Birdwatching: No Mask Required

Lately I have been reading alot about birdwatching becoming very popular. This resurgence is being attributed to the pandemic. It is a relatively cheap hobby. All you really need is a pair of binoculars and a identification guide. And you can do it without a mask if you stay away from crowds of people. There was even a report on one of the morning news shows last week about birdwatching in Central Park in New York. I don’t find it surprising that these stories are coming out now because we are in the midst of migration. The birds have gotten the internal signal to move, to head to the breeding ground. Up here in the northern Midwest it is just beginning because we lately have been seeing a lot of new waterfowl on the bay, the lakes, the rivers and in the marshes. In a week or two the first of the warblers will be hitting town. These are the little jewels of the woods and it is a thrill to see any. I find it is getting more difficult to locate these little guys and maybe it is not just because my hearing and quick visual skills are not what they used to be, it is also because there has been a great reduction in the bird populations. Loss of habitat and climate change plays a large part in this loss. I sincerely hope that with a new administration in the White House, with a more enlightened view on our environment, can help reverse some of the decline in species. But this also has to happen internationally. The birds do not recognize borders.

I also hope the interest in birdwatching by the average person will generate a concern in protecting the birds. Literally, anyone can do it. You don’t really have to travel very far either. Start with your own backyard. Having a few bird feeders would help. Yesterday I jotted down all of the birds I could see by just looking out my windows. Now I live in a rural area but a lot of the birds I saw hang out in urban areas too.

My list started with European Sparrow (of course), Robin, Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Cowbird, House Finch and Starling. Included are a few pictures I managed to get of my yard birds.

Grackle giving me the eye.
Robin, in the shadows, listening for worms.

Then the really colorful ones arrived, Blue Jay, American Goldfinch and Cardinal.

Male Goldfinch in his Spring plumage.
Female Cardinal spotting me, spotting her.

Juncos are still around. We also had a Hairy Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker. We do get Red-bellied Woodpeckers almost daily but they were a no-show yesterday, as were some of the regulars like Mourning Doves and Chickadees. But we made up for their absence with a few new sparrows, Tree, Chipping, and firsts of the year… Savannah Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow. Migration is the reason those last three are being seen.

White-throated Sparrow, notice the yellow dot over his eye.

And finally Wild Turkeys, way across the road in a field. All together we spotted seventeen different birds just from our windows.

Three Turkeys

So, sick of doing nothing? Sick of being inside? Get some binoculars and maybe even a camera and start looking for, and at, the birds. Make note of the field marks. For instance, a sparrow-like bird, with a white throat, black and white bars on his head and a yellow spot equals White-throated Sparrow. Take a picture or jot down those notes to look up later. Practice makes perfect. It is easy to social distance outside and even if you don’t see anything ( highly unlikely) you have gotten some exercise and fresh air. Heck, soon you’ll be keeping lists and texting your birdy friends for help identifying your latest sighting. It is fun and I know once you get hooked you’ll want to make sure the birds survive for the next generation to enjoy.

Orzo: Two Ways

I love orzo. It is basically a short-cut pasta shaped like rice. Here in North America we use the name orzo but in Italy they call this pasta rizoni. Orzo in Italian means barley. It is fun and cute and has that yummy noodle flavor in little bites. More calories than rice so pace yourself.

I was introduced to orzo from a recipe in a Real Simple magazine from May 2000. The article with this recipe was called ‘Pantry Dinners’. This particular dish was Chickpea Orzo Pilaf. It is quick, very easy, and I still make it a couple of times a year. ( Serves 4, lots of leftovers if you are only 2)

3 Tbls. olive oil
1 C chopped onion
1 medium carrot, diced. (I use two)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
2 ribs celery, diced ( also my addition)
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 C orzo
5 1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 Tbls chili sauce ( Heinz Brand is a good one)

Heat oil over medium heat in a large deep pot with lid. Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic with the curry powder and the thyme till onion is soft. Add the orzo and saute till the pasta is lightly browned. (1-2 minutes). Stir in chicken broth, chickpeas and chili sauce; bring to boil. Cover with tight fitting lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally until orzo is completely cooked. ( Stew should be a bit brothy, not dry). If you turn off and let sit, the pasta will continue to absorb the water and it will be a thick stew. Your leftovers will definitely be thick. Just add a bit of water to loosen up when you reheat. Here is the picture from the magazine of the finished dish.

Last night we had Orzo Recipe #2. We heard about this one from a friend who found it in the New York Times Cooking section. He loved it and that was a good enough recommendation.

Shrimp Scampi with Orzo (serves 4)

Note: This is the full recipe. We cut it in half for the two of us.
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbls. lemon zest, plus 1 Tbls. juice (from 1 lemon)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves-minced
2 Tbls. unsalted butter
1 C. orzo
1/2 C. dry white wine
2 C. boiling water, or seafood stock or chicken stock
3 Tbls. finely chopped parsley

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the shrimp, 1 Tbls olive oil, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper and half of the garlic. Set aside to marinade.(You can do this up to an hour in advance).
  2. Add butter, remaining olive oil and rest of garlic to a medium skillet over medium heat.

