Books

Books: Untamed

Reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle felt like sitting down with a good friend for a deep and honest conversation. You know, those conversations that can go on for hours and cover anything and everything from hilarious anecdotes to deep, soul-bearing truths. Her writing is beautiful and real.

Doyle was a married mother-of-three speaking at a conference for women when she met the woman of her dreams. She writes about her husband’s infidelity and learning to find true love with the woman she eventually married. I was especially moved by her experiences parenting young daughters in an uncertain world, which is definitely something I can relate to right now.

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(Image from amazon.com)

Living up to the expectations of others almost killed Doyle. From the time she was a young girl she struggled with eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction. By the time she was nearly 40, she was in a broken marriage, struggling to be a good mother, and running herself into the ground.

Untamed tells about how Doyle pulled herself out of that decades-long rut and found happiness and truth. The book is broken into many stories, each one like a breath of fresh air reminding us that we are worthy of being loved for the person each of us is. No fronts. No façades. No b.s.

Books

Books: Anthony Bourdain: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

I recently stumbled upon The Last Interview book series, which features the last publicized interview of late celebrities as well as a variety of other interesting interviews and conversations. Of course the first one I was drawn to was Anthony Bourdain’s. I have long enjoyed Bourdain’s writing style and television shows.

I know it sounds weird, but when he died in 2018, it felt like more than just another celebrity death. I knew I would miss his work, his voice, and his occasional snarky comments. It felt a little like losing a friend.

(Image from amazon.com)

Bourdain was long an advocate of the importance of people understanding where their food comes from as well as the integral role food plays in defining our cultures. Reading this dialogue between him and various interviewers reminded me why I loved his work so much. It is about food and interesting people, but also about so much more.

There are more than a dozen Last Interview books featuring everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to Prince. Also featured are Toni Morrison, David Bowie, and, coming soon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These are interesting, fairly quick reads that give us one more look into the lives of these icons.

Books

Books: Stern Men

I enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoirs Eat, Pray, Love and Committed when I read them several years ago. I have never picked up one of her novels until recently when I stumbled upon Stern Men, Gilbert’s first novel, published 20 years ago. Her writing style is intriguing in her fiction as well as her non-fiction.

Stern Men tells the tale of two small islands off the coast of Maine and a centuries-old lobster fishing war. The inhabitants of the two islands grapple with each other while they experience both success and hardship in their way of life. Lobster fishing is dangerous, difficult, and anything but glamorous.

(Image from amazon.com)

The novel’s protagonist, Ruth Thomas, is a smart young woman with a foul mouth and a desire to someday run her own lobster fishing operation. The characters are engaging and the dialogue seems real. Many of the men on the island discourage Ruth from following that dream, pushing her instead to attend a mainland college.

Ruth’s relationships with the people of the island as she uncovers secrets of her family’s past are what make the book such a fun read. Ruth navigates relationships with her parents, a woman who is like a mother to her, and a variety of other island residents, and the quirks of real people shine through Gilbert’s writing. It is a reminder that sometimes the small towns and communities that shape our young lives are worth revisiting. Sometimes we cling to our roots, be it good, bad, or otherwise.

Food

Adventures in Kuchen-Making

I have many fond memories of sitting around my Great-Grandma Katie Kopp’s kitchen table. There was always comfort food. I remember her making homemade noodles, the delicious strips of dough laid out on flour sack towels on her bedspread. My brother and I would sneak a raw noodle once in a while. We’re fine.

The food I remember most from that table was kuchen. Kuchen is a custard dessert in a homemade crust. It is creamy, crispy, and comforting. The word kuchen simply means “cake” in German, and it is a family tradition for many of us descendants of German immigrants. It is also the state dessert of South Dakota.

This past weekend I decided it was time for my daughters and I to learn the art of kuchen-making. It turns out that the making of kuchen is a long, floury process. The making of kuchen with a three-year-old and a six-year-old leads to a full-on deep-cleaning of the kitchen. You know what? It was so worth it!

Grandma Kopp’s recipe was, in typical Grandma Kopp recipe fashion, vague. She frequently used phrases like “stir it until it looks right.” I knew that if I was going to stand a chance at succeeding in this venture, I needed a little more guidance. So the recipe posted below is a hybrid of the notes scrolled out in Grandma’s cursive and a couple recipes I found online.

My goal was for my kuchen to turn out as similar to Grandma’s as possible, and it came very close! Grandma passed away when I was 11, but I remember eating kuchen at her table so vividly. As we made kuchen together the girls asked dozens of questions about Grandma Kopp. It was a special time of reminiscing, and I feel like the process brought the girls closer to this woman who would’ve loved them so very much.

