Review: Shotgun Love Songs

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“A debut novel that delves so deeply into the small-town heartland that readers will accept its flaws as part of its charm.” (Kirkus link)

You can almost hear John Mellencamp’s voice in this book! “I was born in a Small Town…” Only that would be a small town in Indiana. This singer hails from small town Northern Wisconsin. A town very much like Mellencamp’s hometown, only much colder.

The Story

Boyhood friends, Leland (Lee), Henry, Kip and Ronny are all grown up now. Ronny has is now disabled from a accident and from his hard-drinking days on the pro rodeo circuit. Henry/”Hank” is happily married and running one of those farms whose Scarecrow got rained on. Kip is trying to be the town savior by buying the grain mill and rehab-ing it. And there’s  Leland (Lee)–the Big Success of Little Wing.  A rock n’ roll superstar. But friendship can be a fickle thing.

The Good

…the safest thing is to become an island to make your house a citadel against all the garbage and ugliness in the world.” (Shotgun Love Songs).

I didn’t have to read where the author was from to know why the voice of this book is so authentic. He IS from “Little Wing”–a Wisconsin boy who knows the language of his state. He knows the small town boys he is writing about. I was impressed with the emotions the men expressed–at least in their thoughts. Lee’s looking out for Ronny, Hank’s love for Beth and their kids, even Kip’s eventual show of emotion all were so real to me–these are, of course, the boys I grew up with (albeit in Central Indiana) and the men I work and live by now in Southern Ohio.

The Bad

I was shocked to read some truly dreadful reviews of this book. I thought it was great. Yes, like most debuts, it had its weak spots, but none that really affected it to me. It is a guy story, told in a guy way, with guy morality. That seems to be the big gripe among online reviewers. It would be a good movie, too. Brad as Lee. Bradley as Hank and so on. It would do well at the box office. Kind of  guy’s Steel Magnolias.

Rating

4 full stars. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Shotgun Love Songs by Nickolas Butler

 

Review: Surviving the 70’s: Muscle Cars, Freedom and Fun

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One of the fun things about the self-publishing boom is getting to read memoirs of ordinary people. The folks who live next door, who sell boxes or repair copiers, who marry their prom date and have two kids and live more or less happily ever after–those kind of “folks.” Such is the case with this little memoir by a graduate of my own high school.

 

 

The Story

Greg Phillips tells of the fun he had, the hell he raised, the dodgeball he played and the cars he drove in his short and sweet memoir of life in Delaware County, Indiana in the 60’s and 70’s.  He was a young man full of life and energy–energy that was often curtailed by the whack of male teacher’s fraternity paddle on his backside! As a parent I often yearned for my son to be in a school like I went to–where there were decent men, family men, who taught not only history or math, but also taught boys to be hard-working, straight-talking, gentlemen who knew how to handle themselves. As Greg Points out, this was before the childless Phd’s (as I like to call them) took over education.

 

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Photo Credit

This could have been a teacher’s actual paddle.

The Good

What shines thru in this story is the accountability, the consequences for actions, the do-the-right-thing spirit of the times in which Greg and I grew up. Whether its the story of the fabled 1972 Tiger basketball team with future Purdue star Bruce Parkinson, or the integrity drilled into boys in the same-sex gym classes of a saner era. Greg writes truthfully about all the ways he was formed into being a hard-working, hard-playing family man and businessman. He tells about the tragic loss of his son, the sad loss of his father and all types of life experiences.

I like the memories of boys being boys and no on calling the cops or the therapists or the safety squirrels. I remember the legend of the teacher who lost his finger in the basketball hoop–he taught the next day. That’s the way men were then and the way they should still be. Boys and girls of every era raise hell in one way or another. We shouldn’t over-react to it.

 

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Illustration Credit and link to the poem Dodgeball–go on, click! Read it!

The Bad

“Bad” is too harsh. This isn’t fine literature and was never meant to be!

He owes no apology for his talk-it-out writing style, but Mrs. Dunn would have a lot to say! And while I certainly wasn’t in his gym class–it was all single sex back then, I don’t imagine quite as much profanity was used, but I AM sure it was all implied.

This isn’t so much a book as a nice long chat with the author at the Hide-out or the Mouse on Smith Street. And that’s just fine.