When the butter starts to bubble, add the orzo and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring often until orzo is toasted, about 2 minutes, adjust heat as necessary to prevent garlic from burning. Carefully add the wine -it will bubble- and stir until absorbed, about 1 minute. Stir in water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until orzo is al dente, about 12 minutes.

3. Add the shrimp in a snug, even layer on top of orzo. ( We poured the remaining marinade over the shrimp -your choice).

Cover, and cook until the shrimp is pink and cooked through, 2 – 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, 2 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add a glass of wine and if you wish, a little side like sliced avocado or cucumber salad or steamed broccoli. But the rice and shrimp are lemony, really nice and perfect on their own. We will make this one again.

Another Turn of the Page: April Showers, Read for Hours

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”
― Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

April is a wonderful month. There will be the inevitable ‘April Showers’ but there will be a lot of sunny pleasant days that make sitting on the sun porch or the patio wonderful and comfortable. It isn’t too hot yet and if it cools down a bit, just a sweater is all that is needed to be comfortable. Everything suddenly turns green. We have only had a little rain the past two nights and already I can see buds on the trees, the grass is greening up and the daffodils, that were only just starting to push up, are blooming or ready to bloom. I also love this time of year because migration has begun and the birds are starting to arrive. A Fox Sparrow has been scratching up the leaf litter in the flower garden looking for sleeping insects and a Northern Flicker sat at the top of our old boxelder yesterday calling and then drilling into the tree. A drum beat to call in the ladies? And the Cardinals are singing, the Mourning Doves are cooing and the Red-winged Blackbirds are trilling. April is also darn noisy. But it is till a little too early for yard and garden work so instead sit in the sun and read. Need an idea? I think our group this month has something for everyone.

  1. The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson by Bill Christofferson (2004) 416p. After serving two terms as governor of Wisconsin, Nelson went on to serve 18 years as State Senator. Always a champion of the environment, he probably did more than any other politician in this field. On Earth Day 1970 twenty million Americans displayed their commitment to a clean environment.  It was called the largest demonstration in human history, and it permanently changed the nation’s political agenda. By Earth Day 2000 participation had exploded to 500 million people in 167 countries. (Bea)
  2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) 288p. This novel is about a microsociety of students in a boarding school hybrid named Hailsham. While there, they do rounds and rounds of arts and crafts and come of age together, grow up, and yet there is something so not right with their seclusion. (This book was made into a movie in 2010). (Rikki)
  3. Bloody Genius (Virgil Flowers # 12) by John Sandford (2019) 372p. A professor who does high end medical research is found murdered in a college library, so Minnesota state investigator Virgil Flowers is assigned to help out when the local Minneapolis cops hit a dead end. As Virgil digs into the case his problem isn’t that there aren’t any clues, it’s that there are far too many. Sex, drugs, blackmail, lawsuits, ex-wives, an estranged daughter, and a bitter academic rivalry are all angles he has to sort out. (Dan)
  4. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (2011) 324p. Sarah Nickerson, holds a high octane job in a busy Human Relations Dept. While driving home, one moment of distraction finds Sarah tragically injured in a car accident that leaves her with a syndrome called Left Neglect and questioning whether she’ll ever recover to the person she once was. Left Neglect is a real neurological condition that leaves the patient with no conception of the left side of their body or world beyond their field of vision. (Nancy)
  5. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864) 158p. In this book, the author described the inner worlds of a man who did not find a place for himself in society. While living in a dark, underground dwelling, he pours out his anger, hatred, and fears, in a rambling memoir. The story does present some insights into life in Russia at that time. (Linda)
  6. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower (1999) 676p. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the 1999 National Book Award for Nonfiction, finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize and the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, this book is an excellent history of postwar Japan from 1946 to the end of the US occupation in 1952, and slightly onward. (Paul)
  7. The Immigrant Brides Collection by multiple authors (2013) 444p. This is a collection of nine different novellas by eight different authors. Each story is about a different young immigrant trying to make her way in America. The time periods vary as do the countries the women come from. (Ellie)
  8. Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (2020) 354p. Set in the beautiful and historic New York Public Library, this novel is a dual timeline tale about two women living 80 years apart who both must deal with the theft of valuable books from the library’s collection. While investigating the missing books, each woman makes discoveries that may alter her life forever. (Jeanne)
  9. Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2021) 464p. Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west to California, in search of a better life. (Barb)
  10. The French Widow (Hugo Marston #9) by Mark Pryor (2020) 299p. Multiple cases are introduced but Hugo can only legally investigate one since he is personally involved in the other. However that really doesn’t stop him. By calling in favors from his former FBI colleague Tom and friends on the Paris police force he manages to find some significant clues. One interesting device in the book, at least 4 chapters are devoted exclusively to the voice of the killer. (Me, the other Jeanne)
  11. The Left-handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (2020) 416p. In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Her search leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it tries to intrude on the modern world. They also run several bookshops in the city. (Anita)
  12. NYPD Red 6 by James Patterson (2020) 384p. When, celebrity and reality star, Erin Easton is kidnapped on her wedding day, RED, the most prestigious task force unit in the NYPD, comprised of Detectives Kylie MacDonald and Zach Jordan, is called in to solve this high profile case. (Pete)

Another Turn of the Page: In Like a Lamb

“Yes, but it’s, you know—every year, you’re all, March!
This is going to be great! Start of spring!’ But it’s definitely not, right?
Because there will be a weird, freak snowstorm, and it’s like winter’s started all over. Unexpected things happen in March.”

