Category Archives: books

Rabbit Whimsy

Last month Bill (I think it was Bill) mentioned Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells.  It had been in print a few years before I was first read it to Child, but I remember that we had it from the library at some point.  The Hennepin Library doesn’t own a copy any longer but I was able to get it through InterLibrary Loan and I’m liking it so much that I’ve ordered myself a copy.  (I have a very modest children’s book collection – based solely on what I like).

There are three stories, each featuring a young bunny who has had an exceedingly bad day —  never-ending math class, horrible cousins, medicine that tastes like gasoline.  At the end of these bad days, the young bunnies wish for a visit to the Bunny Planet.  There they are greeted by the kind Queen Janet who invites them in with a “Here’s the day that should have been.”  Each bunny falls off to sleep with the visions of a perfect day dancing in their heads.

At the beginning of each story, there is a rabbit quote like this:

It is the first duty of a flagging spirit to seek renewal
in the latitudes of whimsy.  I, for one, dream on
beyond the give planets to a world without wickedness;
verdant, mild, and populated by amiable lapins.
Benjamin Franklin

The other quotes are from Rudyard Kipling (“The captain fell at daybreak, and ‘e’s ravin’ in ‘is bed, With a regiment of rabbits on the planets round ‘is ‘ead.”) and Galileo (“I designated this heavenly body “Coniglio,” but alas, never saw it again.”)

It’s gratifying to see rabbits making the grade in heavenly literature but I think it’s fascinating that Benjamin Franklin dreamed of whimsy and thought a perfect world would be a bunny haven.

I say whimsy all around!

Tell me about your “day that should have been” and how your perfect world would look?

Anticipation

A good friend of mine said once I should put “In a relationship” as my Facebook status.  When I was surprised and asked with whom I was having this relationship, she said “your library account”.  Ha ha.  But, of course, she’s right.  I know my library card number by heart and I probably check my account three or four times a week.  To keep myself from having way too many books checked out at once, I have half of my Hold list on pause so that needs curating as well.  And it’s also fun to watch those popular books with long waitlists as they creep slowly towards being available.

In the fall of 2019, someone at a party mentioned a new cookbook written by Dan Buettner called The Blue Zones Kitchen.  I’ve read three of his other books, 2 of them about the Blue Zones (particularly happy/healthy places in the world) so I went to my library account and requested the cookbook.  There were about 580 people in line ahead of me and not a huge number of copies; I figured it would take a few months to get, but I wasn’t in a hurry.

Then pandemic descended upon us.  The first thing was that the libraries all closed down.  Then during the summer they started lending again, but you couldn’t actually go in the library.  Now you can go into the building but you can’t hang out.  You’re supposed to “grab `n go”.  Hand in hand with all these changes is that due dates for books just keep pushing back and back.  Except for downloadable audiobooks, nothing ever seems to come due anymore. 

So as the months went by, I saw The Blue Zones Kitchen languishing on my Holds list, barely moving.  In the fall of 2020, about a year after I put it on my Hold list, the library purchased a few more copies, so I was a bit more hopeful.  On this past Monday, after 18 months, I got an email that the library was holding a copy for me. 

My patience paid off – it’s actually a very nice cookbook and I think I may actually purchase a copy for myself.  In the meantime, I’m going to make this recipe:

Melia Family Minestrone

7 Tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow or white onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 medium celery stalks, chopped

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled & diced

1 ½ c. chopped fennel bulbs, stalks & fronds

1/4 c. chopped parsley

2 Tbsp. chopped basil

½ c. dried & peeled fava beans (or 15-oz can)

½ c. dried cranberry beans (or 15-oz can)

½ c. dried chickpeas (or 15-oz can)

      (If using dried beans, soak overnight)

6-8 c. water or vegetable stock

2/3 c. Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous or acini di pepe pasta

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

  1. Warm 3 Tbsp. olive oil in large soup pot or Dutch oven.
  2. Add the onion, carrots, celery and cook until soft.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant
  3. Stir in tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley and basil, drained beans and chickpeas.  Add enough water/stock so that all the veggies are covered.
  4. Bring to boil and then simmer slowly, uncovered, until beans are tender, about 1 ½ hours.  If using canned beans, simmer for only 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in pasta, salt and pepper.  Add up to 2 cups of water/stock if the soup seems too dry.  Simmer for 10 more minutes until pasta is tender.
  6. Pour 1 Tbsp. olive oil into bowl before serving.

