Friday, July 29, 2011


Idly pursuing the USA Today yesterday, I decided to check out their list of the 50-top selling books. Although I consider myself a prolific reader, I have read only 8 of them. Well, 8.5. I bought Dan "Unbroken" for Christmas, and while he has never touched it, I have dipped into it quite a bit. Hence the .5 of a book.

The 8 I have read are "The Help" (#1), "Water for Elephants" and "State of Wonder", all mentioned in my previous post; Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl That Kicked The Hornet's Nest" (where's the third one?); the first Harry Potter book (where are the rest?); "Room" by Emma Donoghue, a great thriller about a 5-year-old boy held captive with his mother in a single room, the only world he knows; and "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana Rosnay (more on that one later).

There are only a couple of more books I would even want to read: "In the Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson, "Bossypants" by Tina Fey and possibly "Before I Go to Sleep" by S. J. Watson.

So why haven't I read more? Probably because there are so many authors on the list that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, like Danielle Steele, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Weiner, Fern Michaels, Catherine Coulter,  etc. I'm not claiming to be an intellectual, but I think my reading habits are usually a cut above those novelists.

Anyway, back to "Sarah's Key" and the reason I'm writing this post. I didn't know until yesterday that this touching, unforgettable book has been turned into a movie starring Kristin Scott Thomas. It was released July 22 but is not in Bismarck yet. According to US Today, this is another novel "getting a boost from the film industry". Just before the movie was released, sales of "Sarah's Key" doubled. (It has already spent 117 weeks on the top 150 and is now at #19.)

"Sarah's Key" has been described as a wrenching Holocaust novel. It is based on the events of the Vel d'Hiv roundup of French Jews. Here's a summary:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard -  their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Sixty years later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

Scott Thomas relates that she was eager to make the film, in part because her Jewish mother-in-law was one of the many children hidden away from the Nazis.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Last year I had a goal to read 200 books in one year, and I made it! (Thanks in great part to being unemployed for most of the year.)This year, I am way, way "behind", but then again I did not set any goal.

In fact, I only read two books in June. That's almost unheard of for me. But I was so busy, returning to gardening again after a hiatus of at least three years. I was so exhausted from planting, weeding, and clearing away old unwanted or broken down garden stuff that I usually fell into bed right after supper. But now, with most of the hard work done, I am back to reading on the deck on the west side of my house. Since it is so light so long up here in NoDak country, some nights I was able to read until almost 10 p.m.

I have read a couple of memorable new books so far. Inspired by the July 21st post by Loretta Marvel at "Pomegranates and Paper" (on my sidebar), I have decided to share them with you. One is "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain. It's a fictionalized account of the life led by Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, during their days in Paris. McLain gives a wonderful account of the Hemingways' and other famous writers' lives in post-war Paris up until the time that Ernest throws Hadley over for the woman who will soon be his second wife.

The second is "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett. Patchett is one of my favorite authors, be it fiction ("Bel Canto") or non-fiction ("Truth and Beauty: A Friendship"). Pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh leaves a chilly Minnesota spring for the Amazon jungle, looking to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson and discern why the renowned gynecologist is being so reticent about her research into producing a fertility drug that could be a windfall for her company.

I highly recommend both these books, and I more than likely will be recommending the book I just received yesterday. "Burnt Mountain", by Anne Rivers Siddons, will be the book that I bring out to the deck tonight. I think I've read almost every single one of ARS's books and loved them all, so I'm sure I will love this one too. Set in the South, as are all of Siddons' books, "Burnt Mountain" is described thusly: "Growing up, the only place tomboy Thayer Wentworth felt at home was at her summer camp - Camp Sherwood Forest in the North Carolina Mountains. It was there that she came alive and where she met Nick Abrams, her first love...and first heartbreak.

Years later, Thayer marries Aengus, an Irish professor, and they move into her deceased grandmother's house in Atlanta, only miles from Camp Edgewood on Burnt Mountain where her father died years ago in a car accident. There, Aengus and Thayer lead quiet and happy lives until Aengus is invited up to the camp to tell old Irish tales to the campers. As Aengus spends less time at home and becomes more distant, Thayer must confront dark secrets-about her mother, her first love, and, most devastating of all, her husband."

