March 27, 2015

Backward Glances and Spring in My Step

I found the photo above at random on my phone- taken by accident with the front facing camera feature when instead I was aiming the other way at the kids in kayaks on the pond.  (Our pond had opened up a couple of weeks ago.  It's once again frozen over.)
When I saw this image, I liked it so much I kept it.  A beautiful blooper. 
Fitting for the quote, because it is indeed a backward glance over my shoulder! 
True words, applicable to Northern Minnesota, especially in March and April. 

Random Five:

1.  Last week was a hard week, explaining my absence for a while.  I attended funeral services for a friend and visited our dearest neighbor in the hospital the same day.
The loss of a friend brought on a great deal of thought, which I hope to share more about soon.  Thank goodness our friend and neighbor Marianne is on the mend.  We care a great deal for her.  She had me worried! 

2.  If you haven't had fresh parsnips dug up from the frozen Minnesota ground in March, you don't know what you're missing.  Marianne's sons come visiting the homestead each March for their birthdays (one of them turned 70 this year) and take to the garden with a pry bar.  They shared a few of their prized parsnips with us.  DELICIOUS.  I'll be giving parsnip seeds a go this gardening season.

3.  Late Saturday afternoon after a quiet day of recuperating, my phone rang with a surprise invitation to go hiking with Marianne's visiting daughter.  We agreed to meet in the field at 4 o' clock and enjoyed three hours of cold fresh air, hiking through the woods together.  My phone said we put on 7.1 miles.  I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it was sure was invigorating. 

4.  My hiking visit, as well as a few long chats with friends came at wonderful times last week. Often solitary by nature and largely family oriented, I'm thankful for connected conversations and friends I can pick up with wherever we left off, as if a few months is no different than a few moments.  Isn't is wonderful to be understood? 

5.  I had the snow tires swapped off of my car yesterday for regular tires once again..  optimistic that I won't need them anymore this year.  :)

It's still quite cold here, but I'm feeling a whole lot of Spring in my step.
Peace, Love, and PARSNIPS, 
(Try them!)

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March 16, 2015

Three Books

One of my Goals for 2015 is to choose and read one book each calendar month. 
Last year I set out to read fifty books, roughly one a week, reading anything I could get my hands on. (see my Year in Books here)  So one book a month is a practice in restraint.  My aim is a "less is more approach" ..keeping my reading time in balance with time for the other things I love.  This goal has been great for keeping me in check in that respect, and has had me giving more consideration to my selections, prioritizing my reading list. 

My first three books of 2015 took me all around the world and back home again. 


And The Mountains Echoed, Kahled Hosseini

I was eager to read And the Mountains Echoed after being swept away by A Thousand Splendid Suns and also reading The Kite Runner last year.
*Tough Love Alert*  This was my least favorite of the three.  I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns.  It takes a special kind of book for me to keep on my shelf, or to pass on to friends.. I have two copies, both of them loaned out.  It's worth noting that the bar was set high for comparing work by the same author. 
And the Mountains Echoed is written in a different structure than Hosseini's prior two books, each chapter told from the viewpoint of a new character.  Starting in a small Afghan village, I found the initial story compelling, but it was soon placed on the back burner to accommodate added characters and story lines.  It took me some effort in keeping track of how they were all connected, in part because they span multiple generations and jump multiple continents, but some of them seemed altogether unnecessary and too far removed.  I just wanted to get back to that first story already. 
The ripple (or echo) effect of a single event is the main theme.  I get it, but it didn't resonate harmoniously for me.  I love Hosseini's writing, but not this book.
And The Mountains Echoed falls short of my Pass on to a Friend caliber.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand

After hearing numerous mentions of this book, I went seeking it at our local library and found that it was checked out all across our regional library system, I was #17 in queue.
When my copy arrived, I jumped into it.  But not before Mitch grabbed it and read it first.  
Unbroken is a non-fiction / biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater, spent 47 days drifting on a raft, and then survived more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in three brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
Brutal is the word that sticks.  This is an intensely brutal, but incredible account.. as the subtitle suggests, Zamperini survives his ordeals, and with resilience.
From this book I learned more about the Pacific / Japanese side of WWII (where my mom's dad served), about the B-24 bomber, and unfortunately, about several U.S. military inadequacies at that time.  I felt the author did a tremendous job with her research.
While Louie's story is unforgettable, my favorite character is Phil (Lt. Russell Allen Phillips), for his moral steadfastness through it all.  Phil is my kind of hero.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)  Unbroken stretched my mind.


