Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A house and a rash

We took a family drive on Sunday along the Mississippi to visit little river towns and Laura Ingalls Wilder's birth site. This log cabin was built on land previously owned by Charles and Caroline Ingalls. The site is very low key, it is just along the road and marked with a sign describing the site.

We made a few other stops, including one at Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota. They have a beautiful, new, hand carved carousel. The animals are gorgeous and all are so different and unique. This photo does not do it justice.

Lark toys is full of all sorts of toys to purchase as well as vintage ones to look at. It was quite a trip down memory lane. There was even a children's bookshop. The books there were not shelved in the ordinary way but were all arranged facing out. This definitely decreased the number of different books they had, but increased their appeal immensely. I think I am always more likely to pick up a children's book (well, really any book!) if the cover art appeals to me.

Sunday afternoon we brought dinner over to some friends who had just moved. I made Ina Garten's Lemon Grilled Chicken and Szechwan Noodle Salad both from The Barefoot Contessa, a little salad of arugula, and chocolate chip cookies. They were so glad to have a home cooked meal and we proceeded to eat along with their one year old boy. I asked our friends if their son had eaten peanuts before as there is peanut butter in the noodle sauce and they said he had. Not long after, we noticed he had a rash all over his chest, chin and hands where he had handled the noodles and wiped the sauce on himself. The rash turned into white welts, literally within seconds. It was so frightening, and I felt horrible! His parents immediately put him into the tub and we gave him some Benadryl and within about 1/2 hour the welts were completely gone and the red rash was mostly gone too. What a relief! I know peanut allergies are very serious but I had never seen one in person, or a rash develop so quickly.

My in-laws are coming today for a few days and the computer is in the room where they will be staying. I am sure you see where I am going with this. I will be back later this week, most certainly with a review of The Shuttle which I am nearly finished with. I just cannot wait to find out how it all ends.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Long Weekend Ahead

This will be a long weekend for us, with Monday off (even for me!) to honor Memorial Day. I hope to get some reading done, I am currently 1/3 of the way through The Shuttle and have begun Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature. I am enjoying both very much.

My daughter has expressed interest in two things that I love this week - embroidery and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I found her yesterday with a hair pin and a scarf and she told me she was knitting, like me. Well, I do not know how to knit, and I told her so, and she told me then that she was sewing. She told me she wanted to try 'my kind of sewing' and instead of putting her off as busy mothers sometimes do, I took her right upstairs and set her up with a needle and floss, and some fabric in a hoop. She really enjoyed making her little free form design and was thrilled to show Daddy last evening.

The day before, I had peeked in on her to find her in her child-sized reading chair looking for the illustrations in my new Laura Ingalls Wilder Full-Color Collector's Editions. She then proceeded to show me her favorite picture and the scariest one. These editions are so beautifully produced and bookcloseouts has a few of them at a low price. My old yellow boxed set, dogeared as they are, remain in my heart and in the closet for safekeeping. These new ones will go on the shelf.

This brings me to a little driving day trip we'll be taking this weekend to Pepin, Wisconsin, Wilder's birth place. We'll be making a few stops along the way, ending up in Pepin to visit the reconstructed log cabin and museum which houses a few family items.

This is not our first time to visit Wilder sites. My husband and I took a driving trip (alone!) 2 years ago to visit the site of the Ingalls dugout on Plum creek in southern Minnesota and on to De Smet, South Dakota. You can visit in De Smet: the house in which the Ingalls family lived described in By the Shores of Silver Lake, the house Pa built in town, The Loftus Store described in The Long Winter, and the Ingalls Homestead. We actually stayed in a bed and breakfast located in Banker Ruth's home who is mentioned in the books. The photograph above is the reconstructed home of the Ingalls on the site of the homestead. The house has been built according to records as to its location and dimensions. I hope someday to visit Laura and Almanzo's farm in Missouri.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Death at La Fenice

I've just finished Donna Leon's book Death at La Fenice. I just keep coming across this title all over the blogs I've been reading. I really enjoyed it - I liked her writing style in particular. I loved the setting in Venice, I've never been there but I enjoyed reading about this city. This is not the type of book I generally read; I am not a big murder/mystery/suspense reader. My husband actually asked me if I was reading it for my bookclub since I pick up books like this one so infrequently.

