Another Turn of the Page: July Travels

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
― Rumi Jalalud-Din

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
St. Augustine

The group was a little smaller this month due to traveling. Last year at this time we were locked in our houses and the furthest we got to travel was our own backyard. But now that more and more people are getting vaccinated and many state and local governments are lifting Covid restrictions people are getting out like never before. Biking, camping, driving, flying, visiting family or being visited. And that is good. Good to get back to normal, good to see family, good to celebrate holidays. Yes, a new virus variant is sneaking its way into some areas but being aware, being cautious, being vaccinated, can still allow you to travel. I won’t be doing my traveling till September but I do have a short getaway planned to take a 4-day art workshop. Maybe your away is just a nice dinner at a restaurant or a beach or a campsite with a lot of books. However you want to get refreshed, do it.

Now only nine people attended the meeting but three of our travelers emailed their titles. Ok, we like to talk about what we read no matter where we happen to be. Feel free to tell us what you’ve been reading.

  1. Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor by James M. Scott (2015) 648p. Even before rescuers could remove all the dead from the oily Hawaiian waters following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, American war planners started work on an ambitious counter assault, a strike against the heart of the Japanese Empire: Tokyo. This raid, led by Army Forces Lt. Col. and famous stunt and racing pilot Jimmy Doolittle, tested American ingenuity and gambled the precious few warships in the Pacific Fleet’s battered arsenal, but also boosted American morale and jolted the Japanese out of the mistaken belief they were immune to attacks on their home soil.
  2. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of a New Hollywood by Mark Harris (2008) 490p. Explores the epic human drama behind the making of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967-Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Doctor Doolittle, and Bonnie and Clyde-and through them, the larger story of the cultural revolution that transformed Hollywood, and America.
  3. April 1865: The Month that Saved America by Jay Winik (2001) 461p. If the American Civil War ended the way most civil wars end General Robert E. Lee and other high-ranking Confederate officers would have been hanged for treason, other lower level members of Confederate army sent to prison, and the residents of the Confederacy supporting states would have lost their rights indefinitely. This book is an exploration into why the American Civil War did not end in this way.
  4. The Forgotten Daughter by Joanna Goodman (2020) 416p. This is a sequel to the author’s book, Home for Unwanted Girls, about the injustices done to the Duplessis orphans in Quebec, but it is also a love story involving two people on opposite sides of the Quebec separatist movement. Well written, with interesting characters and tough issues of political violence and morality, but maybe too much detail if you are unaware of Quebec’s political history.
  5. Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse (2021) 390p. At an isolated hotel high in the Swiss Alps, cut off by bad weather and avalanches, a woman is murdered in a bizarre manner and another woman is missing. Sounds great, then, just like an avalanche, the story goes downhill from there. Our reviewer says,”Skip this one.”
  6. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (2019) 320p. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, this novel combines the unique tale of the Packhorse Librarians with a story of fierce strength and determination of one woman trying to overcome some strong obstacles.
  7. WIN by Harlan Coben (2021) 375p. Windsor Horne Lockwood III — or Win, as his few friends call him — doesn’t know how his suitcase and his family’s stolen painting ended up with a dead man. But his interest is piqued, especially when the FBI tells him that this man is the one who kidnapped his cousin twenty years ago and was also behind an act of domestic terrorism — and that the conspirators may still be at large. Win is a regular character in Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels, but this is the first novel dedicated solely to him.
  8. The Real James Bond: A True Story of Identity Theft, Avian Intrigue and Ian Fleming by Jim Wright (2020) 144p. When James Bond (marksman, author, ornithologist) published his landmark book, Birds of the West Indies, he had no idea it would set in motion events that would link him to the most iconic spy in the Western world and turn his life upside down.
  9. Red Book ( Black Book series #2) by James Paterson & David Ellis (2021) 400p. Detective Billy Harney of Chicago PD gets a surprise posting to the Special Operations Section and is assigned a new partner, Detective Carla Griffin. Their first investigation is a drive by shooting which appears to be gang related. However, delving deeper reveals links to Harney’s past in more ways than one.
  10. Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen by Bob Greene (2002) 272p. This is the true story of North Platte, Nebraska during World War II. Troop trains on route to their ultimate destinations in Europe and the Pacific passed through this small community daily. Every day of the year, every day of the war, the people who lived there banned together to form the North Platte Canteen where homemade food, entertainment, and recognition was given to soldiers during their brief stop.
  11. Bitter Harvest by Ann Rule (1998) 352p. This is the true story of Dr. Debora Green, a very bright Kansas physician whose life unraveled into a nightmare of murder and virtual insanity. After her trial for the murder of two of her children and the attempted murder of her husband, psychiatrists attempted to answer why something like this could have happened.
  12. A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3) by John Grisham (2020) 464p. Jake Brigance returns, five years after he dramatically got Carl Lee off on a murder charge in A Time to Kill, Grisham’s first novel. Now, he is asked to represent sixteen year old Drew Gamble, accused of murdering his mother’s boyfriend Stuart Kofer, a cop on the local police force who Drew and his sister claimed was abusing their mother.

