Monday, March 30, 2015

Sherry and The Goldfinch

"Ah, Welty was never on the outside of anything," said Mrs. DeFrees, accepting her glass of sherry and petting Hobie affectionately on the sleeve, her little paper-skinned had glittering with rose-cut diamonds.  "He was always in the thick of it, bless him, laughing that laugh, never a word of complaint." page 397, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

We have been renovating our bathrooms and, oh my gosh, what a mess!  But it is starting to look so much better.  We're getting close to done.  The really dirty, really dusty stuff is done.  Now, it's just all the little finishing details.  Or the not-so-little finishing details.  One wall of our main bathroom used to have pale lemon tile halfway up it with a matching pale lemon yellow ceramic towel bar above the tile.  And then an old framed poster of an orchid above that.

Happy to say, that is all gone.  Now there is one wide open blank wall painted a beautiful shade of gray called Heron Plume.  The room is all neutrals and that wall is very blank.  So, last month, I used my Presidents Day Weekend Sale coupons and bought a 4' x 5' canvas to hang on that wall.  And I've waited for inspiration.  I re-watched the film Pollock recently and really wanted to do a Pollock inspired painting but am afraid it would be too busy in the bathroom.

So, instead, I started a new book that my book club friends have bee saying that I would enjoy, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  They were right - I love it.  And as I'm reading about the NYC museums and the paintings and the antique collectors, I came across this passage where they are having a small glass of sherry.  And so I went out, bought a bottle of sherry, dug out all my old craft paints and just started painting any old color...just getting paint on the canvas.  I will post more photos as the painting progresses but I will tell you...the Pollock is happening.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Apples and Grapes

We have wild grapes that grow on the hill between us and our neighbors.  Along with the Buckthorn berries, the grapes get very ripe and fall onto our driveway, staining the concrete.  This year, maybe because of all the rain we got, the grapes were abundant.  So, in the one week I had between our summer road trip and the start of school, I picked as many grapes as I could reach.  I even talked to the neighbor to see if they were going to use their grapes this year.  The grapes on their side get the western sun and were even more abundant than on our side.  They said to go ahead and pick as many as I could.  Although I've never done it before, I decided to make grape jelly.  I didn't know that you really don't have to pick all the berries off the stems so I sat and picked enough grapes off stems to fill 3 full ice cream gallon buckets!  And then I put them in the fridge cause we had a few other things going on.  This past weekend, I finally made the jelly - 26 little jars of yummy goodness!

After all these jars, I still had a gallon of juice left and no desire to make more jelly.  My mom was at my house for the day, using my stove to can applesauce, so we had an afternoon snack of grape juice/7-Up, crackers and cheese.  It was good but we both agreed that something a little stronger than 7-Up might taste even better.  But we had work to do.  Our family farm has an old apple tree.  Last year, my parents paid John $.01 for every apple he picked off the ground before it snowed.  He made $8.00 - that's how many apples that tree produces!  This year, my mom picked the apples before they fell to the ground - saved herself $8.00 but bought herself a lot of work!  We ended up with 18 quarts of applesauce and 29 pints.  It is pink because she left the skins on - a little more nutritious.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

At the Flea Market THIS Saturday (7/19)

We've sold our books at two garage sales and made a little over $200; tremendous support, but still falling short of our $1,000 goal.  So, we'll be at the Excelsior Flea Market this coming Saturday, July 19, selling all the books you want to buy for yourself, for your family, as gifts...all for only $1.00!  Again, all profit will be donated to Room to Read.
If any of you visited us at a garage sale, you will now notice that we've added hundreds of children's books for all grade levels, as we had many interested teachers looking to build their classroom libraries.  Of course, we still have, and have added to, our collection of fiction and nonfiction for ALL ages.  Kate wants to assure you of our booth staff's expertise in recommending titles for anyone.
Please come and support children's literacy and right to education, and pick up some great reads while you're at it! You can visit the Excelsior Flea Market's Facebook page here, and get directions to Excelsior here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Books for Charity

