Thursday, July 31, 2008

Local Vegetables at Schnucks

Yesterday also held another pleasant surprise -- our local Schnucks grocery store has begun carrying a wide variety of local vegetables.
They had a good supply of local sweet corn, tomatoes, summer squash, onions and other seasonal veggies, and it all looked good! The prices were reasonable, the quality good.
I'm glad to see this; it's more efficient, energy-wise, and it's welcome support to our local economy.
Good for Schnucks!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Little Work, A Little Play

I remembered something important today -- how much fun it is to play.
I'm not sure what puts me into such a nose-to-the-grindstone mood. Maybe it's guilt: I have so many opportunities I'd better make the most of them. Maybe it's achievement hunger: I want to do something that matters, and I want to do it well. Or maybe it's just habit: I get into the routine of doing what needs to be done, and there is always something that needs to be done.
I enjoy the things I do, even -- shhh, the cleaning -- but after awhile things are so predictable I even bore my own self.
Play is unpredictable and not boring. It's exploring, it's adventuring, it's having fun seeing and hearing and doing something we enjoy. Usually play is creative, fresh, fulfilling.
Sometimes work is like play, usually when singing is involved, but if there is too much work and not enough play, it can be hard to keep on singing.
So today I went exploring. I drove through a part of the local countryside I haven't driven through for a long time, and admired the crops growing so lushly in the fields. I honked at a field full of black-and-white cattle. I stopped at a new store in a little town near our home, The Main Street Mercantile, and explored their store, indulged in lunch.
The Main Street Mercantile is charming, specializing in what my husband would call primitive country (not his favorite, although I like it!) You'll find handcrafted furniture, pictures, candles, wreaths, cards, linens, even toys from Melissa and Doug. There is a whole line of foodstuff -- preserves and jams, flours, popcorn, trail mixes, noodles and more.
Lunch is served at the back of the store in a cozy dining area, and carry-out is available. I had a made-to-order roast beef sandwich (delicious and filling) served with potato chips, and a peach smoothie --worth going back for all by itself!
So why did this little side trip through the country fill me up and give me fresh enthusiasm for my everyday work? Because seeing something new stirs up new things in me. Being around the creative work someone else has done, even if that creative work is planting and nurturing a good crop, is stimulating.
I believe God is creative, and that He made us in His image. We are meant to be creative people one way or another, incorporating that creativity into even our most everyday tasks, but also being open always to the possibility of other creative work.
Work and play are two sides of the same coin, I think; we're meant to spend ourselves in creating something true, something honorable, something right. We're meant to incorporate purity and loveliness into our lives, and that requires creativity. We are meant to be busy with excellence, whether that is simply creating a lovely, orderly home where the people we love can live and thrive, or creating an altogether original something else.
That takes work, but it takes play, too.


Speaking of creativity, it's a handy thing to use in managing a household. I wrote about this in a column for Hearts at Home that appeared in The Pantagraph, and it's being reprinted on the Hearts at Home website here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back from Missouri

Driving back from Missouri this past Sunday, we found ourselves detoured away from the fast four-lane because of flooding. The detour took us through a part of that state we don't usually see, past fields thickly planted with corn and beans, past small towns busy with unexpected traffic, past farm houses neatly trimmed in sunflowers and shade trees.
As we drove, I thought about detours and how they become part of the trip. We didn't intend to swing through that part of Missouri but now those scenes will always be part of how I think about coming home from our first visit with our tenth grandchild.
Detours can be inconvenient and time-consuming but they also offer us a chance to see things we'd never go looking for.
Life is like that, I think. We find ourselves detoured away from what we'd planned, doing things we'd never thought of doing. Suddenly we find the detour is really the trip.
What detours have you taken lately?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Thrilling Day to Read!

