Craanen Pond

Mar 20, 2019: We live on Craanen Road. It is in a rural area of Wisconsin but not super rural. We have neighbors and there are 13 other houses on the road. But across from our house is a very large field. Fortunately it is just a field and no one (yet) has decided to build a house. Probably because the area is low and putting in septic would be costly. But whatever the reason we are glad.

Every now and then all the elements of nature come together just right. Heavy snowfall and a quick melt coupled with a lot of spring rain causes the low area to fill with water. When that happens we have the benefit of a large pond during migration. That is happening this year. So far we have about a two acre pond forming. Until yesterday the pond had a fine sheen of ice on the top but we have had a few days and nights in a row of above freezing so today we had open water. Craanen Pond has appeared.

I think this shows the entire pond, almost

In the past open water, coupled with migration, equals a variety of ducks and shorebirds pausing at Craanen Pond. Today is the first day of spring but migration is just beginning. In the yard we have had redwing blackbirds, grackles, starlings, cowbirds, robins and song sparrows. It is just a few of the regulars but it means the movement from south has begun. Today, because the water was open we kept checking, just in case. Sure enough, three dark specks were on the surface. We always have binoculars ready so we checked out the specks. Bingo! Three ducks, one male mallard and a pair of hooded mergansers.

Mar. 21, 2019: This morning, first full day of spring, I tried to get a picture of the whole pond. I got pretty close but I also noticed a few new visitors. In the above two photos there are some black specs along the near shore toward the right. They turned out to be Sandhill Cranes. The first I’ve seen this year. Can’t wait to see who might arrive in the coming days.

Three Sandhill Cranes.
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Another Turn of the Page: An Interminable Month

Winter hung in there, like an invalid refusing to die. Day after grey day the ice stayed hard; the world remained unfriendly and cold.”
Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

Well I complained about the cold last month and now we have endured February and the snow and ice has driven almost everyone mad. The kids have had so many snow days they will probably still be going to school in July to make up the lost time. I have rescheduled or cancelled many appointments and activities, as have others. February may be the shortest month but it seems to just go on, and on, and on. It doesn’t help when my snowbird friends send me notes reporting the warm temperatures in Florida, Arizona, Texas. But you know, I heard it snowed in Hawaii and snowed hard in Seattle. So it is not all bad here, we have snow plows. Oh well, what to do? Well, we are FINALLY at the last day of the month and fortunately our book group wasn’t cancelled so I have twelve books to share with you.

1. Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks (2018) 322p. This is a love at first sight classic romance, that sees destiny play a huge role in shaping the lives of two individuals, Tru and Hope. Sparks describes his latest novel as ‘a classic story of lovers long denied’. But that is what I expect if I pick a Nicholas Sparks book.

2. Liar, Liar by James Patterson, Detective Harriet Blue #3, (2018) 368p. In this thrilling new chapter of Harriet Blue’s life, she transforms into quite the outlaw as she frantically works to ensnare a dangerous serial killer who murdered her brother. Now this book was presented by the same reader who did the Sparks book. He is quite an eclectic reader.

3. The Winner by David Baldacci (1997) 528p. LuAnn Tyler, a poor single Mom, is offered the gift of a lifetime, a $100 million lottery jackpot. All she has to do is change her identity and leave the U.S. forever. All goes well until she decides to break her contract and return home.

4. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901) 366p. Kim (Kimball) O’Hara is a 12-year old orphan in Lahore, India in the 1850’s, child of an Irish soldier and Indian mother. Despite the loss of both parents he thrives well as a street urchin. His life opens up when he assists a Tibetan lama on a pilgrimage and joins him on the road, pretending to be a disciple. I am always happy when one of our group picks up a classic. Part travelogue, part coming of age. Read it in the spirit of the time it was written.

5. The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall (2017) 322p. Polly Havens is irreverent and overbearing, almost a caricature of the seemingly mean lady next door who really has a good heart. She smokes, she drinks and she is widowed in her late 50’s. She discovers, shortly after her husband dies, that she is pregnant. The story is narrated by her daughter Willow, who is 10 years old when the story begins and moves us through the next five years.

6. Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart (2015) 336p. A mystery set in 1708 in a town in China on the Tibetan border. The main character is Li Du, an imperial librarian, now in exile. The Emperor will arrive for the first time to usher in the eclipse of the sun, cementing his power and majesty over the region. Li Du is charged with finding if the sudden death of a Jesuit astronomer, Brother Pieter, is a random killing or orchestrated by someone associated with the Emperor.

7. Becoming by Michele Obama (2018) 426p. Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent as the First Lady of the United States. I recommend the audio version, because hearing this in her own voice makes it even more personal.

8. The New Order by Karen Bender (2018) 240p. This is a collection of short stories about a variety of topics, from the way friendships change over time, to bombings and school shootings. The stories are based on the contemporary American culture of today, especially the darker parts of it.

9. No Man’s Land by David Baldacci, John Puller #4 (2016) 420p. After returning from his latest military assignment, John Puller is visited by two military officials with potential news of a cold case from thirty years before. These two men have a letter from a woman who lived at Fort Monroe with the Pullers when John’s mother disappeared. The letter suggests that Puller’s father, an accomplished military man at the time, was responsible for the disappearance and murder of his wife.

10. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen (2013) 318p. In this novel, the poet, Frances Osgood, is a young mother raising two children while her philandering husband is off in another city. She meets Edgar Allan Poe at a literary salon. It’s the start of a love triangle involving Frances, Poe, and his wife Virginia who is ill with consumption.

11. New York by Edward Rutherford (2009) 862p. A historical novel that follows four centuries of the history of New York and the people who lived in it. Rutherford is an exceptional historical fiction author. He is known for his attention to details and character development. A good read for an interminable month.

12. Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (2018) 304p. Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, she stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened. A page-turner.

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

It never fails, at some point in the day my Sweetie will say one of two things, “I’ve got dinner covered.” or “What do you want for dinner?” The first statement is music to my ears because I don’t have to make any decisions. But the last one requires me to participate in the narrowing down process. Not that anything I say will make a difference. The “What do you want for dinner?” query is usually followed by an opening of the freezer where I peer in, while he says, ‘We have sausages, chicken, smoked pork or scallops. Hmm, scallops it is!.’ And unless I moan, whine or express any negativity, that’s what gets thawed out.

Last night it was indeed scallops. More perusing of the frig and pantry and he decided green beans, purchased a few days before, and some pasta we were given as a gift would accompany the scallops. Yes, you read that label below correctly, Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink. Curt said it would be another easy prep meal but the black noodles should make for a fun post. It would certainly be a dramatic plating.

scallops, green beans, spaghetti, Calabrian hot pepper paste

First steps go quickly. Slice some garlic, about 1 Tbs and put it in a pan with 2 Tbs olive oil. Put water on to boil for the noodles and for the beans. And put a light coating grapeseed oil in another pan for the scallops. I am assuming here that you know that the noodles will take longer to cook than the beans or the scallops but ultimately your stove will look like this.The garlic should be sauteed till it is soft, a light golden color but not browned.Once the noodles are cooked, drain and add to the pan with the garlic. Add about 1/4 tsp of the Calabrian red pepper paste and toss.Meanwhile cook your scallops till they are nicely seared. Move them to your plates.In the pan where you cooked the scallops add 1 Tbs of butter and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. We had Meyer Lemons left over from the previous night so that is what he used. Reduce till you have a nice sauce, not too thick.

Plate your beans and noodles with the scallops which you now can drizzle with the sauce.Dramatic? Definitely. The green bears just had butter, salt and pepper. The noodles did not taste any different than any other pasta, except for being nice and garlicky with just a little bite of red pepper. The blackness, however, really was different and a little disconcerting. Quick and tasty.

Drama on a Plate

When your Grocery gives you Lemons…

Earlier this week Meyer Lemons popped up in the produce department of our local grocery. My Sweetie, the chef and shopper in our family, happily grabbed a bag and brought them home for a culinary event. He also must have had an idea of what he was going to do with them because he also bought chicken.

