My sister recommended this title to me during a phone chat last Sunday. My husband found it for me at Sequoya Library just before they closed for the day. Finished it the following night. Impossible to go slow — especially being sick and doing nothing but reading. The author, Stef Penney, is a screenwriter and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, the locale where many of the people in this story lived before they went to Canada where the story is set.
. . .
Late in the 1860s in a small town in Canada, a semi-disabled trapper is murdered. A local woman finds the body and alerts the town magistrate who sends for representatives of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the man’s former employer, to investigate. Not long after, the woman realizes her 17-year-old son — a friend of the dead man — has disappeared, making him the prime suspect. Until an Indian acquaintance of the dead man is discovered at the murder site, suggesting he must be the killer.
Thus is set in motion an adventure that might have come from Jack London with its evocation of the struggle to survive out in the wilderness in winter. Who committed the murder and why is only one thread in Penney’s tale of tangled lives. Dozens of characters weave in and out of the chapters, revealing new facets of themselves and deepening the mystery. Every character is a fully-drawn, nuanced portrait. It’s noteworthy in a book with a number of female characters — white and Indian — that Penney never plays down their strengths, yet they don’t feel like modern feminists thrown into a 19th C. setting.
The young man goes in search of his friend’s murderer. His mother and the Indian suspect take off after the boy. The Company men follow them. I must say there is nothing more perfect than reading about people searching, tracking, camping, getting lost, and bobbing and weaving in the winter in Canada as we wait for our own cold, endless winter to end. Unbelievable as it seems, Penney apparently has never been to Canada but I found her descriptions of the landscape and the weather formidable. Penney also had the right tone for every scene: She ranged from a dry, self-deprecating humor that one of the characters uses to describe her life in an insane asylum in Edinburgh, to an eloquent appraisal of the lives of the Indians after white men arrive and begin the big business of fur trading.
I also enjoyed the Norwegian community that plays a role in the story, and little touches Penney included that caught my fancy like a reference to dogs with eyes as big as saucers from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Tinder Box," a childhood favorite.
"The Tenderness of Wolves" is a wonderful book that I hated to finish, especially since it appears Penney has only written one other.
In the fall of 2006 my sister-in-law, Sara, and I were at an art opening downtown where we spied a young woman wearing a dress that had us enthralled. It was modern and clean-lined yet reminiscent of a kimono somehow. It was nothing off the rack; rather something an artist had designed and sewn. As we stared at her from across the room we suddenly noticed she was with an older woman — clearly her mother — who was dressed in a kimono. That clinched it; we had to compliment the two women on their unique style.
We had a pleasant chat and discovered the young woman, Mayumi Takayama, was indeed an artist and would be showing her work as part of the weekend's Open Art Studio Event. We picked up a brochure and promised to stop by the next day. We discovered her studio was essentially her apartment and her mother was visiting from Japan. Mayumi was a painter and Sara and I both liked her work but much of it was sold when we got there.
We were also delighted with the jewelry that Mayumi's mother had created and was selling. While we looked at it, she made us macha tea which we enjoyed while we all talked about art and textiles.
The fiber necklaces pictured here were all made by Mayumi's mother (whose name I seem to have lost). They're made out of recycled pieces of kimono fabrics, sewn into tubes of different lengths and widths and softly stuffed.
They're embellished with beads, buttons, embroidery and fabric-covered tubes of different sizes. On some necklaces the cords wind around your neck and go through the tubes which you can slide up and down to reconfigure the design. Other necklaces have slipknots which also let you make the piece longer or shorter.
Some are just long lariats which you can wear with the ends hanging free or knot or tie however you wish. Every necklace is different but they're all lightweight and versatile. They're fun to wear and garner lots of compliments. And they're great inspiration if you sew and have the inevitable fabric stash.
Readers of this blog know that I am a gardener who loves flowers in bouquets and arrangements of all sorts and sizes for all occasions. Thus Mark's sister asked me to go with her to the florist to help decide what kind of arrangment we might order for their mother's funeral. This process turned out to be very meaningful and soothing and I think worth sharing with other gardeners.
We had three considerations for Maxine's flowers:
We chose J. Kinney, Florist on Monroe St. and would agree that her slogan — "Simply the best" — is definitely true based on our experience. In addition to a beautiful floral design, she also kept to the budget we discussed.
We opted to cover the box holding Maxine's ashes with a piece of blue-grey crinkled silk fabric, tied in the Japanese furoshiki style. That color was picked up in a few of the kinds of leaves and buds used in the floral arrangement for Maxine.
Jane Kinney listened to our wishes and designed a beautiful solution for our needs, as you can see from the first three photos. The flowers swept around the container, enfolding Maxine's ashes in a swirl of white lilies, roses, snapdragons and Anemone De Caen.
After the service, we brought Maxine's ashes back to our house where they will rest until we take her home to Antigo. Jane's arrangement, however, proved to be too wide to fit anywhere in our house but on our table where we eat all of our meals. So I took my nod from what I'd seen at Hospice recently and took her funeral flowers apart and re-arranged them into new bouquets.
I filled six vases of different sizes with Maxine's flowers. It was a great learning experience because the flowers that were in the lower, front part of J. Kinney's arrangment had short stems which is not how we gardeners typically cut flowers. And all of the bouquets used the same flowers so it was a challenge to make them look a bit different from each other.
We put a candle and a basket of flowering plants next to Maxine's ashes, kept a few bouquets and sent some home with Mark's sister. She saved the petals from all the flowers that everyone brought to Maxine while she was at Hospice, and we'll save the petals from all of the re-arranged bouquets.
In the Spring, we'll scatter the petals from all of Maxine's flowers at her grave.