During this past horribly cold Minnesota winter, Kate and I have been book shopping.  Most Saturday mornings found us with a cup of hot coffee, in a preheated car, stopping at used book shops and thrift stores to find the best deals on good books.  We bought over 600 books! Not books for us though.  Here's the scoop:
Last winter we saw the film Girl Rising - a film about 12 different girls, in 12 different countries, who were struggling for the right to an education and a better life.  It was very powerful and it left us wanting to be able to help somehow.  We researched the various organizations featured on the Girl Rising website and decided to create a fundraising campaign for the organization Room to Read.
This is what Room to Read is about: We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.
To achieve this goal, we focus on two areas where we believe we can have the greatest impact: literacy and gender equality in education.  We work in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond.
Our fundraising campaign consists of us buying good used books, in good quality for a good price and then reselling them at a slightly higher price ($1 each) and donating all profit to Room to Read.  It won't be enough to build a school but it may be enough to have a few books published in a native language (Room to Read helps set up publishers in the native countries with the additional benefit of added jobs and a boost in local economy.)

We will have a booth at the Excelsior Flea Market a few Saturdays this summer and will be sharing a garage and driveway next week (April 30-May 4) at the Maple Grove city-wide garage sales.

You can click on the following links to learn more:
Girl Rising Film Trailer
Girl Rising website
Room to Read
Our Room to Read campaign site, Wards for Words, can be found here. If you can't make it to our sales, please consider donating here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Kerlan Award for Children's Literature

The University of Minnesota Library system has an incredible special collection of children's literature called the Kerlan Collection.  When I was at school there, the collection was housed on the East Bank at Walter Library in a room which required special permission to enter.  I had a few classes taught by Karen Nelson Hoyle, who was the curator of the Kerlan collection and so we were able to meet in that collection room of the library.  It was, hands down, my favorite place on campus.  I've searched the internet for photos of the room to share with you but...weirdly...can't find any.  Walter Library is beautiful itself, with gorgeous sculpted ceiling panels, massive arching windows and deep wood paneled walls and reading tables.  But the room of the Kerlan Collection (was it called the Upson Room?  That is ringing a bell...hmmm) was like being inside of a fairytale with warm colors of soft yellows, berry reds, and mossy greens.

Every year, since 1975, a Kerlan Award is given in honor of a singular contribution to the world of Children's Literature.  In 2012, shortly after her retirement, the award was granted to Karen Nelson Hoyle, my former children's lit teacher and long time curator of the special collection.  I wanted to attend the award ceremony but, for whatever reason, was unable to do so.

Then in 2013, I read that the Kerlan was to be awarded to Kate DiCamillo.  We LOVE Kate DiCamillo and, again, I really wanted to attend the ceremony - actually see her in person!!  But, again, the timing just didn't work out and I missed it.

This year, I saw that the award was going to two authors, Russell Freedman and Linda Sue Park.  We have read several of Linda Sue Park's books and our mother/son book club even read The Kite Fighters, discussed it and had a blast making our own kites.  Kate's love of Abraham Lincoln means that we, of course, have a copy of Russell Freedman's biography of the 16th president!  And the timing worked out so...Kate and attended the Kerlan Awards on March 29th.

The collection has moved from the east bank to the west bank, into the Anderson Library which didn't even exist when I was there.  This new library has two monstrous caverns beneath it (each larger than 2 football fields, we were told).  Here's a link to pictures of the building of this library and the caverns - incredible!

There was a delicious lunch followed by various speakers and then the acceptance speeches.  As Kate and I looked at the program, we noticed that Russell Freedman was not going to be able to be there to accept his award.  It would, instead, be accepted for him by the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature - Kate DiCamillo!  Yay!  I mean, I'd love to have seen/met/heard from Russell Freedman also but it was pretty darn cool to be having lunch with the author of Mercy Watson (John's favorite) and Edward Tulane (Kate's favorite)!  She read Russell Freedman's acceptance speech and then spoke as herself also.

Linda Sue Park spoke and was so delightful.  She shared with us the various drafts of her latest book, Zander's Panda Party.  The first draft was terrible - which is why she shared it with us.  Then she donated it to the collection's archives.  She ended by reading us the final story while flipping through the pages on a large smartboard, saying how surprised she was when a STEM school teacher contacted her with praise and gratitude for having provided a STEM book.  The teacher had been searching for a book that could help in an animal classification science unit that she was starting.  This book is perfect.  The funny thing?  Linda Sue Park didn't even know what STEM was (or maybe she kinda did but wasn't being intentional in any way) so it was totally by accident. I find that influence between writer and reader so very cool.  We had John's copy of The Kite Fighter's with us and asked her to sign it for him.  We also bought a copy of Zander for a birthday party gift the following day.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Real Thing