When I asked what we were having for dinner, he cheerily said,”Lemon Rosemary Chicken.” “Do you have a recipe,” I asked. “Nope, but I’ll figure it out,” was the reply.

Thanks to the internet he found several Roasted Lemon Chicken recipes, which he proceeded to tweak. (After all most served 4 or 6 and we were only 2). Here is the very easy dinner prep from last Wednesday.

INGREDIENTS

2 chicken breasts, skin on, bone in
1/2 lb of potatoes, cut into halves or quarters, if large
1 medium onion, cut in large pieces
2 lemons, 1 sliced, 1 juiced. Note: Meyer Lemons are sweeter than regular lemons
3 Tbs. of olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small bunch of fresh rosemary, about 10 sprigs
1/4 tsp Calabrian (Italian) chili paste, or other chili paste or equal amount of dried chili flakes
3/4 tsp salt per pound of chicken
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper

Before you start assembly, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, chili paste or flakes.

Step 1: Scatter your rosemary sprigs over the bottom of your cooking pan. Last fall when the garden was being put to bed I brought in a couple of my herb plants. So glad I did because we had fresh rosemary at hand for this recipe. Curt used his cast iron skillet which is well-seasoned and ready to go. If you are using, say, a glass baking dish, spray it with cooking spray first.

Fresh rosemary in the pot and the pan

Step 2: Add the layer of potatoes, and onions. NOTE: Next time we will add more onions and cut them in much larger chunks.
Step 3: Add on the lemon slices.Step 4: Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts and place them on top of the lemons.Step 5: Spoon or pour the whisked lemon juice-olive oil mixture over the chicken. Put the pan, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for about an hour or until the chicken and potatoes are fully cooked. NOTE: Your chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.If yours comes out looking like this, you are ready to have dinner. The Meyer Lemon slices because of their sweetness and softer skin can be eaten right with the potatoes and chicken.

Done!

This recipe is easy to double or triple, depending on how many diners show up at your table. We paired this with a Sauvignon Blanc. Bon Appetit!

Want to Move to Wisconsin?

If you do, you better be prepared. Sure, summers are wonderful. Lots of marvelous outdoor activities, especially up here in Green Bay, where we have a Great Lake on one side and a Bay on the other and a river running down the middle. There is hiking and birding and fishing and boating. We have Farmer’s Markets and gardens and great cheese. We have lawns to mow and bicycles to ride. We have the Milwaukee Brewers to cheer for in the spring and summer and the Green Bay Packers to root for in the fall and winter. What was that? Winter, you say? Yes, we have winter, quite a lot of winter. But lately, those winters have become a bit unpredictable.

The snowplow built this wall of snow.

This year our December was pretty okay. Average high was 28 but then we had 2 weeks in the upper 30’s and 40’s. No white Christmas here. The first three weeks of January were pretty much the same. Sure we would get a couple of inches of snow here and there but nothing to cry about. Until mid January I only had to pay my plow guy once. But then, in the last week of January, winter arrived with a vengeance. Single digits reigned. As we entered February it was more of the same accompanied by wind. We had highs of -9, -5, 0, and wind chills as low as -23. West of us into Minnesota, they were having highs of -29 and a windchill of -53. We have some benefit of living by the water, yes it gets cold, but those bodies of water have some tempering affect on the temps. Not great help, but some. Those super cold days were followed by 2 days in the 40’s. Everything melted and then we snapped back to 25 and below and all that water froze. Skating rink parking lots anyone? Oh, did I mention we were also getting snow? It started out slow but then every other day we would get another 5 inches, 6 inches, and just this past Tuesday another 8 inches. Just getting out the back door was getting difficult.The roads were awful.

My road. No snowplow yet.

Just the piles from blowing and drifting were getting pretty high. Then the snow plow added to the mounds. In the back of my house we are running out of places to put the snow.

Front of house slowly disappearing behind a drift.

Back of house

And even the birds were getting frustrated. I brushed off these feeders many times and reloaded them with seed because our feathered friends were gobbling everything in sight.Last night the local weather guy said we have racked up 53 inches so far this winter, last year at this time we had 24 inches. And guess what, we have a couple of more months of winter ahead of us.