I think this is just not my favorite genre. As much as I enjoyed the book , the parts that kept me going were all the peripheral things - the relationship between the central character and his wife, the descriptions of food and of Venice, life in Italy. The central murder story just didn't interest me that much. I found it interesting how languid the search for the murderer felt. I don't mean lazy - just that the sense of urgency that I feel when watching programs or reading murder mysteries set in the United States wasn't present. I attributed this to the Italian setting and way of life, in the way the character proceeded with his investigation, in the way he interviewed people - it just wasn't aggressive - in a good way.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the picture of everyday life in Venice it gave and the different culural approach to solving a crime. I don't know if I'll read more of these books in the future - there is a series - but I suspect I might given the right circumstances.

Monday, May 21, 2007

This and That

Our peonies are blooming!

Aren't they beautiful?

I have had a very busy few days here. I am not really the sort of person who likes to go from one thing to the next without any sort of break, I think it's the introvert in me that likes to have unplanned hours of time in the day. In any case, I've had so much going on that I had things scheduled (work included) from Thursday evening all the way to Sunday at midnight. In addition to all that, I really just started feeling better yesterday from that nasty virus I had. So, I am starting the week fresh, and very glad that the past few days are over.

I was reading the Book of the Month club catalog that came in the mail last week and came across a book that sounded interesting to me, Custodian of Paradise by Wayne Johnston. I was looking at the photograph of this novel and thinking, 'Goodness that looks so familiar!'

So, I went upstairs to find this book, The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman which I recently received from bookcloseouts.

The photographs are exactly the same, only the coloring is different. Well. I am really feeling for Wayne Johnston. Does he know another book has the same cover as his newly published one, which I am sure he has worked very long and hard on? I doubt it. To be fair, I am pretty certain The Accomplice has not been published in the US, my copy is published in the UK, however fairly recently - 2003. But what cover will be used to sell Johnston's book in other countries? I am now really curious about the process of choosing a book cover. I find it hard to believe that whoever decided on this cover for Johnston's book knew it was just used in 2003 for another title.

I had found another example of this recently and have even written about it here - I was not however savvy enough to illustrate my point.

I received The Matriarch from a book swap and when it arrived in the mail, again it looked so familiar. I looked through all my Virago's and found that Hunt the Slipper has the same cover. I'm not sure why these 2 covers bother me less than the ones above - perhaps because these Virago editions are reprints and not first editions? In any case, they were both published in the US, in 1984 and 1987 and I find it hard to imagine that Virago did not realize this. Perhaps they just hoped no one would notice.

In other 'news', I was reminding my husband to tape a program for me on television while I was at work, when I noticed in the newspaper The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton would be shown on Masterpiece Theater last night. Fortunately, I think he was able to make a copy of it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to operate the television he used, so I will have to wait for his assistance. In my defense, it is a rather new set and there are 4 remotes involved.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Contrast Between Old(er) and New

I've recently finished a couple of books.

Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann is described as a "coming of age" story. Lehmann wrote Dusty Answer when she was in her 20s and it shows - the book is full of the longing, passion, and immediacy of youth; the self-consciousness that one has before really having a sense of one's self. Judith, our heroine, grows up fairly isolated, never attending school or playing with other children except for the five cousins that visit their Grandmother next door. The book is very much about her relationships with all of them as well as a particularly intimate and intense relationship with a female friend at college. The book was considered racy for its time, and quite sexual. I can see that having been the case. Lehmann is just so spot on when she describes this young, inexperienced woman who makes poor choices that even though you as the reader want her to stop behaving in some way, you understand why she continues to do so. I wonder what my reaction would have been to read this book years ago. Being a more mature reader many of the character's emotions and priorities are so far in the past. I enjoyed this very much and would recommend it.

