Monday, October 18, 2010

thank goodness I love to read

Today is 3 weeks since my knee replacement and my world is completely new: I can move without pain! Wonderful medical personnel, excellent physical therapists and a lot of hard (i.e., painful) work and I can walk. It is an extraordinary experience.

In the hospital and at transition care, every moment is spent in therapy (physical and occupational), having your "vitals" checked, giving blood or having someone bang on your door when you have finally gone back to sleep. Reading is not an option.

Being at home has completely changed that. Six hours of each day has to be spent in a CPM machine (which bends and flexes by leg--the kind of exercise I like since I just lie there and let the machine do its job) so I had 3 2-hour stretches of time for reading. Lovely.

I read The raging quiet by Sherryl Jordan, the story of a young widow in 15th/16th century England (Ireland?) who befriends the village mad man. She soon discovers that his wild behavior is caused by deafness and sets out to teach him to speak by using hand signals/movements. The prejudices of the villagers (who think she is a witch) are countered by the support and care of the village priest (who also has a soft spot for the mad man). A good read but not a great one.

Then came Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson, the story of a clothing designer/seamstress living in pre-WWI Vienna. Susanna, a woman in her late 30s, decides to keep a diary of the one year's events in the neighborhood: the birth of yet another daughter to the family living across the square, the piano prodigy living in a dingy attic apartment waiting for someone to discover his talent, the eccentric old woman who gives her family treasure (meaning junk) to pay for new dresses, the military man who is Susanna's lover, Susanna's search for the daughter who was taken from her at birth by well-meaning nuns. Eva Ibbotson's writing has such an immediacy that you are right there in the midst of each event. I love her books! (She now writes children's fantasy which is also great fun.)

Now, I have given in and am reading what I wanted to read all along: Harry Potter! I am well into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and loving every minute of it. J.K. Rowling has created such a wonderful, interesting, fantastic, humorous, frightening world and I enjoy every minute I spend at Hogwarts, even the terrible moments. Great fun.

Friday, September 24, 2010

oh,what to read, what to read

The big day is Monday and my house is a disaster. I brought my suitcase up and am throwing things in it as I think of them. Packing for the unknown is such fun. I don't know how long I'll be away, where I'm going and when--this is not the way I live my life.

My over-riding concern is what will I read in the hospital. I have checked and rechecked my bookcases and this is what I've come up with (for now):

Notes from a small island by Bill Bryson

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

A spoonful of jam by Michelle Magorian

The raging quiet by Sherryl Jordan

I think this is a nice mix of adult, light, cozy and fantasy. You never know what you'll be in the mood for, right?

I talked to my brother last night (he had his knee replacement surgery on September 13) and he said it's a little hard to concentrate on reading when you're in pain so I've decided to throw a couple magazines in the bag, too. Country Living, Victoria and Vogue (I buy the September issue each year because the fashions are so hysterically funny and totally unreal--highly amusing reading). I also have crossword puzzles, a pentominoes (I've been fascinated with those since reading Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer) travel game and an embroidery project (the skyline of New York which I've been working on for close to 20 years--it includes the World Trade Center).

That's the plan for now but there is still 48 hours until I start packing and who know what will happen between now and then.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ooh, I love sewing (and hate computers)

This is the second typing of this entry since my cursed computer ate the first one. It always thinks it knows more than I do. Hah!

I am looking ahead to a 4-6 week convalescence after knee surgery so I am hoping to do a lot of sewing when I am home (and not doing leg exercises). My first project is a winter jacket which I have been studiously avoiding--it is hard to sew purple wool when it is sunny and warm outside. However, I do need a winter coat and it must be completed...did that sound convincing?

Being me, I have been out buying books about sewing. I have more clothes than any one person could possibly need--making your own is so reasonable in price, why not have a lot of clothes? So I am looking for some fun little projects like pillows (for my beloved daybed where I spend so much time reading), stuffed animals, bibs (for a project at church), bag and purses (like shoes, one can never have too many) and pretty little things.

Sew Retro by Judi Ketteler is both a history of sewing since the mid-1800s and a project idea book. Home sewing became increasingly popular when pattern companies sprang into being, making dressmaking much simpler. In my 4-plus decades of sewing, patterns have gone from $1.25 to $21.95 (Vogue, of course)--wish I'd kept some of those patterns I loved in the past. The book's projects include Opera Bag, Pinch-a-Penny Change Purse, Birds of a Feather Table Runner and Groovy Patchwork Throw (guess which decade that one's from?). Fashion has reflected the times--think of the craziness of the 1920s inspiring the flapper, the economy of the Depression when women made dress from flour sacks (flour came in pretty calico-printed cotton bags back then), the freedom of the 1960s brought changes that would never have happened at any other time.