 

Rating

3 full stars. A fun written oral history of a life well lived and not yet done!

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Photo credit

6 Degrees of Separation: The Slap

 

I was soooooo excited to see this month’s 6 Degrees book was The Slap. It arrived in the mail yesterday! Part of me wants to speed thru it this weekend and do this post differently. The other part says, no, wait and enjoy it. I’m going with enjoying!

The Story: At a backyard barbecue a guest slaps the host child. Assault charges are filed. A psychological thriller is born.

 

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The Amazon review compares it to Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty, which I loved (link to my review here), so I’ll use it first.

 

 

Second, it is told from different points of view, so I thought of The Dinner by Herman Koch, which deals with a similar story in a similar way.

 

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Third, I thought of the Academy Award-winning 80’s movie, Kramer vs Kramer (ok, it’s not a book). “Permanently disfigured” was the phrased that pays in this one.

 

 

Fourth, I came up with the eery We Need to Talk About Kevin. My review link.

 

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FifthThe Trophy Child, because HER child is perfect, right? She seems like a Mom who’d press charges. My review is here.

 

And, finally, the Sixth that came to me: Oprah’s debut Book Club Book, Deep End of the Ocean. It clearly shows how fast things can change with kids.

 

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Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme now hosted by Books Are My Favorite And Best.

Twitter hastag #6Degrees

 

 

 

Childhood Memories: The Toys I Wanted, But Never Received

My friend Susan at the blog Girls in White Dresses, does a weekly Friday Childhood Memories post. Today I’m following her example and posting about toys I wanted but never received! Poor me!

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The winner by way more than a mere nose, is: MARVEL THE MUSTANG. 50 years or so later I can STILL sing the jingle. But, since we had a real horse, and I had a plush ride on horse (though it had wheels), a bouncy hobby horse and the lovely beginnings of a collection of Breyer horses, I never received dear Marvel. I had serious fantasies about riding him thru our living room and “stabling” him beside my bed. But, alas, neither Santa Claus, nor my folks, nor even my very indulgent Great-Uncle ever gave him to me. Sorry, boy….

 

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Lite-Brite makin’ things with light…. Yeah, I still know that jingle, too! So cool, so badly wanted, that it was among the first toys I ever bought for my own children. They’d sit in the totally dark bathroom with it for hours. I loved it, too. But I never had one as a child. It’s still so amazing to me that I included a wall-sized one in one my novels! (Let’s hope a Lite-Brite loving agent reads this and wants to read the manuscript!).

 

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This one will shock even my Mother. I wasn’t very into dolls–only in elementary school did I start playing with Barbie or those Chrissy dolls with the hair that ‘grew’. But, oh how I secretly wanted that seemingly ubiquitous set of dolls in their native folk attire–above are the Dutch dolls. I think they were Madame Alexander dolls, but it seemed to me that every girl in America had a set of these, except poor me. Probably they helped my love of exotic places to grow. But I never received them. My own daughter never showed the slightest interest in such dolls. She preferred Barbie or her blonde, blue-eyed American Girl doll.

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I’m not sure where I got to play with these. Maybe in my brief stint in Nursery School? Or at a rare early childhood trip to church or Sunday School? No matter, I wanted these. My brother and I were big Flintstones fans anyway (though we differed on Gazzoo–I was against him, my brother loved him). I could picture myself making this sort of structure and having my stuffed horses, Smokey and Little Joe, in there with me. But, they never appeared under the Christmas tree or at a birthday.

 

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Ok, this isn’t really a “toy.” But I wanted one so badly! But in the 60s you picked a lunch box in first grade and carried it for the rest of your life. I picked Josie and the Pussycats–a new style vinyl lunch box! Cool, right? Well, for first grade in 1968 it sure was. But then, in 2nd or 3rd grade the neighbors English Bulldog ate it and they replaced it, of course, but without seeking my input. I was saddled for the rest of my lunch box carrying days with a Frosted Flakes lunch box featuring Tony the Tiger. Today, I can safely say it had to have been on the Clearance rack! I was devastated.