The second book I've finished recently is Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer. This book is a perfect example of why I find modern fiction, perhaps women's modern fiction primarily, so very, well, blah. I went straight from Dusty Answer to this, and this book just felt crass. Lots of expressions and descriptions of things that I guess are meant to reflect the 'modern woman' but don't really reflect me. I'm not sure why I read this, I found it as an ARC at Halfprice Books and picked it up. It's the story of a woman, Elayna, with a 6 year old daughter, a son that died shortly after birth 3 years prior, and a hardworking and rarely home husband who is a lawyer in NYC. Guess what happens next - infidelity, of course. There is a very disturbing and uncomfortable part of the storyline involving her daughter. The Mother in the story makes such poor decisions both for herself and on behalf of her daughter it was frankly disturbing. Elayna's friends, relatives, day care provider, even her child were very unlikable characters. The only one that seemed 'real' at all was her husband. In addition to all this, I felt the book was poorly edited. The author gives details almost to her own detriment. She describes walking to an event, then driving home in the car. She identifies specific days of the week that something happens and it just doesn't make sense. I haven't read any other reviews of this but I'd be interested to see what other thought about this book.

I really want to start the Beatrix Potter biography while it's on my mind - it should be arriving any day now. I started Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Shuttle last night. It is delicious so far.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

8 Things About Me

Well, this is a first! I've been tagged by Matt over at A Variety of Words for the "8 Things" meme.

The rules -

1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here goes:

1. I have never colored my hair. I will when it starts becoming gray.

2. I keep moving westward; born in New Jersey, then to Pennsylvania, Ohio, College in Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, now in Minnesota. I've said that if I move west again, I'll skip the middle and go straight for the coast.

3. I am the eldest of 3 sisters. We all fit the stereotypical mold of eldest child, middle child, youngest child.

4. I'm very uncoordinated. In kindergarten I received one "U" or Unsatisfactory in bouncing a ball.

5. I am a pharmacist. I hate it when people find this out and proceed to tell me their list of medications and ask "Is that a good pill?".

6. I was in a sorority in college. I do not really fit the sorority mold at all, being an introvent. I'm still not sure how I wound up there.

7. My parents started talking about getting a divorce when I was in elementary school. It didn't happen until I was in college. That's a long time to live with 2 unhappily married people.

8. I drink Twinings Lady Grey tea every morning, regardless of the temperature outside.

I am supposed to now tag 8 other bloggers for this meme. I've had a hard time coming up with people who 1. I've 'met' in blogland, 2. have not already been tagged, 3. seem like they might be interested in this. I will tag:

Nan over at Letters from a Hill Farm

Lesley over at A Life in Books

Jill over at My Individual Take

Nutmeg over at Another Nutter

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stacks of books

Lots of books have made their way into my home lately. The first stack, and my favorite, is my Mother's Day gift from my husband. I gave him a shortlist of Persephone titles that I wanted and asked him to choose 3 and have them shipped to me. We did this for my Christmas present as well. These beautiful grey books arrived last week and I am thrilled to add them to my collection.

This second stack comes from bookmooch, paperback swap, and 2 titles are from a used book store. I was most happy to find the 2 Rosamond Lehmann titles. I have 'met' so many wonderful people from blogging, but also from bookmooch and paperbackswap. It's so amazing to receive a book from someone and then have a dialogue with them about where life has taken them.

Free books anyone? Have you heard of mypoints? A friend suggested I sign up with them - it's a way to earn points and then you can use your points to 'buy' gift certificates. How do you get points? Well, they send you multiple emails daily usually advertising something and if you do the 'click thru' you get 5 points. The quicker way to get points is by shopping online and going through mypoints to get to the retailer. I personally do a lot of online clothing shopping and have earned many points this way. Another way is to join, or rejoin one of the online book clubs such as zooba or book of the month club - I earned 1500 points from joining zooba.

The books you see here arrived from overstock.com. I had 2 $25 gift certificates compliments of mypoints and my portion of the bill for these was $9 and some change. One of my other friends tried mypoints and was annoyed by all the emails; it's not for everyone, but it works for me.

I would like to go on about all these titles but to tell you the truth, I'm not feeling well. I think I picked up a virus from my daughter ( that she has in addition to the strep) and as I've been typing I've been feeling more and more out of sorts. I think I'll go lie down.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Only 2,704 books??

I received a brochure in the mail from the University of Minnesota listing some adult single day summer classes. I was browsing through it and noticed a class entitled "You Have to Read This!". The description reads "If a person read an average of one book per week from the age of 21 through 73, the total would be 2,704 titles." Well, I'd never thought of it that way before and am a bit stunned at this low number. I do average more than 52 titles per year, and while that number goes up every year, I don't know that I'll ever get to, say, 100 titles a year. I think about all the books I already own and want to read, the books I do not yet own but desire, and all the books that will be published in the future that I'll want to read, and am saddened by the fact that I'll never get to them all.

