Wednesday, October 6, 2021

An Open Book: October 2021

September marked the thirteenth anniversary of my mom's death. It was purely by chance that two of the books I read this month featured main characters who lost their mothers and the grief and feelings that followed.


In The Sunday Potluck Club by Melissa Storm, four women who became friends by chance meetings in the hospital cafeteria while their parents underwent chemotherapy for their various cancers learn to deal with life after a loss.  After the death of the third parent, we see how each of the four women deal, or not, with the grief and sadness that follows.  Amy and Bridget each throw themselves into projects, with varying results.  
Things would never be fine again. They could only become marginally less terrible.


When Natalie Harper's mother doesn't show up for the party celebrating her new promotion at work, she is disappointed but not surprised. Her mom has been known to be somewhat forgetful and distracted. But when Natalie finds out why her mom wasn't there, she is devastated. The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs follows Natalie as she reevaluates her life and makes changes to her priorities and tries for find joy again, something that was missing long before her mother's death.


When she was very small, her mother used to tell her that books were alive in a special way. Between the covers, characters were living their lives, enacting their dramas, falling in and out of love, finding trouble, working out their problems. Even sitting closed on a shelf, a book had a life of its own. When someone opened the book, that was when the magic happened. 


A book would never betray you or change its mind or make you feel stupid. She took down The Once and Future King and found a marked passage: “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.”

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

An Open Book: March 2021

In For Eden's Sake by T.M. Gaouette, Isaac is working hard at his first job out of college.  Having grown up in a rural area, his job in a big city brings both new opportunities and new challenges.  When celebrating a work accomplishment with fellow coworkers, Isaac is encouraged by them to drink much more than he is used to.  Little did he know that this night of drinking would lead to much more than a bad hangover.  The choices he made that evening are life altering.  The author masterfully explores the impact that an unplanned pregnancy has on the father of that child.  

I have been reading Natasha Metzler's blog for a while now, but little did I know she is also an author of quite a number of books.  Emma and the Reasons is the first in the Women of Promise series.  Emma and her two roommates are all single and their reasons for being so are as different as they are.  The three roommates all attempt to discern God's will for their lives, knowing that it may not be what they had wanted for themselves.  When their meddling married friends attempt to intercede in their relationship status, all three learn to deepen their reliance on their faith.   This was a well written and delightful read and I look forward Natasha's other books.

A couple of years ago I needed a plant for my Easter decorations, but the grocery store had a limited selection of lilies and other spring flowers that all looked a little worse for wear.  Not having time to run to any other store, I grabbed the nearest flowering plant, a yellow specked orchid.  And, that, as they, is history.  We were hooked.  Our orchid collection has grown to over a dozen plants.  I decided that I needed to learn more about the care of these beautiful flowers, so I bought a copy of The Orchid Whisperer: Expert Secrets for Growing Beautiful Orchids  by Bruce Rogers.  This book provides great information that a novice orchid collector needs.  The many parts of the plants are explained, the care needed is detailed, and many varieties are explored.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Counting Crows

 . . . and other birds for that matter.

It's no secret that we love our birds around here.  In the summer we have a Hummingbird feeder at the edge of the patio.  We also have several bird houses placed around the property that were intended to be homes for Blue Birds, but are usually occupied by House Wrens and Sparrows.  We don't mind since the Wrens frequently serenade us with their beautiful and joyful songs.  

In the winter, seed and suet on the patio draws in birds of every kind.  We laugh at them as there definitely seems to be a pecking order in who gets to eat what.  Woodpeckers rule the roost but the Junkos are great at finding every last seed when it looks like there is none left.

The birds provide me with what I often term my personal air show.  They make me smile.  They amuse me.  And, given the time we spend at home these days, that is much needed and appreciated.

Next weekend, February 12th-15th, The Cornell Lab and the Audubon Society are once again sponsoring the Great Backyard Bird Count.  People from all over the world will spend a little time recording what birds visit their area.  Click on the link for more information.  