Had they asked my first pick would have been plaid. Second Snoopy and third the Partridge Family–by the time this happened I was more aware of fads. Kids with “baby-ish” lunch boxes got teased. Plaid would have been safe even in Middle School when a few kids did still carry a lunch box. (My Mom also would never buy little brown lunch boxes–they weren’t a necessity. Nor did I ever find little individual bags of chips of Snack Pack cans of fruit–too expensive. It took years of lobbying to get her to buy one package of individual Fritos packs to finally score the elusive Frito Bandito pencil-top eraser ).

 

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What toys did you long for, but never receive? Share your own heartbreak in a comment or linked post!

Review: Chilbury Ladies Choir

51Cca4CCbQL._SY346_This book, told thru letters and diaries, follows on the heels of my 4 week series on favorite epistolary novels and nonfiction. Sadly, it did not make the cut to be included. In fact, twice I nearly tossed it back. The first time was when I checked it out from the new hardback book display at my library . The second time was while listening to the audio version. That it was favorably compared to the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Club: A Novel still baffles me. I imagine the fact that both are set in World War II and both are in the United Kingdom (or at least WERE in the United Kingdom before the Nazi’s invaded in the case of the excellent Gurnsey book) and that both employ an epistolary narrative must have been enough for the intern charged with writing the blurb on the back of the book.

I expected to love this book. I did like certain moments of it, but found it just too much of an improbabe mess of story lines to be lovable.

Note: Spoilers abound. It was necessary. Skip to the rating if you don’t want it spoiled.

The Story:

The beginning of the book is all about the trauma of the choir being disbanded by the vicar due to a lack of men left on the home front to sing. This is promptly forgotten except for occasional mentions of the choir here and there until the last chapter. I never really understood how the was supposed to be this uplifting thing, let alone the focus of the story.  Sadly, this is where most reviewers must have stopped reading.

The characters are mostly stereotypes. The matron with the double-barrelled name and the son in the RAF. The Brigadier’s down-trodden wife, who is magically pregnant right as their 20 year old only son is killed. (The bitter tone at the start of the book centers around how awful the son was. That’s right–no one, not even his siblings are sorry he’s dead.)  Their gorgeous debutante-aged daughter, their younger daughter and a still younger Jewish refugee foster-daughter round out the family.

Everyone from his silly wife to the villagers are of course afraid of him. He carries a crop. Of course he does. Apparently, though, the author has never heard that a “horse whip” (as she calls it) of the kind stereotypical British Brigadiers go around thwacking against a thigh or a lover’s bottom is known as a  “crop.”  Surprising he doesn’t have a Labrador. Must have scared the poor thing off. Anyway, this man is silenced by a lady who previously would have cowered in a dark doorway to let him pass. Such is the magic imparted by a good cuppa and an air raid or two.

Then there’s the amazingly modern P.C. elements. The first patient treated from the Dunkirk evacuation is, wait for it…. openly gay (at least he is open about it with the helpful nurse) and, at a time when men went to prison for being gay,  he trusts a total stranger to return his male lover’s ring–and she does it. I’m fully aware that not everyone thought this should be illegal  (nor should it be)–it is just so typical of the immature story lines here. Then the silly young man outs a spy to her! He’s working FOR the spy’s headquarters. You’d think the Brigadier would be right there to beat him with his crop or blast him with his Purdys but no!

Then there’s the flouncing out done to epic levels by the double-barrelled matron’s RAF pilot-officer son when he, too, is done wrong! Epic. But wait! There’s more! He gets to flounce in a letter to the maid he’s just used to get over the debutante who did him wrong. Are you following all of this? But, its about the choir, Silly!

The other characters include a maid, a butler, dueling midwives of the nasty sort not shown on PBS (well at least not till a Downton movie perhaps), the nice, but soon forgotten new choir director and other people in the village Chilbury who suffer a lot once the war heats up, but until then have time to see spies, blackmarketeirs, downed pilots and locate fenced stolen nude paintings. Right, got all that?? But its about the choir? Where is the choir?

The Good:

Not much. I suppose I liked a few of the people. Mrs. Tilling and her lodger, Colonel Mallard (spellings may be off since I listened to the book). Baby Rose seemed sweet. Sylvie, the little refugee girl. Tom, the London boy out hop-picking and maybe someone else. I’m too exhausted trying to keep them all straight. Baby Lawrence was obviously crying because he couldn’t cope with it all–and him part of the most ridiculous story line of them all. Poor lad. Not even a Labrador to snuggle.

