Sunday, July 29, 2007

See you soon!

We're going away for a few days. 'See you' when we get back!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A New Home!!

For my books, of course!

These have been on order since March and were supposed to take 12-16 weeks. Today is the end of 19 weeks, and I've been thinking about how I wanted to arrange things since March.

For the first time, I'm feeling like I have too many books. I lugged everything downstairs, there were piles everywhere and I'm already feeling like these shelves are too small. The truth is I don't have room for anything bigger than this in the living room. There is definitely going to be more rearranging. I had no idea how many nonfiction books I have - at least as many as fiction.

I have so many books I bought years ago, in some cases I'm not even sure why I did or if I'll ever get to them. I find it so hard to cull, though. If you click on these photos you can get a better peek at what is on the shelves.

I really wanted to get my cookbook collection out of the cabinet I had it in. I don't have room in the kitchen for all these and wanted to see them. Here is the better part of my collection.

More photos to come, as I get things arranged the way I want. There is also the Virago collection which is now housed by itself.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Keeping the World Away

Keeping the World Away, by Margaret Forster, is a book about a painting and the women whose lives it touches. I really enjoyed reading this novel. It is beautifully written, detailed yet spare at the same time. I am not a particular fan of short stories and this book is told from multiple points of view which sometimes presents a difficulty to me. I prefer to become absorbed in one story, and often books written in this manner feel 'choppy' to me; I find it stressful to keep having to 'begin again' with new characters every so often. Forster cleverly ties each woman's story together, which results in a very cohesive tale. Each woman in the novel has a rich inner life and enjoys her solitude which is not regarded as loneliness. I could really relate to this, being an introvert myself. A short passage from the book:

She had begun to see the point of there being no overt human presence in that room-people were disturbances. It was only possible to be tranquil if there were no people around.

I found myself thinking a lot about the cover of this book. The photograph above is the American edition, I do like it and feel it relates well to the content of the book. However, I wondered why the painting being written about was not on the cover.

This book reminded me quite a bit of Susan Vreeland's novel Girl in Hyacinth Blue. This is also a story of a painting, albeit imaginary, and the people whose lives it comes into.

I have a zucchini problem.

I planted the least amount of plants ever in my tiny vegetable garden and have had the most bounty ever. I'm not sure if it's a result of the unseasonably hot weather or the fact that things are less crowded.

Does anyone have any good zucchini recipes? Have you had any luck freezing it? There are many more to come.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Buy a Friend a Book Prize

I received a carefully wrapped package in the mail from Edinburgh.

I was the lucky winner of Karen's BAFAB drawing.

In this perceptive but unpretentious autobiography Christian Miller recalls her privileged but at the same time deprived upper-class childhood in a castle in Scotland.

Through the eyes and ears of a 1920s child who seems to have seen and heard everything within the massive granite walls of her home, she gives us a unique insight into what must surely have been one of the last relics of feudal life.

It looks like a wonderful read Karen, thank you so much!

Monday, July 23, 2007


*** This is a spoiler free post. Beware of comments.***

I awoke Saturday morning at just the right time, ate breakfast,showered and walked over to Barnes and Noble. I arrived before the store opened and stood in line with about 100 people waiting for the store to open. My husband said I might "actually be nuts." I told him gleefully that 90% of the people in line were adults, all with a smirk on their face, which to me meant "yes I am here standing in a line at 9:00 Saturday morning to buy a book, a children's book." It was really fantastic to see.

I did work 8 hours on both Saturday and Sunday but managed to finished last night around 10:30. I was able to avoid any spoilers, did not look at the newspaper or any news websites or television shows and I'm so glad. I'll admit I was tempted to peek on Saturday evening since I knew I wouldn't get to the end until the next night, but one of my co-workers whose son is a huge fan talked me out of it.

I enjoyed the book very much, it is action packed and very different from the previous ones. I always have a hard time getting into the rhythm of these books; not sure if it's the writing or me. There is always some turning point though, usually around halfway through, and I speed to the ending. Harry is a hero for the ages, courageous, selfless, clever, and bold.