A Difficult Time

I have been making a journey with my mother that I had hoped would never come. My mother is 95 years old and and has gone through a lot in her life. But even when times were bad she was strong. She was the person who held the household together when I was growing up. She managed the finances, cooked the meals, cleaned the house. She took on part-time jobs in billing and secretarial positions. She cleaned other people’s houses. My Dad was the fix it guy, the yard guy, the go to work at a factory everyday guy. Management was not his forte so he left all of that to her.

Dad was ten years older and when he retired they moved to Eagan, MN (a suburb of St.Paul) from Chicago,IL because the business where my mom worked was transferring and they asked her to come along. My sister and I were both married by then so it was an easy decision and my mother’s brother lived in the Cities, so there would be family nearby. My Mom was the one who sold the house, found the new one and arranged all of the moving plans. My Dad packed. The business my Mom moved with eventually was sold and she found a new job, volunteered and of course, ran the house. My Dad did the yard work and I believe did a little cooking. But eventually his health caught up to him and he had a heart attack and and needed an operation on a couple of his valves. Around this time I became pregnant with Nathan, who would be my parents only grandchild. When he was around two, they made the decision to move to Green Bay where I was living to be near to him. And once again my Mom sold the old house, found a new one and planned all of the move. My Dad’s health prevented him from helping in any meaningful way. Congestive heart failure took him in a year. My Mom continued to work, enjoy time with Nathan and once again sold her house and moved, this time to an apartment.One other apartment and two senior living apartments has brought us to the present. She continued to work as a secretary for her insurance agent’s business up until November 2020. It was down to three days a week, 9 – noon, but it got her up, out of the house and gave her purpose. And this was even during the pandemic. She still drove herself to work, to church, to the grocery, to the bank. But she knew that she was slowing down and couldn’t handle all the details in the office, so she officially retired at the age of 94. And since then she has been living independently, doing as much as she can even with a lot of pain from arthritis and a certain amount of depression. But she was managing until she fell in her apartment in the early morning of April 26, 2021. ER, then 3 days hospital, then off to rehab. A miss diagnosis of soft tissue damage instead of the slight fracture that existed near her artificial knee. Four weeks of non-weight bearing turned into 6 weeks and the inactivity and uncertainty of the future took a toll on her body and her mind. This woman who had always been in control and independent, now had to rely on others, essentially strangers, to bring her food, manage her bathroom needs, wash her and dress her. Of course I visited a lot and in the early weeks we were all optimistic that she would soon be released but as days stretched on and we had no end in sight her depression and anxiety spiked. It was very difficult.

I could see the writing on the wall. Her orthopedic doctor said assisted living should definitely be pursued as living alone was pretty much out of the question and a wheelchair would be needed for now and maybe permanently, depending on her ability to get stronger once the bone healed. So I interviewed assisted living facilities, started the exit steps from her current apartment and figured out how to pay the bills. I now understand the stress and fatigue some of my friends and relatives have gone through with their parents and it is nothing you can prepare for.