When you are stuck in the house and the snow is coming down like crazy or the sleet is beating on the window, you think it will never end. But today it got up to 38 degrees, the main roads have cleared of ice and slush ( we have pretty good road crews) , and I got to the library and my book group. It’s Valentine’s Day and my husband has a wonderful rib eye steak and a very nice bottle of wine planned. Yes, it is still winter and will be for awhile but we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes are rare, flooding is spotty, so far the plagues of frogs, locusts and fiery hail have held off and I know spring will come eventually. Living in Wisconsin is really pretty good.

Tea Like Never Before

I like tea. It is more often my go-to drink than coffee. In the winter I drink it hot, in the summer I drink it cold. Though I have been known to brew up a pitcher of iced tea in January as well. And all this time I thought I was brewing it correctly.

Brewing instructions

Sure I saw the little brewing instructions on the loose tea packets I bought at the various tea emporiums I visited. They told me that for optimal flavor my Green Tea should be steeped at 175°, my Oolong at 195°, my Black & Herbal teas at 205° and my Rooibos at 212°. I grew up believing that if you brought your water to a boil and poured it over your Lipton teabag, you had made tea. Well, yes you did but was it the best tea you could have made and how could you even tell since that was the only tea you ever drank? So for most of my life, I have blissfully ignored these brewing suggestions.

Since I have been buying a lot more tea lately, and frankly spending a bit more for loose specialty blends at tea shops, I asked for an electric kettle for Christmas. Mostly because I had been heating my water in a measuring cup in the microwave and the cup was not in good shape anymore. So, I thought, why not get something that is actually designed to heat up water? My Sweetie, always happy to get suggestions, bought me such a pot. On the handle was a nice thermostat that you could set to bring your water to the exact temperature suggested for the tea you chose to drink that day. The first time I used it I went for the default setting, 212°. I was making a black tea so I was close to the recommended temperature. The tea was good but the real test came when I went with a more delicate blend and actually did what the package said.I had purchased a white tea a long while ago called Coconut Souffle. I had made it a couple of times but I was less impressed than I had hoped to be. This was a “white” tea and the directions said 180°, then steep for 3 minutes. Okay, new pot, let’s see if you’ve got the right stuff.  I set the temperature for 180° and punched start. In a minute or two the water was ready and I poured it over the leaves and gave it 3 minutes. First off, the color of the tea was much richer looking, not the sickly paleness I had seen before. And darn, the flavor was so much better. What had I been missing all these years?Yes, you tea aficionados are saying, ‘told you so, why didn’t you just follow directions?’ Well take heart, you can teach an old pup new tricks.

This morning it was Manchurian Mango I brewed up for breakfast. Black tea is supposed to brew at 205° but this one is fruity notes and when I looked it up the suggested temperature was 90°C, that’s 194°F, so 195 on the pot was close enough. Beautiful color and as the book said, optimal flavor extraction. Ah, perfect.

Manchurian Mango

Another Turn of the Page: Reporting from the Frozen Tundra

“Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered…sealed away for opening on a January day with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks…”Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury is a wonderful book to read this time of year when all is cold and snowy outside. We certainly are that up here in Wisconsin. Single digit degree days and below zero nights for a week now and possibly 6 plus inches of snow due tomorrow. The book is Bradbury’s ode to small towns, summers and strangeness all seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. The line about opening that summer bottle of wine in January reminded me of a similar theme in a song by Greg Brown called, “Canned Goods.” The chorus goes, “Peaches on the shelf, Potatoes in the bin, Supper’s ready, everybody come on in, now. Taste a little of the summer, Taste a little of the summer, Taste a little of the summer. My grandma put it all in jars.”
Can you tell I am tired of winter already? But that’s why I have berries and tomatoes and lamb and other goodies tucked away in my freezer (Yes, I used to can but not anymore). I have books to read and yarn to knit, I will make it to spring just fine. I’m going to go brew a cup of tea now while you read through the list of books we talked about this month.