This little vase is on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.
"Final say" was a clue for a longish word in last Friday's NYTImes Crossword puzzle. Having just lost my mother-in-law, I immedately filled in the word "obituary". It wasn't the right answer but that's pretty much the only thing that came to our minds as Mark and I worked on the puzzle together. He had just finished sending out his mom's obit to newspapers in the communities where she spent most of her years. And that's after he pulled together the obit text with input, corrections and polishing by his siblings.
I started reading obits as a regular habit, like reading any other part of the newspaper, years ago. I have a file filed with obits of interesting, sometimes famous folks, like jockey and mystery writer Dick Francis; activists Phil Berrigan and Dave Dellinger; the last survivor of the Triangle Fire and the last soldier present at the "Christmas Truce" of 1914.
I wrote the obituaries for both of my parents when they died. It's a strange, sad and yet, in some ways, satisfying experience. A last task we do for those who spent so many years doing everything for us. In the few weeks since my mother-in-law fell ill, I've been touched, amazed and amused by the stories of these good women whose obits have appeared locally.
Patricia Delores Watkins: Her daughter Leslie shared this photo of the two of them on her FB page. I think it perfectly captures her mother who I'd met once or twice. Reading her story I realized how little I knew about her — and how much I wanted to share what I'd just learned.
Alice Corcoran Yost: I don't think I've ever read an obit where I got such a strong sense of individuality and personality as this one. As a gardener and party-giver, I wish I'd met Alice. I just wouldn't want my garden too near her house.
Maxine O'Brien Golbach: As I said before, she was the perfect mother-in-law; loving and supportive but never interfering.
As Alice Corcoran Yost's obituary noted, "Alice's light shone bright, and we are grateful she shined on us." I think that's true of all these women. Those of us who knew them or only met them through these last words will hold their memory in our hearts.
. . .
And that crossword answer for "Final say?" Veto power.
a girl could have.
Maxine O'Brien Golbach
Aug. 30, 1920 — Dec. 23, 2013
As one of her friends at The Gardens, where she's been living for the last five years, said, "What will we do without our Maxine."
The above photo shows a pensive Maxine on Thanksgiving as she was watching her family enjoy the feast. The picture below shows her with her collection of nutcrackers which are on display at The Gardens. It was taken Dec 7.
This room has red walls with olive green trim so it does scream out "Christmas." Since I can't deny it, I go over the top with this sitting room making it a shrine to Christmas past. One of my grown-up treasures, Rumi O'Brien's "Backscratchers Chair," holds Mark and my childhood toys.
Next to Rumi's chair is a bowl with pink and red ornaments some dating back to my grandparents. The lacquer tray holds holiday cards and letters.
Like most rooms in our house, this one has a bookcase. Mark made this for my red sitting room in the apartment I was living in when we met in 1987 and it is still one of my favorite pieces of furniture. The toys include a felted animal by Mary Wallace of White Dove Farm in Cambridge, Tracy Higgs handmade and illustrated wooden blocks and a pair of papier mache maracas from Material World. Mark and I fell in love with the maracas and bought them for our first Christmas together. He made the stand and I supplied the Central Asian embroidered hats.
This grouping includes Tracy Higgs' papier mache leopard and two of Mark's favorite moving metal toys.
At the end of the display is "Meg," my Little Women doll by Madame Alexander whose knees are about as stiff as mine. The lighted artwork is composed of images of Petrus Cristus' painting of "A Goldsmith in his Shop." My sister Pat made positives of the artwork and stiched them together with red ribbon and then encased it all between two sheets of glass with a light behind it. She sent this to me and Mark as an engagement gift.
The full line-up. The lamp belonged to my mother and her mother before her. The two paintings in oval frames were done by my great-grandfather.
I found this fabulous little book not long after it was first published in 1999 and it's been one of my own winter favorites to enjoy ever since. It's also a favorite title to give as a gift. It does for snow creatures what "Play with Your Food" did for dinner.
You can see how wondrous, wacky and witty the snowmen in this book are from the examples below.
As someone surrounded by pine trees, Porcupineneedle has always been my favorite among the many ideas the book offers. In addition to creative snow figures there are a number of castles and forts and concepts to help you turn your drifts and snowy landscape features into snow sculptures.
Editor's note: This is just a book that I love and wanted to share with you; I'm not receiving any remuneration for this mention.
Several of Mark's recent paintings will be included in a four person show at the Artisan Gallery in Paoli, WI. The other artists include Theresa Abel, the gallery owner; her assistant, Ann Orlowski; and Mary Hood. The common thread among the four artists is the use of "line, layer, and color." Mark notes that he is "extremely pleased to have been invited to join such a distinguished group of painters."
Today is a better day for cooking than gardening. So here is a new favorite recipe.
My cousin Barb and I reconnected at a family reunion a few years ago. We had not seen each other since we were teenagers and were amazed to discover how many interests we had in common. Cooking is one of them, so she always includes a recipe or two in her Chistmas card to me. I've made her granola recipe a number of times since the beginning of the year and Mark and I are totally addicted to it.
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup (4 oz.) slivered almonds
1 and 1/2 cups raw pistachios
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3/4 cup chopped apricots (add these after baking)
Bake at 250 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until golden
If you've never made granola, you just mix all those ingredients together and spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake. I used two big sheet cake trays which made it easier to brown everything evenly. Since I am trying to cut down on sweets, I cut the sugar in half but left the syrup.
When I really want to treat myself, I put a couple of spoonsful of Barbie's granola over a container of Dannon's Toasted Coconut Vanilla yogurt (the Oikos traditional Greek style). Heavenly.