Have you ever waited a long time for something?  Was it worth it?

The Little Guys

This Saturday, April 24, is Independent Bookstore Day – which I’ve written about here before – five years ago now (!) https://trailbaboon.com/2016/04/27/indie-bookstore-day/ .

We have a little bookstore here in Winona called Paperbacks and Pieces. It’s mostly a paperback exchange except for one corner of new books, and a shelf of popular new titles that you can rent. They will do special orders for individuals and book clubs. Pre-pandemic, they hosted author signings (including our Chris from Owatanna!), local speakers, and occasional local group meetings. Spring and Fall would bring a huge Sidewalk Sale – actually in the side street which was closed off for the occasion.  They’ve been everything I want in a local, independent shop. P & P recently changed owners, but I have no doubt they’ll continue in this same vein.  The other local bookstore (not counting Target & Walmart) is downtown, Chapter 2 Books – used and vintage books, CDs, DVDs – which I also try to support; different vibe, and they have a wonderful cat.

The Big Box retailers did awfully well in the past year, according to this August 2020 article from the New York Times .  As we come out of isolation, I know some of our favorite places – restaurants, coffee shops, small independent businesses like hardware stores – have already gone under. A lot of the remaining ones are struggling to survive, hungry for customers as we start to open up again. I occasionally notice on Facebook posting for one of these places, and share them when I can – like this one for Swede Hollow Café in St. Paul, where I loved to go when I lived in the Cities.

Do you have any favorite small businesses in your vicinity that you will support, as we “open up” from isolation?

Have any of your favorites disappeared with the pandemic (or before)?

The History of everything

I had a four day weekend over Easter, and I spent it cooking and reading, both real treats for me. The gift of goat meat sent us on a Mediterranean cooking binge, and made me get out a cookbook I had neglected for some time, A Mediterranean Feast, by Clifford Wright. It is 815 pages of the history of Mediterranean food from Spain to Turkey, and all the countries in between. There are hundreds of recipes as well as references. He writes extremely detailed information about each of the recipes and the history of this food and the people who ate it from the Middle Ages to the present. His main emphasis is that the Mediterranean food that we know today is very strongly influenced by the Arabs, and that many food writers of the past have ignored that fact.

One of my favorite comments is in the section devoted to the history Greek and Turkish food, and the stubbornness of Greek food writers and historians to acknowledge the influence of the Ottomans on Greek cuisine,  “Unfortunately, there are no comparative historical studies of Greek and Turkish food by disinterested third-party scholars. In any case, all claims regarding the heritage of Greek food must by taken with a grain of salt….” (p. 219).  Wouldn’t it by fun to be such a disinterested third-party scholar?

It is hard to decide if this book is more of a cook book or a history book. I think it succeeds at both. I would love to write such a book, although I am not sure what I would write about. I suppose a history of children’s play would be fun, as I am a play therapist.

What kind of  history book would you like to write?   What Mediterranean countries have you visited?

Little Library

Now that I don’t have to layer up too much, I’m out walking the dog again.  It’s been fun to see the neighborhood anew, although I have to admit, it doesn’t seem as if much has changed in the last few months.

What has changed are the books in the Little Libraries.  These are the little nooks that people have put up in their yards, encouraging folks to take a book or leave a book.  We have a good number of them in the couple-of-mile radius around my house.

I almost never take a book from a Little Library, although occasionally I’ll take one out to flip through it a bit.  I did take an Italian workbook once – no one had done any of the exercises – I work on it occasionally.  I’ve taken a couple of kids books and then returned them to a different little library when I was done with them.  But it’s fun to look.

I have a friend down on the parkway who takes the Little Library concept to a new level.  She actually curates her collection, changing out titles to fit the season or upcoming holiday.  Right now there are a bunch of Easter and Spring titles – she always has some good books for kids.  She has also installed some little string lights in the box, although I’ve never seen it at night to know if it actually lights up.  There is also a tin of dog treats (home made) in her little library and in the summer, a bowl of water underneath for passing dogs. 