It's grey and rainy this morning – not to mention humid! It's just the kind of day to sit on a porch with a tall chilled glass of lemonade and a good book.
Here are more suggestions!
My friend Joyce reports she “hasn't read much this summer,” but then says, “I enjoyed Sea Glass and The Spiral Staircase was interesting. I'm reading Sail by James Patterson. I read another one of his earlier this summer . . . I prefer mysteries. I'm enjoying Max Lucado's 3:16.”
Have you noticed that a lot of people who say they aren't reading much have long lists of books that they've read?
Meanwhile, Amy is reading Dying for Chocolate but doesn't remember the author. She says, “It's a little more in depth than the old James Patterson books I've been reading.”
I don't know – this seems like just the kind of day for a good mystery or thriller! Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2008

More Book Recommendations for Your Bookstack!

Have you finished up all the recommended books from the Bookstack Blog Party?
I've indulged in one or two already, but here are more recommendations!
My friend Jody is just finishing up the book Trading Places by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. She says, “I love their materials on marriage. This one is about the important value of empathy in marriage. My husband and I serve as marriage mentors through our church and so I'm always reading up on marriage books to recommend to our couples. This book is great!”
Jody continues, “I actually just returned from a doctor's appointment. When the nurse came into the lobby to call me back she said, 'Boy, what are you reading? It must be really good because as I went to call you, I saw you had a big smile on your face as you were reading.' Made me laugh.”
I think Jody is a power reader, because she just read a book by John Maxwell: 25 Ways to Win with People. She says, “It was written in 2005. I take advice from Bill Hybels and he recommends that you always have a book on leadership that you're working through. This was a great book.”
Finally, Jody says, “My most recent fiction book I read was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I LOVED it! Very gripping story. I have yet to read a book by her that I didn't like.”
If you've picked up a book recommendation, let me know – your insight and comments are always appreciated!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Pleasures . . .

I picked up The Atlantic magazine's Special Fiction Issue 2008 last night. Wendell Berry has a short story -- Stand by Me -- that I loved! I've had a hard time getting into Berry's books, but I'll have to give them another try after reading this story about Jarrat, his two sons, and the parameters of grief and loss. It sounds depressing, but really, it's a great story!
It's fun to read through these fiction issues – the New Yorker has a summer fiction issue I l look forward to each summer – because I love the short story form. It's hard to convey a whole story in shorter form, and I respect writers who are good at it.
Ann Patchett has an essay – My Life in Sales – in The Atlantic's fiction issue, and I'm looking forward to reading it next.


I picked up our CSA order last night, and once again I am amazed at how beautiful fruits and vegetables are. The table was heaped with neat piles of produce – beets, kohlrabi, swiss chard, basil – a wonderful tangle of color, fragrance, and texture. It's not hard to understand how artists are drawn to still life – the things they paint are still, but so alive!
There was also a table of sunflowers large as dinner plates, and lovely bouquets of snapdragons. I didn't bring any home this time as we have flowers of our own in the garden, but what pleasure it was just to look!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mixed Thoughts . . .

A big thank you to all of you who took part in last week's Bookstack Blog Party! It's been fun to see what you all are reading!
Maybe it's just because I've been thinking about books all week or maybe it's just the season, but it seems as if a lot of people are into lists – lists of their favorite books, or the books that have influenced them most or even the most influential books of all times – so I think sometime soon, maybe in August, we'll have to have another Bookstack Blog Party in list form. Start thinking!