1. Till Death Us Do Part: A True Murder Mystery by Vincent Bugliosi (2004) 448 pages. On December 11, 1966, a mysterious assassin shot Henry Stockton to death, set his house on fire, and left the scene without a trace. A year later, when a woman was found brutally killed, shreds of evidence suggested a connection between the two murders.

2. Tipperary by Frank Delaney (2007) 448 pages. A historical novel about early Irish history. Told from the point of view of a young man (when he started his journal), it takes us through the tumultuous years of rebellion and revolution that formed Ireland.

3. House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig (1978) 314 pages.
This memoir begins with a very young Ivan and his father Charlie, soon after the loss of mother and wife. The remainder of the book deals with Ivan’s growing up in some of the most remote country in the lower states during the post-World War II period.

4. Virgil Wander by Lief Enger (2018) 303 pages. Set in small town on Lake Superior, Enger’s book is  full of quirky characters, curious incidents and lots of good old-fashioned friendships. Virgil Wander is one of those quirky characters, dealing with life after a near death experience has left him with a little bit of brain damage and an inability to recall many adjectives. The writing is beautiful and should be savored.

5. Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney (2016) 608 pages. An epic Arctic romance centered around Flora who spent a large part of her childhood in the Arctic onboard her father’s whaling boat resulting in a love of the Arctic and the native people who lived there. Now she is returning to the frozen seas as the head of her own exploration expedition.

6. House Calls and Hitching Posts: Stories from Dr. Elton Lehman’s Career Among the Amish by Elton Lehman (2004) 358 pages. A country-boy-turned-country-doctor goes on house calls among the Amish of eastern Ohio in this warm collection of true-life tales. Reminiscent of James Herriot’s style.

7. The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (2016) 371 pages. This is a fictional account of the ‘war’ between Thomas Edison / General Electric and George Westinghouse over patent rights, inventions, and the law. It’s also a novel about genius, competitiveness, obsession and madness.

8. Look Alive Twenty-Five ( Stephanie Plum #25) by Janet Evanovich (2018) 320 pages. Once again Evanovich gives us a funky, fun mystery that follows the Stephanie Plum Series formula. But it may be the “formula” that is hurting this series, I will let you decide. Grandma Mazur is sorely missed in this one.

9. Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (2013) 272 pages. When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife agree to take her in. It is World War I and Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front. Now she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

10. Defending Jacob by William Landay (2012) 421 pages. Andy Barber is a 51-year-old DA. He has a wife who is a teacher and a 14-year-old son, Jacob. They are well known and respected in their community. One day, he gets a call that a 14-year-old boy has been found murdered in the park, not far from Jacob’s school. He takes on the case but soon has to drop out because the police find incriminating evidence against Jacob, who now becomes a suspect.

11. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak (2018) 464 pages. This was reviewed last month in a positive way. Interestingly, the reader this month did not like it at all. You’ll have to decide. By the author of “The Book Thief”.

12. Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14) by Louise Penny (2018) 400 pages. Our reviewer found Penny’s latest to be darker in theme than her previous books—a lot about a new drug that was going to be marketed and much more lethal than fentanyl. Still a good read, but not much of her lovely descriptions. I wonder if the death of her husband from Alzheimer’s has colored her outlook?

 

Beans & Greens: Further Afield

ingredientsRecently, Alison Roman posted a recipe in the New York Times Food section for an Asian inflected stew which she called Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric.  I thought it sounded good so I printed it off and put it in the pile of recipes to try someday.  A few days later Ms. Roman appeared on the Today Show’s cooking segment to prepare this very dish.  Not only did it look appealing but it also looked very easy to make.  So, out of the pile and onto the counter for that night’s meal.

Rather than reprint the recipe here, I’ll give you a link to the original Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric as it appeared in the NY Times.  I followed her recipe exactly but cut it in-half which yielded two hardy portions.  As Ms. Roman says, the coconut milk makes it insanely creamy – just the thing for a cold winters night.

Not leaving well enough alone, I added a scattering of peanuts to provide some crunch.