― Kate Clayborn, Love Lettering

I think in Wisconsin we call this ‘Fool’s Spring’. The weather here has been in the 40’s, 50’s and even a 60 this past week. The snow piles are melting back, the birds are starting to sing and there have been reports of Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds. There may even be a crocus or daffodil sticking up above the ground wondering if this is the time. Maybe you have reached for your rake. Stop! Right now! This is Wisconsin and never doubt that Mother Nature is chuckling behind your back just waiting for you to put on your shorts and get out the grill. I think it is worse this year because we have been cooped up so long with the pandemic that Cabin Fever is at an all time high. Last week I went over to our nearby Wildlife Sanctuary to take a walk and it was packed with families and strollers and couples. We all distanced or wore masks but there were a lot of us. So enjoy these mild temperatures but keep on your guard and don’t put your shovel away because this happened here three years ago.

This is what we’ve been reading between walks in the fine warmth of ‘Fool’s Spring’.

  1. Monogamy by Sue Miller (2020) 338p. Annie and Graham have been married for nearly 30 years. Graham is an owner of a book store and a lover of life, books, food, wine and people. Annie is a photographer, who has a new exhibit opening. When Graham dies suddenly in his sleep, Annie puts her life on hold as she slowly adjusts to Graham’s death and life without him. When Annie discovers that Graham had been having an affair prior to his death, Annie questions their marriage and how well she really knew and understood her husband. Good read with well developed characters. (Barb)
     
  2. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen (2016) 400p. This book is a history of Jimmy Stewart’s war years of which very little has previously been written because he refused to talk about it. Born into a family who had a male fighting in every war since the Spanish-American War, Jim was raised that one day he too must serve his country at war. The book is also a history of the 703rd Squadron 445th Bomb Group where Stewart spent most of his active service, ultimately reaching the rank of full Colonel. (Dan)

  3. The Holcroft Covenant by Robert Ludlum (1978) 542p. This thriller is about a sinister plot to financially resurrect the Fourth Reich. The protagonist and title character, Noel Holcroft, is an unwitting dupe, as the villains, through an elaborate ruse, trick him into thinking that the monies are intended to “make amends” to the victims of the Nazis’ atrocities. (Paul)

  4. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (2018) 354p. Flight attendant, Cassandra Bowden, a binge drinker, who occasionally experiences blackouts, wakes up in a Dubai hotel room. Having to get to her next flight, she quietly slides out of bed, careful not to wake the man she spent the night with. As she tries to focus she becomes aware of a lot of blood pooling around the dead body next to her. Afraid to call the police, she quickly leaves and begins to lie, to the other flight attendants, the pilots and eventually the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. But does she even know the truth about what really happened back in Dubai? (Tim)

  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009) 541p. Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death and father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. (Bea)

  6. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) 310p. Little is known about Shakespeare’s wife Anne (Agnes) or his three children, especially Hamnet, twin to Judith. In this novel the author re-imagines these people and creates a story around Hamnet’s untimely death at eleven. His father eventually writes and performs a play called Hamlet. The writing is superb. You get a real feel for the times, the sights, the sounds, even the smells. (Me, the other Jeanne)

  7. Extinctions by Josephine Wilson (2016) 300p. Professor Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. He is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen.  When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbor lady together, he begins to realize the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime of secrets and lies, and to come to terms with his own shortcomings. (Nancy)

  8. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988) 327p. This novel is a day in the life Maggie and Ira Moran, who have been married for 28 years. They start the day by attending a friend’s funeral and end it by dealing with the consequences of Maggie’s unstoppable impulse to meddle in other peoples’ lives. Although the action of the novel is contained within that one day, the narrative explores the relationship between Maggie and Ira as they reflect upon their lives and their marriage. (Linda)

  9. The Outlander (The Boultons #1) by Gil Adamson (2007) 387p. It is 1903 and nineteen year old Mary Boulton has just become a widow and her husband’s killer. She is now on the run into the wilderness of Western Canada trying to evade her two savage brothers-in-law who are determined to get revenge. (Ellie)

  10. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (2017) 320p. Helena grew up as the daughter of a high-profile kidnapper and his victim. She lived the first 14 years of her life hidden deep in a marsh along with her mother, who was kidnapped at a very young age. At the time everything seemed normal to Helena, this was her life, her Mom, her Dad. He was eventually captured and sent to prison. Helena is now an adult with a life of her own, but her father has escaped from prison. She is determined to find him. An excellent psychological thriller. (Jeanne)