Now on to a few other books that I also highly recommend. These aren't new, but they are tied into movies that are out now or soon will be. The first is "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan".

Set in 19th Century China, it is the story of two young girls, Lily and Snow Flower, who embark on what becomes a lifelong, intimate friendship when they together undergo the excruciating process of foot binding. Later on, the  "old sames" are separated but carry on their friendship through "nu shu", or secret women's writing, on a fan that is passed back and forth between them. We also witness what pride, misunderstandings and perceived slights can do to even such a firm friendship as theirs.

I have not seen this movie but I cannot see how it could improve on this fantastic book.

Another most excellent book, with a movie by the same name set to open Aug. 10, is "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. It is set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., "where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver." Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by 'writing about what disturbs you'.

"The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts, enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams."

The book "Water for Elephants" has been out for years now, and the movie came out earlier this year, so you may have already seen it. But even if you have - or have not - please, please read this wonderful book. Like "Snow Flower and The Secret Fan", my book club and I adored it. Although I thought the movie was great, it cannot begin to describe the characters and world of a traveling circus in the 1930s seen through the eyes of its newly-joined vet, Jacob Jankowski. Though Rosie the Elephant is a charmer even in the movie, her personality really comes to life in the book.

What are you reading this summer? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Artist  Karen Margulis
When I walked out my door on Saturday morning I saw that my front yard was swarming with dragonflies. Many had also landed on the walls of my house. Their iridescent blue color contrasted nicely with the light gray stucco walls.
It seemed very serendipitous to have them there, as just a few days before I had found an old cast-iron sundial at an "antique" shop. I had been looking around for sundials, including those with a dragonfly theme, but they were all too expensive. At $15.00, this one below fit the bill. I'd like to think that the dragonflies that were swarming around my yard Saturday had stopped by to greet their inanimate companion.

I'm sure the real reason they came by is way more practical. I did some checking and read that dragonflies are attracted to standing water, and we had two good rainstorms last week. (We also had one terrific storm on Sunday, with loud thunder, tornado sirens wailing and hail - which fortunately went south of town and missed us.)

Apparently the standing water attracts/hatches mosquitoes and other insects which in turn attracted the dragonflies. The dragonflies were there to eat the insects and thereby clear our yard of those obnoxious critters.

Reading further, I discovered that dragonflies symbolize good luck and long life in many Eastern cultures. They can also represent prosperity, strength, peace, harmony and purity. The website has this to say about the dragonfly:

As a creature of the wind, the dragonfly totem represents change. Its iridescent wings are incredibly sensitive to the slightest breeze, and so we are reminded to heed where the proverbial wind  blows - lest we run into stormy weather.

Dragonflies are also creatures of the water. In the animal world, water is symbolic of the subconscious mind and relates to the thoughts we have in relaxed/meditative/sleeping/subconscious states.

Artist Karen Margulis

Further symbolic meaning of the dragonfly comes into play when we observe the dragonfly's mode of transportation as it skitters across the top of water surfaces. This implies that our deeper thoughts are surfacing and we must pay attention.

The dragonfly gives us a very powerful meditation tool when we want to visualize positive outcomes in a situation. "Close your eyes, and focus on a thought - let it rise to the surface of your mind's ocean - see that thought float lightly up to the water's surface. Now . . . visualize that thought moving across that water - sliding across - smooth and fast. We see the thought of hope happily moving across an ocean of peace (peaceful mind) and skittering to a perfect outcome."

Lastly it should be noted that the dragonfly lives a short life, and it knows it must live this life to the fullest. This lesson is huge for each of us. So when you see a dragonfly, be aware of the gifts it has to offer.

I feel doubly blessed to have had the dragonfly swarm on Saturday - not only was my mosquito population decimated, but I was also blessed with good luck!