On a much more somber note, I came across a news story about the Taliban executing two women, and this morning I saw there's a link to photos on Compuserve. I didn't look at them; it was horrible enough to think of them existing.
The women were said to be prostitutes, consorting with American troops.
I am sickened at the thought of the Taliban given any authority, credibility or space to operate.
The first time I heard of the Taliban was on a television sit-com. Remember Seventh Heaven? We used to watch it occasionally while we lived in Dubuque when John was in seminary.
One episode involved the mom trying to persuade her daughters and other friends to picket somewhere because of the way the Taliban in Afghanistan treated women – this was before September 11.
I remember being indignant, and thinking “someone should do something.”
But I didn't.
As we know now, the Taliban is wicked. They insist women stay in their houses, often with windows painted black so that no man passing by would see a woman inside and be tempted into sin. Girls are not allowed any education, and women cannot go outside without a male escort. If there is not male family member to escort her, she stays inside.
If she is widowed she has two choices: prostitution or begging. Well – make that three choices. She can starve. Her children, too, unless she allows a male relative to take them.
And of course, the chador, that repressive fashion statement, also meant to protect Afghani men from the wiles of women.
Jesus said we should pray for our enemies, and on behalf of women everywhere – our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends – I am praying for these wicked men, that God would change their hearts, that they would be open to His Holy Spirit.
Failing their positive response to His initiative, I am praying for His justice for them.
Please join me in prayer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Smorgasbord of Books . . .

I read an editorial this week – I think it was in the Chicago Tribune – about how blogging is simply a self-indulgent form of narcissism.
For a few moments I was worried – had I somehow gotten myself involved in something totally self-centered – again?
As I thought about it, I decided the editorialist isn't reading the right blogs.
There may be some blogs that fit that description, but I haven't come across them yet. And this Bookstack Blog party reminds me more of what my grandmother would have called a conversation over the back fence – the kind of chat she often had with friends who lived nearby, friends she saw almost every day.
Most of us don't have back-fence friends any more, the kind of friend who lives so close she can drop by for coffee on the spur of the moment. What we do have to keep in touch are blogs, and what a pleasure it is to hear from friends in response to a simple question like “What are you reading?” !!!
In answer to that question, my friend Terri says, “I recently started In My Father's House by Bodie and Brock Thoene . . . I'm enjoying the book – I love books rooted in history.”
Christina just finished Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. “It is about the affair Frank Lloyd Wright had with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, which was the scandal of Chicago at the time,” says Christina. “He left his wife for her, she was later murdered by an employee of Frank's. It was a fascinating book; I just had no idea. The newspapers painted her as a home wrecker, but the truth was they had a deep intellectual connection; she truly understood him in ways his wife didn't (of course that is not grounds for leaving one's wife.)
Christina also just finished If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation by Janine Latus. She says, “This book haunted me for days. I found myself baffled by what the women in this family would accept from the men around them. A lot of abuse, control, and degradation. It was sad and riveting and in the end a bit triumphant.”
Finally, Christina says, “I was debating whether to e-mail you about this book, but to be honest – I loved it! Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster made me laugh out loud several times, partially out of recognizing myself in her, but also because she is blunt, graphic, and so very self absorbed and egotistical. I have loved all her books and pass them around to my girlfriends.”
If books are food for the mind, and we are what we eat – these past few days offer a smorgasbord of books!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And Even More Books . . .

One of the surprising things about this Bookstack Blog party is how many of you have multiple books going – Cheryl even has a book for every room!
My friend Rosemary has quite a bookstack going, including The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland; The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; Tell Me Pretty Maiden by Rhys Bowen; and Trace by Patricia Cornwell.
Rosemary says, “Obviously I started summer reading early.”
We can only hope a hammock was involved!
Rosemary goes on to say, “The Diaz book is about Dominican culture and people and I probably missed some of the slang and a lot of the Spanish – liked the story, though. Hyland book I am just starting and it is about Australia and a woman who returns to the Aboriginal camptown of the workers on her Dad's farm to solve a murder.”
And there's more! Rosemary adds, “Cornwell is Cornwell – forensic pathologist Kate Scarpetta triumphs again after quite a bit of intrigue. The Fforde book is by a Welshman so that is probably why it attracted me. It is a mystery/fantasy book. Quite new type of mystery for me but funny and interesting.”
Rosemary concludes her report, “Naturally there are probably some other things that are not fiction. These do not end up in my book diary except for the Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which you know I loved.”
Maybe someday Rosemary will publish her book diaries – now that would make a good read!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Teetering Bookstack . . .