Vegan/Vegetarian Note.  You can use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and eliminate the yogurt to make this a vegan dish.  As is, it’s vegetarian.

In retrospect it occurred to me that this was a Beans & Greens variation with Asian parentage.  If you’re interested in other Beans & Greens dishes we’ve posted follow these links.

It’s a theme – Beans & Greens: Migas

Beans & Greens: Hummus

Beans & Greens: “Roman” Pasta

Beans & Greens: Sprouts & Bacon

Beans & Greens: Tabbouleh

Sweet Zelda

Zelda-roo, Zelda-roo, Everybody say Zelda-roo. It sounds better when you sing it but of course, you have to know the tune. There was a hymn or song in church that went, Allelu, Allelu, Everybody say Allelu….. but my son Nathan and I couldn’t help changing it up at home for sweet Zelda, our gray and white cat.

Zelda

Two and a half years ago our other cat, a cuddly guy called Butchie, died after a short illness. Yesterday, Zelda ( who was a few months older than him, so she would be about 20) also passed. It wasn’t illness just old age. In human years she would be 96. In her last year she slept a lot and her arthritis got worse and worse. Today’s post is a remembrance of that member of our family.

Butchie came into our home first, from the Green Bay Humane Society. But in the past we always had two cats, so a short time later we went looking for a companion. Back to the Humane Society. We had looked around at every kitten available for adoption but noticed a separate cage on the front counter that held a young cat, maybe 7 months old. We asked why she was separated out from the general population. The woman at the desk informed us she was recuperating from an operation and pointed to a shaved spot on her chest where there were a few stitches under some orange antiseptic. I am not certain anymore of the exact story of how they got her but when she was examined the veterinarian discovered a botfly had laid eggs into her skin. It is pretty yucky if you look it up but suffice to say the larvae develop there and feed off the host. Zelda’s larvae had been removed, she had been given antibiotics and was fine. She was available for adoption. However, she wasn’t that pristine, perfect kitten that everybody wanted. We thought she was beautiful and we took her home. We named her Zelda after Dobie Gilis’ friend Zelda. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was an old sitcom from the early 60’s. Friends would ask if we named her for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, nah, we weren’t that fancy.

There was a “get to know each other” period between Butchie and Zelda which resulted in a lot of yelling and hissing but it didn’t take long before they were best buds.

Now we always said that Butchie was a good dog. He would come when you called, he was curious, he loved to cuddle, he was always around. When I tried to find pictures of Zelda I kept finding just pictures of Butchie. I think that is because she was not “a good dog”, she was pure cat, all the way. She would ‘let you” pick her up or brush her or pet her but it didn’t take long before she indicated that she had enough and she would squirm out of your reach and be gone.

Notice I have a firm grip because she is tired of posing for pictures.

But we loved her for what she was. I don’t know if she missed her old companion after he died. She started to be around us more, getting on the hassock to sleep by our feet or sleep on the couch but her arthritis eventually prevented her from getting up on any furniture. She kept more and more to herself as time went by and finally staked out a spot in a closet, so that’s where we put her bed. She still loved to be brushed and have her belly rubbed, but of course on her terms. A daily couple of tablespoons of clam juice became the highlight of the day. Usually at noon but she managed to convince us that 11:30, then 11:00 was more to her liking. Always training us to do things her way. In a way, she left us on her terms as well. Yesterday morning she slowly moved herself into the kitchen where she sat down by her water bowl. After a few hours we realized that this was where she was going to stay so we moved her bed there and put her in it. She laid there all day with the busyness of the kitchen around her. We would stop and pet her and tell her it was okay. And when Curt checked on her around 5pm, she was gone.

We loved you Zel. I hope Butchie is letting you nap quietly out there in Cat heaven.

Turn down those lights, can’t you see I’m napping here.

Another Turn of the Page: Will Santa bring you Books?