I know people are talking about the 'end'; I am not sure if they mean the last 8 or so pages by that, but for me the end was the last 75-100 pages. I found myself reading passages over and over, saying the words to myself in a whisper to take it all in. It was intense and magnificent the way Rowling brought this all to a close. Her brilliance, I think, is in the story and world she conceived. I remember when I read the first 3 books and thinking about the parallels of Voldemort and his followers and their beliefs to Hitler and the Holocaust. The ways of classifying people are so very similar. I believed then that she had a greater message.

I was happy to have so many questions answered about all the different characters. I do have one question that is nagging me though, one I thought would have been answered but was not. It is not integral to the story but the idea of it had been suggested in the past which is why I thought Rowling would have mentioned it in passing in the last few pages. I'm not sure if I should mention it in the comments or wait a few days; I'll wait for now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I am ready.

I am ready for Book 7.

I have seen the new movie. I found it positively entertaining and I loved it. It is rare that I go to adult movies, even more rare that it would be an 'action' movie, but I just love these. I could watch it all afternoon.

I have re-read Book 6, I finished this afternoon. I thought it got off to a slow start but picked up once Harry and Dumbledore began their travels into the past.

I will pick up my reserved copy of the book Saturday morning but unfortunately I have to WORK all weekend and the first long stretch of time I have to read will be Sunday evening. I hope to finish it then. I really would like to get the end on my own, without any 'spoilers'.

I have also been reading Margaret Forster's Keeping the World Away. I have been enjoying it, but put it aside to read Book 6 and plan to resume reading it tonight. I have also been working on putting more of my books into Librarything. I have a helper that likes to carry the books to the computer, then stack and count them. The reason I am just entering this batch is that things are going to be rearranged here soon. I absolutely cannot wait - something has been on order since March.

I am looking forward to reading everyone's thought on the book next week - have a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Better World Books, part 2

I wrote a little bit about Better World Books a few weeks ago. They sell used and discarded books to raise money for literacy programs around the world. I ordered some books from them and thought I would share them.

All the books I ordered are Virago Modern Classics. This stack contains the Dial Press Editions.

This stack has those lovely green covers. Two of the books I received are old library editions. I felt sad to see that they have 'DISCARD' stamped on the inside. The rest do not look like they have ever been read. The cost for all of these was $30, and there is no shipping for US orders.

These are my favorite covers of the bunch. I particularly love the painting of the Bronte sisters on May Sinclair's The Three Sisters. The introduction states "The Parallel with the Brontes' situation and setting is both striking and deliberate."

I think The Brimming Cup will be an interesting book for me to read in the near future although I am sure my situation will not be quite so bleak.. The back cover reads in part "One day in 1920 Marise watches her youngest child depart for his first day at school and feels redundant. Absorbed in her role as wife and mother she has not been aware of the slow ebbing of her spirit...."

My only complaint with Better World Books is that they put stickers on the spine which do not come off easily. You can see in the photographs some places where the covers tore. But do not let that stop you - there are loads of books to be had for great prices and you can help someone in the process.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I love this image. It is printed in Barbara Kingsolver's latest book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (AVM)with the words "Picture a single imaginary plant, bearing throughout one season all the different vegetables we harvest...we'll call it a vegetannual."

I enjoyed reading this book. Many people know what it is all about by now - Barbara Kingsolver, well known novelist, along with her family, move from Tucson, Arizona to Virginia to pursue their quest to eat locally for one year. They planned this for a few years so were well prepared when the time came to begin. The book details their personal journey along with more serious information about our food supply. The more scientific sidebars are written by Kingsolver's husband Steven L. Hopp and the teenage perspective and recipes come from her daughter Camille.

Kingsolver makes a lot of interesting points. Here are a few that struck me:

* I wished I had marked the page so I cannot quote directly, but she writes that if each person/family ate one meal per week from local and organic sources we would save quite a bit of oil.

* Six companies control 98% of the world's seed sales. They own many of the catalog companies that home gardeners buy their seeds from. The number of non hybrid vegetable varieties available for seed purchase has gone from 5000 to 600 from 1981 to 1998.

* Consumers often view prices of local products as high. I know this is true because I overhear people discussing it at the farmer's market. I've wanted to tell someone 'try the garlic - I know it's $2 for 3-4 heads but it'll be the best you've ever had'.

* Mad Cow disease (BSE) does not occur in grass-fed beef. It has never happened, according to Hopp. Not surprisingly, the US government is overwhelmingly supportive of large scale cattle operations and frighteningly lax in its testing for BSE.