Last year I counted fourteen distinct species.  I am curious as to what I will see this year.  My guess it will be even more.  

Carolina Wren & Downy Woodpecker

Red Shouldered Hawk



The main point of Christianity was this:  that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.  We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father

- Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

An Open Book: February 2021


Last year I seemed to have found plenty of time for reading, as the over one hundred and fifty books on my GoodReads 2020 list will attest.  But writing, not so much.  I think there were things I wanted to write, but not ones I wanted to publish.  It's a weird world that we are living in now.  It seems like a good time to jump back into the blogsphere and books seem to be a good, and safe, place to start.

In Unstable Felicity: A Christmas Novella by blogger Cat Hodge, Jill is summoned to her small hometown in Ohio.  It seems that the family inn is struggling and Jill's accounting skills are needed to help save it from going under.  Family drama makes this task even more difficult than it already is.  Jill hasn't spoken to her mother since her father's funeral four months prior.  Her sisters, an ex-boyfriend, and a local real estate mogul all add to the chaos.  This is the author's first novel, which is witty and entertaining.  I look forward to reading more of her works.

A year or so ago I read One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith, the story of Richard Proenneke's time spent in the Alaskan wilderness.  In First Wilderness the author recounts his own time in spent in Alaska and how he came to meet Richard.  Having served in the Marines during World War 2, Sam went home to New England to get is degree and find a job.  Unhappy with the employment he found, he decided to seek adventure in Alaska where he worked as a laborer on the Adak Navy base.  His great love nature and the outdoors is clearly evident in his writing.  The manuscript was found ten years after Sam's death by his son-in-law, and, along with photos and excerpts from his journals, letters, and notebooks, was compiled into a story of a grand adventure.

Always You is the first in the Murphy Brothers series by Jennifer Rodewald.  Lauren and Matt, each running away from parts of their lives, meet in an messy, unfortunate accident.  They strike up a friendship as they help revive a local inn and resort.  Their love of God and their promise of respect for each other both helps them navigate their feelings for each other and the situations in which they find themselves.  This is a pleasant read for a cold winter's day by the fire.

I discovered author Marie Bostwick on a PBS episode of Sewing With Nancy.  At the end of each show, Nancy Zieman interviews someone whose daily life somehow intersects with sewing.  In The Second Sister, the author tells the story of Lucy Toomey, a political campaigner whose boss is about to be elected to the highest office in the country.  The night of the elected, Lucy receives news that her older sister, Alice, has been rushed to the hospital.  By the time Lucy makes it from her home in Colorado to her small, Wisconsin hometown of Nilson's Bay, it is too late, her sister has died.  Lucy spends time there learning who her sister really was by meeting her diverse group of friends and their sewing circle.  

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

An Open Book: September 2020

Back in May, I read Joseph Pearce's article about Dean Koontz. While Pearce is not a fan of current fiction, and that is what I prefer, I did agree whole heartedly with his attitude about what we read in general.

We only have so many years allotted to us and we know that we will die with a long list of unread books, which would have nourished us had we read them. We need to be selective.

A book that was recommended to Pearce was Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas, the favorite of the author's.  Remembering an interview I saw with Koontz on EWTN a number of years ago, I decided it was time to give this author a try and start with his favorite.

Odd Thomas is not only the name of the book, but also is the main character's real name.  How he came to be named Odd is up for debate, but he does manage to live up to it.  Odd is a short-order cook in a small dessert town, Pico Mundo, from which he has never traveled very far.  He also sees spirits.  They don't talk to him, but still manage to engage his help.  When a stranger comes to town, he is accompanied by dark, hyena shaped shadows, which seem to feed off of fear and evil.   Odd races against time to thwart an evil that threatens his small town.

Dean Koontz's has an engaging and challenging writing style which sent me to the dictionary on more than one occasion.  His Catholic faith is quietly present in the story.

Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread.

I am an optimist about our species. I assume God is, too, for otherwise He would have scrubbed us off the planet a long time ago and would have started over.