June 3rd she moved into her new place but 3 days later she was rushed to the ER after falling. I thought the fall was because she is stubborn and didn’t want to press the call button for help, but it was in reality a UTI, which she probably had before she even moved in. I have learned that a UTI in the elderly can be life-threatening. She was incoherent, confused, agitated, angry and all of that led to her bad decision to go to the restroom without getting assistance. After a week in the hospital, getting intravenous antibiotics, I moved her back to her apartment. Is she back to her old self? No. I don’t think I will ever see the woman prior to the fall in April. But after two weeks she is getting around in her wheelchair (she now wants a motorized scooter because everyone is zooming around except her), goes to her meals in the dining room, has met some nice people (my mother has always been an extrovert which is why six weeks in rehab, mostly alone, except when I visited or the aides came in, was not good for her), has joined in many of the planned activities and is starting to get used to her new life. I pray it continues.

Me? Well, I lost 5lbs and probably grew many more gray hairs, however I was able to keep my hair appointment so you’ll never see them. And today I booked a massage.

Life is not for wimps, but it still continues.

My Mom, the extrovert, participating in a fashion show at the age of 90.

Book Sale Finds & Bread Salad

Some of the best cookbooks we own were purchased at Library Used Book Sales. Getting a $30.00 book for $2.00 is always fun and even if you only find one great recipe in the book it is well worth cost. That is true of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes & Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant by Judy Rodgers. I am sure we have found more than one recipe from this book but the one we have gone back to many times is Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. Probably the first time we made it we dutifully followed the instructions. But in subsequent preparations the base of the recipe is used with lots of substitutions and variations. Judy Rodgers would have you roast your own chicken and she wasn’t keen on using sourdough bread. But we picked up a roasted chicken at our local grocery and we had just bought a beautiful country sourdough loaf so that’s what we used. It also made it possible to have this salad for dinner even though we didn’t start till very late in the day.

Here are the instructions for the salad we concocted taking many liberties with Chef Rodgers marvelous recipe.

Breast meat from a take-out roasted chicken
4 ounces slightly stale, open-crumbed peasant style bread
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 Tbs golden raisins
1/4 C black raspberries
1 Tbs. red wine or sherry vinegar
1/2 nectarine, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 Tbs pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves
1/4 C slivered scallions
2 Tbs lightly salted chicken stock (I used the juice that accumulated in the roast chicken package)
A few handfuls of arugula, frisee or other greens (We used romaine and baby Swiss chard)

Tear the bread into 1″ chunks. Cut off the bottom crust. Toss with olive oil and saute in a dry pan till crisp and lightly colored. You want about 2 cups.

Combine about 1T olive oil with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 of this with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl. The bread will be unevenly coated. Taste one that is mostly saturated, if bland, add some S & P and toss again.

Place the raisins and the nectarine pieces in the red wine vinegar and warm water and set aside.

Place the pine nuts in a small saute pan and heat for a minute or two, just to warm and lightly toast. Add them to the bowl with the bread.

Put a spoonful of olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions and cook over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly until softened. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the raisins and nectarine and fold in. Dribble some chicken stock over the salad and fold again. Finally add the black raspberries and fold gently.

Cut your chicken into pieces. We just used the breast and did rough slices.

Toss the bread mix with the greens and dress with another drizzle of viniagrette and fold again. S & P to taste.

Finally spread the salad on to a platter, lay the chicken on top and serve. Depending on how hungry you are, it serves 2 as a main course.

So next time your local library has a book sale, go the first day before things get picked over and head immediately to the cookbooks. There are treasures there and a lot of good eating.

Final note: Sadly Judy Rodgers died in 2013 of cancer. She was only 57. But the Zuni Cafe and her recipes live on.

Another Turn of the Page: Hot June

“God, it was hot! Forget about frying an egg on the sidewalk;
this kind of heat would fry an egg inside the chicken.”