* On a brighter note, I was interested to learn that asparagus can grow into a four foot tree. It only looks like what consumers perceive asparagus to look like for one day.

Kingsolver goes into detail about how much work is involved in storing food for the colder months. She freezes, cans, and dries food so that in the colder months all their food comes from these stores.. It's very fascinating to read, but I think difficult to translate into real life for most people. I don't think that is necessarily the point, the point is to do what you feel comfortable with, but to the uninitiated this could all be overwhelming.

I found myself comparing this book to The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan which I found to be a more absorbing read. Both books cover some different aspects of the same topics. It may be that I read it first, but Pollan's book gave me more to think about and has influenced me to use my buying power - perhaps another reason is that he spends much more time on animal treatment than Kingsolver. I have been making changes in our diet slowly, one thing at a time. A long term goal for me has been to buy a deep freeze and purchase a large quantity of meat for the winter from a local farmer.

This is not to say AVM has not influenced me. I'd like to try to freeze more from the farmer's market this season . The rate limiting factor for me is the size of my freezer and the manpower to carry all the food home. My husband is supportive of many of my food and eating goals, but I'm not sure how he'd feel about dragging home bushels of tomatoes every weekend. In fact I already did get some eye rolling over that request.

Some aspects of AVM were surprising. Bananas are mentioned several times as a 'forbidden' fruit which frankly wouldn't bother me very much. Towards the end of the book she mentions never having need of a lemon - pardon me? Perhaps I am selfish or too used to our carbon consuming ways, but I really don't like to think about never buying another lemon. Or Parmesan cheese. Or a peach for that matter. The growing season in Minnesota is so short, I simply cannot imagine going literally 6-7 months of the year without a fresh vegetable or fruit or never eating stone fruits again that cannot grow here.

So I am back to believing do what you can, where you can. If I eat 3-5 meals per week from local sources in the more bountiful months does that make up for buying broccoli from California in February?

I recommend looking over the official book website Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. There are lots of great links as well as photographs of their farm and recipes. I made one of the recipes for Disappearing Zucchini Orzo and it was delicious! I think it is my new favorite way to eat this most prolific growing vegetable. I made 2 changes when I made this - I only used thyme since I had that in the garden and I salted and wrung out the zucchini before sauteing it- a lot of the water comes out this way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Blind Assassin

I really enjoy reading Margaret Atwood. I looked at a list of her publications - there are many - and found that I've read 7 of her full length novels. My favorites have been The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace, and The Blind Assassin.

I first read The Blind Assassin in 2004. Here is part of what I wrote about it in my notebook at that time:

Exceptionally well written....really liked the Sci-Fi parts....whatever happened to "the blind assassin?"

I re-read it so that I could discuss it with my real-life book club later this month. It will be interesting to see what they think of it. We've already discussed Alias Grace and Cat's Eye. There was a mixed reaction to Alias Grace, some loved it, others were disinterested. Cat's Eye was actively disliked by everyone but myself. I think they felt that the book was pointless, since for most of it, 'nothing really happens'. Many were wary of voting for The Blind Assassin but 3 of us had already read and loved it so they were swayed.

My opinion of the book has not changed, but the experience of reading it was very different this time. I think whenever a book has some sense of mystery or suspense one tends to read carefully to pick up on those clues. Since I already knew the outcome of this novel, I was able to sit back and enjoy Atwood's writing, her fine characterization, the humor and sarcasm within the novel, the brilliant ride she takes you on.

I find it difficult to describe this book without giving anything away, but will say her technique of the book within the book is brilliantly conceived and executed. Atwood creates a great sense of place, a great sense of who these characters are to the point that you find yourself questioning their behavior that you've been presented with and thinking 'No, I don't think he/she would do/say that'.

I highly recommend this book. It is a long, absorbing, entertaining tale of a family mired in tragedy. It is not a difficult read but a thought provoking one.

If anyone would like to share their favorite Atwood books I'd love to heard about them. In addition to the ones I've mentioned, I have read The Robber Bride, Oryx and Crake, and Lady Oracle.

In other news, we've had lots of rain (and I finally watered. ahem) and I pulled 3 large zucchini out of the garden this morning which makes 5 sitting on the kitchen counter. It seems I spend a portion of every summer seeking out new recipes for this vegetable.