I adore Mary Engelbreit so I had to buy Stitched So Cute, a book of needlework and embroidery projects. There is the cutest little stuffed owl made with bright colored fabric, rickrack and buttons. I want one!

Amy Butler is one of the darlings of the sewing world right now. She designs fabrics, makes patterns and has a host of linens, papergoods, etc. with her designs as well. Amy Butler's Style Stitches includes instructions for 26 different bags, large to small and easy to difficult. I need to conquer my abhorence of putting in a zipper to make some of these but, groan, groan, that can probably be done. In time.

Last, but not least, is Boo (can you imagine willingly calling yourself Boo?) Davis's Dare to Be Square Quilting with the cutest owl quilt on the cover. There are some stunning pillows and, I won't tell you what since I hope to make one for a coworker at the library, the cutest and most offbeat pillow idea (I'll have to adapt this one since it is actually a quilt) I've ever seen.

All in all, I should have plenty of little sewing projects to keep me busy. Maybe I'll use up some of the lovely fabric stored in 40 or so boxes in my beautiful pink sewing room. (I just got a new Hancocks of Paducah (a huge fabric store in Kentucky) catalog so I know I'll be buying more....)

ooh, I love to sew

I'm awaiting a 4-6 week convalescence because of knee surgery so I am hoping to get some sewing done while I'm at home (and not doing my leg exercises). My first project is a winter coat which I have studiously been avoiding--it is hard to sew on purple wool when it is sunny and warm outdoors. However, I do need to have a coat so it must be completed...did that sound very convincing?

In preparation, I have, of course, been buying new books. I have more clothes than any one person needs to have since making your own is so reasonable in price. I need to branch out and make other things: pillows (for the beloved daybed where I spend much time reading), bags and purses (one can never have enough of either of them, or shoes), and pretty little things.

Sew Retro by Judi Ketteler is both a beautifully illustrated history of sewing and a book of fun little projects like an Opera Bag, Pinch-a-Penny Change Purse, Birds of a Feather Table Runner and Groovy Patchwork Throw. It includes a history of the sewing pattern industry (in my 4 plus decades of sewing, patterns have gone from $1.25 to $21.95 (Vogue, of course)) and how women have dressed over the last years. The styles do reflect the world around us--think of the freedom of the 1920 inspiring flappers, the depression brought dresses made from flour sacking (flour came in pretty calico print bags back then), the 1960s brought a freedom of dress that would never have happened in any other decade.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

someone's in the kitchen with Carol

Fall has arrived with a vengeance in Minnesota which has renewed my interest in cooking. It is finally cool enough to turn on the stove!

I've been going through cookbooks looking for some new ideas. One, because I'm tired of everything I cook and two, I'm trying to fill up my freezer in preparation for convalescence after knee surgery. While I love "mom" food prepared with time and care, I am much more interested in quick and easy cooking right now.

I went to my cherished cookbook collection and pulled a few books. Many are from Taste of Home which I learned to love at my beloved mother's knee. Better Homes and Gardens has some nice books and even Martha Stewart makes an appearance--I didn't think she did anything easy....

First, Better Homes and Gardens' Fast Fix family food. Colorfully illustrated which is a source of inspiration since everything looks good. I've got the fixings to make Red Tomato Soup (page 371) which has V8 juice and diced tomatoes as its base. I love tomato soup but canned soups are just too salty. Let's hope this one is a keeper--if I can taste the soup through the mountain of crushed crackers I always add.

Then there is Taste of Home's Dinner on a Dime. I've got Noodle Rice Pilaf (page 191) marked in this book. It is also known as homemade Rice-a-Roni. When I was growing up, my neighbor Colleen and I would make the San Francisco treat and sing "Sunrise Sunset" as our prayer since she was Catholic and I am Methodist it worked as a good compromise! (yeah, I know, I was a strange little kid.)

Better Homes and Gardens also produced Everyday Easy Recipes. Since everything is better with bacon, Bacon and Brie Salad (page 219) caught my eye. I first enjoyed that combination on a baked potato in a pub in Salisbury, England, eaten under the watchful eye of a huge deer head.