Are you finding books listed here you might want to read? I hope so – I know I am!
Suzanne says, “I must say that I am pretty one-dimensional! I'm on a memoir kick and that's all I've been reading for months!”
Suzanne goes on to say, “I'm currently reading Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints – yes, it sounds dubious. But it's very well-written and funny. The author, Simon Doonan, is a lot like David Sedaris or Augustin Burroughs – really witty and sarcastic and outrageous. He tells stories about growing up as a misfit in London.”
“Before that,” Suzanne goes on, “I read two books by Firoozeh Dumas, which I highly recommend. They're called Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent. It's about growing up Iranian in an American culture. It's very funny and perceptive and even a little heartwarming. I'd also recommend Finding Home: An Imperfect Path to Faith and Family by Jim Daly, who is the president of Focus on the Family. It's about his almost unbelievably difficult childhood and how he managed to come out of it, with wisdom to boot.”
And Jane – not the Jane in previous posts but a different Jane – says “I loved A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. It's the Bloomington/Normal summer read selection; I loved the book, loved the characters, learned a lot about a part of WWII I didn't know, which set me off to find out more about it. The story was brilliant and desperately sad, in fact I really wanted to cry when I finished it. Instead I felt angry that this really could have happened and probably lots of similar stories did happen.”
Jane is also reading Chosen and Infidels from Ted Dekker's The Lost Chronicles of History series. She says “These are the first 2 in a 4-book set. I am waiting for the junior high kid I teach to finish book 3 so I can read it. They are youth fiction/Christian and really good stories; it actually reminds me a little bit of Dune which I loved in junior high and high school.”
The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik is also on Jane's bookstack. “I liked the story, liked the crafting of the characters, did not like the Kristi Casey character, or the subtle tone that evangelicals are all morons who believe everything they hear. But the book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and feel empathy for the characters. Overall, a decent summer read.”
Two more books Jane is enjoying include Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best, and Christianity For the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass. Jane says, “Music Through the Eyes of Faith is a great book I am reading as I have time; one of the chapters has a thought provoking discussion on contemporary music and the issues surrounding the music industry.
Christianity for the Rest of Us is a book for our church summer reading group. I am still in the first half and am a little put off again by the narrow minded attitude towards the evangelical movement. What I find most disturbing is that she takes an us-against-them attitude, again subtle. She has some great profiles of living mainline Protestant churches, and the 10 things that they have that work for them. It is well written and it is challenging my thoughts about what I truly believe about churches. I am interested to hear what the others in my group think as well.”
That's one of the best things about reading, I think – the opportunity to read something, consider it, then share what you think about it with someone else who is interested, who has an opinion of her own.
Among other things, a book is a privilege . . .

Still More Books . . .

This may be far more about books than you were looking for, but the book reports keep coming in! At least none of it is required reading!
My friend Cheryl says, “Thanks for asking – I read different things in different rooms at different times of day!”
Now that's my kind of reader!
Cheryl goes on, “Here's the current list: in my bedroom: Captivating by Staci and John Elridge.
In my quiet time corner: The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (reading that with a prayer partner.)
In my office: Winning with People by John C. Maxwill (reading that with my friend Jody)
In the bathroom: The Seven Conflicts – a marriage book by Tim and Joy Downs (Love to be reading that with Mike, hence the bathroom, but so far my bookmark hasn't been moved . . . )
I'm also in the midst of The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis, whom I adore but have to be ready to chew on . . . sounds good to me right now . . .
Listened to one of my favorite books of all time (read it 3 times, passed it on to on-the-edge believers almost a dozen), Blue Like Jazz, on tape with my family en route to CO.”
Cheryl says she'd like some fiction to take with her to the beach . . .
Meanwhile Natalie says, “The last book I was reading was The Diana Chronicles; before that it was Blind Eye by James B. Stewart. It's a crime book about a doctor named Michael Swango who was actually murdering patients with different medications.”
Natalie, who works in a hospital, goes on to say, “Our pathologist is mentioned several times in the book because Swango was his student. This was back in the 70s . . . he actually bought me the book and signed it. I took a break halfway through because it's hard to read about someone like that . . . it's infuriating!”
She adds, “I'll pick it back up and finish it.”
Whether we take our time to read a book or read it over and over and over again (and then listen to it on tape!) it's clear that a good book engages us, mind and heart.

