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 remember...it'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.
Topping--
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 but...you 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:

Ingredients:
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
Preparation:
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, ahhhh...it'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 go...so 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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Living Room Change-Up

Here is our new "lighter" wall color and new couch covers.  There's white base trim but "we" haven't completed the door trim yet.  The crown molding is stained wood and I think we should leave it that way.  I really like the combination of stained wood with painted white woodwork - it's just trying to find the right balance that says, "it just kinda fell into place" vs. "we're still working on it".
We used to have framed photos over the couch that I got tired of.  So, I've been working on these canvases - trying for a cleaner, sparser look.  The canvases, themselves (photos from at the river), are beautiful.

But a little too sparse.  So, today, I took them down and put the Molokai, Hawaii Photos back up and I love them again - they look right.
I used the rest of the thrift store denim to make a few couch pillows.  I sewed the seams wrong-side out so that, after a couple washings, they'll fray.  I'm happy with the way they turned out.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vegemite and Meal Planning


So many things to say...where to start?  Okay, well, I have been planning, for years, to start a meal planning habit, with week long charts filled in with what we're going to eat (and make) each day, with grocery lists an recipes and...just has never happened.  It feels so overwhelming and, I know, I know, it really isn't.  And, in the end, it will be so much easier, so less stressful, so less expensive, so much more healthy.  But still.  Never happened. 

And so, everyday about 4:00, I stand in front of the fridge and/or the pantry and wait for an idea (an easy idea) to reach out and punch me in the nose.  Also...never happens.

And now I started back to work, outside our home, fulltime, and...I NEED a plan!  I've reached out to a few friends and have started collecting their weekly menus.  And I've started listing what we have every night.  I'm going to try to pull together all this valuable information and see if I can't come up with a system that works, for me, at least.  And I will share.  Soon.

But yesterday, as I should have been grocery shopping, I was hunting down a jar of Vegemite.  We have a Mom's Book Club meeting this coming week.  We read What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, which is a story taking place in Australia.  We always have dinner at our meetings and the dinners have started to tend towards some type of theme - the last couple were in relation to a location in the book.  So, this week, we're trying Australian dishes.  Remember that Men at Work song, Down Under?

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

I'm bringing, to the book meeting, Vegemite sandwiches.  They sound quite disgusting but I'm so curious to try one!  Here's the description on the Vegemite site (I can't paraphrase better than this):

Vegemite is considered as much a part of Australia's heritage as kangaroos and the Holden cars. It is actually an Australian obsession that has become a unique and loved symbol of the Australian nation.  A Vegemite sandwich to an Australian kid is the equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an American kid - but the taste is QUITE different!
Vegemite is one of several yeast extract spreads sold in Australia. It is made from leftover brewers' yeast extract (a by-product of beer manufacture) and various vegetable and spice additives. It is very dark reddish-brown, almost black, in color, and one of the richest sources known of Vitamin B. It's thick like peanut butter, it's very salty, and it tastes like - well let's just say that it is an acquired taste!
Australian children are brought up on Vegemite from the time they're babies. It is said that Australians are known to travel all over the world with at least one small jar of Vegemite in their luggage, for fear that they will not be able to find it.

Yum, huh?!  I saw the Chocoshrooms in the next aisle and had to grab them also -had to even snap the photo when I got in the car 'cause I opened the box right away to eat them - truly nummy!  So much for grocery shopping.  Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Baseball and a Loss

Have I mentioned how much I love going to a baseball game?  When I know there's a game, I look forward to it all day.  I don't watch baseball on TV.  I've nothing against it and I might like it...I just don't.  Most of what I watch is Little League, mostly, of course, John's team.  While waiting for John's practice to wrap up the other night, however, I found myself drawn into some other team's game, cheering them on.  It's such a great game!  John plays a good second base, or shortstop.  He's a good pitcher.  But he really likes playing outfield.  He is always moving, running in to back up bases, dancing right and left to cover the gaps in that expansion grassy outfield.  He stops the ball and gets it into the infield. 
I remember always preferring outfield when I played softball, very briefly, in my childhood.  But I liked it for very different reasons than John does; reasons that remain true today.  I like to see everything coming at me.  I like to be distanced enough to see it coming.  I need time to react, even if it's only a fraction of a second longer.  I'm a planner and I like to be able to see the whole picture.  Having only the baseline on either side of me gets me a little jumpy.  Being in the center of the diamond would freak me out.  And being behind the home plate, fenced in by the towering ump and knowing that everything is coming at you fast with every single pitch - I can't even imagine.
Here's John flying to first base. 
Oh, I love watching this game!
Changing gears...Mark texted me this morning with some sad news of a MN loss.  Vince Flynn, a Minnesota writer died today, of prostate cancer, at age 47.  My youngest brother introduced the Vince Flynn collection to Mark just this past winter and Mark has totally enjoyed the titles he's read.