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Showing posts from June, 2009

Reading Journal: "Out of Love"

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Victoria Clayton, Out of Love. St. Martin's Press 1998. Originally published in Great Britain 1997.

Victoria Clayton published two children's novels in her early twenties (in the late 1960s), returned to Cambridge to earn a degree in English, married, and had two children before she wrote Out of Love, her first novel for adults. The story, about two school friends who are reunited after many years, is essentially a fairy tale. What happens when the handsome falls in love with the fairy godmother instead of the princess? Min is happily married to Robert, the mother of two children, living in a slightly ramshackle manor house in Lancashire. Homemaking is not one of Min's talents: the house is a mess, she's a dismal cook, her children are mildly neglected, her husband is grumpy, and her dog is flatulent from eating leftover cabbage because Min keeps forgetting to buy dog food. Enter Min's school friend Daisy, a beautiful Cambridge academic, who comes for a brief…

Scenes from a 20th Anniversary

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From our 20th anniversary trip to Lanesboro, Minnesota, to canoe on the south branch of the Root River and bike on the Root River State Trail. The trip included a night at Anna V's Bed and Breakfast and a delicious anniversary dinner at the Old Village Hall Restaurant. Several garrulous kingfishers accompanied us as we floated down the river, and we also saw some stunning indigo buntings.

On an old railroad bridge over the Root River on the Root River State Trail

On the Root River State Trail
between Lanesboro and Fountain, MN

Drifting slowly down the South Branch of the Root River

Social Cookbooking

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This morning, my Facebook friend Adriana posted this link to a set of recipes from the New York Times.
I shared the link with my Facebook friend Laura, in Pennsylvania, who is faced with an early overabundance of zucchini from her garden. Our mutual Facebook friend Julie, in Oxfordshire, commented, "What a wonderful way to share recipes around the world!" Tonight, Clara made the Proven├žal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart, which was absolutely delicious. From Facebook to taste buds in less than a day.

Prickly Pear Cactus

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Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) in McKnight Prairie

McKnight Prairie is beautiful at this time of year. The predominant colors are yellow and white, with bright orange clusters of butterfly weed and a scattering of purple phlox. The biggest surprise this weekend was the prickly pear cactus with its brilliant yellow flowers in full bloom. The flowers were crawling with pollinating beetles.


Reading Journal: "The Ascent of George Washington"

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John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon. Bloomsbury, 2009. Hardcover. $30. I received and read an ARC from the publisher as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

George Washington looks over my shoulder as I write this. An old schoolhouse reproduction of the famous unfinished Gilbert Stuart "Athenaeum" portrait of Washington hangs on the wall behind me. This is the iconic Washington, the Washington of the dollar bill, the American demigod. This is the Washington of myth, the one who chopped down the cherry tree and could not tell a lie. But in his excellent new book, historian John Ferling reveals a different, less admirable, more human Washington—one who might have chopped down the cherry tree and then found a scapegoat on whom to pin the blame.

"What is most remarkable about Washington's ascent," Ferling writes, "is that he emerged an unsurpassed hero from two wars in which he commi…

Mistaken Identity

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Early last week, a florist called up to inquire about a delivery of flowers paid for on my credit card. I hadn't ordered any flowers—nor had I made any of the payments to Match.com that showed up on my credit card statement. I was the victim of identity theft. It was strange to think that someone was out there using me to get a date. Meanwhile, I occasionally get friend requests on Facebook from complete strangers who are undoubtedly attempting to befriend a different Rob Hardy. Here are some of the people I'm not.

Not me

Robert Hardy (born October 29, 1925, in Cheltenham, England). Best known to my generation as Siegfried in the 1970s television adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, and to my children's generation as Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies, this Robert Hardy is, according to the Internet Movie Database, "one of England's most enduringly successful character actors." According to Wikipedia, his full name is Timothy Sydney Robert …

Oxford Mill

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A week ago, I posted a picture of a mystery spot within 15 miles of Northfield and asked, "Where Is This?" The answer: the Little Cannon River on Oxford Mill Road outside of Cannon Falls. Here's another photograph, taken just down the road.


This is the Oxford Mill, built in 1878 to replace an older mill across the road, which was built in 1867. The first Oxford Mill, built by the milling magnates Archibald and Wilcox, turned out a flour that won a gold medal in the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. In its heyday, the new mill handled 400 bushels of wheat a day and employed 30 to 40 men. It was destroyed by fire in 1905.

Reading Journal: "The Pursuit of Love"

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Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love. Originally published in 1945.