And More Books . . .

We read books for a lot of different reasons – to be entertained, to be informed, to be provoked. Books can make us uncomfortable or they can comfort us, and both kinds of books are important. A good book is like a visit with a friend – it nourishes us one way or another.
My friend Bobbie is reading Jan Karon's Mitford series. She says, “I am really enjoying it. I'm on the second of six. This is about a town called Mitford and an Episcopalian minister named Father Tim., the church and twon people and their lives.”
Bobbie adds, ”These books were a gift from a friend which makes them more special to me.”
Isn't it neat when someone gives us a book they think we'll enjoy? Some of the best books I've read have been gifts, or recommendations from a friend. That's what happened with my friend Norma. She says, “For my birthday my daughter gave me five books, which I'm sure she carefully chose for me. One of the books is 'What Now?' by Ann Patchett, and she tells how we ask ourselves that question when transitioning from one stage of life to another and how we should find joy in our journey.”
Norma adds, “I thought it was interesting that as she was preparing the commencement speech for her alma mater, she consulted her college professor and wanted his opinion after all these years had passed. I enjoyed this book very much.”
Norma is also reading Marley & Me by John Grogan. She says, “Marley is a very rambunctious dog who the author and his wife acquired as newlyweds to prepare them for having children. This is a very humorous book that has you laughing out loud as he describes in great detail their dealings with Marley and the various situations they encounter. I hated to see the book come to an end.”
On her bookstack of books to be read, Norma has The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. She says, “I am anxious to get started – but it may be awhile because I am getting ready for a visit from our five grandchildren.”
Norma also makes an interesting observation. She says, “I wish I were (a more avid reader) because readers are very knowledgable and can contribute so much to conversations. I'm trying to read more, but the weeds in my garden keep calling to me.”
It's just my opinion, but I think Norma's choices reveal a fine reader!

More Books . . .

It's hard to imagine a world where books were copied by hand, and so were incredibly precious and expensive. It is so easy for us to take books for granted! But we exchange ideas and stories and news so easily because we have books – and magazines and newspapers and brochures and online – let's hear it for the printing press!
More book reports are coming in. Angie reports she's been “reading a variety of things lately . . . including Good News About Injustice by Gary A. Haugen,” who is “the president of the International Justice Mission, and he writes about God's heart for those who suffer injustice.”
Angie says, “I am really enjoying it so far and look forward to finding out more things that I can do to be involved with bringing justice to the oppressed.”
Another book Angie is reading is Writer Mama by Christina Katz. Angie says, “This book is so informative. It has a lot of good ideas of ways to start a writing career while raising kids. It includes some helpful tips that I've already taken advantage of.”
Angie is also reading The Shack by William P. Young. She says “I heard about this book at my writing conference and how it is shaking the publishing world. It is a bit controversial but I found it to be a fresh perspective on where God is in the middle of suffering and how he helps us through hard times. I'm glad I read it, to check out the controversy and at the same time be encouraged.”
Nikki is reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn. She says, “I love it! It has really opened my eyes to how heaven might be and has definitely encouraged me to have more of an eternal perspective here on earth! We have such hope in Christ and this book even helps you visually imagine what heaven may be like, which is something we can joyfully anticipate and look forward to!”
Nikki goes on to report that “It has short chapters, so I can read one each evening before bed without falling asleep! It is awesome and I highly recommend it. It came highly recommended by my mother-in-law – who even bought copies to hand out as gifts!”
Nikki's observation fits in nicely with my friend Rosemary's criterion for a good book: It has to be something she can hold up in bed easily!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bookstacks . . .