So it should have come as no surprise that there is a new addition to her library this week.  A stick library for dogs – photo above.  I couldn’t convince Guinevere to take a stick – she keeps quite busy sniffing while we walk to bother with a stick – although I suppose I could take a stick for her to play with once we get back to our yard.  I did snap the photo and send it off to my friend with a little note of thanks. 

I’m looking forward to this spring and summer to see what else becomes part of the Little Library landscape!

Have you ever taken a book from a Little Library?  Left a book?  Do you have a Little Library at your house? 

What to Read

My “other” book club got started 32 years ago.  With a few exceptions we’ve met every month for all those years.  We choose the books 6-8 months at a time and it has to be consensus and our preference is for books that none of us has read before although occasionally someone will say “I’ve read it but I’d love to read it again and talk about with you all.”

Deciding on the books can be stressful at times.  Two of us are voracious readers, one reads a lot of newer items, two of us read a wide range of genres, one pretty much prefers fiction.  For many years we used to all purchase the book in question but starting several years ago most of us moved to library books instead (money for some, space for others).  This means that the book has to be readily available in our various library systems.

Then there are the other issues that have cropped up over the years.  One of us is sick of “sisterhood” books (Snow Flower & the Secret Fan), one of us is tired of books about China, one of us feels overloaded by WWII titles, one of us doesn’t care for “old-fashioned” language which leaves out a lot of classics.  Three years ago, two of our members battled breast cancer, so books about the big C are still out of contention.  And I suppose it might go without saying that the last year everybody wants lighter fare. 

It’s gotten to be a research project these days to try to find good titles.  One of us doesn’t like to suggest titles; she takes it pretty personally if we end up not liking a book she has recommended.  (This isn’t a problem for me – the three worst books that we’ve ever read (and we agree on these) were all my picks!)  This increases the stress a bit on the rest of us. Hopefully if I start now I can find a few good ideas by next week when we have to come up with the next six months of reads.

Any suggestions for me?

Hometown Fame

I was never so proud to be from Luverne, MN when it was chosen to be featured in The War documentary.  Luverne wasn’t famous for much of anything before that, except for being where Fred Manfred lived, and for its marching band festival.  It really boosted the town and seemed to make the residents more cohesive somehow

Recently,  two North Dakota towns have been highlighted in the media-Minot in a Feb. 15-22 New Yorker article by Atul Gawande , and Williston in the book The Good Hand (2021) by Michael Patrick F. Smith. Gawande is a surgeon and public health researcher who was part of  the Biden Transition Advisory Board for COVID 19.  He wrote about the struggle in Minot city council over a mask mandate, and all the the antimask rhetoric and hysteria that swept through the community, a community that was severely impacted by the virus.

Smith’s book highlights what it was like to work in Williston during the oil boom, and what he writes about is pretty awful.  He is a a folksinger, actor, and playwright who left Brooklyn  to experience life on the rigs. Much of the book is about his own self discovery, but I don’t think many people would want to move to Williston after reading the book. I wonder what folks in Williston and Minot are thinking about all the publicity.

What is your hometown famous for? What would you write about in a book or article about your hometown or places you have called home?

Beans and Friendship

Husband and I like to grow shell-out beans in the garden.  These are beans that form in their pods and you can let dry and then shell and store,  unlike green beans that you eat whole when they are fresh.  We use them in soups and stews.   We have grown several varieties over the years, like Vermont Cranberry Beans and Good Mother Stallard.  We particularly like shelly beans, as they are sometimes called, because some of them are pole beans and they save space in the garden since they grow vertically.  One problem with the more popular varieties, though, is that their growing season is a little too long to reach maturity here before frost.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians were agricultural tribes who lived (and still live) on the Missouri River in North Dakota. They liked to grow shell beans, too. Many of their bean varieties were collected by horticulturists in the early 20th Century and can still be bought from certain seed companies.  Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden published in 1917 by anthropologist Gilbert Wilson, is his account of a famous Hidatsa gardener’s advice and stories about gardening in the Northern  Great Plains.  She grew huge gardens of corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers on the rich bottomlands near the river.   All that rich land was flooded with the building of the Garrison Dam and the development of Lake Sakakawea, and the members of the three tribes were moved to family allotments on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. That land isn’t very fertile at all.