The description of the class goes on to say "Take a day to enrich your reading list and make sure every book you read counts." So for me, I want that to be the take-home message. There is not enough time in life to read books one is not enjoying or gaining knowledge or insight from.

Make sure every book you read counts. I'll try to do that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Two Films in One Week!

Somehow, I've had the fortune to watch 2 films this week.

The first was Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson. I thought I would like this film, being about an author, and it turns out I really enjoyed it. Will Ferrell is not the sort of actor I imagine in a dramatic role, but he was perfectly cast as an ordinary quirky man who finds himself in an extraordinary situation. The part of the movie that I loved was when you saw the reaction the characters had to the book being written by Thompson's character once they read it. They were moved by it to such an extent that it really showed the power of the written word, the power of books. I can certainly relate to that.

The second movie I saw was Miss Potter with Renee Zellweger. I enjoyed this as well, particularly the beautiful locations and scenery. I'm still not sure how I feel about the drawings coming to life as it felt a bit precious. I am now intrigued by how much of the movie was an accurate portrayal of Potter's life. The recent biography Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear is presently in my amazon shopping cart. Everything always leads to books, does it not?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Julia Child by Laura Shapiro

Did you know that Julia Child had plastic surgery? Multiple times? I didn't, and I thought that was going to be the only new information I learned from this book which is part of the Penguin Lives series. These books are short, less than 200 pages and I wondered how much one could learn about someone in such a short book. I've read My Life in France which was written by Child and her nephew and it was a wonderful memoir but I wanted to read something more objective.

The book covers Julia's early life, her relationship with Paul Child, the BOOK, the television shows, and finally the aftermath. The final 2 chapters made the book worthwhile. Julia's prejudice against homosexuals is described at length. It turns out Julia was a supporter of MSG, canned food when prepared correctly, and the various government food boards and councils which support industrial farming. She was opposed to the organic, local, sustainable food movement, calling it's advocates 'cultists'. I find this all so fascinating, coming from a woman who lived to cook and eat. Apparently she believed simple preparations were boring, and ingredients, irregardless of quality, could taste wonderful when prepared well.

All in all, I found this a quick read, and ultimately enlightening about Julia's views.

I will include this as my first entry in the Non-fiction Five Challenge.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Nineteen Minutes

I have gone to hear Jodi Picoult speak twice. She is a lovely woman, very generous, and I can just imagine her as a neighbor that I would chat with outside or have over for dinner. She loves talking to her fans, answering their questions, and is very grateful for their support. She falls into the popular fiction category more than the literary fiction category, though I know her biggest fans would argue with that. She seems to have a formula that she is comfortable with, it often includes teenagers, often a court scene, and pretty much always a twist at the very end. I have read many of Picoult's books. Some I have liked and some have just been so-so. I keep reading her, though, and I think it's because I just like HER so much.

I finished her most recent offering, Nineteen Minutes, a few days ago. It is about a school shooting, the events leading up to it and the aftermath. The difference in her story is that the shooter survives the event and goes to jail. She presents him in a very sympathetic light. There is the usual twist at the end, but I thought it a bit too abrupt and wish she'd spent more time on it. Overall, I liked the book and thought it one of her better ones.

This phenomenon of school shootings in the United States is quite horrifying on many different levels. The fact that this is not generally occurring in other countries should be some sort of huge red flag to our government that something needs to change. What are we doing differently that is leading to this? Guns, of course, are a big factor. Also, I believe it is our education system. Perhaps it should be more rigorous and intense so that students don't have so much time to spend on their social lives. I think this topic was of interest to Picoult because she looks for controversial topics but I think primarily because she is the mother of teenagers and was driven to research and understand how and why these shootings happen.

Life around here lately has brought one sick child - strep throat, and one very tired Mommy. In the last 2 1/2 months my daughter has had strep twice, conjunctivitis and an ear infection. I do hope this cycle ends.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The weekend is almost over.

I always feel a bit of a letdown, getting ready for Monday. I work most Mondays at my job, as well as Tuesdays and a weekend rotation. I'm off with my daughter the rest of the week, but Sunday evening always brings with it a bit of melancholy. Thus, I will take this opportunity to reminisce about my weekend.