It's easy to be overwhelmed by all there is to do – and read! Most of us keep stacks of books we'd like to read, books we're reading now, and books we've started but haven't finished – yet . . .
And still we're on the look-out for the next good book! We're curious about what everyone else is reading, curious about whether or not it's something we might be interested in reading – or putting on our own bookstack.
So in the interest of discovering “anything that is at once new and valuable" as Mr. Lincoln said, I asked some of my reading friends, “What are you reading?”
Here's some of what I've heard back:
My friend Megan just finished up Me, Myself and Bob by Phil Vischer. Megan reports that it “tells the story of the rise and fall of VeggieTales founder and creator Phil Vischer,” adding, “I appreciated Phil's honesty in this book. He told his story as he saw it. He did not place blame, and his ending/chapters/lessons learned were inspiring and thought-provoking. For example, 'The impact God has planned for us doesn't occur when we're pursuing impact. It occurs when we're pursuing God.'”
Megan also just finished Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson. She reports, “I enjoyed this book as well. It tells the story of a woman who discovers that the “stuff of earth” (as Rich Mullins would say) does not fill the emptiness – only Jesus does that. This book gave me a lot to think about.”
My friend Lori is reading Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama because, as she says, “I want to see who he is.” She adds, “I am not sure that I like some of his thoughts, though I do admire his tenacity.”
No one else has mentioned a political book, though – at least not yet.
Lori is also reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. “I like the writing and the storyline,” she says.
Timothy Egan's book The Worst Hard Time is on Lori's bookstack, too, “because I teach about the Dust Bowl, and this book lays out the cause and effects that led to the disaster, as well as facts I have never come across before.”
Amy is concentrating on “beach reads” even though she is vacationing in the mountains. So far she's read “a book called Night Swimming . . . and a James Patterson book called The Quickie -- more, she says, than she's read in a year!


A lot of you are reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. My friend Kim describes it as a book about “the 30-something woman who, after a divorce travels to India, Bali and Italy to experience their culture and find her true self – it's great so far!”
Kim is not the only one reading that particular book – so is my friend Mary, who observes, “Her writing is excellent, which challenges me as an author. And, her story is compelling, which intrigues me as a woman. I highly recommend it.”
Mary also observes that Eat, Pray, Love is a “spiritual memoir of sorts and her writing is challenging me personally in many ways even though she isn't a Christian in the traditional sense of the word.”
My friend Julie says she, too, has “been trying to get through Eat, Pray, Love but I still have the “Love” to go!” Julie adds that “it's been a slow reader, but with some interesting perspectives!”
Back to Lori, who is also reading World Without End by Ken Follett. She notes, “This is the sequel to one of my all time favorite books, Pillars of the Earth. I do like the story and find the early English history fascinating.”
My book buddy Jane also “really liked” Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. She says, “I learned many things about history that I didn't know, both regarding the builder/priest/royalty relationships and how a cathedral was built. The passionate love scenes weren't too bad either, but I skimmed over the gory details of killings.”
Jane also likes the historical fiction mystery The House at Riverton. She says it's her favorite genre “and this was an excellent book in that genre. The story is from the viewpoint of a former maid at a mansion in England who is now nearly 100 years old. When she was there, one of the family members committed suicide. She tells the story to a young lady who is producing a movie about the house and the death of the prominent family member.”