This has long been my favorite Maxfield Parrish painting.  It is titled "The Cardinal Archbishop" and was originally an illustration for a short story in the first few years of the twentieth century.  I now have a copy of the painting, bought on ebay.  It's the illustrated page from the book - just the page.  What a shame that someone tore the page from the book to sell separately.  I'm afraid the book, the story itself, probably ended up in the garbage.  A few weeks ago, I started searching online for the story.  Our library system has one copy  (not illustrated by Parrish but...just the story) and I reserved it.  This one copy is housed in the big main library in Minneapolis so I knew it would take about a week to arrive at our local branch.  In all these years, I've never even thought to look up the story and now that I had, I felt very impatient to read it.
And then, searching a bit more, I found a digital copy - a free digital copy - that I could download and read on my phone.  Talk about instant gratification.  So I did it.  And I read it.  Then I was done. And that was that.
About a week later, I received an email telling me that the book I'd reserved was in at our local branch.  I felt guilty knowing that someone had searched the stacks in the downtown library to find this book for me, someone else had put it on the transport vehicle, someone had driven the book out to our local branch, and then yet another someone had matched it up with my library number and shelved it for me to pick up.  I had already read the story.  So, I could just let it sit there on the shelf and then when the reservation expires, the whole chain of someones would have to get the book back downtown and back into the stacks.  But no, I couldn't do that.  So I went to pick it up.  And, oh what a surprise.
This beautiful little red book was waiting for me on my shelf.  No tacky spine stickers, no ugly plastic protective book jackets.  Just this worn little book.  And then I opened the front cover:
And I checked that precious book right out of the library.  And I've renewed it twice.  Which means I can only renew it one more time.  It will be hard to return it.  I wonder how long it has sat on a shelf downtown, unread.  Or maybe it's been read a ton.  But I'm guessing probably not.  I'm rereading it - the real way this time - not on my phone (for goodness sake, what was I thinking?!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tending to the Mending

Well, it's Friday night and I'm...tending to my pile of mending.  Exciting, huh?  It does feel very good to be getting it done.  In the pile were multiple pairs of play/work jeans with holey knees, a hunting sweatshirt with ripped pockets, a pair of snowpants with a very large hole in the pocket (thought we lost the truck keys last weekend but they were at the bottom of the pant leg next to Mark's boot), and my nephew's unhemmed karate pants.  So, tonight holes were patched, pockets were sewn, and pants were hemmed.  All for the boys who, apparently, are hard on their clothes!
Over the last two weeks, I've finished two new hats - one for me and one for Mark.  Katie agreed to model them for me for photos:

Mark's was especially fun to make because I was able to use up lots of scraps.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bookstore Trip & Comic Epitaphs

While perusing Pinterest, I've learned about a town in Wales called Hay-on-Wye.  It's also known as the town of books.  It has over 300 hundred bookstores!!  Just this little town full of books!  Katie and I took a road trip recently and spent the day in a small Minnesota town, shopping for used books.  There were at least three really great book shops (I can't imagine over 300!)  The above photo is Katie in the back of a shop that just kept on going.  When it seemed like you were at the back of the store, there'd be some little doorway and then here's this whole other room full of books.
This is the front of that same bookstore.
You know how there are stories or movies where characters get locked into some fun place overnight; like a department store or a candy store or a museum?  What would be the most fun place for you to be locked in overnight?  I guess I don't have to tell you mine - you're looking at it.  Especially if I had light and caffeine.  Here are some of my fun finds of that trip:
In the book of epitaphs, I learned that Benjamin Franklin used the pseudonym Poor Richard or Richard Saunders to write Poor Richard's Almanack.  I feel like I should have known this but...I didn't.  Interesting.
The Bat-Poet is a book illustrated by Maurice Sendak - one I'd never seen before.  And the blue book is full of fun-to-read-out-loud poems - try this one - then try it fast.  It's fun...try it...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thinking About Writing Again

