Saturday, October 21, 2017

October books

I read two excellent books this month; Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and LaRose by Louise Erdrich.  Both are family sagas retelling the stories of several generations. 

Homegoing traces two half-sisters born into two different villages at a difficult time in Ghana's history. Tribes are busy waging war against each other and collecting slaves to make money and win favor from the white Europeans. 

Effia is forced to marry an Englishman and goes to live in the Cape Coast Castle. The marriage is a business deal arranged by Effia's mother to bring fortune to the village and to push her daughter away from the village and her intended husband, the chief Abeeku so that she may have a more profitable life.

Abeeku stood up so that he was facing her. He ran his fingers along the full landscape of her face, the hills of her cheeks, the caves of her nostrils. "A more beautiful woman has never been born," he said finally. He turned to Baaba. "But I see that you are right. If the white man wants her, he may have her. All the better for the village." (15)

Effia's half sister Esi is also promised in marriage to a man in her village. Her father is is a brave warrior, a Big Man, and she's grown up in being adored by her family and community. One night warriors come to her village and she is told to run into the woods where she sits in a tree but is still found and with pelting rocks hitting her she falls to the ground.

She was tied to others; how many, she didn't know. She didn't see anyone from her compound. Not her stepmothers or half siblings. Not her mother. the rope around her wrists held her palms out in supplication. Esi studied the lines on those palms. They led nowhere. She had never felt so hopeless in her life. (43)

And thus both sisters' fortunes are changed even as both are sold as product. Esi is chained up in the basement dungeon of Cape Coast Castle while her sister lives above. Eventually Esi is shipped off to work the American slave trade. Each chapter relays the tale of a descendent of each sister and in this way you are awarded this amazingly rich historical yet very personal account.

The New Yorker review (I liked it more than they liked it but it does a beautiful job of describing the era)


In LaRose Louise Erdrich gives the reader many parallels to Homegoing's history. American English did their best to negate both cultures. LaRose, told mostly through the present, tells the story of Landreaux and Emmeline's grief after a tragic accident kills their friend and neighbor's son, Dusty. Through back and forth chapters we understand the depth of the grief felt by both couples and through side stories Erdrich interjects the history of Emmeline's family and how tragedy and wisdom often walk together. The characters Erdrich brings to life are interesting and multidimensional. 

Outside the circle of warmth, the snow squeaked and the stars pulsed in the impenetrable heavens. The girl sat between them, not drinking. She thought her own burdensome thought. From time to time, both of the men looked at her profile in the firelight. her dirty face was brushed with raw gold. As the wine was drunk, the bread was baked. Reverently, they removed the loaves and put them, hot, inside their coats.  The girl opened her blanket to accept a loaf from Wolfred. As he gave it to her, he realized that her dress was torn down the middle. He looked into her eyes and her eyes slid to Mackinnon. The she ducked her head and held the dress together with her elbow while she accepted the loaf. (99)

Both novels illustrate the simple fact that women have been battling men for centuries. How brave and bold it is that we hope to raise our children to accept a different norm.  I know I expect my daughter to be strong and resourceful and I expect my son to treat all women with due respect.


We read LaRose for book club this month and I celebrated by making this Wild Rice Salad. It was delicious and I would make it again. I'll read anything with Erdrich's name on it-I love her young reader's Birchbark House series-and read it with my school book club every year. One of my life goals is to read all of Erdrich's stories and to make it to her Minneapolis book store.

New York Times review for LaRose.

Happy October!!










Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Listening to Garth Stein


Our local library has a list of featured authors that speak throughout the year and mostly they are local authors but tonight Garth Stein was in the house!  I remember reading The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008) soon after it came out in paperback.  I believe everyone in the house read it at one point or another and our one loved copy obviously travelled off on its own journey as I could not find it anywhere in my book (over) loaded home. I thought it would be easy to find it and get that one signed...
Enzo is a lovely canine narrator, a deep thinking dog and the book should appeal to all dog lovers, want-to-be dog owners, or any human with a heart. I remember crying and writing quotes from the book onto scraps of paper.

Garth was eloquent and humorous to listen to and he told story after story of his family, his wife, the struggle of being a writer and how the book came into being and how his agent would not accept it. If I ever actually publish any one of my stories this is the part that I fear. I'm an awful public speaker (unless my audience is made up of elementary kids) and could maybe speak extemporaneously for about 10 minutes. We'd have to go to questions pretty quickly. I could handle the signing part though, one on one interactions, but I don't like getting my picture snapped so that might be an issue. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.