My friend Jill says “I just finished reading The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks, and I've also been reading Have a New Kid by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman.
Megan is currently reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and says, “I am only in chapter 3 so it is too soon to give feedback . . . although I recently read Kite Runner by the same author which was amazingly written. It is a sad story with a hopeful ending, set in Afghanistan which I know nothing about, so it was great to learn a little about their culture. I love reading because I always gain new perspectives and this book is no exception. I recommend it to anyone.”
And Julie just finished The Jane Austen Book Club, and is “trying to decide between a Maeve Binchy book or Mike Perry's Truck.” By the way, when I mentioned I had glanced at the end of another Mike Perry book Population:485, Julie wrote this: “YOU DRIVE ME NUTS. YOU DON'T READ THE END FIRST. And yes, it's quite a wonderfully written book. One of my all time favorites. “
Kristen is reading Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis. She says, “I'm reading it half-heartedly and so far have yet to be surprised by joy myself . . . he is likeable, but it is wordy and long on British slang and depressing boyhood reminisces – no theological insights yet. We're getting to his Christian conversion.”
Kristen also “grabbed, literally, These High, Green Hills” by Jan Karon en route to the children's section of the library. “Every time we go I feel like one of those contest winners who has a specified time to fill the cart – everything is free but you only have two minutes . . . “
Doesn't that describe the situation perfectly?


Back to Jane – she just read In the Woods by Tara French “because I was considering it as the next book club read I was 'assigned' to find. I like the setting in Ireland, and I liked the psychological foreshadowing. It left me with questions I want to discuss with other women. If I remember right, my big objection is that the detectives fling about the “F” word quite frequently. I've never gotten the purpose of doing that.”
I'm wondering where Jane is finding all this reading time (I know how much else she does!) but she just keeps reading good books, including Full House by Janet Evanovich. Jane says “When I was without a book – oh, my! -- my daughter Janet loaned this to me, which I read while waiting on the plane and finished. It was funny, but totally a mindless read. Ya gotta do that every once in awhile.”
Jane also described the book she's reading now: Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart. Here's how she describes it: “I'm only on page 50 but already a woman was widowed, remarried to a police officer who adopted her little girl, was pregnant, husband got busy and couldn't finish the nursery room, guy with disabilities came to finish it, murdered the husband and kid, got sent to death row, woman had the baby who has a heart problem, murderer wants to donate his heart when he is executed. I'm almost dizzy thinking about it. I'm a little disappointed at the silliness of the plot but I will read on . . . “
Jane also finished Water for Elephants, but “I was disappointed. It was a good book (I sure did learn a lot about circuses) but not the great book I expected. For some reason, the detailed sex scenes in this one really bothered me. It had some really gross parts and someone was always vomitting which I don't like to read about particularly! I did love the way the author worked from a flashback point of view of the main character, and the ending was worth reading the whole book.”
Jane adds “I also bought an old Tony Hillerman mystery which I will read next. I read his books a long time ago, and want to try one again.”
In her spare time.
Well, that's enough for tonight – hope you found something to picque your interest and send you to the library or bookstore!

More Summer Notes . . .

I spoke too soon.
It's not just Halloween showing up in stores. I was having fun at a local Hallmark store, grooving in the musical-card aisle, when I looked over and saw – oh, the horror of it! -- this year's new Christmas ornaments!
Clearly it's not too soon for Halloween, even if the watermelon isn't ripe on the vine quite yet.


Yesterday I visited The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. It is a stunning place, full of powerful images, ideas, and information. If you haven't been to visit yet, I encourage you to go.
Besides the permanent exhibits that tell the story of the President's life as well as his role in the Civil War, this summer through the election in November 2008 you will find an exhibit on “Packaging Presidents.” This exhibit fascinates with its campaign memorabilia, facts and figures, even an area televising old campaign commercials. If you're nostalgic about “The Bear in the Woods” commercial, or if you want to see Michael Dukakis riding that tank again, this exhibit is for you.


Another exhibit I've seen recently is in Bloomington, Illinois at The McLean County Museum of History, located downtown in the lovely old Courthouse. In addition to a variety of permanent exhibits detailing the history and stories of McLean County, currently there is an exhibit that blends information about the early nurseries of F. K. Phoenix with the incredibly beautiful prints of artist William Henry Prestele, who illustrated the catalogs Phoenix sent out to the prairie with his nursery salesmen. Before Phoenix and Prestele came up with their artful, lovely catalogs, plants and trees were sold on the basis of written descriptions or line drawings. This exhibit runs through November 2, 2008, and will take your breath away – Prestele's prints look good enough to pluck and eat.