The Bad:

The story is such a mess of intrigue, plotting and boredom that I had trouble keeping everyone straight. The whole thing makes Downton Abbey’s Bates mess seem trifling. Someone–the younger daughter? The refugee girl? Says, just before the retreat to Dunkirk occurs, that “at least we [that is the nearly doomed British Army]  have got all routes covered” [something like that]. Very prescient. Very wrong, too.  Lots of stuff like that. “It’s officially now the Battle of Britain,” is actually said out loud. Yes. That kind of thing. Praise for Churchill, but no memory of all the upper-class twits who were British Fascists and appeasers and loathed him–at least in 1940.

Rating:

2 stars only because I finished it and liked the Colonel and Mrs Whatshername. Save yourself the trouble and read the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel, instead. I will say that in spire of my opinion of this book, I will try another book by this author–even a sequel. I’m sure she can do better. Let’s hope her success with this book is enough to earn her a good, experienced editor.

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Reading Around the World: North Korea

A first-hand account of a life inside a secretive world

Note:  Parts of this post were originally published on my old blog on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

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With North Korea first and foremost in the news (well, after President Trump, of course) I thought it worth revisiting this great book. Nominated for a National Book Award, journalist Barbara Demick, tells the stories she gathered from people who have escaped the country.
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I was a Russian and East European Studies major in college so North Korea has long been on my radar. This book, told thru the life stories of a select few normal North Koreans who got out, is fascinating reading. Seldom has a society been so sheltered (i.e., so isolated) or so repressed as North Korea still is. Reading this book, to me, was much like looking at ultra-sheltering, far-far right wing Christian Patriarchal homeschooling families in the US today who cut themselves off from society, forbidding their children access to any of today’s “worldly” culture. The off-the-grid, home church, no doctors, no government sort.
For the North Korean’s  the Great Leader is a substitute God or Jesus depending on the context. His supposed utterances are their Bible.  Like the cultish uber-right off-grid-ers here in the USA, North Koreans give up everything for His glory. The Great Leader is their All in All (I do not mean to blaspheme, just to illustrate). Everything, but especially, self is given up. Only for North Koreans, nothing is given in return. No Grace. No Salvation. No Eternal Life. No Hope. No Love. Only eternal misery.
The people profiled in this book are heroic in more ways than just making it out of North Korea alive. They are staggered, then angered, then, in a few cases, defeated by the very freedom they sought. Typical of people fleeing very controlling backgrounds, some cannot make the switch to thinking for themselves and making decisions that those who live in freedom take as a right. Some fail by seeing these decisions as oppression–so strong is the brainwashing they have endured that they cannot throw it off. An excellent profile of why keeping people in a child-like state of dependence leaves them emotionally damaged and sometimes unable to function as adults. Fearing freedom is the result of being emotionally stunted and controlled by an oppressive, abusive “parent”–in this case the North Korean dictator and his bureaucracy.

Such societies come apart only when people have absolutely nothing left to lose–when they get too angry too care whether they live or die. For the old USSR and Eastern Europe this took a combination of greater access to the truth about the West and the extreme poverty of their emotional, spiritual and material lives to get them to demand change. I hope this happens in North Korea as well. But backlash can come too. In some post-Soviet countries there is a nostalgia for a “strong leader” that brings with it rulers who defy democracy.

Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick.

Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch and More

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No matter whether you are a fan or not of Richard Paul Evans of Christmas Box fame, his daughter, Jenna Evans Welch, tells a great story.  But first, thanks to blogger A Gingerly Review for making me aware of this sweet YA book. So, take a few minutes to click on her link and explore her great book reviews–ok?

The Story

Lina’s Mom dies and she ends up living in Italy with a man she has been told is her father. They’ve never met, but since her Grandmother is totally on board with it all, she goes. Only the house is in the middle of a World War II American cemetery. Then there’s her Mom’s journal which is given to her when she arrives. She knows her Mom was a journal-er, but hasn’t read this one. So far, pretty normal YA plot. Enter a cute boy next door, a British hottie and some cool kids from the local international school. Local as in Florence, Italy-local.