― Rachel Caine

It has been a hot month, an unseasonably hot month. This is Wisconsin, up north, upper Midwest. As I write this we have had 13 days in a row with temperatures above the average. Way above. At least 6 days in a row were in the 90’s, the rest upper 80’s. At the end of May we had lows in the 30’s, even had a chance of frost. It has been a real roller coaster. I have read that this is happening everywhere. Even in areas where they expect heat like Texas and Arizona, they are getting HEAT!!!!! Where are we going to get into our Beach Reads if the beach is too hot to sit on? Oh well, I guess we will have to crank up the air conditioning and read on the sun porch or in the den. I just hope this trend doesn’t continue or by August I’ll need a loan to pay my electric bill. Speaking of Summer reading, there are a few in this new mix from the group. Enjoy! Got a book to add? Send it along in the comments.

  1. What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr (2019) 291p. This stand alone book is about Rose Dennis, a widow, who wakes up in the woods, lying in dirt, dressed in a hospital gown with no memory of how she got there. Rose soon finds out she has been placed in memory care in an Alzheimer’s Unit. Has she lost her memory or is she being drugged?  Is someone trying to kill her and why? Her 13 year old granddaughter and Rose’s sister, a dark web searcher, help Rose to solve her own mystery.  
  2. The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher (2020) 336p. Before moving in with the Crouch family, Juno thought Winnie and her husband, Nigel, had the perfect marriage, the perfect son—the perfect life. Only now that she’s living in their beautiful house, she sees the cracks in the crumbling facade are too deep to ignore. Still, she isn’t one to judge. But that changes after she overhears a chilling conversation between Winnie and Nigel.
  3. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett (2020) 913p. It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages. England is facing attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. Those in power bend justice according to their will, regardless of ordinary people and often in conflict with the king. Without a clear rule of law, chaos reigns. This is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth.
  4. Black Book (Black Book series #1) by James Patterson and David Ellis (2017) 418p. The story is split between the past and the present. Billy Harvey is a Chicago cop who busts a high end prostitution ring with his partner. Shortly there after he is the only survivor in a shootout that claims this partner and assistant district attorney, both of whom he was sleeping with. One problem, he has lost his memory of the events leading up to the shootout.
  5. Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa (1983) 209p. In this autobiography-thing, movie director Akira Kurosawa tells his life experiences from his babyhood to the completion of the critically acclaimed Rashōmon (1950). This book isn’t an explanation of an artist’s theories or an explication of his films–just a simple account of the memories of a very full and beautiful life.
  6. Redemption (Amos Decker #5) by David Baldacci (2019) 417p. While visiting his daughter’s grave, Amos Decker is approached by a man he put away for murder over a decade ago. Released for compassionate reasons, the man professes that his conviction was wrong and that Decker needs to reevaluate the work he did when serving with the local police department.
  7. State of Fear by Michael Crichton (2004) 603p. The premise of this book is radical environmentalists as the bad guys. Crichton writes a credible thriller but his skepticism of climate change will make you either love it or hate it.
  8. The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (2021) 576p. This novel tells a story about three women who guarded the Chavaniac castle where Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, was born on September 6, 1757. While the stories about each woman could have easily been the subject of its own novel, Dray expertly weaves them together to show the reader how the “spirit of Lafayette” inspired each of them. Based on true events.
  9. White Crosses by Larry Watson (1997) 384p. It’s graduation night in a small town in Montana and Sheriff Jack Nevelsen gets the call from the dispatcher about an accident out on Highway 284 – single car, two fatalities – his first thought, Teenagers. When he arrives he finds 18-year old June Moss, who had in fact graduated from high school that day. But the other victim, is the married elementary school principal, Leo Bauer. Suitcases in the car left no doubt that the two were running away together. How can Jack hide this scandal before it tears the town apart?
  10. Montana Campfire Tales: Fourteen Historical Narratives by Dave Walter (1997) 240p. Dave Walter, staff historian for the Montana Historical Society, tells stories about the state with eloquence, humor, and accuracy. In this, the first of two books, Walter revisits the tragic Baker Massacre, recounts Truman Everts’ harrowing ordeal in Yellowstone, and more.
  11. Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (1991) 337p. n 1965, the happy Bedloe family is living an ideal, apple-pie existence in Baltimore. Then, in the blink of an eye, a single tragic event occurs that will transform their lives forever–particularly that of seventeen-year-old Ian Bedloe, the youngest son, who blames himself for the sudden “accidental” death of his older brother.
  12. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell (2007) 245p. Hard to believe there was a time when a young girl or wife or mother could be committed to a psychiatric institute indefinitely just on the say so of a doctor, a mother,a jealous sister, a father or a husband. But that is what happens to Esme for 60 years. Now she is being released into the hands of her grand niece and her story will be told.