  11. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride (1996) 256p. The author explores his biracial identity as he writes about the life of his mother, Ruth Shilsky McBride Jordan. She was a rabbi’s daughter born in Poland and raised in the American South. She ultimately moves to Harlem, and marries not one but two, black men, and has 12 children. Never once does she admit she is white. After the death of her 2nd husband she manages to put all of her children through college. The title comes from a time when the author, at a young age, asked his mother what color is God. Her response, “He is the color of water.” (Anita)

  12. The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan (2019) 288p. Anne-Lise stumbles upon a forgotten manuscript while on vacation in France. After reading the story she forwards the manuscript to the address scribbled on one of its pages.  It reaches the author himself who confesses he had not seen it for 30 years and that it had been only half finished. Intrigued, Anne traces the path of the book.  It had passed through many individuals whose lives had been shaped by the it over the years. Finally, with a plot twist you don’t see coming, she uncovers the astonishing identity of the author who finished the story. (Rikki)

  13. Whispers of War by Julia Kelly (2020) 336p. A novel of WWII not told from the perspective of the military or the politicians but from the experiences of three close friends ( Marie, Nora and Hazel) in London during1939. Told by Nora’s granddaughter, Samantha, the story alternates between the present (Samantha meeting her grandmother’s best friend Nora), and the past, the lives, loves and secrets of these three women. (Sue)

  14. Daylight by David Baldacci (2020) 416p. FBI Agent Atlee Pine’s search for her sister Mercy clashes with military investigator John Puller’s high stakes case, leading them both into a global conspiracy from which neither of them will escape unscathed.  This is a well written 3rd book in the Atlee Pine series. The ending left me with a “WOW, I didn’t see that coming!!”. (Pete)

I Miss Eating Out

Remember those days when you could go to a really nice restaurant? You may even have had to make a reservation. The hostess (host) would seat you and hand you your menu. Or maybe it was a restaurant where the entrees for the evening were on a quaint little chalkboard. Your server would arrive with water, tell you the specials for the evening. Once all your questions were answered they would ask if you needed more time or would you like to start out with a drink. And maybe an appetizer. Oh, yes, I’ll have the Carpaccio with a very dry Sauvignon Blanc. Sigh.

The closest we have gotten to eating out in the past year was driving in to get our dinner curbside. Yes, I didn’t have to cook it, it was restaurant food and I did get out, but not from my car. No way the same!

And other food experiences have been even more distant from a restaurant, like drive thru at Arby’s or Chinese takeout.

I want to linger over my food, have another glass of wine. Ask to see the dessert tray and not do the dishes when I am done. And speaking of dishes, the other sad part about curbside pickup is all the plastic, cardboard or styrofoam containers. What a huge waste. I remember enjoying the few meals we got from a more upscale restaurant but feeling so guilty when I had to discard a pile of containers.

So, please, everyone, Get your shots, Wear your masks, Make good decisions. At this point we do not even know if restaurants, as we knew them, will return but we

So,

So,

So,

So,

So hope they do.

Bon Appetit!

Another Turn of the Page: February Already

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Here in Green Bay, WI we are experiencing a really severe cold snap. It has been in the single digits for days with minus degree wind chills. The other day the high was -1. Everyone still manages to bundle up, get to the store or trudge to the mailbox even though you have to put on six layers to do these tasks. Face masks, which seem to be a political statement for some, are not only a must in preventing the spread of disease, they keep your face warm. I’m really liking mine in this weather, except for the fogging glasses. COVID-19 cases are going down in our state and we are one of the top states in getting the vaccine into arms. I am scheduled for my second shot next week. I dream about warm weather, going to the movies and travel. I plan on signing up for a summer art class and I’ve started making tentative travel plans for the fall. I am more optimistic than I have been in awhile. Even though it is still winter and still cold, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Authors are still writing and we, in the book group, are still reading. Enjoy our offerings this month and stay strong.