The Good

This book is well written, and while they plot is predictable to an adult, it probably isn’t so predictable to the target age range of ‘tweens and young teens. Unlike so many YA books there is no profanity, no one is jumping into bed and the only immortality is in the past and had very definite consequences.  That’s an FYI for parents. For the ‘tweens who will most likely be the ones reading this it’s a fun trek thru first love–but first love with nothing worse than a one day trip to Rome and some kissing.

Lina and her friends do go to the kind of club that would require proof of age 21 in the USA, but they realize they are in over their heads and get out–but not without a consequence. Happily, that consequence is a little scary but not terrible. No one gets high, drunk, raped, abused, bullied or….[anything else]. No one has to confront deep questions on their gender, sexuality or religion. Religion does not get panned. Parents get respected. Curfew gets missed, but acknowledged, and a sincere apology is forthcoming without being prompted.  The kids are 17 and will be seniors in high school. They enjoy normal freedoms of that age group. The right, decent and moral thing is what wins every time.

The Bad

The plot is a little trite, but so are 12 year olds, right? This is a decent book that only the most hard-core sheltering parents would approve.

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More to Come?

I’m happy to see that she has a second book coming out in 2018 and I certainly hope it’s a sequel. I want to know the rest of Lina’s story.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

If Your Child Likes Love & Gelato

….then she may like this trilogy while she waits for more from Jenna Evans Welch

The A.J. Trilogy on Amazon link

This series is Christian, fyi. I loved Taking Tuscany–you can read my review here on my old blog (scroll down to find it).

Get Ready for Cinco de Mayo!

Get ready, Friday is Cinco de Mayo! All across the country school cafeterias will be shoveling tacos, Mexican rice, corn and churros onto lunch trays. Kids are making cheesy crafts. Teachers may start the morning with Mariachi or Tejano music. Kindergartners will leave test-prep for a few minutes of chanting Spanish numerals. And preschoolers will wack pinatas for nut-free, gluten-free, high fructose corn syrup and dye-free “treats” after shaking their hand-crafted maracas.

Photo (feather, stone, moon & ivory bone) via Bloglovin

But being Moms of today we must make every second count in stuffing our little dears with KNOWLEDGE! EXPERIENCES! and FUN!! Happily, Hopewell’s Library of Life is open beyond normal library hours to spare you the frustration of pulling together that forgotten Fiesta! A carefully curated Pinterest Board is right here, right now, to save the day! No need to go to Pinterest yourself and get lost in pinning a zillion new recipes you’ll never make, or diy projects for Hubby’s list that you know will never, ever, grace your humble abode.

No segues, either, into perusing pictures of a wet-shirted Colin Firth or Jeremy Irons looking simply angst-y and lovely. You haven’t time for that! There’s Spring Baseball, ballet, Indoor Spring Soccer, Stick and Puck for the Off-Season, math tutoring, bassoon recital rehearsal, Little Rembrandts Class and rhythmic gymnastics to get in before reading aloud for an hour, brushing teeth for five minutes, flossing the teeth of both your dog and your toddler, worrying about why your husband suddenly has to travel on his job and why that icky feeling never leaves your tummy or why that box of Tampax has lasted so long.  Modern life.

Here you go, Mom! After all next comes Mother’s Day Week–it’s all about making YOU feel special. So, tonight you can bask in the approval of your too-tired-to-care kids who are overjoyed to enjoy a fun fiesta the second the minivan pulls in, because I’ve got the Holy Grail on this board: Cinco de Mayo CROCK-POT recipes to make with stuff you have in the pantry!!! Woot! (Hint: Go plug it in NOW so you don’t forget). Then, I’ve got table decorations, cool crafts from stuff you have in your not-touched-since-child-2-arrived scrapbook stash and even a beautiful cookies to drool over. (Don’t worry, the supermarket will have them in the bakery–no need to work out how to fit baking and decorating them in around the office, Zumba and the rest). Why I’ve even remembered the Mexican hot chocolate for bedtime story time and, I’m really stoked about this: A Cinco de Mayo costume for the dog!