I've also just purchased tickets for The Sound of Music, which will be playing downtown this holiday season. It is hard to look so far ahead, but as I told my husband, in this case the early bird gets the good seats - row G, main floor.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Farmers Market Bounty

This was all purchased Saturday morning at the market. There are heaps of corn, potatoes, beans, and snow peas behind the scenes. The meats are grass-fed ground beef and some pork and wild rice sausages. We also have zucchini, basil, and thyme from the garden. We should have tomatoes soon.

Last night I used some of the green and wax beans and tomatoes to make a salad with a vinaigrette to take to a friend's house.

Today I'll be trying a new recipe for grilled corn which involves soaking the husked corn in a brine solution for hours before grilling. I'm so excited to eat the first local corn of the year.

I was reading a chapter of Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in which she describes going to the local farmer's market on a cold Saturday in April. She was not expecting to find much but found a bounty of food even then.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and seek out some local vegetables if you can.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Down Under

I recently decided on a whim to read Bill Bryson's book In a Sunburned Country and I wasn't disappointed. I have read a handful of his other books including A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, and Notes From a Small Island. Bryson has such a unique way of writing about a place. His books include general travel commentary, loads of fascinating history, lots of it fairly obscure, and his humorous insights. I don't know much about Australia and Bryson gives a wonderful overview. He visits and describes the major cities and sites, as well as more off the beaten track places. He writes that so much of Australia is still undiscovered, about species once thought extinct being spotted and written about, never to be seen again. Bryson's tale is of a mysterious, fascinating, and friendly place, one that he enjoys immensely.

Some particular statistics I found fascinating are those having to do with population density. Keep in mind, these numbers are from 2000 but you'll get the idea.

Britain 632 (people per square mile)
United States 76
Across the entire world 117
Australia 6

Amazing, no?

Bryson tells the good and the bad. Government polices that turned out not to be such great ideas. Specific details on how the country became what it is today. My copy contains a new appendix on the 2000 Olympics. Bryson states "it seems entirely possible that Sydney will stand as a pinnacle for the Modern Olympics - a time when the largest number of people enjoyed the biggest Games in the most cheerful circumstances possible."

I particularly enjoyed a part when Bryson visits a museum devoted to the story of the Batavia shipwreck, something I've recently learned about from reading The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman. I absolutely love when something or someone I've read about in one books turns up in another book.

My only 'complaint' if it is one, is that I wished Bryson had written more about the Aboriginal population. He makes mention of them several times, but never delves more deeply.

I highly recommend this book and Bryson's other books I mentioned above. If I should ever have the good fortune to visit Australia I'll be certain to reread this.

I'm currently reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for my July book club and have begun Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. A stack of books arrived for me recently from the library. I tend to look through what they have ordered and put myself on the list for whatever looks interesting. I tried a couple of them, but they were no match for Atwood's talents and they will be returned unread. I am also planning on making room in my reading schedule for a certain book being published later this month.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Thank you Jill

Jill from My Individual Take has named me a Rockin' Girl Blogger. Me! That just makes my day and I thank you.

I think I am meant to name five others to receive this honor which I am happy to do.

Karen is the first person to have read my blog or at least the first to comment on it. She is an amazingly talented photographer, writer, cook (well, I cannot taste her creations but they look amazing!), and knitter.

Nutmeg lives on the other side of the earth and yet we find so much we have in common. I'd love to stop by her house for coffee and a chat about the children.

Nan is such a lovely and kind woman. I always find an inspiring photograph, song, album, poem, or book review when I visit her.

Danielle is a wonderfully prolific reader whose daily musings on books I never fail to read. Hers was the first blog I read regularly.

I was just getting to know Lazycow when she decided to take a break. I'm so glad she's back.

Truly, I think all the blogs I visit are wonderful. I can hardly keep up with all the brilliant women and men bloggers out there. I thank you for all you share with me.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Firsts and Lasts

My baby girl lost her first tooth today.

I left for work and she looked one way and that is the last time I'll ever see her that way.

For some reason I feel terrible for not being there. It wasn't even wiggling.

The only thing that kept my tears in check when I found out was smiling at her excitement.

But as I write this, they are coming.

My big girl.