A wonderful poet, now all but forgotten because modern universities teach nothing but self-esteem and toe-sucking.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

An Open Book: April 2020

I have been reading a lot, even before all of "this" hit, and now since I am not driving into work everyday I suddenly have an extra hour or so to fill.  Thankfully, with my Kindle in hand, that hasn't been hard to do.  What has been even better is finding authors I enjoy that have good, interesting, clean stories with characters that are real.  These are just two of my favorites.

In The Life I Dreamed by Kari Burke, Emmy O’Brien is stressed out.  Stay at home mother to four young children, she is overwhelmed by hours chores, child raising, and trying to manage a meager household budget.  When her husband insists on helping a sixteen year old young women in their church's youth group, she is at her breaking point.  Grudgingly she helps and finds her heart changed as a result.

In A Channel of Your Peace  Erin Rafferty thought she knew how her life was going to go.  Engaged to her fiancĂ© for a number of years, she figured a wedding was in her future.  That is until he came home one day to tell her that he was in love with someone else and that he was leaving her.  Devastated, she returns to her parents house to pick up the pieces.  A chance encounter with Mark is the start of a friendship that could lead to something more.  Both Erin and Mark, though, have pasts that they must deal with in order to build a future.  This was an enjoyable and captivating read which has me hoping that author Veronica Smallhorn has more books in her writing future.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Monday, March 16, 2020

What will we sacrifice?

I had so many plans.  A vacation to Florida.  The local GK Chesterton conference.  Training for work out in Washington state.  Events at church and the start of baseball season.  Dinner out with a friend.  March was going to be busy.

Exactly one of those happened.  Everything else has been either cancelled or put on hold.

Right now it all seems like a grand overreaction to me.  Perhaps only time will tell if it is or not.  But, at the moment it is all a bit disconcerting.

Schools are closed along with restaurants and bars, libraries and museums.  Sporting events and other entertainment venues have been shuttered.  Only six people showed up in the office this morning.  The rest are working from home.

On the drive in to work early this morning, stores that are normally empty at that time of day were teeming with activity.  People are hording toilet paper and milk and soup.

I reminds me vaguely of the days after 9/11.  Things were quiet.  No planes were in the air and few people went to work or school.  There was a definite uneasiness.

The one vivid memory I have of that day was showing up at church for daily mass in the evening.  During the week, that mass was held in the chapel.  When Tim and I arrived, it was standing room only inside and there was a line out the door.  I popped into the sacristy to let Father know of the situation.  We subsequently moved into the church and prayed, together.

When we went to Sunday mass yesterday, there was maybe a third of the usual attendance.  I think that is what disturbs me most about this illness and uncertainty.  It has us scattered and isolated.  It makes many afraid to be part of a community. 

People say it is only temporary, however I think some of these changes will be lasting.  After all, we gave a little bit of our freedom away after 9/11 in the name of security.  What will we sacrifice this time?


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Soup on Sundays: French Onion

A number of years ago a friend took us out to dinner at a local French restaurant.  It is located in a small house in a cute shopping district.  From the outside, the restaurant didn't look like much, but we are still talking about that meal.

I was too chicken to order the frog legs or Escargot, but Tim had both and said that they were delicious.  I decided to start with the French Onion soup, and when I placed my order I asked the waiter if they used beef or veal broth.  The look on his face was one of horror.  I was told that they made their soup the traditional way, with water.  I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that was the best, by far, French Onion soup that I ever had.

When I decided to try my hand at making it, I searched for a long time to find a traditional recipe.  You know how many "traditional" French Onion soups use beef broth?  Most of them.  It wasn't until I came across Michael Ruhlman's version that I finally found what I was looking for.

I made a couple of changes this last time I made it and it turned out terrific.  I didn't have sherry or an open bottle of wine, so I skipped both and just used red wine vinegar instead.  I hate fighting with a bowl size piece of bread in my soup, so I put made large croutons and used those along with the cheese I had on hand, an Irish cheddar.  Yum!