I made the Marinated Beet Salad from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food.this morning. Can we just say – delicious! Not to mention simple, just as the title promised.
It's been a lot of fun this summer to try new vegetables and recipes; my curiosity has been tickled. Trying new things, new tastes – it makes cooking more interesting, and meals more fun.
What's your favorite vegetable recipe for summer? A curious mind (mine!) wants to know! If you'd care to share, just leave your recipe in comments.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Speaking of Summer . . .

I don't mean to complain, but last night I was shopping in one of my favorite stores – the local Von Maur department store – and right around the corner from the discounted patriotic Fourth of July merchandise was a Halloween display, complete with scary witches, glittery pumpkins, and black bats.
It occurred to me that this might be part of the reason I feel so rushed most of the time – we rush the next season so much we don't savor the one we are in. The spring this year took its time and didn't rush, so we still have flowers in bloom. The evenings have been just right for lightning bugs' little lamps to light up the back yard, and the weather has warmed up to hot over several weeks.
Right now I'm enjoying the hot steamy weather we are having. Bright, loud thunderstorms seem just right for the season, and I love the way you can almost watch the corn grow. Garden produce is coming into the farmer's markets; strawberries are about done and we're waiting for local watermelon. We heard our first locusts the other night, right on schedule.
Why would we want to ignore summer when we've waited for it so patiently through the last cold, dark winter?
I don't want to miss out on August, with its back-to-school excitement, or early September with all its harvest promises and ripening change.
When we talk about savoring the moment, a far-too-early Halloween display hardly seems exciting in early July.
Just call me grumpy!

On Eating Well . . .

We had kohlrabi last week; it came in the CSA share we've been getting from Henry's farm this summer. I was surprised at my husband's excitement when he saw the kohlrabi.
“This was one of mom's favorite vegetables,” he told me. “She used to grow this in the garden every summer.”
Once again I learned something new about my husband.
Now, kohlrabi isn't one of the vegetables I grew up with (corn, peas, green beans.) I didn't have a clue about what to do with it – good thing he knew!
Summer brings vegetables – whether they are from the garden, the produce department at the local grocer's or from the farmer's market, one has to do something with them, preferably something delicious.
To that end, I've been dipping into Alice Water's book The Art of Simple Food. The recipes are simple and delicious. Published by Clarkson Potter in 2007, this is more than a cookbook; it's a way of thinking about being in the kitchen as well as a collection of recipes. It is, as the cover tells us, “notes, lessons, and recipes from a delicious revolution.”
You can read about Alice Waters at the Chez Panisse website, and find out about how her landmark restaurant, with a network of over 60 local suppliers, makes the most and the best of in-season, locally grown produce while attracting a loyal, enthusiastic clientele.
Alice Waters has also been the driving force behind the “Edible Schoolyard” project – a garden and a kitchen project for schools that incorporates lessons into the work involved in feeding ourselves. This project has been criticized by some for seeking government funding. I'll leave the politics of the project to you to decide; the practical application of learning through life skills is one that's been proven to help children learn.
But back to the book – this book is fun, interesting, and practical. I'll be trying the marinated beet salad later today with fresh beets from our farm share last week, and I'll be sharing the 4-3-2-1-cake recipe with a granddaughter later this summer. Who knows what other recipes I'll be trying – the potato salad looks good, easy and quick to make.
I've sometimes heard of cooks who've cooked their way through a favorite cookbook. I don't know if I'll try every recipe in this book, but I know I'll be trying a lot of them.
What cookbooks do you enjoy most? What's your favorite summer recipe? Share your recommendations in the comments section!