"I don't want to be a literary curiosity," says Linda Radlett, the heroine of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, near the end of the novel. "I should like to have been a living part of a really great generation. I think it's too dismal to have been born in 1911." She says this as bombs are falling on London and the Radlett family crowds into their frigid country home in the Cotswolds, calculating how long they can hold out against a German invasion.

The Radletts are Nancy Mitford's own family in thin disguise, and Linda appears to be a composite of all the Mitford sisters. Nancy wrote to her sister Jessica in April 1945: "I'm writing a book about us when we were little..." That book was The Pursuit of Love, and from reading Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels and the letters between the sisters collected in The Mitfords, it's clear how much of the novel is dra…

Temporary Habitat

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In the new Jasnoch development along Jefferson Dr. behind Target, bank swallows (Riparia riparia) have established a large and precarious colony in a pile of construction dirt. Click the photograph above for more detail. Each of the little holes in the man-made bank is a swallow's nest. When I stopped to take this picture, dozens of disturbed swallows emerged from their holes and took to the sky.

Where Is This?

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This beautiful spot lies somewhere within fifteen miles of Northfield. Can you tell me where it is, and what the significance of it is? Click on the picture to enlarge for detail.

Cemetery Ridge

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On July 2, in the heat of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union general Winfield Scott Hancock realized that there was a dangerous weakness near the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. He needed time—five minutes—to shift reinforcements into position to meet the oncoming brigade of 1,600 Alabamans, so he ordered the 262 men of the 1st Minnesota Regiment to charge. The Minnesotans bought Hancock the time he needed, but only 47 men survived the attack. One of the survivors was the six foot five inch officer who led the charge, Col. William Colvill.

William Colvill was born on April 5, 1830, in Forestville, in western New York state, and studied law in the Buffalo law office of Millard Fillmore. In 1854, Colvill moved to Red Wing, in the Minnesota Territory, to practice law and edit the local Democratic paper, the Red Wing Sentinel. Colvill backed Democrat Stephen Douglas for President in 1860, but when President Lincoln called for volunteers in 1861, Colvill was the first voluntee…

Reading Journal: "Mr. Fortune's Maggot"

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Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mr. Fortune's Maggot. New York Review Books Classics 2001. Originally published in 1927. $12.95. Also includes the novella The Salutation.

Maggot. 2. A whimsical or perverse fancy; a crotchet.

This is the definition printed at front of Sylvia Townsend Warner's 1927 novel, Mr. Fortune's Maggot. What is Mr. Fortune's "whimsical or perverse fancy," his maggot? Timothy Fortune is a former London bank clerk turned Anglican missionary on the fictional South Sea island of Fanua. He arrives on Fanua with high hopes of converting the islanders to Christianity, but in the end succeeds in attracting only a single convert, a charming and beautiful boy named Lueli. The relationship with Lueli becomes the heart of the novel, as Mr. Fortune becomes increasingly attached to the boy and alienated from his original mission.

Fanua is a kind of edenic alternate reality, simple and bountiful and lush, where Mr. Fortune's theology fails to take root …

Andante cantabile

Last night, Clara and I drove to St. Paul for the last of our 2008-2009 season subscription concerts of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The first half of the concert was a wonderful performance—with orchestra, chorus, and actress Maureen Thomas—of Mendelssohn's complete incidental music from A Midsummer Night's Dream. But for me, the highlight of the concert—and one of the highlights of the season—was the performance of Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat, op. 47, performed by Jonathan Biss (piano), Ruggero Allifranchini (violin), Maiya Papach (viola), and Ronald Thomas (cello). Here, in a good-quality YouTube version with musicians from Seoul, is the stunning third movement.

Reading in Progress

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I've been a slow and distracted reader of late, with several unfinished books piling up on my bedside table. The first of these is Sylvia Townsend Warner's Mr. Fortune's Maggot, originally published in 1927 and reissued by New York Review Books. Townsend Warner is an interesting novelist, a creator of worlds a little askew from the world of everyday reality, often giving her fiction the feel of an allegorical fable. The title character in her wonderful first novel, Lolly Willowes, discovers that she's a witch. In her second novel, Mr. Fortune is a British bank clerk turned missionary on the imaginary South Sea island of Fanua, and his story seems to be a kind of colonial pilgrim's progress toward loss of faith. Although it's beautifully written, I'm finding it less engaging than Lolly Willowes or The Corner That Held Them (1948),set in a richly imagined medieval convent. But Sylvia Townsend Warner is a marvelous, quirky writer whose work is well wort…