Book Club (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 13)

Another evening of stimulating conversation, laughter, and an interesting read for our bi-monthly book club.

This time, a play — Sweat by Lynn Nottage. Timely in reflecting many of the themes we see playing out in society today.  The club selection two months earlier was Al Franken’s latest book, Giant of the Senate, a sobering yet humorous writing by our Senator.

We have periodically been fortunate enough to share our discussion with the author, as we were after enjoying the delightful book, Locally Laid by Lucie Amundsen.

Scott Carpenter was another author connection for our book club, as we read both his novel Theory of Remainders and his short story collection, This Jealous Earth.  The complexity of human relationships is showcased in many of his stories and remarkably analyzed in such a limited space.

We periodically take advantage of local community “One Book” programs, which often include a talk by the author or activities related to the subject of the book.  One of the first books we read as a newly formed book club was our community’s “One Book”: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Sometimes we return to a classic, as we did when we read Jane Eyre earlier this year, and are reminded why it remains a favorite all these years later.

And book club is not complete without a potpourri of wines to accompany dinner, reflecting the variety of topics that are floated around the table as we eat, and talk, and even dive into our reactions to the book itself!

The evening draws to a close with a feeling of warmth and gratitude for the women who share their diverse and interesting experiences at each gathering.

~ Kat


Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website:

~ Kat

A Good Book is Never Out of Place

Books are a permanent and essential fixture in our home.  Over the years, as I review photographs and memories, I realize that books are fixtures in our lives, not just our home.

Reading before dinner in Hawaii
Waiting for our table while dining in Hawaii

In the past year or two, I have made room in my life for a book club of wonderfully interesting women.  We meet every other month, sometimes  discussing the book at length, other times just enjoying each other’s company, food and drink, with the book a secondary focus.  We were honored with the presence of the author himself at our last gathering, as one of our members happened to have a family connection to him.  (By the way, our author-attended evening involved a definitely recommended read — The Theory of Remainders by Scott Carpenter — a suspenseful novel set in the Normandy region of France.  It is a captivating read that would be a perfect companion for a long car ride or flight!)  During a time of life where finding time to read for pleasure often takes a back seat, book club “forces” me to make time for an activity that always gives more than it takes.

Reading on the pontoon
Kicking back on the pontoon, book in hand, faithful friend as pillow.
Does life get much better?

Books are like friends to me — different personalities, different experiences.  Getting lost in a good book is the best.  (And as the weather turns colder, running a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine at my side and a good book in my hand is the perfect end to many a night!)  Some books are fine if read just once, but others demand repeat performances, often spaced over time, when life’s intervening experiences shed new light on the static words.  To Kill a Mockingbird (my book club’s next pick) is one of those always-fresh reads.  I believe this will be my fourth read of the classic novel, and I look forward to finding yet another new insight or hidden gem as I turn its pages once again.

Curled up with a book at the cabin
Cozy at the cabin with a good book (and, of course, that faithful friend!)

Other favorite reads (old friends) over time?  The list is long, but I will share a few , including several sentimental favorites:

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Taking a breather while exploring Ostia Antica
Taking a breather while exploring Ostia Antica

New books (like new friends) can add a different perspective, sometimes unexpected, sometimes fun, sometimes reflective.  A few newer reads that were worthwhile:

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch by Dan O’Brien
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Reading by firelight
Campfire memories at Glacier National Park

What is one of your go-to favorites, that you have read more than once and always recommend?  Or perhaps it is a newer book that comes to mind when asked to recommend a good read?

Ciao! ~ Kat

Female Friendships: Keeping Me Afloat in the Sea of Testosterone

I love my husband.  I love my teenaged boys.  Thank goodness for my female friendships. These were my thoughts as I drove home from book club this evening.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

In my rather unscientific study of the subject of the differences between men and women, undertaken while raising two boys and enjoying over 20 years of marriage to my husband, I have observed many stereotypical responses to situations that cause me to value things like “chick flick” nights with my girlfriends.  For example, as I sat with almost-hiccupping sobs toward the end of the movie “Marley and Me,” my then 10-year-old son was appalled, whispering to me to “please stop!” even while I heard the sniffles and sobs from throughout the theater.  We stopped by the restroom on our way out of the theater.  I told my son that plenty of other women were in the bathroom drying their tears, and he responded, “Well, no one in the boys’ bathroom was!”  I asked him how he could not have felt like crying, knowing what an animal lover he was.  Without pause, he answered, “It’s not like I knew Marley personally.”

