walkabout down the paths and through the gardens, working the kinks out of my muscles and shaking the cobwebs from my brain.

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The flowers were in full form with a riot of color and texture and scents – and the pollinators were busy feeding from the many garden hosts.

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Moths and bees and butterflies flitted as if on their last fling before school starts.

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The gardens were just what my heart and soul needed, along with my muscles and bones. Being in nature always renews my spirit and calms my everyday worries, while giving me a chance to exhale.

I walked and sat and walked some more, wondering how the Antler Man was getting along on the Cutoff. I was thinking how encouraging it was to see so many bees and moths and butterflies when a Monarch floated by, looking for a place to rest.

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There has been fretting over the Monarchs again this year. Last year brought some hope that their numbers were on the upswing, but, this summer their numbers seem to be down and I have spotted only one on our little acreage on the Cutoff. There is an abundance of milkweed and butterfly weed and other host plants, but nary a Monarch egg nor caterpillar to be found.

The Monarch danced on the breeze and the landed on the big, green chair which is seen in the background of the photo above on the left, basking in the sun and casting shadows in the most magical of ways.

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Renewed and revitalized, I walked back to the car and set to navigating the last leg of my journey home with a sense of wonder that always befalls me in among flowers and trees and God’s good earth. As I drove back toward the concrete lanes of the interstate highway, the shadows of the Monarch cast a wee bit of wonder in my mind at how this one regal member of butterfly royalty happened to find me miles and miles from home.

 

 

Where I’ve Been

Guess where I’ve been?

Tundra

Need another hint?

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It was heartwarming to spend time with these two youngsters, our grandest of grandchildren, while I was Up North this past week. I was lending a small hand as our son-in-law, Tom, began his recovery from surgery after an already challenging summer from an injury. I wish I could be there, still, but responsibilities on the home front necessitated my homecoming. Hopefully, enough leftovers will make up for my leaving, and some cheerful memories will linger for Kezzie and Ezra.

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The darling dog is Tundra, a Goldendoodle. She is the newest resident of the Up North limb of our family tree. Tundra is very sweet, becoming very big, and learning the rules of the manor – when she isn’t being silly out back, that is.

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The first night I was there, after dinner at Pieology (where I chose and enjoyed a pesto sauced pizza) we stopped at the library to return and check out more books. We left with two bags filled with books (can you imagine how much this warms my heart?) and Keziah showed me around their newly opened library. I was more than impressed by the children’s section, with books at child level, a welcoming atmosphere, and interactive manipulatives that stimulate budding imaginations.

I appreciate and admire communities that value libraries and libraries that have the foresight to evolve with changing times – daring to keeping libraries relevant and friendly places for young people while maintaining the community service of lending out books.

Speaking of books, I would like to recommend one to those of you who enjoying cooking with children. The Forest Feast for Kids is by Erin Gleeson*. Actually, I would like to recommend it to all of you. It is a fun, well illustrated, photographed, and detailed book full of vegetarian recipes for children to prepare. We gave it to Keziah for her birthday and were pleased to learn that 61qJKe+MLDL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_she has been enjoying it. She pulled it out on the last day I was there. We snuggled and explored the book together, talking about the different recipes, like melon cake (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cut and stacked to make a three-layered “cake” with yogurt in the middle. We discussed what we could make for lunch. While we were missing one or two ingredients for most of the recipes, the cookbook inspired and led us to ideas of our own of what else we could make with the ingredients at hand. Kezzie decided to make “cracker sandwiches” – and here she is with her creation.

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Earlier on the same day, Ezra was intently “forking” peanut butter cookie dough. He proved to be a very good sous chef.

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I always find it fun to be in the kitchen with children – and these two sweetie pies make food preparation extra special.

I am home, now, and I miss them already, but, it is what it is, and so goes life here on the Cutoff.

*Erin Gleeson is also the author of The Forest Floor, her earlier cookbook.

