Independent Bookstores (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 19)

New books draw you in with their interesting unmarked covers, with crisp pages to turn – friends just waiting to be discovered.

Used books are like old friends, a little worn around the edges, but full of history and inspiration.

Zenith Bookstore ~ Duluth, MN

Technology creates a variety of different digital options for reading books on a screened device. Thankfully, the paper pages endure and have found a way to co-exist. The independent bookstore, full of friends old and new, will continue to provide an escape for all who walk through its doors.

~ Kat

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


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

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

Never Stand in the Way of a Teen Who Wants To Cook

One of my teens has taken an interest in cooking lately. He made a wonderful gazpacho this weekend to take advantage of all the area garden produce still in season. The recipe called for avocados as an optional ingredient, and he decided to add them which was a wise call — excellent addition!

The cookbook that has helped spark his interest (along with a father who is a creative whiz in the kitchen) was one I had picked up a few years ago, Anyone Can Cook, published by Better Homes & Gardens. Unfortunately, I do not think it is published any longer. I love a cookbook with the 3-ring binder that lays the recipe open and flat while you cook, and this particular cookbook has great, simple, step-by-step recipes beyond the routine grilled cheese or pigs-in-a-blanket for starting chefs. I do have to laugh that at the bottom of each recipe there’s an “Ask Mom” section with questions that might be helpful to a new chef — in our house, that’s “Ask Dad” (come to Mom for household maintenance and gardening advice).

This week, my son pulled out the cookbook and decided to make Halibut in Crazy Sauce. It’s a basic Neapolitan classic, variations of which can be found on a variety of websites, including this great option on the Mediterranean Cooking website. As noted in the cookbook and on most websites posting a variation of the recipe, the catch of the day would be made in acqua pazza (“crazy water”), which keeps the fish moist during cooking and creates a sauce for drizzling over the top of the final product. The recipe my son made called for red crushed pepper and yellow sweet peppers, which added a nice color for presentation, although the tomato option in recipes like the one from Mediterranean Cooking looks equally attractive!

Not bad for a teen cook, eh?!

Halibut in Crazy Sauce (photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)
Halibut in Crazy Sauce (photo: Kat B./travelgardeneat)

Halibut in Crazy Sauce provides a relatively quick, healthy option for a family dinner, with less expensive fish like tilapia (which is also a sustainable choice!) easy to substitute.  Hoping my son’s interest in cooking continues, as I am more than happy to make room in the kitchen for another family cook!

Ciao! ~ Kat B.