  1. News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016) 209p. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers. His life is changed when he agrees to return a young white girl, who has been a captive of the Kiowa, to her family down in San Antonio. Currently a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks in the lead role. (Bea)
  2. The Woman who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies and the Unlikely heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone (2017) 444p. The incredible true story of the greatest code-breaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to unmask Nazi spies and help win World War II. (Barb)
  3. A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh (2020) 512p. From a recent review, “With court intrigue as vicious as the palace life is lush, this historical fairy tale of Queen Victoria’s daughter Vicky-who rises to German empress- is a rich indulgence.”  Our reviewer said that after watching the PBS series on Victoria, she pictured those characters/actors as she read. But the book was not as kind to Queen Victoria as the series was. (Nancy)
  4. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (2019) 450p. In the summer of 1932, four children, three horribly mistreated at the Lincoln School for Indians in Minnesota, make a life changing decision to run away. Although only one boy is a Native American, all are orphans. They steal a canoe and head for the Mississippi River. This journey will change their lives in big and small ways. (Jeanne)
  5. A Bite-sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War and Enlightenment by Stephane Henaut & Jeni Mitchell (2018) 256p. Covering 2500 years of French history from the pre-Roman Gauls to the present day, this book covers the influence historical events had on the eating habits and cuisine of the time, and how they, in turn, influenced history. Our reviewer found the chapters on cheese and wine particularly interesting as well as the ones covering WWll. (Anita)
  6. Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls (2019) 416p. A sweet, nostalgic coming of age story of first love, a heady affair composed of teenage angst, insecurities, fear, jealousies, fraught emotions and all the mass of confusion that besets the teenage soul at the tender age of sixteen. (Linda)
  7. The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth (2015) 352p. For more than forty years, Frederick Forsyth has been writing extraordinary real-world novels of intrigue. Whether writing about the murky world of arms dealers, the shadowy Nazi underground movement, or the intricacies of worldwide drug cartels, every plot has been chillingly plausible because every detail has been minutely researched. But what most people don’t know is that some of his greatest stories of intrigue have been in his own life. (Paul)
  8. The Sentinel (Jack Reacher #25) by Lee Child and Andrew Child (2020) 353p. Typical Reacher, on his own, hitching a ride to a town he has never been to before. Ends up saving a geeky guy who is about to be kidnapped in broad daylight. But of course there’s more to the story. The bad guys who jumped Rutherford are part of something serious and deadly, involving a conspiracy, a cover-up, and murder. Jack sticks around to see it through. Note: Andrew Child is Lee’s brother. (me)
  9. I Marched with Patton: A Firsthand Account of World War II Alongside One of the US Army’s Greatest Generals by Frank Sisson (2020) 304p. A gripping firsthand account of World War II written by 95 year old Frank Sisson who served in the American Third Army under Patton and participated in many of the most consequential events of the conflict—including the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Dachau.(Dan)
  10. The Return by Nicholas Sparks (2020) 368p. The story of an injured Navy veteran and two women whose secrets will change the course of his life. Trevor returns to a cabin that he inherited from his grandfather to regroup. He is not prepared to fall for the local deputy sheriff or to get tangled up with a sullen teenager. Both women have secrets. In his quest to unravel Natalie’s and Callie’s secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness. According to our reviewer, a very wonderful book from start to finish. (Pete)
  11. The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli & Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin (2019) 352p. The time is Paris leading up to WWII. A young American widow befriends designer Chanel and befriends and is employed by Schiaparelli. The two icons are at the height of their careers, each trying to dominate the fashion world. As the war closes in and with shortages of supplies things change in a big way. Nice historical fiction as well as a fun look into the world of Haute Couture. (Rikki)

    And a last minute addition:
  12. The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Metzler (2019) 413p. In the months leading up to the Revolutionary War, some of Washington’s hand-picked body guards, along with the Governor of New York and the Mayor of NYC launch a deadly plot. This incident also foreshadows the origins of America’s counterintelligence movement that led to the modern day CIA. (Ellie)

I Miss ‘Going to the Movies’

I love movies. And I’ve been going to them most of my life. My parents must have loved movies too because my sister and I were taken “to the show” many times. Lots of westerns because my Dad loved westerns. Gunfight at the OK Corral (’57), How the West Was Won (’62), The Magnificent Seven (’60) and The Man Who shot Liberty Valance (’62), stick in my memory. We must have also been a family who like musicals because I know we saw The Sound of Music (’65), The Music Man (’62), Mary Poppins (’64) and My Fair Lady (’64). My mother would also buy the soundtrack albums and play them over and over at home. My sister remembers that she and I went to 007 movies by ourselves but that is a memory that doesn’t stick with me. The early ones were also in the 60’s so maybe we did. I would have been thirteen and she would have been ten. Seems unlikely but she insists it happened.

We also went to some gimmicky movies too. Hard to believe but we as a family, went to The Tingler (’59). It was about a parasitic creature that attached itself to your spine and grew when you were really afraid. The theater put electric buzzers under all of the seats so when the Tingler appeared in the movie your seat literally tingled or vibrated. Everyone would scream, or the Tingler would get you.

Parents back then weren’t as concerned or watchful of what their kids were viewing. I distinctly remember being taken to the local theater (The Capitol in Chicago) with my folks to see the original War of the Worlds. I was so scared that my Mom took me out of the movie, but did we go home? No. They wanted to see the rest of the film so she sat me down in the hallway outside the door to movie while they went back in to the showing. I sat on the the step for kids to reach the water fountain. I was family teased about that until finally, when I was older, I looked up when that movie was made…1953. I would have been four! Should have turned them in! Different times.

Capitol Theater, Chicago, Illinois

Before Covid hit my husband and I would go to the movies a couple of times a month. We have pretty eclectic tastes so if the reviews were good, and sometimes even if they were not, we would go. It could be a “chick flick”, a documentary, a war movie, a thriller, a mystery, a comedy. Really didn’t matter, they were all different experiences. Even the stinkers provided us with some discussion. Curt was never one for science fiction or fantasy. Oh, he went to all the Star Wars ( saw the first one while we were in graduate school together), the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter. But when it came to all the various Marvel films or their ilk he really wasn’t interested. Of course by then we had a preteen son and so I had a new movie buddy for all the Xmen, Star Trek and various animated films that came out. But then then my buddy went off to college. So I found a friend who also enjoyed Ironman and Spiderman and Batman, but her husband didn’t. We had a good time together.