As another example, on a family movie night at home, after I endured the movie selected by the males in the viewing audience — some “Dumb and Dumber”-type movie — I chose “Eat Pray Love” for my selection of the double feature.  The boys wandered off and I had to put up with a running commentary from my husband that included comments like, “Well, I can certainly see why she ended up alone.”  I invited him to find something else to do for the remainder of the movie.  (Thankfully, we do all enjoy a good historical drama or espionage-style thriller, and whether they admit it or not, they enjoy watching “Glee” with me!)

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”~Katharine Hepburn

(I couldn’t resist this quote — I adore Katharine Hepburn, and I know that my husband and boys certainly also have had this thought cross their mind while living with me!)

Stargazer Lily

I cannot recall where I read this, but in a recent discussion concerning the “balance” between family and work,  one writer used the term “blend” instead.  The term struck me as the perfect description of the journey many of us are on, trying to artfully, responsibly blend the different aspects of our lives.  As is often said, you can’t have it all . . .at least not all at the same time.  Words so true.  Reflecting back on the past 20 years of this journey since law school, I am reminded of the important role my female mentors and friends, who were sometimes one and the same, have played in helping me maintain perspective, grow and mature as a parent and spouse, develop as a professional, and find time to be a friend.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My female friendships include a kindred spirit going back to 5th grade.  We always remind each other “a friend is a friend till the end.”  Despite miles and often years separating us, the flame of friendship burns on, rekindled whenever we have a chance to connect.  I know we will always be there for each other.

New friendships are precious, as well.  While we have finite emotional capacity, as well as limited time, I have found that one should never say she does not have room for another friend in her life.  At different stages of life, time may be limited to cultivate new friendships and it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain old friendships.  And, as troubling and sad as it can be, sometimes friends are not meant to be forever, but rather we are there for a certain time or certain need in each others’ lives.


Book club is something I have made a commitment to making time for, even as life’s other demands are full.  For a few hours every couple of months, I have enjoyed the company of  old friends and made new ones.  I learn from the perspectives of women who have walked many miles ahead of me in life, as well as those who have walked the same number of miles but on a different path.  I am reminded that we all have burdens, we all have blessings.  I am amazed at the diversity of interests, talents and insights shared around the table, as we sometimes even spend time discussing the book we read (or ran out of time to read, or gave up reading . . . ).  Some discussions require more than one glass of wine!

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Purple Coneflower

The various relationships we have in our lives are important for different reasons.  I love my husband.  I love my boys.  And I am so grateful for my female friends.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust

Ciao! ~ Kat

In Memory of Bryce Courtenay and The Power of One: It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing

“Always in life an idea starts small, it is only a sapling idea, but the vines will come and they will try to choke your idea so it cannot grow and it will die and you will never know you had a big idea, an idea so big it could have grown thirty meters through the dark canopy of leaves and touched the face of the sky.’ He looked at me and continued. ‘The vines are people who are afraid of originality, of new thinking. Most people you encounter will be vines; when you are a young plant they are very dangerous.’ His piercing blue eyes looked into mine.’ Always listen to yourself, Peekay. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life.” ~ Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Early winter tree lichens ~ Minnesota

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.” ~ Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

My book club’s November read was Bryce Courtenay’s “The Power of One,”  which I had not read since it was first published.  It was always a special book to me, one that I continued to make space for on my overcrowded bookshelves all these years.  Re-reading it over 20 years later, I found even more gems of wisdom.  Not even two weeks after my book club gathered for an interesting discussion, that lent itself to exploration of deeper issues as most book club discussions do, we learned that Bryce Courtenay passed away.  You can read his obituary here.

“. . . besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child.” ~ Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Mossy stump in early winter ~ Minnesota

In reading Mr. Courtenay’s obituary and other articles reflecting on his life, I thought many of you may find interesting the fact that he did not pen his first book until his mid-50’s, and that book was the worldwide bestseller “The Power of One.”   For all of you participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), take note and inspiration from Mr. Courtenay’s later-in-life start and success with writing (you may particularly be interested in the link below to Capital Letters’ post regarding Mr. Courtenay’s last Master Class).  It is never too early or too late to find your writer’s voice.

“The power of one is above all things the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated. The mind is the athlete, the body is simply the means it uses to run faster or longer, jump higher, shoot straighter, kick better, swim harder, hit further, or box better.” ~ Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Just a few of the recent posts from other WordPress bloggers on Bryce Courtenay or The Power of One:

This week’s Reflection of Gratitude ~ be grateful for your writer’s voice!

Ciao! ~ Kat