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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Travel, on March 29th, 2016.

clemsonThat’s probably the most common photo taken at Clemson University (in South Carolina). It was just one of many campuses we visited.

In mid-February (sorry it’s taken me so long to share this post) my daughter Sara invited me to go along with her and granddaughter Sabrina to visit colleges in the south. Sabrina wants to be a veterinarian, and probably not to work in a dog/cat clinic. She thinks she wants to be a large animal vet and maybe in the South (not necessarily equine, but could be), though she’s also interested in exotic birds too. She’s been accepted at a bunch of colleges and as I write this, she hasn’t made up her mind which one, although Clemson, pictured above, is in sara_sabrina_clemson_shirtsthe top two for sure. University of Missouri is wooing her with lots of scholarship and grant money, which could sway her and her family. They will visit that school soon. It’s so darned expensive to go to college these days. Sabrina doesn’t want to attend a California college – not exactly sure why that is – as she could go to college for a lot less money (in-state tuition is cheaper). U.C. Davis is the #2 vet school in the country (Colorado State is #1 now); although Sabrina has very good grades, they’re not quite good enough for Davis, which pretty much requires a better than 4.0 GPA.

So, flying from different parts of the state, we flew to Charlotte, NC and met up there. Clemson was actually the last school we visited. We went to Appalachian State (NC), Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville, Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA) and Clemson (SC). Wake Forest had been on the agenda, but we learned that seeing more than one school in a day was almost impossible, what with 2-5 hours of driving distances between the different schools. And Wake Forest doesn’t have a pre-vet major, so I think Sabrina has bumped them off the list altogether.

Sara had made appointments with most of the schools for a campus tour, and we learned that schools will often schedule a visit with a faculty adviser. That was really helpful, as we learned after the first one at the U of Tenn. From there on, Sara and Sabrina knew more about what to look for, and wanted to see the vet barns and classrooms. We had a vet-school tour with a pre-vet senior at Virginia Tech, which was so very interesting. Of course, the schools only ask students to do this if they’re very rah-rah for the school itself. All of us liked Virginia Tech a lot, and it’s still in the running, I believe.

Appalachian State, although pretty, is quite remote and small, so I think Sabrina has scratched that one off the list. And, although the Univ. of Tennessee/Knoxville is a big pond_sunset_clemsoncampus, and parts are very pretty, I don’t think Sabrina was that intrigued. I didn’t care for the city atmosphere – the campus is right in the heart of downtown, which makes parking a nightmare. As Sara said to me at the end of our trip, it was a good thing I went along, because there were times when I had to stay with the car. We made it in the nick of time for a couple of these tours as the driving took us longer than expected. So, sometimes they went off for a scheduled tour or faculty adviser visit without me as I could find no parking, or nothing near close enough. I frequented a Wal-Mart a couple of times because that was the only place to park. There are a lot of Wal-Marts in the South!

Sara didn’t want to drive in weather, so I did about half the driving, especially on the days it was snowing and icy roads prevailed. We saw so many accidents, and cars, trucks, and even a clemson_alumni_ringtumbled-over semi truck that had slid on ice into culverts. I drove slow and steady and we were fine. We, as Californians, and SoCal ones at that, don’t have many cold weather clothes. I bought a pair of boots for the trip (and then didn’t ever wear them because with my heavy socks on, I couldn’t get my foot into them!), and I wore a neck scarf every day, plus layers of things. We actually enjoyed the cold weather, though we were very lucky throughout the trip – relatively few hours driving in snow, rain or ice, just enough to make it pretty. We wore gloves only on the days it was in the 20s. Most of the days it was in the 30s and 40s. At right is the alumni center at Clemson – I thought it was such an oddity to see a class ring in taller than life-size sculpture. Sunset photo above was taken by daughter Sara with her cell phone.


Sabrina has a friend who is a sophomore at Clemson, so they were able to walk the campus some after the tour (and we shared lunch at a little joint in the half-block long street of “downtown” Clemson). The school is in the middle of nowhere (so is Virginia Tech, for that matter). But it’s a beautiful campus and big. We saw lots of happy, laughing and smiling students there that day. The last morning we drove to the vet barns and arena. It’s several miles from the campus and might be a problem for Sabrina who won’t have a car there, or at any of the schools she’s considering. Her parents don’t want her to have a car (she has one, my DH’s pretty old BMW convertible, that lives at home). Sabrina has a part time job working at a dog/cat vet clinic near where they live. She’s just loving the experience she’s getting there.

One of the fun parts of the trip was sampling the food. Our first day there we stopped at a Cracker Barrel, in Boone, NC, near Appalachian State. We had the nicest waitress, a local, with a cracker_barrel_snowvery southern drawl, who helped us choose the best of the side dishes. Sara and I shared a chicken & dumpling meal, and we got cheesy grits, fried okra and broccoli. Sabrina had meatloaf with greens and we all had buttermilk biscuits that were every bit as good as I’ve ever made from scratch. It was such a good meal! See photo in the collage below. There is no way I could have eaten the entire meal – it’s a good thing Sara and I shared it and we couldn’t finish it even then!

We stopped our last day there in a small barbecue place in SC, called Southern Barbecue, (the link is to Yelp’s page about the restaurant which is in Spartanburg, SC) and got food to go – a pulled pork sandwich (that I thought was sensational, but I like Carolina Q – the kind that doesn’t use ketchup or a sweet red sauce). We also got a bag of hush puppies. Oh my gosh, were they ever the BEST! I don’t think we had any desserts to speak of – we were always too full of the regular food! Portions were large everywhere we went. Biscuits and gravy were an everyday item on the breakfast buffet. I’m not much for institutional style eggs (hard and rubbery) so I had the biscuits and gravy a couple of mornings.



We also stayed for 2 days and nights in Asheville, NC, to see the Biltmore Estate. I’m going to write up a separate post about that since it was so extra special. For me, that was the highlight of the trip. Stay tuned.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 29th, 2016:

    Ooh, grits! Hush Puppies! Biscuits and Sausage Gravy! That took me back some years; the portions are still as large as they ever were then? The last time I was in NC the big thing was Chopped Barbecue, did you notice any of those – meat was cooked in pits?

    I hope that Sabrina makes the right choice for her.

    Hmmm. I didn’t notice any signs saying “chopped barbecue,” but maybe they’ve just renamed it. Don’t know. Yes, portions were large everywhere. And I loved the hush puppies – the good ones. Some were not so good. And I love grits, but only if they’re smothered in cheese, and probably some butter melted in them too. It was a fun trip. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 29th, 2016:

    Sounds like a great trip! I love road trips through the Appalachians. I’ve been in the vicinity of the Biltmore Estate several times, always on the way to a dulcimer camp or a family Thanksgiving gathering in South Carolina. There’s never been time to stop, but it’s a place I am eager to visit. Would love to spend a couple of days there. Am looking forward to your write-up.

    You need to stay at LEAST 2 nights, preferably 3, because 2 nights only gives you about 36 hours – not enough to see everything. Next time we plan to stay for 3 nights, pricey though it will be. . . Carolyn T

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