But as of today I don’t think I have been to a theater in over a year. Sure we can stream almost anything on our smart TV but it just isn’t the same. I want to be in a big dark theater with my box of movie popcorn. I want a huge screen with people and images larger than life. I want to immerse myself in the experience, like I am the only one there, like I am a part of the action. You just don’t get that feeling at home in the living room. Being interrupted by phone calls from unknown persons, or even pausing the film while someone runs to the bathroom is annoying. In a theater I don’t mind picking a quiet scene to zip out to the restroom. I have heard some theaters are slowly starting to open. There is limited seating and so far a limited selection of films. I haven’t reached the point where I will chance going yet but there will be a time when I will be back. Even if it is with a mask and a face shield and a bottle of sanitizer, I will be back!

 

Inauguration Day Cassoulet

Originating in southern France, a Cassoulet (kas-oo-lā) is a sumptuous casserole of beans baked slowly with cured and roasted meats. It is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. Cassoulet does take time to make for there is overnight soaking plus a long afternoon of simmering and baking.

The Inauguration is a ceremony to mark the commencement of a new four-year term of the President of the United States. Over the years, various traditions have arisen that have expanded the inauguration from a simple oath-taking ceremony to a day-long event.

Since we were going to watch a day long event why not combine it with a day long cooking event? And don’t you think after four years of stress we just deserve some comfort food?

Cassoulet was originally a dish for the masses. When French peasants had access to meat, it was mostly less desirable parts of mutton, goose, duck and pork like legs,  knuckles and sausage made from trimmings (the good bits like breasts and loins went to the gentry – that’s where the term eating high on the hog comes from). Beans and garlic and onions were probably staples in most houses. Today the meat alone drives the price of this dish out of the bowls of poorer people. But we were also not going the full route, no duck confit or roast pork but instead a nice fat duck sausage and a Nueske’s smoked pork chop that our son gave us for Christmas.

Curt started with a recipe but as is his usual way of cooking, that was just an outline that he filled in with his own take on cassoulet. But when I researched cassoulet, I discovered, that in France, there are probably as many different versions as there are towns and villages. It’s a dish born of what’s available and stretching it to feed a family.

Nouveau Cassoulet à la Heuer

Ingredients:
1 lb of dried Great Northern beans (or other white beans)
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 garlic head whole with outside skin removed, tips cut to expose the flesh
2 C. chicken broth
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt
1 large smoked pork chop
1 duck sausage (substitute mild Italian, smoked Polish or Andouille)
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 C. bread crumbs
1/4 C. Italian parsley, minced
1/2 C. dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc)

White Beans, Garlic, Bay leaves, Onions, Carrots, Celery, Smoked pork, Sausage, Bread crumbs, Parsley

Soak the beans overnight or use a 1 hour fast soak (cover beans with water and bring to boil for 2 minutes, cover, turn off heat and let sit for 1 hour).  Drain, discarding the soaking water.

Put beans into a large sauce pan.  Add bay leave, garlic head, chicken broth and olive oil.  Add fresh water to cover the beans.  Bring pot to a boil then turn heat down to a simmer, partially covered for 1 hour. Add salt to taste, about 1 tsp.

Meanwhile, remove the pork from the bone and cut into 1″ pieces.  Set aside the meat and reserve the bone.

In a separate pan, sweat the onion, carrot and celery until the onion is translucent, add to the beans. Squeeze the softened garlic from its skin and add to the beans (discard the garlic skin).  Add the thyme, rosemary sprigs, tomato paste and wine to the beans.  Stir the beans to distribute the additions.  Add black pepper to taste.  Snuggle the reserved pork bone and the whole sausage into the beans.  Simmer for 1/2 hour.  The beans should be tender but not mushy.  Preheat the oven to 350˚.

Remove the bone and sausage from the beans and cut the sausage into 1/2″ slices.  Discard the bone.

Using a slotted spoon or spider, put a layer of half the bean mixture into an ovenproof casserole, a layer of the sausage and reserved pork, and a layer of the remaining beans.  Add bean cooking liquid to the casserole to just cover the top layer of beans. 
In a small bowl mix the bread crumbs and parsley.  Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the cassoulet.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Push the crumb into the cassoulet with the back of a spoon and return to the oven.  Bake for 40 minutes, until the crumbs are crisp and browned and the cassoulet is bubbling.

Makes 4 generous servings. Serve with a hearty red wine or a good lager. Hope you had a Happy Inauguration Day, we did.