Still Finding Asparagus

Here I go again.

It seems like every couple of years I say the asparagus is gone from our old patch. I flatly declared that in 2018. Sure we would get a handful each Spring but you had to expect to be wounded by thistles and raspberry canes that had taken over. Last year was an extended time of neglect. When everything shut down because of Covid-19, so did we. We put in a few tomato plants which did ok but the eggplant and peppers crapped out. I got a fairly good crop of cukes but for the most part we ignored the remainder of the garden space. We just mowed down the weeds and ignored the brambles where the asparagus used to be. Found a few but usually by the time we saw them it was too late.

We had hopes of selling the house and moving last year so we worked toward down-sizing the gardens and yard work. We even had a local landscaper do our mowing. But best laid plans never seem to pan out. The housing market went nuts, prices through the roof. Kind of discouraged us from searching. If you didn’t bid $20,000 or more over the asking price you had no chance. So we decided to make the best of it for now and that meant working on the gardens. So this April, with saws and loppers and the mower, we attacked the bramble/tree/bush/thistle mess that had buried the asparagus patch. Once it was mowed flat we left it to its own devices. In May, the green spears started to appear again. Mostly in the far corner and in the wall behind the garden but there they were. Maybe they needed a year off, maybe our giving it a buzz cut, but whatever the reason we were back to picking again. Just enough now and then, for a meal. Just enough to make us smile. This wasn’t a bumper crop so we could cook up generous servings but, combined with other foods like pasta, it was a nice addition. Here is just one of those dishes with some of those precious spears that Curt created for dinner last week.

Asparagus/Egg/Toasted Wild Rice Salad ( 2 servings)

He made this for two so all of these ingredients are obviously geared for two. I did not specify amounts on some since if you are making it for one or three you can easily adjust.

Leaf lettuce
Asparagus (cooked al dente)
Poached eggs (one for each person)
Green onions (juiienned)
Vinaigrette dressing
Toasted /Puffed Wild Rice (1-2 Tbls)
3 Prosciutto Crisps
Mushrooms of your choice (sliced and sauteed)

Vinaigrette Dressing
3 Tbls Olive oil
1 Tbls Vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
! clove Garlic (minced)

Whisk the garlic/mustard/vinegar together in a bowl.
Slowly add the oil and whisk till combined.

Toasted/Puffed Wild Rice

Put a thin film of oil in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add the rice and toast like popcorn. The rice will jump around but not out of the pan like popcorn. After a few minutes they should settle down. They are done. Take off heat.

Prosciutto Crisps

Put prosciutto slices on a sheet pan in the oven. 300 degrees for about 10-15 min. Watch carefully, you want them crisp not burnt.

Make the Salad

Get your water ready and poach your eggs while beginning the layering.

Layer a few lettuce leaves on a plate and top with halved asparagus spears.

Add the poached egg. If eggs aren’t your thing leave off or add a different protein.

Drizzle with the vinaigrette dressing.

Add the green onions and the toasted rice. You don’t need all of the rice. Whatever you like.

Finally add the prosciutto crisps. We put 1 1/2 per plate. And the mushrooms.

Serve with wine of your choice and toasts or specialty crackers. Once the egg is broken into the yolk mixes with the vinaigrette for a wonderful flavor over the vegetables. A great spring/summer dish which I am sure you can play with…sugar snap peas? green beans? thin slices of zucchini? Bon Appetit!