The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani

I read several Trigiani books last year, and was told that The Shoemakers Wife is her best yet.  Historical fiction, rich in culture and setting, it was right up my alley.
I felt it was a well-told, whole picture of the early 1900's European-American immigrant.  Their roots, their journey, making their way in a new and strange place, the sense of gratitude and debt these immigrants felt to their new country, and the longing for the home and people they left behind. 
In some ways, the story paralleled that of my great grandfather from Finland.  He came to the U.S. on a ship alone at 15 years old, as Ciro does in the pages of this book, and at nearly the same year.  They both made a life in America by way of work ethic and willingness to learn.  Not long after his arrival, my great grandpa was shipped back to Europe to fight in France in WWI, also as Ciro and so many immigrants did. 
The most common criticism this book seems to receive is that it's bogged down with too much description.  Yes, it's descriptive, and the hardcover I read is 475 pages long.  Part of Trigiani's style is in her description of foods and fabrics.  But mostly, she describes settings beautifully.  She makes me feel the places in her stories.  I was surprised to find that this one, originating in the Italian Alps, then New York City, ends up right here in Northern Minnesota, my own native land.  And Trigiani got it right, the Minnesota stuff. 
My only complaints:  There were (what I thought were) some typos and age discrepancies late in the book.  They weren't pertinent to the story, I'm just a stickler for editing detail.
I enjoyed reading The Shoemaker's Wife.  

There are a handful of books in the running for my April choice, but so far I'm undecided.
What are you reading?  Maybe I'll read along!

PS: Today is St. Urho's Day. 
Wishing you many reasons to smile.

March 13, 2015

Our Now | Our Five

[This Moment]   A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

After dinner one night this week, I was standing at our kitchen island and had to stop what I was doing, grab my phone with messy hands from nearby, and sneak a picture. 
Family.  Together.  Homework.  Siblings.  All five kids under one roof, in one room, in one frame. 
These moments are precious. 

This is our now.

[Random Five]

1.  With spring in the air, so is baseball, prom, and the anticipation of so many things.  But for now we have a break between sports and it's wonderful.  Unhurried evenings and family time are wonderful.  The hour of daylight added to the end of the day is wonderful. 

2.  Mason & Eric and a friend made pies last night to take to school in celebration of upcoming Pi Day. (The jello instant pudding type.)  They never pass up a reason to celebrate with food.  Our mailbox has been taken over by mail from colleges, addressed to the two of them. 

3.  Johnathan isn't a kid who necessarily stands out, per se.  Yet I received an email this week from one of his teachers telling me how hardworking he is, a joy to have in class, a great child, that I should be proud.  This is not the first time I've gotten a message of this sort about Johnathan.  
It's nice to hear those kind words. I am proud.

4.  Lilly is very keen on illustrating minions lately.  Our refrigerator is never dull or lacking art.
As I've said since she was a toddler adding purple polk-a-dots with marker to the white stripes of her bed skirt: The world is her canvas. 

5.  I joined Beau for an Author and Artist Celebration in the 2nd grade classroom this afternoon.  It was super.
He & I are headed to the performing arts theater tonight to see The Adventures of Flat Stanley.  He wore his knee high mud boots home from school, luckily we won't need those to go to the theater.  I'll encourage him to wiggle that loose tooth on our way there. 

Peace, Love, and PS: I spotted the first robin at the edge of our yard yesterday.  
Happy Springing!