Maybe you don't's been awhile... but I was writing a book.  The main character in my book is named Claire.  I've been working with Claire for years but we keep hitting these spots where she starts driving me crazy.  Well, not her exactly but the whole process.  So, then I put all my files away.  But, always, things come around again, start nagging in the back of my mind.  Do you have something like that?  Something that you know you're going to do, you want to do, and you know you should just buckle down and do it already and yet you don't?  I called my writing pal a few months ago and said "I'm done.  I'm hanging up my hat".  This past weekend, though, I pulled my files out and...I'm very tempted to start in again even though I know it'll drive me (and everyone around me) crazy!
I made a coffee cake and, of course, some coffee and read through some of what I've got already.  I still like it.  The coffee cake I made was from a recipe, written on an old fashioned recipe card by a co-worker from college.  She made this cake often and brought it to work.  I've tried making it before but it just never turned out.  This time, though, it turned out perfect and was delicious!  Here's the recipe:
Irish Tea Cake
1/2 cup butter                  1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar                      1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs                              1 cup sour cream (1/2 pt)
2 cups sifted flour             1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Let butter soften.  Cream butter, sugar, eggs.  Sift dry ingredients.  Add 1/3 flour mixture to butter/egg mixture.  Then add 1/2 sour cream an ix.  Repeat.  Add last 1/3 dry mixture.  Blend in vanilla.
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
In greased & floured pan, put topping over butter.  Repeat twice.  Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Savoring Sunday Afternoon

I had double discount on my membership card at the bookstore this weekend and so bought The Bookman's Tale - one that I've been eyeing for awhile but was trying to wait for my birthday!  An this afternoon we sat in the living room, reading and having snacks.  Last time we were at the grocery store, Kate found this Door County Cherry Cheddar Cheese - I know, it sounds weird but it is VERY good!  The book is so very much what I want to be reading right now.  You know when you start reading a book and you just want to lose yourself in it?  I almost (almost) want to stop reading - to drag the experience out longer.  The story starts with a man, a bookseller, in a used bookstore.  He finds a book that he flips through and a picture, a small painting, flutters out from the pages...and there the story starts.  I love it!  And I've found treasures in books before.
These are little tiny photos that were stuck in the pages of a book I got at an auction years ago.  Another book (I can't remember if it was the same box of auction books or another) had these photos and postcard in it:
Ad the inscriptions in old books:
The inscription above is from a copy of Julius Ceasar.  The inscription below is in a book, a copy of Beau Geste,  I found in the chicken coop of my grandparents farm.  It must have been a Christmas gift to my great grandfather.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Is Summer Over?

It's almost October.  I guess, officially, summer is over.  I'm looking back through photos and...we just had such a nice summer.  Our friends, the Nash's, came all the way from Maine to visit us in August.  It's funny how we rarely do the touristy things in the town where we live.  When we have guests, we take them out to "see" Minneapolis and we discover so much of our own hometown!  This is the Stone Arch bridge which reaches over the Mississippi River.  All over Minneapolis, there are these neon green bikes that you can rent, ride and return at any other bike stand around the city.  After we walked with all the kids across the bridge and partied a little at a Polish Festival, we decided to ride these bikes back across the bridge.  It was so fun, we kept riding alongside the river before returning the bikes.

And, of course, rides at the Mall of America - so close and yet...we never go!

Mark and I spent an evening at the zoo listening to Robert Cray (opening band was Lamont Cranston).

And, finally, the the great Minnesota get-together - the State Fair.  Now, we know summer is truly over.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Blueberries for All

We went blueberry picking at the river last weekend.  I now realize that I've probably riven past thousands of blueberries in my life without even knowing it.  They were right there - just a few feet off the road and way back into the meadow/swamp.  I couldn't see them from the road but as we walked in, they were everywhere!

I had many recipes in mind as we brought our buckets home; blueberry cream cheese crumbly coffee cake, moist bluberry muffins, a blueberry ice cream swirl cake with graham cracker crust...But these little berries were such a perfect combination of sweet and tart, we ate them all, straight up, right out of the bucket.  Remember the childrens' book, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey?  We read it many, many times when the kids were little.  As I crouched down, reaching for more berries, hearing them kerplunk into my bucket, I couldn't help remembering the small bear we saw in the driveway on the river last fall and that little bear in the story - the one who kept eating berries out of the mother's bucket in the story.  We saw no bears though and came home with lots of berries.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Just Floating Along