Another Turn of the Page: Live, In Person

“Back in my day, people met in the real world, not on their telephones.”
― Julianne MacLean, A Fire Sparkling

We did it! We met in person for the first time since September 2020. We worked hard at meeting, even during the pandemic. Sat in a park, 6 feet apart and wore our masks. And then the weather just got too cold. So I would get everyone to send me one of the books they read each month and I posted a list. It wasn’t the same but it kept us together. Last month I checked in with everyone on how they were doing. All had been double vaccinated except one who actually had Covid in October. But at 96 she made it and though it has taken a lot out of her, she also attended our in-person meeting. We still sat relatively apart just to be safe but we were able to meet inside the library. No road noise, no bugs, no guy running his lawn mower. We could hear everyone and it was wonderful and, not surprising, we’ve been reading. Some of us less, some of us more. But everyone had a book to share. Need a new book? Here you go.

  1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (2012) 330p. A Seattle teenage girl tells the story of how and why her eccentric mother, who has alienated everybody around her, including her Microsoft geek of a husband, ends up lost in Antarctica. A silly, unpredictable story with eccentric and entertaining characters.
  2. The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (2016) 289p. This debut novel provides a fascinating glimpse into life at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in the 1950s. The story opens in 2016 with Rose who lives in the Barbizon, which has been renovated and now contains high end condos. She learns that a few of the women who lived there until the hotel closed were granted rooms on the 4th floor (at their original rent) so that they would have a place to live. Rose, who is a journalist, decides to pursue the stories of these women.
  3. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton (2017) 368p. In the spring of 1939, a top-secret organization was founded in London: its purpose was to plot the destruction of Hitler’s war machine through spectacular acts of sabotage. The guerrilla campaign that followed was every bit as extraordinary as the six men who directed it.
  4. The Bancroft Strategy by Robert Ludlum (2006) 420p. When Todd Belknap – a legendary field agent for Consular Operations – is cut loose from the agency after an operation goes wrong, his best friend and fellow agent is abducted in Lebanon by a militia group with a vicious reputation. When the government refuses to either rescue him or negotiate for his release, Belknap decides to take matters into his own hands.
  5. The Bounty (Fox and O’Hare #7) by Janet Evanovich & Steve Hamilton (2021) 320p. Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent and Nick Fox is a con artist. And they work together.This time they are looking for a buried train filled with gold from the Nazis. $30 million in gold.
  6. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021) 304p. This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.
  7. 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.
  8. The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller (2019) 270p. Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller was born into a privileged childhood in a wealthy household in Kabul. But the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 drives her and three of her siblings out of their country into danger and hardship on a five-year odyssey across several borders to reunite with the rest of their family.
  9. The Searcher by Tana French (2020) 451p. Cal Hooper, a 48-year-old former cop from Chicago, moves to a small village in Ireland to start over. Struggling to come to terms with the demise of the marriage and end of his career, Cal throws himself into repairing his ramshackle cottage. His days are fairly ordinary until 13-year-old Trey shows up with a mystery for Cal to solve.
  10. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks (sequel to The Notebook) (2003) 263p. After thirty years of marriage, Wilson Lewis, son-in-law of Allie and Noah Calhoun (of The Notebook), is forced to admit that the romance has gone out of his marriage. Desperate to win back his wife, Jane’s, heart, he must figure out how to make her fall in love with him… again.
  11. A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul (2021) 347p. A fascinating study of migratory birds including their odyssey from their northern summer homes to their southern winter homes based on miniaturized GPS instruments attached to certain birds which tracked their flights provided that a particular banded bird can be recaptured months later. Not a dull scientific book. Well-written with many of the author’s personal experiences.
  12. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret by Seth Shulman (2008) 256p. While researching Alexander Graham Bell at MIT’s Dibner Institute, Seth Shulman found a hint of deeply buried historical intrigue in Bell’s journals. Delving further, he unearthed the surprising story behind the invention of the telephone: a tale of romance, corruption, and unchecked ambition.

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)