The big secret to this soup, though, is time.  To get the dark, sweet caramelization of the onions, it is going to a couple of hours of slow cooking.


Traditional French Onion Soup

1 tablespoon butter
7 or 8 Spanish onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Large croutons
Red wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 pound grated

In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter.  Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam.  Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally.  Season with several grinds of pepper.

When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber, add 6 cups of water.  Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar.

Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil/grill until the cheese is melted and nicely browned.  Serve immediately.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Living Big and Saying Goodbye

A week ago today we celebrated the funeral mass of my cousin (by marriage).  Denise was only 52 years old and left behind six children.   To say that it was difficult is an understatement.

I had seen her just after Christmas and we chatted about my niece, her kids, and the sorrow we both felt at losing our dogs during the previous year.  I had no idea that she was ill.  A couple weeks later she was admitted to the hospital and never left.  Liver failure claimed her life.

The stories and testaments to her life flooded Facebook.  Her greatest joy was her children.  She reveled in their accomplishments, suffered with them in their pain, and sought to teach them to be responsible, caring individuals.  When the neighbor's dog died, she sent one of the boys over with a shovel to help lay the animal to rest.  During his homily, the pastor joked that Denise believed in child labor.  It was never more evident when she was in charge of the church's Christmas Giving Tree.  They collected over two thousand gifts to be distributed to various families and organizations in the area.  All these had to be sorted and wrapped and she had six "volunteers" at the ready.

She was known as Mama B to her kids' friends and her hugs were famous.  She made sure no-one ever left her house hungry.  She grew up in an Italian household and food was love.  When the neighbors returned from an extended vacation, they come home to find their refrigerator stocked so that grocery shopping wasn't a chore that they had to worry about right away.

Father also spoke of the demons Denise faced, in particular, alcoholism.  It was something she couldn't conquer and ultimately destroyed her health.  He reminded her children, though, that however much she was troubled by this, God was there through it all.  He was there for her and He would continue to be there for them.

After the funeral, as we were driving home, Tim and I talked about how beautiful this Mass was.  I was surprised, though, by the open acknowledgment of her alcoholism.  I never saw it and thought the talk of it was just nasty rumors to disparage her during her divorce from my cousin.  That talk had angered me.  I had only been privy to the good.

As we talked, I came to realize that Denise lived big.  She lived big in her love for her family and friends and in her generosity to others.  But she also lived big in her vices.  She had a lot of addictions - alcohol, food, Facebook.  Even her eldest son joked about that last one during his eulogy.

I still don't know what to make of it.  Sometimes I wonder if she could have lived and loved bigly without the vices or did it have to be both.  But that is a false choice.  It is not both or none.  It can be one or the other.  With no bigger love than God's, we can use his graces to fight our demons and work to live and love greatly.

Eternal Rest Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord 
and let perpetual light shine upon her. 
May she rest in peace. Amen

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

An Open Book: Enough

Of the over one hundred books I read last year, only two were non-fiction.  Both books have something in common - they explore what it means to have enough and live with less stuff.

The Grace of Enough, by Haley Stewart, looks at the spiritual effects that the pursuit of trying to obtain more and more things has on ones life.  The time and effort to acquire and maintain these can impact our relationships with family, friends, and, mostly importantly, God.  In each chapter she explores ways to live more intentionally, with less, and develop and nurture your relationships.  The book was inspired by the year Haley and her family lived on a farm in a 650 square foot apartment with no flush toilet.  

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders is the story of the author's year of not buying anything other than consumables - groceries, toiletries, and gas for her car.  She was inspired to attempt this when, after getting herself out of consumer debt of over $30,000, she was returning to the same bad habits that got her there in the first place.  Her story explores her use of shopping, alcohol and food to deal with emotionally difficult situations.

Both books are thought provoking and offer insight into a living a life of enough in culture where bigger, newer and more is thought to be the norm and ideal.   

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.