Monday, July 27, 2015

More reasons to love summer

One of the things I love about summer is the abundance of fresh produce. You can pick your own strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and you can find freshly picked, locally grown squash and zucchini and eggplant, as well as tomatoes*, corn, and potatoes, up and down the East Coast. Heaven.

This summer, the teenager, whose passion is creating healthy yet yummy meals and desserts, is spending the summer working on a farm. This past weekend we visited her there, and I took (stylized) photos of some of the beautiful flowers and vegetables currently in season. (To see more, full-color photos of our favorite farm, click here.)

Farming is incredibly hard, labor-intensive, not-high-paying work, but it is immensely rewarding (when everything goes right) -- and I feel fortunate to get to enjoy the benefits of these incredible farmers' labors.

I hope you enjoy these photos and will support your local farmers.

 *Sadly, it is not quite tomato season out on Long Island. Otherwise there would be half a dozen shots of tomatoes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Butterflies: Your moment of zen

To a Butterfly

I've watched you now a full half-hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!---not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

             -- William Wordsworth

Your moment of zen: lunch hour at the Flutter Zone....

Sunday, July 12, 2015


I love pigs. They are smart, funny, and... delicious.

And few things are cuter (at least to me) than a pack of little porkers running around and noisily nursing.

So when the spouse and I happened upon this family of black pigs, which included five hungry little piglets, at a local farm, well, I was in hog heaven.

[Click on photos to enlarge. And be sure to scroll down to watch the short video of the piggies nursing -- and make sure to have the volume turned up!]

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer 2015 reading suggestions

Wow, I just looked and realized it's been over six months since I did a "Book Nook" post! It's not for a lack of reading. I typically read a couple of books a week. I just haven't, at least until recently, read a whole lot of books I felt were worth recommending. But I finally have some titles worth blogging about.

Herewith are 13 books you may want to check out this summer -- listed in the order I read them, with a brief summary. Books with an * are particular favorites. (If you want additional information, Google the title or just go to or GoodReads. To see previous recommendations, click on the BOOK NOOK label at the bottom of this post or the link above.)

*The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron. Fiction. A mystery with a sense of humor and a touch of metaphysics and romance. If I had to pick one word to describe this book, or it's protagonist, it would be wry, a good thing in my book. (There are not enough wry books out there, IMHO.)

The protagonist is former Michigan college football star Ruddy McCann, who goes from a promising career in the NFL to a career repossessing cars in and around his small hometown in Michigan, due to a cruel twist of fate. If things weren't bad, or weird, enough, Ruddy starts hearing the voice of a (deceased) real estate agent in his head, falls in love the girlfriend of an arch rival, and stumbles upon an unsolved murder. Full of fun, quirky characters, humor, and warmth, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man is a story of murder, romance, and second chances. Highly recommend.

The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning. Historical fiction. This book made want to learn how to blow glass. Set in the late 19th century, in a small German town famous for its glassblowing, and glassblowers, The Glassblower is really about the art and business of glassblowing, not necessarily one particular glassblower. That said, the novel centers on the lives, woes, and triumphs of three sisters, the daughters of a glassblower, who must figure out how to make a living in their small town of glassblowers after their father suddenly dies. While fictional, the book is based on actual places and people and facts -- and is a fascinating period piece.

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Nonfiction. The title pretty much summarizes the book, a series of case studies (if you will) of some of the most life-changing, or altering, inventions -- and how one thing, or advance, or innovation, often led to another. Indeed, it's the causality that makes Johnson's work so interesting. He strings innovations together in a way that makes you sit up and go "Oh! Cool."

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil. British fiction. I've been a fan of Gil McNeil for a while now, having read her Beach Street Knitting and Yarn Club series. A Good Year for the Roses is a similar yarn. Again, the main character is a single (divorced) mom, starting over in a new place, trying to raise three rambunctious boys. In this case, however, the focus isn't on a knitting (and yarn) shop but a bed and breakfast on the Devon coast. If I had to pick two words to describe this book, they would be funny and heartwarming. A perfect summer read, especially if one is spending the summer in the English countryside, or would like to.