I've decided to pay the fee to librarything and catalog my books there. I spent some time on that this weekend, borrowing my husband's laptop to move around the house finding the various stashes of books. I am by no means finished. My main 'working' bookcase, where many of my favorites and newer books reside will be moving soon, so I've waited to list those. There are also many books in the basement I'll have to find. I've taken the word library quite literally and feel I want the list to be MY library, not my daughter's or husband's as these books do not necessarily reflect my tastes. I've noticed that some members on librarything have listed anything they've read, whether or not they own it or borrowed it from the library. I'm not sure if this is common practice or not. It seems to me a list of 'books read' is quite different than a list of 'books owned'. So I will have to figure that out.

Yesterday we had a mini Cinco de Mayo celebration, something quite popular in the United States. It was really just an excuse to make margaritas and eat Mexican food, which we enjoy. I made the season's first fresh salsa and guacamole for only the second time. My husband generally proclaims not to like guacamole which is why I've never made it more often. I feel that having tasted quite a bit of that green dip over the years, I know what I like, and have to say my creation was very, very good. I insisted that the others try it, and it was deemed a success by all and I think I have two converts. The best guacamole I've ever had was at the Frontera Grill in Chicago. I felt very strongly that there were sun dried tomatoes in it, perhaps they were roasted, but in any case the flavor of them was quite intense. I added them to my dish and think it made all the difference.

And off we go to Monday. I hope your transition is painless.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Lovely discovery

Thanks again to bookgirl for leading me to my favorite recent discovery, bookcloseouts.com. I was able to find a few books there I've been wanting for some time which for the most part were unavailable in the US. Here's what I received:

The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater - I love, love, love this book. I borrowed it from the library last December based on a recommendation from Bon Appetit magazine ( yes, I'm a magazine addict as well) and I thought I would just skim over it and take it back. I started reading it and wound up reading it cover to cover, mostly at my in laws house when I was there for Christmas. It reads like the best novel, and I just want to move in with Mr Slater and eat everything he's serving. Well, I knew then that I had to OWN this, but was waiting to find a deal on it, which I finally did.

Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis - I read her book On Rue Tatin some years ago and really enjoyed it. I browse Amazon UK quite a bit and became aware that she had written a sequel, which for some unknown reason was never published here in the US so was thrilled to find this.

Missing and Revenge by Mary Stanley - I came across her book Retreat some years ago in a used book store and again, enjoyed it quite a bit. She has not been published in the US, so, although I knew she'd written other things since then, there was not an easy way to add them to my library. I was thrilled to find these.

Sixty Lights by Gail Jones - I've read a couple reviews of this out in blogland, and a particularly good one over at Reading Matters. I've had my eye out for this ever since.

The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman - I don't know much about this except it kept coming up as similar to the others and looks interesting. It is about a shipwreck off the coast of Australia and the survivors.

The company's headquarters are in Canada, and they cross the border to ship to US addresses via Media Mail which makes for fairly inexpensive shipping. Their stock must be coming to them from all over, as 3 of the books I received are Australian editions. Most of their novels are between $3.99 and $5.99 so the prices are a steal as far as I'm concerned. I highly recommend them!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A book and a film

I have finished Jane Harris' The Observations and enjoyed it very much. It is reminiscent of those other Victorian 'bad girl' novels such as Slammerkin, The Crimson Petal and The White, and Fingersmith, though I would say not in the same category of accomplishment. It is a bit of a romp, our narrator Bessy is quite funny, and the story contains a bit of mystery, a ghost, and a lunatic in an asylum. I don't think this book takes itself too seriously, which is why I think it works. All in all, a fun, entertaining read. For me it fit the bill for a long weekend at work with short bursts of reading in between.

I have finally gotten around to watching The Queen. I thought it an absolutely wonderful film and Helen Mirren was magnificent. I thought it was interesting how the tone of the movie changed, at least in my opinion, from being quite negative towards the Queen in the beginning and more gentle towards the end, coinciding with Tony Blair's appreciation and understanding of her.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Embroidered pillowcase #1

This is a pillowcase I gave my nephew for Christmas. I'm really pleased with how it turned out; I like the combination of the red and light blue especially. Patterns by Jenny Hart. I'm thinking of doing some pillowcases for my bed soon, but cannot decide on the colors.