Seasonal Enterprises

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Roadside stands, farmers markets, seasonal enterprises – they are the heart and soul of summer in the Midwest – and probably in your neck of the  woods as well.

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I didn’t buy the Speciality Basil Bouquet (top photo), but, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. The arrangements look, and smell, of summer. I grow my own basil along with thyme, oregano, and sage in a whiskey barrel on our deck. I love to step outside and snip fresh herbs for our dinner, and I love slipping herbs into bouquets – or just in a jar of water for color and ease on my countertop.

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The bouquet of zinnias, above was from The Farm, a roadside market not far from our house. They grow their produce on two farms nearby and have a large plot in back of the barn/store where they grow flowers that they sell from the stand. The bouquets are picked and arranged each day and last for most of a week. This bouquet has strawflowers and Billy Buttons, which should also dry well for Fall arrangements.

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Last week, onions, new potatoes, zucchini and string beans were available. One glance and I knew what i would be making for dinner that night and leftovers thereafter – Greek string beans and potatoes! I used some freshly picked mint leaves from another pot on the deck and it was, I must confess, unabashedly, THE BEST Briami  I have ever made!

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Sweet corn is abundant now. I prefer to get corn from Farmers Markets and stands, where I know they are as locally grown and as fresh as possible, but, there are also berries, and fruit, much of which is coming in from Michigan. These yellow plums are quite sweet and juicy.

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What are seasonal delights are you enjoying now?

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How about that!

p Martha Walter (American Impressionist, 1875–1976) Town Meeting, Brittany

Ah . . .

. . .  those conversations in the checkout lane of the grocery store, whilst crossing paths in a parking lot, picking up clothes at the cleaners, sitting on a bench in a park, checking out a library book. These random conversations brighten my days and give me pause to ponder.

Take Thursday, for instance; a red-letter day for off-the-cuff conversations.

It started at the doctor’s office in the large center for health I go to for medical care, with easy access to labs, physical therapy, procedures, etc. I have happily graduated from a B12 shot every week to once a month. I am grateful for my doctor who dug a little deeper and found a deficiency. I am  even more grateful for the remedy, not to mention my friend, Marilyn, who recommended this internist. The medical center is connected to a hospital that wraps around a substantial campus. I usually take a brisk walk when I’m there. It is amazing how many steps can be accrued, for those of us who count steps, and especially nice in winter or inclement weather.

I digress.

After my appointment, I found a chair in the hallway and sat down to turn on my cell phone and check messages. As I sat there, a man turned the corner, a big smile on his face He looked at me. He had tears in his eyes along with that big smile as he blurted out “I just have to tell someone. I am so blessed. I just found out I don’t have prostate cancer!”  He was overwhelmed with relief, an emotion I know well enough.  I got up, acknowledged his news and feelings, and we headed to the elevator, where he had kind things to say to all of the passengers riding down to the main floor. He thanked me for listening as we parted ways.

We are sometimes put in just the right place to accept others good news.

I embarked on my hospital corridor walk-about, and then stopped in the gift shop. A rather robust woman, colorfully attired, caught my eye and she said “You really look good today. Very modernly dressed. Good color on you.” Well, now, how about that! I stood a little taller, edged my shoulders back, and thanked her profusely. Such kindness from a stranger gave me a bigger boost than a B12 shot!

We are sometimes put in just the right place to accept the generosity of others.

Heading home, I needed a few things from the grocer; fruit, greens, a can of tomatoes for the evening meal; items I thought I had in the pantry, but, discovered that I did not. I pushed my cart, picking up some coffee and a loaf of Italian bread as well as the items I came for and walked to the cashiers. A young man was standing at his register with no one waiting in line, so, I altered that scene, placing my purchases on the conveyor belt. As I wrote my check (I know. I’m a dinosaur. I still write checks) I asked the young man what the date was. He told me then said he couldn’t wait until Sunday. “A special day for you?”  “Yes. My birthday and now I won’t have to bother anyone anymore“. I thought, by his looks, that he was turning 21 and looking forward to a celebratory night out. “Happy Birthday, enjoy – and you be careful” to which he retorted “Oh, I have to work on Sunday. I’m just happy I won’t have to call for a legal aged checker to ring up liquor anymore“.

