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Just finished reading 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 Novelby 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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.

frozen_waterfall_tenn

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.

food_collage

kingofQplate

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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