P.S. - My yard was also swarming with Western Swallowtail butterflies (shown above) on Saturday. Hmm, I wonder what that signified?

Friday, July 1, 2011


Minot, the Magic City

The Souris River at Minot, ND, is receding - albeit very slowly. It left behind 4,000 flooded homes and 300 businesses.  11,000 people have had to find somewhere else to live. I titled this post Memories of Minot, but I hope the title does not foreshadow what might become of Minot - a place where only memories are left.

Minot calls itself the Magic City and to me as a child it was magic. Minot is about 100 miles from my little hometown of Larson, ND. My family traveled there once, at the most twice a year. I remember being unable to sleep the night before our trips - that's how excited I was.

We made an annual trip to Minot to buy school clothes - usually at the Sears store at Arrowhead Shopping Center. Yes, Minot had a couple of shopping centers, although Arrowhead and Oak Park (now destroyed) were much smaller than today's Dakota Square Mall.

Full-size replica of the Norwegian Gol Stave
Church at Minot's Scandinavian Heritage Park

Minot was also where we could buy things not available in the small towns near us. For me, it was a chance to obtain books! I would always check to see if a new Mary Stewart romance/mystery had come out in paperback.

We also had lunch at places like Kentucky Fried Chicken or Bonanza steak house. That was fine dining for us!

Before we were able to do all that, though, we had to wait while dad did his business at Reeve's. Dad owned a one-man refrigeration business, and Reeve's Refrigeration was where he ordered his parts. But of course, before he got down to business, there was a lot of chewing the fat with Mr. and Mrs. Reeves. For us kids, it was a crashing bore and it ate into our fun time.

Downtown Minot

Even more rare than my family's trips to Minot were the trips my grandma and aunt made to visit my Uncle Billy. Gram and Mary would board the Greyhound Bus in Crosby and alert the driver that he had to make a special stop at Larson for my mom and me.
Billy lived at the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Minot and worked at the nearby White's Creamery. I thought that living in a motel was the ultimate. Oh, the Roosevelt, with its transom doors, dusty hall carpets and old-fashioned sinks with rust stains from dripping taps. How I loved it! At night, we heard thrilling city sounds like police, fire and ambulance sirens that never disturbed our sleep at home.

Trips to Minot meant eating at Charlie's Main Street Cafe and a visit to Ellison's Department Store, both downtown. This of course, was before the big mall was built. Since my family hardly ever ate out, much less ate fried foods, I really enjoyed my deep-fried chicken dinner at Charlie's.

Stabbur (Storehouse) at Scandinavian Heritage Park

One especially exciting time, Grandma, Mary and I boarded the Great Northern Railroad and traveled all the way to Whitefish, Montana to visit my Great Aunt Jennie. That trip is still so vivid to me that I remember the cute red tiered skirt I wore and my skinned knee that became infected from a fall on a Minot sidewalk.

When I was a senior, my class took a trip to Minot for Skip Day - erm, Career Day. We toured the Minot State College campus and visited Columbus High students who were attending MSC. Afterward, the senior girls walked downtown and  had a blast at the Woolworth's store, buying makeup and cheap jewelry. On our way home the bus stopped for burgers at Auto Dine, my first ever fast food experience.

In recent years, my sister and I would travel to Minot to attend the Norsk Hostfest, America's largest Scandinavian festival, with food, vendors and entertainment galore. We always made sure to visit the antique shops downtown and have a lemonade at Charlie's, which was still open and still going strong.

We'd also visit the enclave of charming little gift shops all located in stately older homes just north of Broadway Bridge. Those shops were right along the Souris or a block away from it, and I don't know if they made it through the flood.

No trip to Minot was complete without a trip to the Homesteader Restaurant for "lunch". This is not the noon meal but the 4:00 afternoon coffee break that people in Scandinavian communities like Minot call lunch.

Looking down Broadway Avenue,
Minot's main thoroughfare

Minot may not be my home town, as it is Josh Duhamel's, but I have such fond memories of it. I hope its residents return and rebuild, and soon, so that I can begin building more memories of the Magic City.