Recipe:

Crust:
1 package dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-5 cups flour 

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. In a stainless steel pan, scald the milk by bringing to a boil and then reducing heat. The milk should have a film on top of it. Add sugar, salt, eggs and vegetable oil into the milk. Add milk mixture into the bowl of yeast and water. Mix in 4-5 cups of flour, enough to make a good dough. Let rise about one hour. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each to about 1/4 inch thick and place in a greased pie pan so that the dough covers the bottom and comes about halfway up the side. Let dough rise in the pan for 15 minutes.

Filling:
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons flour

On the stove, heat the milk and cream together. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour and eggs together. Add the milk and cream mixture to the sugar, flour and eggs and return it to the stove and cook until it thickens. Pour about 3/4 of a cup of the filling mixture into each crust.

Topping:
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup margarine

Mix the sugar, flour and margarine together. Pour the topping on and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. After the kuchen comes out of the oven, let it set for five minutes, then remove from the pan and let it cool.

Books

Books: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Works of Fred Rogers

I finished The Good Neighbor: the Life and Works of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King some time ago, but am just now getting around to posting about it. The timing seems right, though, because I think now more than ever we need to be reminded to like each other just the way we are. King spent a great deal of time researching Rogers’ life, interviewing many people close to him, including many of the people who helped create and produce Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The book was published in 2018.

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Through his work in children’s programming, Mister Rogers has impacted generations of kids. I loved to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and my daughters love Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. As a parent, I like the way the programming helps young children deal with their feelings in a positive way. I realize that, even though I didn’t know it at the time, that is what I loved about Mister Roger’s Neighborhood when I was only a few years old. The show made it OK to feel your feelings.

Rogers refused to advertise to children. He also had a disdain for anything that didn’t seem honest or straightforward. King’s interviews reveal that the soft-spoken cardigan-wearing guy wasn’t an act. It was truly how Rogers lived his life.

Rogers died in 2003 of stomach cancer at age 74. He left a legacy of promoting kindness and acceptance. What I enjoyed the most about the book was some of the quotes Fred Rogers made over the years.

I’ll leave you with this one: “When I was a boy I used to think that strong meant having big muscles, great physical power; but the longer I live, the more I realize that real strength has much more to do with what is not seen. Real strength has to do with helping others.”

In My House

Six!

Last weekend we celebrated my oldest daughter’s sixth birthday with a My Little Pony celebration at Storybook Island. My mother made the adorable cake, and we had a nice, albeit scorching hot, afternoon with family and friends. It felt good to experience that joy.

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In a year that has had so many downs, my girl has been a light in our lives. She exudes joy and energy. Despite the changes to our school year, she completed kindergarten like a champ, and is excited to dive into first grade.

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Our girl is kind, social, and enthusiastic. She loves her friends, her sister, and science. She finds joy in the little things in life. I hope she never loses that excitement for life.

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In My House

Three!

My youngest daughter turned three a few months ago. What was supposed to be an art class party with friends became a small gathering of family at my parents’ house. It was still a good day celebrating my dear baby, but I held off posting about the day for the reasons I wrote about here.

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Now, as we prepare to celebrate my oldest daughter’s sixth birthday this weekend, I have been reflecting on these important festivities. After a lot of thought, not posting about my youngest’s third birthday seemed wrong. So here are some (very belated) photos and thoughts.

I have posted about each and every one of my daughters’ birthdays. The posts serve as a reminder of how special parenthood is, and how (cliché-alert) quickly those little ones grow. Not only are their birthdays fun for them, but they mark two of the most important days in my life.

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Despite the change in plans, our girl rang in age three in her true purple-loving style. My mom made the adorable Minnie Mouse cake and we dined on pigs in a blanket and fruit salad. We love the baby of our family. She loves purple, watermelon, her blanket, her sister, Minnie Mouse, and Daniel Tiger. She is often serious, sometimes silly, and always set in her ways. Happy belated birthday, dear girl.

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(Photo by Green Owl Media)

 

 

In My House

When It Feels Like We Can’t Celebrate

The last few months have been a dark place for most of us on at least some level. We have struggled with loss, we have watched loved ones experience discrimination, and we have coped with a new level of uncertainty. It has been hard.

So with all of this happening, does that mean we are no longer allowed to celebrate the good? That question has been on my mind as I have held off posting pieces I would normally post on A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER. I refrained from posting about my daughter’s third birthday. I started, then axed a post about a recent camping trip, and I decided not to even go there with a post about fun patio items.