Baseball is over.  Music lessons are on hiatus.  I refuse to print school supply lists or even think about school shopping and sports physicals.  It is summer and we're at that beautiful point of just floating along.  Things will pick up soon, I know that.  But I don't have to worry about it now.  Right now, I'm loving my time spent with my favorite people.  Spent last weekend on the lake again.
 The loons were teaching their babies how to dive.  They're diving and swimming under water yet but they are diving and staying under for a little while.  We had the radio on in the boat and Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World came on.  John asked, "Is this Yoda singing?"  He was kidding but still...pretty funny!
Back at the cabin we played Mexican Dominoe Train (where does that name come from?!) and then just laying in the grass looking at the sky.  Again, ahhhh...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Asparagus Recipe

I love asparagus.  So I don't really need to find new ways to make it.  But every recipe looks so good!  Last week, we drizzled some olive oil, salt and pepper on asparagus and cherry tomatoes and then grilled them - yummmm!
A while back John spent the evening at a friend's house, had supper there, and raved about the meal for days; asparagus wrapped in ham with a light cheesy sauce.  I asked my friend (John's friend's mom) how to make them and she told me know me...I forgot.  So, when I was on Pinterest the other day, I found this delicious looking asparagus, wrapped in ham with cheese sprinkling out from the sides.  I pinned it.  But when I clicked through to the website and recipe, I found this:

około 150 g mrożonego gotowego ciasta francuskiego (najlepsze jeśli jest zrobione na maśle) lub własne z tego uproszczonego przepisu
pęczek (500 g) zielonych szparagów, 12 sztuk
szynka, cienko pokrojona (np. gotowana, suszona parmeńska lub serrano, użyłam szynki paczkowanej gotowanej - prosciutto cotto)
tarty ser (parmezan, grana padano, cheddar, użyłam gruyere)

I didn't even know what language that was!  I copied and pasted it into Google Translate, hit "detect language" and "to English" and viola! I (sorta) had a recipe.  The language was Polish and it wasn't a great translation but it was enough to work from.  The wraps were delicious.  I think I'll include 3 spears of asparagus (instead of 2) next time.  John tried them and agreed they were good but...not as good as the others!  I'll ask again for that original recipe.  Here's how I made these, in English:

1 pkg. (17.3 oz) puff pastry sheets
24 spears asparagus (36 if you want to put 3 in each)
24 pieces thinly sliced ham (I used Hillshire Farms prepackaged smoked ham)
grated parmesan cheese
egg yolk and 1 tsp milk
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Thaw puff pastry according to package.  Rinse asparagus, snap off woody ends and discard.  Place asparagus in a plate and season with olive, salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.
Unfold puff pastry sheet and cut each sheet into six rectangles, place on baking tray. 
Cover with one slice of ham, sprinkle with grated cheese. Repeat.  Place asparagus spears in center of ham slice.
Wrap both pieces of ham around the asparagus.  Then wrap the puff pastry up around the ham/asparagus bundle, pressing together at seam.
Brush tops of bundles with egg yolk and milk mixture.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golde brown.
Makes 12 bundles.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mid Summer Check-In

Summer was a little late in arriving, here in the Northern State.  But,'s here now.  And we're savoring the long days - never mind that they're getting shorter each day and the school supply lists were just published, we're not paying any attention to that.  We're soaking in the warmth of the sun and living outdoors.  Fourth of July weekend was spent at Mom and Dad's lake cabin with all the grandkids (except one, ahem...).  The mess of all those kids was beautiful - life jackets, flip-flops, beach towels, bottles of sunscreen and bug spray, foam footballs and butterfly nets, dog bowls and tackle boxes.  Katie learned a new game while out with a friend and she taught it to us.  We played many rounds of "Ricky-Ticky-Bear", with even my youngest nephew joining in and almost keeping up.
Every fourth of July, the grandkids put on a holiday pageant.  They arrange lawn chairs in rows in front of the deck for us, the audience.  Then they perform; they sing songs, perform skits, tell jokes, and end with a dance-off.  As each cousin gets older, they seem to gravitate from center stage to side stage.  My oldest neice was the "applause" sign holder this year.  There's something for everyone in this show!
Yesterday we explored the Dakota Rail Trail, a thirteen mile paved bike path near our house.  Mark is a mountain biker and he loves off-roading.  But this - nearly-zero-elevation paved path winding around the lake and through wooded sanctuaries - this is my kind of biking.  After all that biking, however, we returned home feeling guilty that Rocco hadn't been able to Mark and I walked him around one of our city lakes, Calhoun, stopped at the pavillion for a glass of wine and a beer as the sun set and called it a good day.