Another Turn of the Page: Missing Bookstores

I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted –
and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”

― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Yardstick Books, Algoma, WI

I miss going into bookstores. Independent Bookstores, Big Chain Bookstores, Used Bookstores. We used to go into Barnes & Noble and just browse in an afternoon. My husband and I would gather some books and magazines we wanted to look through, meet in the cafe, get a coffee and tuck into one of their little tables. I haven’t been back since Covid but I imagine all of the tables have been removed from the cafe. I am still not comfortable spending too much time in a store with other people. My grocery trips are pretty efficient in and outs. I haven’t been back to Lion’s Mouth, our local new/used bookstore in Green Bay. It is a small space and though I know people wouldn’t be packed in, sitting with a pile of browsed books probably would be discouraged. My other favorite independent bookstore is Yardstick Books in Algoma, Wisconsin. It is a delightful, warm, wonderful store. The owner, Heidi, does a really excellent job in book selection. That is pretty important when you are a small shop that can’t stock everything like B&N. Unfortunately, due to Covid and the owner’s bout with cancer, the storefront has remained closed. However, like B & N, like Amazon, like Lion’s Mouth, she will order anything for you and you can pickup or have the books delivered. Back in May I wrote a short post about pickup but never really mentioned the store but I think it is important I do now since our little shops are still struggling and can use as much good publicity as they can get. Yes, you don’t get the discount Amazon can offer but heck, I have a lot of travel money languishing since we can’t fly anywhere. So as you look through the books our group read this month, consider ordering from your local Independent Bookstore or order from mine. ( Another long post, lots of winter reading!)

  1. Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles (2020) 352p. It is March 1865. Because of his youthful appearance, Simon Boudlin has managed to avoid military duty. But following a bar fight he gets conscripted into the Confederate Army. His fiddle talent puts him in the regimental band. At the war’s end, he continues to play and at a Union soldier’s party he meets indentured servant Doris. His plan is to travel and play and earn enough to buy her freedom. (Barb)

  2. White Rose by Jean Hanff Korelitz (2005) 416p. Based on the comic opera “Der Rosenkavalier” and updating it to a contemporary (New York) setting, this novel follows a middle-aged professor of history who falls in love with her best friend’s son, a florist. It is a story of how love strikes both an older woman (48), comfortable if not overjoyed in her life, and a young man (26) just starting out in his. (Marty)

  3. Live in Love: Growing Together Through Life’s Changes by Lauren Akins (2020) 336p. In this memoir, Lauren Akins, the wife of country music star Thomas Rhett, shows what it’s really like to be “the perfect couple” fans imagine. She offers a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of being married to her best friend, who just happens to be a music star, and the struggle to find her own footing in the frenzy of her husband’s fame. (Marty)

  4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah (2012) 390p. Jolene, a mother of two and a helicopter pilot in the National Guard, is called up to serve in the Iraq war. Never questioning her commitment to serve, Jolene must leave behind her already troubled marriage and two young girls and fight for her country. (Nancy)

  5. Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler (1974) 276p. Jeremy Pauling, the main character suffers from agoraphobia. He is afraid to leave his house, he trembles and shakes and collapses if he makes it farther than the end of the block. He has lived with his mother all of his life in a home that serves as a boarding house. Her death means changes for Jeremy, who must now confront the outside world in order to take care of himself. (Linda)

  6. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (2010) 364p. It is 1861 and Mary Sutter is a midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon, an unheard of occupation for a woman during that time. Women weren’t considered mentally strong enough to be surgeons. Determined to succeed she travels into the battlefields of the Civil War to face and assist the injured and dying soldiers while learning from field surgeons. (Bea)

  7. Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig (2013) 320p. The characters of “Sandy” Sandison and Morrie Morgan are brought back from earlier books, “Whistling Season” and “Work Song.” This one takes place in Butte, Montana in 1920. Miners at the Anaconda Copper Mine are fighting for better wages and working rights. Morrie, an editorialist for the local “Thunder” newspaper takes up the cause for the miners.(Bea)

  8. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020) 343p. Stella and Desiree grow up in Mallard, LA., a town comprised of light-skinned black people. Soon after their father is killed by nearby white racists, the girls run away to New Orleans. Here they reinvent themselves. Desiree marries the blackest man she can find and Stella decides to pass as white and continues to move on. Their lives converge in the next generation. (Me)

  9. Flight of Eagles by Jack Higgins (1998) 328p. The story of twin brothers, Max and Harry Kelso, sons of an American father and a German mother, both fighter pilot aces in WWII , Max for the Luftwaffe, Harry for the RAF. It’s a fascinating look at the war from both sides and how their love for each other is greater than their different sides in the war. The story is all tied together by a Teddy Bear, and I will leave it there. (Sue)
     
  10. The Inn by James Patterson & Candice Fox (2019) 384p. In this stand alone novel, Bill Robinson,a former Boston police detective, decides to become an innkeeper in the sleepy town of Gloucester. All too soon, he discovers leaving the city behind does not mean leaving behind criminals and drug dealers. (Dan)

  11. The Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship by Carl Behrend (2005) 358p.  Set in 1911, and based on a true story, this is the tale of Captain Schuenemann, skipper of the vessel that each Christmas season hauled thousands of holiday trees to Chicago from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Also a love story between the ship captain’s daughter and one of the crew.(Ellie)