My blog has always been primarily light-hearted. It’s a hobby for me and an escape from my busy job in health care administration, which, let’s face it, hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows over the past few months. Social media can be a cruel place. When it is all doom and gloom, we can start to feel guilty about posting simple pleasures.

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Call me crazy, but I love reading those posts about the simple pleasures in life. I like seeing people make S’mores with their family on a Friday evening. I want to know people are still whipping up a delicious cocktail to enjoy on the patio. I even want to know if you got a good deal on the perfect summer hat.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care about politics, divisiveness, and all the serious issues impacting our society. I care deeply about others. I want to make a difference in my community, and I want to be a good wife, mother, and friend.

The simple pleasures in life give us the fuel we need to do the hard stuff. So work hard, contribute to your world, and process the fear and uncertainty. Then turn all that off and celebrate a new scented candle, a flower garden in bloom, or a summer night under the stars.

 

Books

Books: Unfollow

“Can two walk together, even if they disagree? Of course we could. Not exactly revolutionary, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was.”

That is a line from Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, leader of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Westboro is well-known for its cruel and hateful protests of military funerals, the LGBTQ community, and many other groups. They are known for forming picket lines claiming they do God’s work, but are rooted in deep hatred of anyone different from them.

Unfollow, published in 2019, is Phelps-Roper’s account of her upbringing in Westboro and her decision to leave the church. She writes accounts of picketing as a young child, holding signs with offensive language meant to belittle whichever group Westboro was pointing its finger at on any given day.

While leaving Westboro was a straightforward decision in theory, it also meant leaving the world she knew. It was a world in which she felt loved. Her grandfather, however evil he could be to the outside world, was often just a regular, loving grandfather to Phelps-Roper herself. Because of Westboro’s strict rules, leaving meant she wouldn’t see these people again. She would no longer see her parents or many of her siblings.

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Unfollow is also the One Book South Dakota for 2020. You can visit One Book South Dakota for more information on hosting a virtual discussion of the book. Phelps-Roper lives in South Dakota now with her husband and young daughter.

Although I was rooting for Phelps-Roper as she mustered the courage to leave such a hateful environment, I found it a bit sad that, in the end, she found herself faithless and still missing the people she loved. She writes that she no longer prays.

She does, however, dedicate her time to promoting meaningful dialogue between people from different walks of life. After leaving Westboro, Phelps-Roper has built deep friendships with many of the very people she picketed as a teenager and young adult. She now believes if we are open to learning and understanding one another, we can cause real and positive change. That is a message of love, acceptance, and respect that we all can use right now.

 

 

Books

Books: Year of Wonders

I just posted a book review a few days ago, but I finished Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks over Memorial Day weekend and it was so amazing I could not wait to share. The book is nearly 20 years old, but I had not heard of it until recently when I was listening to an NPR interview with three authors who wrote fiction based on times of plague and pandemic. I was blown away by this book.

In the past month, I have tried to be more intentional about the amount of time I spend reading, watching, or listening to news of COVID-19. I seek to stay informed through reputable sources without falling down a rabbit hole of continual negative speculation. It is a difficult balance.

So it might seem strange that I chose to read this work of fiction, based on an English village in the 1660s, ravaged by the bubonic plague. However, it was just so interesting I could not put it down. There was just enough hope and gloriously written dialogue to keep the grim subject matter from becoming too much.

Brooks wrote Year of Wonders after hiking in rural England and coming upon an old sign that said “plague village.” She was intrigued and her research lead her to the true story of a small village not far from London, where villagers made a pact, lead by their local clergyman, to isolate in their village for a length of time to contain the plague. The characters were richly developed.

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(Image from amazon.com)

Anna, the main character, is modest, resourceful, and extremely hard-working. She undergoes epic hardship, yet still seeks to help others. The social aspect of this book hits home in this time of precaution, fear, and loss, and how people in the village cope with those topics over the course of a year.

Human reaction is an interesting thing, and Brooks writes of it so well. So much of the villagers’ reaction to the plague and the quarantine nearly mirrors what is happening in our society today. There are people who immediately jump in to take care of others. Then there are people who judge, demean, and condemn one another.

In one scene, several customers of an ill tailor refuse to burn the garments they purchased despite certainty that the items are infected with bubonic plague. Only Anna throws her beautiful dress into the fire to avoid spreading the plague in her home. It is not a cheerful read, but it does show how Anna comes to appreciate the minute details in life. In the end, Brooks does leave us with some hope for humankind.

Custer friends, this book is available at our local library in E-book and Audio Book forms.