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Just finished a stunning book, 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 (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. 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 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.

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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.


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 Essays, on January 18th, 2018.

There’s nothing to it, but to laugh. Me? Power tools? Or tools. I mean – – – I’m in my 70s, and do I really need power tools? Well, yes and no. If you’re looking for a recipe, today’s not the day – – – you can skip this one. But if you want to enjoy my once-in-awhile humor, a little widow-humor, perhaps you’ll have a laugh too.

First thing was a few months ago when my car gave me a warning that my tires were low. This was something I’d have had my DH do for me – I’d have told him about it and he would have taken it somewhere and fixed the problem. So, he’s not here to help me; I need to solve the problem myself. I’m not much of one to get down on my knees anymore (it hurts), so to go to a gas station that HAS a tire and water source, well, it’s not much fun for me – bending over to read the darn gauge, etc. is awkward. I could have taken the car to the dealer, but it’s 15 miles away, so I said no – I did do it myself. A few days later I got another warning, and my friend Cherrie said, well, come to our house and Bud will do it – we’ve got a home one, tire pressure gadget. Okay. Did that. Bud filled them all up. Two days later I got another warning – even though it SAID the tires were low, they were actually high. But, this made it obvious that I needed a new solution to this problem. My daughter Sara suggested I take my car to any tire place and they’d likely check the tires for me. BUT, she said . . . maybe there is a Christmas present in your future. So, I let it go then since Christmas was but a month or so away.


My son-in-law John did a bunch of research about these things, and finally settled on this one, a solution to my problem. It’s a battery-operated one that I can use by sitting on a garden bench thing that Dave used to use. I haven’t used it yet, although my car is presently giving me a warning (still says they’re low, but I know they’re too high because the warning came minutes after I left the dealer after having had a check-up and they did fill all 4 tires). So there’s one power tool. Haven’t used it yet . . . and I’m still getting that darned warning every time I start the car. Need to do this, though.

Then, in December, when my cousin was visiting, I had a list of honey-do items for him. He started on them when he was still well, before he came down with a monster cold. One job was to install a speaker sound bar underneath my TV in my study. I didn’t want a big speaker system in the room (you know, surround sound) because the room isn’t that big. Anyway, Gary started on the project and went out to the garage to gather tools. He came back in and said where’s the power drill. Oh. I knew I didn’t have one because after my DH passed away, John had gone to our sailboat and took off all the tools. I have some of them, but he also gave them to some of our other guy family members. Both power drills (battery type) were on the boat and John threw them out, saying they were “shot.” Okay. Dave had still been using them, but oh well. So, Gary and I had to make a trip to a big hardware store to scope out power drills. We settled on this one:


Fortunately, a sales person was able to guide us to an inexpensive one that would be suitable. It’s not battery type, but a real, corded drill. I suppose I might be able to use it myself if I tried. It wasn’t all that much money (about $35 I think), and if I don’t use it there’s no battery loss with a corded drill.

In the meantime, though, I’d done a bit of research myself (during the last year) about toolkit tools for women – with a smaller shape, etc., but still they’re regular tools, not toy ones. I’d researched brands and colors (pink, red and lavender are popular). What I really needed was a second hammer – to live in the upstairs of my house so I wouldn’t have to trek down a flight of stairs, then up a half flight to get to the garage, then back up in reverse to use a hammer. Anyway, after reading reviews online (mostly at Amazon) I came away without buying any of them. None seemed like a good deal or there were complaints about some of the tools – made in China and not well designed. But I asked, when we were at Lowe’s for the power drill, about toolkits for women – he led us right to it. Sure enough, there were two – pink and lavender. Pink just didn’t seem like “me,” so I bought the lavender one. And it wasn’t all that much money. But, I assumed the tools were going to be slightly smaller for a woman’s hand. Uh, no. It was all packaged up, so I really couldn’t hold or see the size and shape of the tools. Darn. Regular sized,  just fancy colored handles. I should have bought just a new hammer. Oh well, now I have a fancy toolkit, which I will put upstairs in my house for whenever the tools are needed.


Lavender toolkit What do you think? Are you laughing yet?

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  1. hddonna

    said on January 21st, 2018:

    A very cool-looking tool kit. And no, I’m not laughing. All your tools are very sensible!

    My sons got me a tool kit years ago for Christmas, and I love it. My tools are regular size, but the kit is compact and easy to store in a convenient place in the house, and it’s always handy–I use it a lot, though my son is usually around to do a lot of the projects that come up. (My husband is not handy at all, so my son and I handle the household repairs that we can do. My dad was a plumber, and he used to talk me through projects over the phone–things like repairing faucets and replacing the garbage disposal.)

    Wow, good for you, Donna. I’m impressed! I suppose if I’d ever learned home repair stuff when I was younger, maybe it would come easier to me, but either my dad did it (gladly) or my husband did it some (not so happily but he was capable except for plumbing). Now I don’t have anybody, really, other than this dear friend Bill who will come and help me get some things fixed. What I really need is a handyman, but they seem to be in very short supply in my neck of the woods, and if you do find one, they’re booked 2 months out. . . I’m going to have to figure more things out myself! . . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on January 23rd, 2018:

    My dad would have done those things for me, too, if he had lived closer. When he did visit, he always did a project or two. We are very fortunate to have our son to help, but neither he nor I like to do plumbing now that Dad’s not around to call when things aren’t going right. I’m glad you have Bill. How frustrating to have to wait two months!

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