After the event he signed books near a table where his books were on sale through our local university bookstore. During part of the q and a session I spent some time on my trusty Goodreads app and looked up several of his other books.  His latest one, A Sudden Light, about a timber families fortunes and misfortunes had a few negative reviews so I stayed away from that one. My friends Rich and Kay did buy it though and so I'll wait to hear what they think.  Two of his earlier books had more interesting reviews, to me, so I went with these (yes, I bought them both and had them signed).

Raven stole the moon (1998) is part magical realism and Native American folklore-right up my reading alley. How Evan broke his head and other secrets (2005) tells the tale of a young rock and roller who meets his long lost son at the age of 14. I'm excited to read both of them after I finish the three other books by my bedside and La Rose by Louise Erdrich, our Good Spirits book club choice for October. It is wonderful to live in such a literature-rich household-I never, ever, ever even think the word "bored".


I was completely unaware that he has a young reader's version of The Art of racing in the rain and several picture books devoted to Enzo.









Sunday, October 1, 2017

October is...


changing colors
swirling leaves
a chill in the air
sweaters;
holding back on the coats
pumpkins and skeletons
apples and ghosts
summer's last days of warmth
give way to crackling fires
s'mores
hot cider in cups
crisp and crackling
life turns

Monday, September 25, 2017

To the bright edge of the world by Eowyn Ivey


Eowyn Ivey's writing is flawless just as it was in her debut novel, The Snow Child. I treasured reading each entry as I became more connected to the characters.

Colonel Forrester's journey takes him away from his new bride, Sophie, and into the Alaskan wilderness to gather information about Native tribes and the land. Sophie had planned to go until she finds out days before departure that she is pregnant and won't be able to make the trip. She is devastated but manages to find herself deeply immersed in photography and bird-watching. The book is told in alternating diary entry format with Col. Forrester, Lieut. Pruitt, photographer for the journey, and Sophie back in Vancouver at the barracks sharing with us in 1885 and Josh, Alaskan Native historian and Walt, Col. Forrester's great-nephew who is interested in preserving artifacts from the trip that have been left in his possession in present day.

The expedition is far tougher than any could have predicted; both for Sophie and the Colonel and his men. Ivey's words far outweigh my ramblings on the topic so let me share just a few passages so you may know the beauty of this historical novel.

Sophie Forrester
January 6, 1885

Oh, such amazing news! The General has granted permission so that I will accompany Allen and his men on the steamer north! for days now it has seemed increasingly unlikely, and I am certain it was only Allen's steady, persistent resolve that has won me passage. Of course, I go only as far as Sitka and will return to the barracks the end of February; I will not even set eyes on the northern mainland where their true adventure will begin, but I am thrilled all the same. (17)

Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester
April 7, 1885

Like a salve to me, her letter. I waited as long as I might, but after this hard day of travel, I needed the comfort of her words.
For two months, I have carried this letter unopened in my breast pocket, yet I swear the pages are still touched by her fragrance. To read those words, written in her hand. 'Our child.'

Sophie Forrester
May 14, 1885

I have been thinking of light, the way it collected in the rain drops that morning I was so full of joy, and the way it shifts and moves in unexpected ways, so that at times this cabin is dark and cool and the next filled with golden warmth.
Father spoke of a light that is older than the stars, a divine light that is fleeting yet always present if only one could recognize it. It pours in and out of the souls of the living and dead, gathers in the quiet places in the forest, and on occasion, might reveal itself in the rarest of true art. (202)

I could go on with many beautiful quotes from the text illuminating her perfect words.  Ivey's books thrill me and I will happily recommend to all my book-loving friends. I anxiously await what ever she brings next. To the bright edge of the world I will follow...


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Let's catch up...


September is flying by and I had the crazy thought today; I can understand the appeal of a ghost writer to very busy authors. I feel like I could use one every now and again.

What's happening in my world?

School:

I'm having a magical year so far. This is my fourth year and I feel much more confident overall. This class of 6th grade students were 3rd graders when I arrived and we have a unique and trusting relationship. Even kindergarten this year has impressed me with their amazing excitement for library.

Home:

Japhy has settled into her high school classes and dance started last week. She is busy, happy, and still filled with so much love for me that our life together is smooth. She loves to lay with me and just hang out.  My husband just finished directing an amazing play, The Man who shot Liberty Valance, which I knew nothing about until he picked it for this current season.  I'm not a fan of westerns but this one, never having read the book or watched the movie, struck me with it's very modern issues of good vs. bad.