Taste of Home again with Simple & Delicious Cookbook. On page 70 is Linguine with Garlic Sauce...and a half a pound of bacon, spinach makes it healthy and guiltfree.

The Busy Family Cookbook is also from Taste of Home. It contains 10, 20 and 30 minute recipes. Citrus Garlic Shrimp (page 150) is a 30 minute meal and is served with pasta, which is a food group in my world. Yum.

Last, but never least, is Martha Stewart's Great Food Fast. Page 202 show Stir-fried Chicken Wraps, spicy chicken served wrapped in lettuce. Disgustingly healthy but I want to try it anyway. The Grilled Chocolate Sandwich on page 255 looks tempting too...maybe as a treat after a really good physical therapy session....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

live from my living room

I thought the day would never come but I am actually writing this in my own little home which means that I must own a computer!!! And I do!!! I'm not a natural or even slightly relaxed about using a laptop but nothing has blown up yet so.... I already have a problem since I don't know how to highlight anything while using a touch pad. Once I get a battery in the mouse, the touch pad can go away as far as I'm concerned.

Now, on to more important things: what have I been reading?

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, of course. The final volume in an incredibly rivoting trilogy did not disappoint. Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Primrose and everyone else in Panem went through adventures, twists and turns that left me breathless at times, loudly cheering at others. This was an incredible reading experience. Suzanne Collins has mad a world that, at times, was more real to me than my own. I cared deeply about the characters and desparately wanted them to succeed in their quests. A truly memorable reading experience.

There were so many references to events in the first two books that were hazy in my memory--I know I didn't get the full reading experience. Sometime in the future, I want to read the books (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are the first two books) back to back. Due to the gut-wrenching emotion of the story, now is not the time. But, someday....

Here ends my first blog post on my new computer. Amen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

a latecomer but, at last, I'm here

Working in a library, I request books on CD for people quite frequently. They all tell me the joys of a wonderful narrator, the companionship of a good book while spending extended hours in a car and on and on. Frankly, I'm not having it. But then...

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a devoted fan of Winnie the Pooh. My entire Christmas tree, and the tree skirt, is Winnie the Pooh. My current sewing room was once my Winnie the Pooh room--I love him.

While reading reviews, I came across a listing for a new recording of Winnie the Pooh, featuring the voices of Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer and other wonders of the British acting realm. My library had the CDs so I requested them.

Yesterday, driving from quilt shop to quilt shop (3 in a day--heaven!), I listened to it. I loved, loved, loved it! I laughed out loud (Jane Horrocks as Piglet is a wonder to behold--breathy, gravelly and innocent all at once). I appreciated the glories of the language. I enjoyed every second of the stories. Wonderful.

Geoffrey Palmer and Judi Dench are the narrative readers, acting as Christopher Robin's parents, telling him bedtime stories. They also provide the voices of Eeyore and Kanga. Stephen Fry is Pooh and a proper bear of little brain he is.

I'll never give up the joy of a book in my hand but I will certainly be more open to listening to a good book. Maybe I'd get more sewing done if I were listening to a book....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bach - Goldberg Variations: Aria (Glenn Gould)

In the key of G

BR, one of my fellow librarians, knows that I love the piano. She recommended a most wonderful book to me: A romance on three legs: Glenn Gould's obsessive quest for the perfect piano by Katie Hafner. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude!

Glenn Gould was a quirky (irritating, hugely talented, self-involved...the list goes on and on) Canadian pianist who first started performing in the 1950s. He performed live for a very small part of his career, preferring the solitude of recording over the company of an audience. He was very opinionated about music and very eccentric in his interpretations of different composers, especially Bach. His recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" is the benchmark by which other pianists are judged. A recording of Gould playing Bach's "Aria" was included in a capsule sent into space to show other civilizations what Earth is like.

Gould was very particular about the instrument he played. In the 1950s, the Steinway Company provided concert grand pianos to orchestras/artists throughout the U.S. and Canada. These pianos were available through piano dealerships and could be shipped around the country as needed. Steinway had several instruments at a department store in Toronto, some of them new and pristine, others worn and well used by concert-playing pianists. Glenn Gould was enamored with one of the old and worn pianos and claimed it for his own. A visually-impaired but extraordinarily gifted piano technician (a piano tuner though that title hardly shows the artistry involved in caring for a Steinway piano) worked with Gould to make piano CD 318 the perfect instrument for Gould's exacting (to say the least!) standards.