  12. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (2020) 416p. A highly researched book based on the premise that Jesus was married. This is actually the story of Ana, his wife. The author’s research centers around everyday life during that time period of 16 – 30 CE, especially the harsh treatment of women who were neglected and silenced. (Jeanne)

  13. The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Days of Hollywood by Sam Wasson (2020) 416p. Chinatown is the Holy Grail of 1970s cinema. Its twist ending is the most notorious in American film and its closing line of dialogue the most haunting. Here for the first time is the incredible true story of its making. (Paul)

  14. Texas Outlaw (Rory Yates #2) by James Patterson and Andrew Bourelle (2020) 448p. Texas Ranger, Rory Yates, is sent to the remote West Texas town of Rio Lobo, a municipality with two stoplights. Detective Ariana Delgado is the one who requested him, and the only person who believes a local councilwoman’s seemingly accidental death is a murder. (Pete)

  15. Fortune and Glory:Tantalizing Twenty-Seven ( Stephanie Plum #27) by Janet Evanovich (2020) 320p. Another fun mystery featuring our quirky heroine, Stephanie Plum, some hilarious characters (Grandma Mazur), some sticky situations, and a dash of romance ( will it be Ranger or Morelli?). (Pete)

  16. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020) 288p. The main character is full of regrets about her life. After attempting suicide she wakes up in an unusual library in a space between life and death where she gets to try all the other lives she could have lived. (Anita)

Revisiting a Demonstration

Wisconsin State Motto

On March 9, 2011, I wrote about a demonstration at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. After watching the protest and its aftermath in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, I decide to revisit what I felt and said 10 years ago. Could they be considered similar?

I started with looking at the reasons for the protests. At the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers were there to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. It is a purely ceremonial affair, though this time a small group from the opposing party were going to raise objections, a legal, but fruitless exercise. While they were in the Capitol, Trump was still unwilling to concede and called upon the gathering crowd of protestors, telling them, “We’re going to have to fight much harder.” Before the president took the stage, his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani called for “trial by combat” against the Democrats to win the election. And the President’s son said in his speech, “We’re coming for you.”

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker was intent on putting through his Act 10 Proposal, ostensively to balance the budget. The legislation primarily affected the following areas: collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees. In reality, it was a union busting tactic that would have a long reaching effect on teachers, nurses, librarians, to name a few and took money away from child care and aging and disability centers. People were outraged and the protest was done in advance of the vote in order to kill the bill. The legislature was controlled by the Republicans under a Republican Governor.

So we had two groups of angry upset people who wanted their wishes and opinions made known and occupied a capitol, but that is where the similarities end. Unlike Washington, the people in Wisconsin didn’t have to break into the building. No windows were broken, no doors were smashed, no weapons were discovered or brandished. The Assembly continued to meet, no one had to don gas masks and hide in their offices. So far in Washington, there have been at least 55 criminal arrests whereas in Wisconsin fewer than 20 people were arrested from mid-February to mid-March (the duration of the protest) and none were linked to weapons charges.

There certainly were some heated arguments during the Wisconsin protests but there was no violence to speak of. No one died. No one broke into legislator’s offices, no one smeared their feces on the floors and walls, no one purposely destroyed property. The biggest complaint in Madison was that the tape used to put up signs on the cement walls left a stain and residue. Once the protestors were aware of this they switched to painter’s tape. When that many people occupy a building for many weeks there is going to be some damage and there was a cost for clean-up and repair, about $7.8 million. Only $350,000 of that was for actual damage, the rest of the money was labor and overtime pay for law enforcement. The full damage in Washington has not yet been assessed but it could run up to a billion dollars, which we, the taxpayers will have to pay.

Also the Madison, Wisconsin protestors were just interested in keeping their wages and retirement, protect the future of their families, not overturn an election and threaten democracy. No weapons, no molotov cocktails, but very clever signage and excellent music. They were not forcibly removed until a curfew was established many weeks into the protest. Here is an image of our protest, compare it to the one in Washington.

Protestors camping in the Capitol rotunda, Madison, Wisconsin, 2011.
Protestors, Washington Capitol, 2021

Full disclosure, I was a librarian at the time and my husband taught at the University in Green Bay, both public employees, so we were personally affected by Act 10. I was not able to attend the demonstration in Madision but I fully supported it. I think it was justified. I may have supported the protestor’s right to a peaceful protest in Washington if that was all it was but those people did not come peacefully. They had weapons, they had bombs, they had ladders for god’s sake. This was premeditated attack. And they were encouraged by a delusional, sore loser. For what? Four more years of lies and division.

There are protests and there are riots. Madison was a peaceful protest, Washington was a senseless riot. Please click on the link above or here to see my original post. The two videos I posted show a stark contrast between the two events.

Ultimately, the Wisconsin legislature passed Walker’s Act 10 bill and I believe the state has negatively felt its consequences ever since.