They Eat Horses, Don't They? The Truth about the French by Piu Marie Eatwell. Nonfiction. Eatwell, who has lived and worked in France, debunks and/or verifies popular myths and tropes about the French. Amusing and informative.

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow. Historical mystery. Set in late 18th-century Vienna, the book takes readers into the sparkling, and cutthroat, world of the Vienna opera, where we encounter Mozart and many other famous figures of the time. As the title indicates, there is a murder to be solved, and the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro to be finished, which the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, is trying to do, when he isn't helping to find his barber's long-lost parents and solve a murder.

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg. Historical fiction. A captivating (mostly? somewhat?) fictional biography of the 19th-century French writer George Sand (née Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), set in Paris and the French countryside. A good book for all you Francophiles and former Lit and/or French majors.

*The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister. Fiction. A tale of magic, mystery, murder, and illusion set in the turn-of-the-century (1890s to early 1900s) Midwest. The magician of the title is a young woman with the stage name of the Amazing Arden. Her lie, if she is, in fact, lying? Read the book to find out. Beautifully written -- dare I say, spellbinding? I couldn't put this book down. (Reviewers have compared The Magician's Lie to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. As I have read neither, I couldn't say. I just know I really liked this book.) If you are into books about magic or magicians, as I am, or just want an interesting read, pick it up.

*The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block. Mystery. This was my first Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery, the eleventh in the series, but it will not be my last. Indeed, I appreciated that you didn't have to have read any of the 10 previous books to understand or appreciate The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. For those unfamiliar with the series, the protagonist is a "gentleman burglar" (think Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, but not as good looking), with an eye for antiques and art, who runs a used bookstore. His best friend, and confidant, is a lesbian who runs the pet store down the block. The book opens with Rhodenbarr filching F. Scott Fitzgerald's original manuscript for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" from the bowels of a museum at the behest of a "Mr. Smith." Soon after, he is asked by a cop of his acquaintance to help him solve a burglary (and murder) on the Upper East Side. Could the two be connected? Read the book, which is a quick, humorous read, to find out!

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Historical fiction. A (somewhat? mostly?) fictional biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as "Sisi," who married Emperor Franz Joseph I when she was only 16. The book covers Sisi's early years, from just before she met and married the emperor (who was supposed to marry her older sister, Helene) until shortly after her coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1867. Although a work of fiction, The Accidental Empress hews closely to facts, and I found the book interesting. If you like historical fiction and/or tales of royalty (and how screwed up it can be), check out this book.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Chick lit. I am embarrassed to admit how much I liked this book, as I tend to avoid (and pooh-pooh) "chick lit." But I thoroughly enjoyed The Royal We, a fictionalized account of the Prince William and Kate Middleton romance, featuring a student prince (Nick) who meets and falls in love with an unassuming American girl (Rebecca, or Bex) while she is spending her junior year abroad at Oxford. The book features many other familiar characters, too, including a handsome, raffish younger brother (a la Prince Harry) and a stylish, fun-loving sister (a la Pippa, but American). Chick lit fans and Anglophiles will enjoy this well-written guilty pleasure.

*Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura. Nonfiction. The fascinating, real-life story of three (originally five) young Japanese women, all the daughters of samurai (or former samurai), who were sent by the emperor of Japan to the United States for 10 years, in 1871, in order to become educated and learn Western ways -- and then return to Japan and educate other women and children. Well researched and well written, the story takes you from the opening of Japan to the West (the Meiji period) to San Francisco and across the United States to Washington, D.C., and the Northeast and then back to Japan a dozen years later. I had never heard of these young women, who were all remarkable, and was delighted to have stumbled upon this book. A must read.

*Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. Fiction. It's a romance/finding yourself/about-the-importance-of-family novel set in Sonoma County, and I loved it. Couldn't put it down. Ostensibly, it's the story of a runaway bride who, discovering her fiancé has been keeping something big from her, drives all night from LA to the safety and security of her family's vineyard in Sonoma County -- only to find things aren't so perfect there either. Full of wit and wisdom, laughter and heartache, Eight Hundred Grapes is a perfect summer read.