We grow Hidatsa Shield Figure Beans, which are fat, creamy white pole beans, and Hidatsa Red Beans, which  are smaller, red bush beans that get to be 3 feet tall and need a fence to grow against or else they  sprawl all over.  Both have shorter growing seasons.  I have never seen either of the seeds for sale locally or on the Reservation.  We got them from Seed Savers Exchange.  Our native friends from the reservation don’t seem to be very familiar with them.

I mentioned to our Arikara friend Bruce what beans we were growing, and he said he got some authentic Ree Beans (another word for Arikara)  from a woman Elder some time ago.  You can see them in the header photo.  He tried to plan them on his allotment, but the soil just wasn’t good enough.  He wondered if we would be willing to try them in our garden. I said we would be very happy to. They are brown bush beans that  seem to be very similar to Arikara Yellow Beans that I see in seed catalogs. I told him that we will have a bean feast next fall with him and his wife, and our Hidatsa friend, Leo.  I may have to refer to Buffalo Bird Woman for some recipe ideas.

Got any good bean recipes?  What are you looking forward to doing with friends once we can gather? How are your garden plans coming along?

Family Secrets

Today’s post comes to us from Bill.

Lately, I’ve been going through the boxes of genealogical and inherited material, some of it originally collected by my grandparents and even more accumulated by my parents. It’s the sort of thing I never found the time or will to do prior to Covid. My general aim is to separate the detritus from the meaningful and to secure the meaningful—I use the term generously—archivally in mylar sleeves in 3-ring binders so that they can all fit in a compact space.

The detritus includes photos even I can’t identify, duplicate and triplicate copies of images, a lot of printed dot-matrix family trees from the days before the internet, albums of really bad Instamatic photos my parents took on vacations long after I had left home and just generally stuff that is no longer meaningful. So far so good.

Among the items in the boxes my Mother left behind was a packet of letters from a life-long friend of hers. I knew this friend and her family when I was young, no more than twelve or thirteen, but I have a distinct impression of her. She was smart and witty, outspoken and, I think, unhappy—probably stifled by her circumstances. The letters were written at a time when she was in the process of getting a divorce and still had two dependent children. She wrote to my mother as a trusted confidant.

I considered discarding the letters, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Her letters are funny and frank and expressive. At the time she wrote them, she was still in her early forties, which seems quite young to me now. They offer a perspective into her thoughts that she would have been unlikely to share with her children at the time—comparable to a diary. I can’t say I’ve ever had a similar glimpse into my parents’ unguarded thoughts.

Using my Ancestry account, I was able to ascertain that this person’s daughter also has an account and has posted a family tree. I wrote her a message, telling her about the letters and asking if she would like them. I told her I wasn’t sure if it would seem intrusive or inappropriate (and I apologized if it seemed that way), but I just couldn’t throw away the letters without asking her first. The letters were written over fifty years ago and the letter writer has been dead for thirty, so it seems safe to let those private thoughts out. I haven’t heard from the daughter yet.

Would you have discarded the letters and let their sentiments stay private? Have you ever been in possession of family secrets? What did you do with them?

Paper Chase

There is a mysterious creature in our home, one that is a constant source of puzzlement for our cat. The creature resides in the room with the computer. It whirs, makes odd internal noises, and then shoots out paper.  Sometimes the creature pulls the paper back inside before shooting it out a final time. It usually comes to life when Husband is seated at the dining room table working on his laptop.

Whenever she hears the creature make a noise, Luna races to the computer room and  peers into the place where  the paper emerges. She often walks behind it to see if anything is there, then perches along side it to watch the paper come out.

If she is feeling particularly feisty, she will stick her paw in to catch the paper. That usually results in me or Husband needing to fix a paper jam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other day I changed out ink cartridges,  and Luna was very, very interested to see what was inside  when I opened the front. There was no creature to be seen, though, just gears.

I imagine Luna vowing to solve the mystery and find the creature inside the printer.  Until then, she has a constant source of amusement and intrigue to keep her life interesting.

What mystery would you like to solve?  What mystery novel character would you like to be? What makes your life interesting these days?