The book is a biography of Gould, an explanation of the piano as an instrument, the story of the Steinway Company and its history, an examination of the support system for a musical artist and so much more. I learned so much about the piano and gained a greater appreciation of the talent, strength, stamina and artistry involved in playing it. I will listen to pianists with a very different respect now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'm so glad we had this time together...

When I was growing up, Saturday night on CBS was the television watcher's dream: Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and the sublime Carol Burnett. My first year in the dorm at the U of M, my neighbors across the hall would pop popcorn and I'd carry my portable TV to their room and we would watch Carol Burnett. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

I've just started reading Carol Burnett's This time together: laughter and reflection and it is delightful. I flew through 41 pages over a cheese pizza sandwich at Carbones (if you live in the West St. Paul area, stop in at Carbones and try one--yum, yum) and she is wonderful company!

Not a memoir in the strictest sense, it is a series of memories, vignettes, tributes to her friends--the book starts with her much-loved favorite actor Jimmy Stewart. Can you imagine having Jimmy Stewart in your living room, standing by the piano and singing? I know just how she must have felt.

If you, too, have happy memories of Saturday nights in front of the TV, spend some weekday nights with your nose in this book.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

a lo-o-o-o-ong wait wasted

Once you've read a book that nestles in a corner of your heart, you want to read everything new by the author of that book. I absolutely adored Yann Martel's The life of Pi. Pi is one of the most appealing and endearing characters I've ever met in a book.

This week, Martel's new book appeared on my desk. The anticipation started to build in my little reader's heart. I started the book on Thursday. I read the first several pages. Nothing. I read up to page 45 and still nothing. I returned the book. Nothing happened in those first 45 pages. Nothing. No action in the book, no involvement for me the reader. Blah.

Today, I read a few reviews and they panned the book. I'm still very disappointed. Let's hope Martel's next book is a stunner.

(Don't be shocked that I didn't finish the book. I often don't because I know there are wonderful books out there, waiting for me to spend happy hours reading. I was at a memoir workshop this week and the presenter said the "rule" for readers over 50 (yes, that's me!) is: subtract your age from 100, the remainder is the recommended number of pages you should read before abandoning a book. So there.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kevin, I wish I'd known you

Many years ago, I was in high school in Osseo, Minnesota. I have a vague memory of a tiny boy with big glasses and an arm that was much shorter than the other, a member of the AV Club and I always see him pushing an AV cart through the dusty halls of Osseo High. Flash forward to the 1990s and I see the name Kevin Kling mentioned in the newspapers as an actor/playwright taking his play "21A" on tour across the U.S. Could that Kevin Kling be the same guy forever pushing AV carts around in my memory? Yes, it could.

Flash forward to 2009 and the book "The dog says how" which I had to request for oh-so-many people that I finally decided to read it myself. I just about died laughing. Kevin has an unusual take on the world: part philosopher, part humorist and entirely open and honest. It was such fun to read a book and know some of the places and people described.

Last week, I read Kevin Kling's Holiday Inn and found myself laughing, crying, pondering and absolutely enjoying every word. How could I resist tales of the church Christmas program "Disasters of the Bible" put on by the teens with a Moog synthesizer and the church organist? Or Otto the man with the locking knee who drove 30 mph/90 mph/30 mph/90 mph, depending on when his knee locked? Or Kevin's memories of his first love (my jaw hit the ground on who she was--a friend of mine from Drama Club)? I wished with all my might that I really and truly knew this person with the wonderful way with words.

In August, Kevin is appearing in the Club Book series sponsored by the MELSA system--he'll be at Maplewood Library on Thursday, August 26 at 7:00 p.m. I'll be there--maybe I could sing the Osseo fight song (We'll sing a song, both loud and long to cheer our team to victory...) to catch his attention. Please join me...I'll be the one laughing and crying and grinning like a fool.

(the orange and black is in honor of the Osseo Orioles...)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

an excellent traveling companion

Now that the Olympics are over and my time is, at long last, my own, I once again have my nose in a book. It has been a rough week--I've started three books and returned all of them. In spite of being well-reviewed in the library literature, they were not of interest to me. (I've been a devoted reader for enough years that I don't feel obligated to finish every book I start--there are plenty of books awaiting me that I will really truly enjoy reading. Really.)