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

It is true, one cannot have enough socks. But it is also true that one cannot have enough books, so if I had to choose it would be difficult, only because I have a hard time concentrating on my reading when my feet are cold. So I propose a compromise, give me at least one pair of super-duper warm socks, alpaca is a good choice, wool is marvelous..and then give me at least two books. Save the electronics, and the underwear and the food gifts. Socks AND books would make me very happy. For December the book group had a variety of suggestions for those gift books. Many of our choices were actually published in 2018. Some are actually Christmas books and one is old and amazing. What’s on your list?1. Way of the WAVES: Women in the Navy by Marie Bennett Alsmeyer (1981) 186 pages. One of our members is 94 and is a former WAVE ( Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve in WWII). She found this book that she had bought at a unit convention years ago. It is not in print but I was able to find this quote from the author, “The Way of the WAVES is not a diary. These pages are not filled with research and statistics. That is left to historians who want to search the archives for stories about women in the services during World War II. The Way of the WAVES is a happening. This is my happening: and I give credit to my 87 year-old mother who saved all my letters from Boot Camp in 1943, through Corps School and hospital duty at Oak Knoll, and until my discharge in Memphis in 1945. She encouraged me to go out to see what the world was all about, and I want my own children to have such freedom.”

2. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018) 318 pages. If you love libraries you will mourn and cheer as the author takes you through the burning of the Los Angeles Public Library on April 28, 1986 and its eventual resurrection. I also enjoyed the history of the establishment of the library.

3. The Reckoning by John Grisham (2018) 432 pages. Grisham tells the story of Pete Banning, favorite son of Clanton Mississippi and a surviving WWII POW veteran. After being declared dead, yet somehow surviving the horrors of the Bataan death march and POW Camp O’Donnell, he returns home for a joyous reunion with his family. But shortly thereafter, something goes horribly wrong. Pete walks into town, goes to his church and calmly guns down the pastor. In the drawn-out legal battle that ensues, his only statement to the sheriff, to his lawyers, to the judge, to the jury, and to his family—was: “I have nothing to say.” The reviews of this book are at opposite poles. Our reviewer thought the book to graphic, especially the WWII scenes.

4. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak (2018) 464 pages. The story of five Australian brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance after their mother’s death. By the author of, “The Book Thief.”

5. The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (2017) 356 pages. Yes, another WWII novel, but this author takes a different approach with her WWII story, opting to relay the devastation through the eyes of three distinct German women. Women that stumble and make mistakes along the way, like we all do, but ultimately strive to find some semblance of a life among the scattered ruins of their bleak existence and the memories of the awful things they witnessed throughout the war. (Goodreads summary)

6. The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve (2017) 256 pages. This events in this novel unfold through what has become to be known as the Great Fires of 1947, a series of forest fires, following months of severe drought, that devastated hundreds of thousands of acres in Maine. The largest fire in the state’s history, it raged from Bar Harbor to Kittery.

7. Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler (2018) 368 pages. Pete is our member who loves Christmas stories. This year he read the ones put out by Lisa Jackson, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Richard Paul Evans and Donna Van Liere. The first three were okay, the latter two he enjoyed much more. But the Christmas Camp was the best, the perfect Hallmark movie in book form.

8. A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018) 352 pages. Jodi Picoult never fails to take on a controversial topic in her novels. In this one she tackles the contentious issue of a woman’s right to abortion. Set in a women’s reproductive health services clinic ( a la Planned Parenthood) the story begins with a desperate gunman shooting at those within the clinic and holding them hostage.

9. Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2011) 394 pages. This is the story of John Henry “Doc” Holliday who died of tuberculosis at age 36. He was a gambler, a fornicator, a gentleman, a killer, a dentist, and an accomplished piano player. He was a man capable of great violence one moment and compassionate kindness in the next. He was easily slighted. He was a loyal friend and a dangerous enemy.

10. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy (2018) 384 pages. The author takes us into the epicenter of America’s twenty-plus year struggle with opioid addiction.

11. The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles (2018) 464 pages. Set in 1930’s Brazil, this is the story of Graca and Dores – two girls from two different parts of society. They have an intense friendship filled with fierce love and ruthless rivalry. They need and depend on each other in different ways, both feeling incomplete without the other.

Merry Christmas! Hope you get some nice warm socks with all your books.