We are sometimes put in just the right place to be reminded to not jump to conclusions.

How about that?

Have you had a chance conversation lately over a cup of coffee, waiting in line,

Image. Town Meeting by Martha Walter

A Walk

Walden:Oct.

Aug. 9. Wednesday. —To Boston.
“Walden” published. Elder-berries. Waxwork yellowing.

Henry David Thoreau’s journal entry of August 9, 1854

On August 9, 1854, “Walden, or Life in the Woods” was published. While not a best seller of its time, the book was favorably received and  the 2,000 published copies eventually sold. It has remained in publication since 1862. Thoreau was an early environmentalist, attune to nature and living simply. “Walden” continues to be a source of inspiration and Thoreau is often quoted.

I have posted the photo above before in my ramblings here on the Cutoff. It was taken one crisp, sunny, perfect October day a decade or so ago. That day remains one of the best days in my life. Tom and I ordered a lunch from a deli in Concord, Massachusetts then headed to Walden Pond, where we took a long walk in the woods of Thoreau, and ate our lunch sitting on the sun-warmed stones along the pond’s shore, watching rowers and swimmers and shorebirds as we soaked in the brilliance of time and place.

I thought about Walden Pond this morning after reading of today’s anniversary of the publishing of “Walden” and found my mind, then myself, wandering in nature.

As I pulled into the parking area of Lake Katherine, my cell phone rang. It was Tom wondering if I wanted to join him at Maple Lake, where he was headed. It’s interesting how our unspoken ideas often intersect. Tom said he would meet me instead at Lake Katherine.

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I started walking around the lake, stopping to look at the beauty around me. A large congregation of ducks were taking their afternoon nap, close to the shore. I stepped a little closer, hoping not to disturb them, when something fluttered in a nearby tree.  Can you see it on the far right branch?

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I watched for a few minutes before it swept down, slipped amongst the ducks, then wandered to the water’s edge. It wasn’t a duck. It looked like a heron, but, was much smaller and I could see a crop of molting head feathers.

The ducks continued their nap while I inched closer to this shorebird, which reminded me of a black-crowned heron,  with long still-like legs moving slowly through the shallow water and grasses.

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This bird was surely a youngster, just getting his feet wet, not at all concerned with my closeness (and I was less than a yard away at times). At one point, the bird grabbed at a reed of grass and looked surprised when it didn’t budge or taste as expected.

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It walked along the edge, sometimes hidden by the tall grasses, other times perched upon a rock. A gaggle of youngsters in bright pink shirts came by, looking for clues on a summer camp adventure. A trio of men walked by, white shirts and ties loosened, taken a walk on their lunch break, wondering, I’m sure, at what I was intent on photographing.

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I think this is a member of the Bittern family. The photos are a bit dark, but, if you click on them they are easier to see the bird.

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Tom found me and we walked the mile or so around the lake, sat for a bit while he ate his lunch, enjoying the gorgeous day, before we parted, each of us having a place to be. As I drove away, I thought of Walden and Thoreau and of how his legacy of actions and words resonate even today, and I thought of his essay, “Walking”, and of a simple walk, full of discovery, in nature today.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature . . . from “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau

Sleaving

I picked up my keys and called out to Tom.

 “I am leaving” but, he did not hear – understand me.

“What?”

“I said I’m leaving”, and commenced laughing. Poor Tom didn’t think it was funny, but, there I was, laughing; suddenly remembering the movie,  Roxanne – and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Hav you ever had one of these silly moments?

(from YouTube)

 

Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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