I just started Stephen Fry in America: fifty states and the man who set out to see them all and look forward to spending time with this witty and wonderful traveling companion. Stephen Fry is quintessentially British and a man of many talents, acting and writing amongst them. Seeing my native land through his eyes should be quite entertaining (and, maybe, eye opening?). He is starting his journey across America, driving a British taxi, in Maine.

A few words about Stephen Fry--the perfect Jeeves (with Hugh Laurie (you know, House M.D.) as the clueless Bertie Wooster), a heartbreaking Oscar Wilde (the movie Wilde is painfully sad but Mr. Fry is extraordinary), intelligent, funny and eye-catching (well over six feet tall with a nose that points to his left ear and all-seeing blue eyes). I've enjoyed watching his movies and reading his books. Give one or the other (or both) a try.

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's been a quiet week in my hometown

Last Thursday, in spite of snow, sleet and ice, I went to the cinecast of "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Roseville Theater. Even though I live five minutes from the Fitzgerald Theater, I had never attended the program so the evening was a new experience for me. I sat with a dear older couple from Fridley, also Prairie Home novices.

Being my father's daughter, I arrived at 6:20 for a 7:00 program but I had my library book (Another Faust by Daniel & Dena Nayeri) so I was content. At 6:45, Garrison's face (not one of the more attractive mugs in creation) came on screen for a spontaneous tour of downtown St. Paul: Rice Park, Candyland (the best caramel corn ever), Mickey's Diner and a few other star locations. It is fun to see your neighborhood through the eyes of someone else and wonder what the rest of the viewing public think of it. Garrison speaks so easily and wittily--even though I live in St. Paul I wanted to go visit right then (well, maybe after the weather cleared up).

The evening's guests included Elvis Costello (wow, is he cool or what?), Robin and Linda Williams, Heather Massey, Jevetta and Jearlyn Steel (they sang a gospel version of Beethoven's Ode to Joy that just about put me over the edge--amazing) and the usual suspects: Sue Scott, Tom Keith, Fred Newman (very handsome) the sound effects guy and Tim Russell. An amazingly talented group of people.

Being a lover of words, I have to say I stand in awe of Garrison Keillor--the other's had scripts but he spoke almost everything from memory or off the cuff. Wow, wow and wow again.

I hope they cinecast the program again--even at $20 a ticket, I'll be there. Ready to laugh, cry and sing along (I so want to be a part of the Hopeful Gospel Quartet), letting wonderful and glorious words wash over me. Perfect.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

too cold for living but great for reading

It has been dreadfully cold here in Minnesota. Temperatures have been in the negative numbers--far too cold to be out and about but perfect for reading. I spend part of each evening on my daybed, securely wrapped in my Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer blanket (my little home is never really warm with the thermostat set at 65 degrees so a blanket is necessary), reading. I'm several issues behind on Vanity Fair--I'm reading the November issue now, oops.

I just finished Where the mountain meets the moon by Grace Lin. It is a children's book and absolutely lovely (adults, don't look down your nose at children's books--they are amazing! Try one, please).

Minli is the cherished only child of a couple who work hard but can't seem to make a success of their little farm. Could it be because it is located on Fruitless Mountain? They have little in the way of money, the only money in the house is two brass coins that belong to Minli, but they are devoted to each other. Minli's father is a storyteller and fill the evening hours entertaining her with stories and legends of China--Minli's mother thinks he is filling her head with useless dreams. One day, Minli takes one of her brass coins and buys a magic goldfish, thinking it will add to touch of brightness to their little home. Her mother is upset that Minli spent her money so foolishly on a living being that they will need to feed. Sadly, Minli releases the fish and decides to take their unfortunate situation into her own hands--she will leave home and search for the Man in the Moon who will help her to change their fortune.

While on her journey, Minli meets a dragon who cannot fly, a young boy with a water buffalo, the king of the bright city, a rambunctious set of twins and many others who help her to find her way. Her parents, lost and lonely without their precious child, embark on their own journey of discovery though their journey takes place within the confines of their home.

Each character has a tale to tell, an explanation of why they are what they are or why they live where they live. Each tale adds another layer of interest and beauty to the story. Beautiful, richly colored illustrations add even more to the gorgeous words. Please read this book (and add a comment to tell me what you thought).