The only part of my idyllic home life that is not going as planned is how difficult it is for Anton to understand how to be part of a healthy, high-functioning family. It is literally an every day struggle which is a major impact on the rest of us. He doesn't understand why he needs to check in with us, he doesn't understand about keeping regular hours, about respect or graciousness, about empathy for other humans and as of yesterday how to talk to another person after a fender bender. (Clue: YOU DO not yell at the person you just rear ended) He has not been able to save a single dime even though he only has two bills to pay. It is mind-blowing and heart-breaking to watch someone struggle and continue to lose any momentum mostly because he flat out doesn't want to listen as a 22-year-old.  The poverty cycle is hard to break.  He's never had anyone "parent" him per se or have expectations for him to follow. On the plus side he loves the community college and the digital media program he is enrolled in and loves taking and editing photos and videos.  We hope and pray that he will get over a major hump and realize the gifts he is being handed and how far he can actually go if he listens and learns.


Books:

I hosted book club last night and we discussed The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  Excellent read. I loved the magical realism, making it an actual train with stations.  It helped me to experience the claustrophobia and fear of traveling to someplace better than where you came from hopefully. We had a good discussion, delicious food, and lots of wine. The extra bonus of hosting was that I deep cleaned many corners of my house that spiders had otherwise been living and dying in.

I'm almost finished with Eowyn Ivey's new book, The bright edge of the world.  Love it. Written in journal entries, it tells the story of Colonel Forrester as he explores the Wolverine River into Alaska, and his wife as she restlessly waits for him to return. She begins taking photographs, which in 1885, was quite a process.  Set against the beautiful backdrop of Canada and Alaska their stories are captivating. I loved The Snow Child and this one uses a touch of magical realism as well through several Indigenous tribal legends and myths.

I hope you are having an amazing September as well! Life is good.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Homemade Kitchen

{Bouquet of basil}
I have an old kitchen surrounded by a few new appliances. At some point I hope I'm able to update the the cabinets, the floor, and the sink.  I am someone who spends a great deal of time in my kitchen and it's a hallway kitchen so it's not easy for anyone more than me to be in there.  The next two days will be the toughest days for me and my kitchen as I get ready to make a big batch of salsa and a big batch of pesto.


Every year my mom shares her garden bounty with me so I may turn it into salsa and pesto; two items I love to have all year around for pure food happiness. Even though it's an all day process and hot.  My husband is a great help with the salsa part and I love that.


I've been looking for a good new pesto recipe that doesn't use pine nuts. So expensive, those pine nuts. I found a good one on Epicurious.com that uses pecans. If you want my salsa recipe check out this fabulous post with a tiny Groovy Girl front and center.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Solar Eclipse Journey

video

Just a week ago we made the trek to Missouri to be in the path of totality. It was exciting stuff to be on the road headed to such a monumental event and one that, in our lifetime, we may not be able to see again. My husband started plotting this adventure back in April and was shocked to find all campgrounds in the area to be booked.  He did find a hotel in Columbia, MO for the night and then we'd head to Boonville, MO to be right in the path. He even had a large park picked out that would be perfect for hanging out and waiting for the moon to cross over the sun in the middle of the day.
{Harley Park-same location-after eclipse}
Somehow he managed to take care of many details except to find the appropriate glasses. This is the part that stunned me. Here we are making this 5 hour journey to watch an amazing moment in time and not prepared with the right equipment. We might be left looking like Mr. Trump squinting into the sky. Once we checked into the hotel I made this my priority. Luckily the University of Missouri book store had ordered more than enough paper glasses and were selling them at a reasonable rate. We were set for the next day. We had fun at Cosmo Park with an eclipse themed party; live music, food trucks, and fresh local beer.  After that Groovy Girl picked a place for dinner; Babbo's Spaghetteria!  We headed back to the other side of town, near the U of M, and found this place in a highly traffic commercial area-not our usual dining preference but it's what she'd picked.

This is the thing with road trips that I love.  If it is a new destination for you; you have know idea what you're going to get. The place from the front looked like a glorified Olive Garden but what was inside was a different story.  Our dining experience was delicious. I had a strawberry salad that was the perfect size with great flavor. And Greg and G.G. both had pasta dishes they loved as well. We shared a bottle of wine as our excellent server informed us the bottles were on sale AND we could take the rest of it with us. I think that's a great rule.  We had a leisurely dinner, enjoying the staff, the food, and the ambiance even though we were in a fancy strip mall. A good reminder to never judge.

Harley Park after eclipse}
The next day we hung out in Harley Park with our own snacks and beverages. The park service of Missouri were extremely helpful and polite, using golf carts to help ferry people and their chairs, coolers, and bags up and down the hills.  Super hospitable.  After the amazing event we hung around a bit, waiting for the rush to leave the park. And in order to hopefully miss much of the highway traffic we hung around in downtown Boonville doing some vintage shopping.

Our drive home was l-o-n-g. In other words we DID NOT miss the traffic. In Hannibal, one of our favorite little cities, we decided we needed a dinner break. We trawled through town looking for something interesting other than fast food and one of our phones brought up the Rustic Oak (motto: best food by a damn site). It had an interested front-like an old west saloon and we walked in. This is again just part of the road trip experience but let me tell you flat out that this place sucked. It's tough to be a foodie in the real world of restaurants on the road.

Oh the waitress was okay and the decorations were interesting to look at but the food-total bomb.  It had an extensive menu, with many pages to look through. At the appetizer section both my husband and I spotted fried okra, which we both love. We ordered that with our waters while we continued to browse the menu. I finally spotted fish tacos and felt pleased that I'd found something. I'm usually pretty happy with just an app or a salad but this was the kind of place that included meat on every salad. Blech. A good salad does not need meat. Just fyi. Eventually Greg and GG found things they were excited about and our order was placed. Oh how I wish I could take it back.  We knew we were in trouble when the okra showed up looking like hard little puff balls straight from a freezer box.

We waited a long time for the rest of our food to arrive and when it did we should have sent it all right back. There was something off-tasting in my tacos-I still don't know what it was. It wasn't spoiled or rotten but it was on the way. It might have been the cole slaw or something in the fish batter-but I had to stop eating after a couple of bites. Greg agreed after one bite that I was right. He had a burger (the meat was good) but the lettuce was like the limpest piece of bottom of the bag that should have been tossed away, the bun was stale and GG's chicken parmigiano was gooped with a bunch of really plastic cheese.  We laughed at all of these things although we did turn the fish tacos back in to the waitress.

You just never know and that's what adds to the excitement and fun. We have so many memories like this as a family. And we are lucky to have them. The Rustic Oak will live in infamy when we joke about crappy food.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

We need diverse books

I heard some guy interviewed on NPR today discussing recent events in Charlottesville, VA. He ended the discussion with an admonition that everyone should invite a family of a different color, religion, belief system over for dinner; that through personal interactions such as a simple family meal we could end racial strife.


It sounds good. And I do have diverse people to my house for dinner. I want to know who's going to volunteer to have the neo-Nazi family over though?  Not me. Maybe I would IF I thought I could magically unwrap their hatred.  I'd rather have Tina Fey over for dinner though and I'd serve a sheet cake at the end. And then we're just preaching to the choir.


Quite awhile ago (before the election ended so tragically) I ordered a stack of books from Amazon.  I'd read a review about Angie Thomas' new book that enticed me and two other books were suggested to me by that handy Amazon tool.  In a rare moment of frivolousness I ordered all three-very unlike me. I read The Hate you give pretty quickly and LOVED it. I promote it all around town and on twitter. Loved it. She wrote an interesting story with genuine characters on a timely topic. The second book was Renee Watson's book Piecing me together; an excellent coming-of-age tale about tough choices and being yourself.  I discovered I had an ARC of an earlier Watson book, This side of home, about a set of twins coming into their own as separate young women, which I then devoured as well. The 3rd book took me a bit longer to get to-I don't know why-but it set on my dining room table for months. I packed it for vacation though and read it on the road. Ibi Zoboi's American Street.  Unlike the other three this one is not about the black experience in America but a Haitian immigrants experience as a young high schooler trying to learn how to be American amidst family strife.  This one I enjoyed yet I struggled with decisions made and lack of consequences for Fabiola's cousins.  I look forward to other stories she may have to tell. Another one I just finished that can be added is Ghost by @JasonReynolds83, a powerful tale about a young man trying to make good choices in his life.

In an attempt to explore new human experiences any of these titles would fit the bill. Feel free to invite them to dinner, follow these authors on twitter, and pay attention. I believe in the library but buying diverse books sends a message to publishers: #weneeddiversebooks


@acthomasbooks
@reneewauthor
@ibizoboi