Oh, it’s book club night you say? Or, you are an empty-nester, you say? Well, well, well!! Put in your in-laws Mexico trip dvd that old Selena dvd (or get it here on Instant Video)and pass the cute appetizers and pour the Sangria, Corona and Margaritas for heaven’s sake! Don’t forget to wear that cute peasant dress or your Corona flip-flops. I’ve even picked some nifty hand-drawn illustrations you can copy into your bullet journal so people will think you remembered! “You are so totally organized! I can’t remember what day it is” they’ll all say when you accidentally drop it so it opens on today’s page. See? More basking to be done. Preen. Go on! Preeeeeeeen! After all, they could have found my blog and saved their day, too. But. They. Didn’t. You. Did. Go You!

Oh, you hate parties? I’m with you! So run thru Chipotle for dinner, put on Selena, have your festive beverage of choice and read one of these great books set in Mexico or one from this list–your choice.

It’s Derby Time!! Get your family derby party groove on!

Note: I do not make a dime off this blog. All photos are properly credited. Clickable links earn me no money–they are merely for my reader’s convenience.

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Logo Credit

Check out all things Kentucky Derby at the race’s official website.

Build the Excitement this week!

The Kentucky Derby is next Saturday, May 6th! Check out the field of horses here. How do you prepare? First some good horse racing books and movies perfect for the whole family! No kids? No problem, check out Domino’s fabulous Kentucky Derby Party Guide here.

Black Stallion author, Walter Farley, chronicles one of the greatest horses of all time: Man of War, father of War Admiral and of the legendary Seabiscuit. Enough Said!

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Unbroken author Laura Hillenbrand is the story of the most unlikely thoroughbred champion of all time.

Secretariat: The Horse God Built is the story of Secretariat, the iconic 1970s Triple Crown winner, told thru the eyes of his groom.

Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand, received both fictional and non-fictional screen treatments. PBS’s outstanding American Experience presented the non-fiction version. The movie, featuring Spiderman Tobey Maguire, was a big-screen sensation. Both are suitable for family viewing. Secretariat, from the Disney studio, is a good re-telling of the 1970’s Triple Crown winner’s career.  Seabiscuit on American Experience link. Seabiscuit movie link. Secretariat movie link.

What to Serve on Derby Day

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Photo Credit: The Brown Hotel

It just wouldn’t be the Derby without Louisville’s Signature sandwich–the legendary Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown. On Pinterest you can find other versions, including these more kid-friendly Hot Brown Sliders,  or even a simple Hot Brown Casserole. if you prefer. I like the real thing!

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Next you need Benedictine–no, not the alcohol (though I’m sure that will be around on Derby Day, too, for those who don’t drink Kentucky Bourbon.) Benedictine is must for derby. Lousiville lunch counters offer Benedictine sandwiches or Benedictine and bacon sandwiches. Both are great. So either offer tiny tea sandwiches (white bread, if you please) or it makes a good veggie dip or stuffing for small tomatoes or mini-peppers, too. The green coloring is traditional, but not necessary if you are against food coloring. Here’s the link to the recipe offered by the Kentucky Tourism folks. [Photo credit: Kentucky Tourism].

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Mint Julep’s are the traditional cocktail, but since this is for family fun, here’s Six Sister’s version of the Disneyland Alcohol-free Mint Juelp to enjoy! For the real thing just try Pinterest–there’s all sorts of versions. Hey, if Scarlett O’Hara could sip them, so can you!

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Finally there is THE desert: Derby Pie. A little bit pecan pie, a little bit chocolate pie a whole lot of wonderful! Derby Pie. Like the Hot Brown, derby pay has variations such as cookies, desert bars and brownies. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are out there as are recipes with walnuts instead of pecans. I’m a purist–I prefer the more Southern pecans. Blogger Kasey Trenum (Photo credit: Kasey Trenum) uses the same easy recipe I love. No Karo Syrup (corn syrup) then it just isn’t Derby Pie in my book! It’s a Southern Thing, y’all. Corn Syrup aka Karo! Easy Derby Pie.

Fun Stuff

Derby Hat Photo Credit: A Patch of Sun  Pool Noodle Ponies Photo Credit

Let the kids make fancy ladies’ Derby hats and then have their own Run for the Roses on these easy Pool Noodle Ponies! Pinterst has thousands of other ideas and Etsy has printables. I thought these were the cutest ideas–both leave a lot of room for imagination.

And, finally, I leave you with  the Song that will never leave your brain! Dan Fogelberg’s wonderful Run For The Roses.

Review: The Mushroom Hunters

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You know you’re a geek when you turn up for a public library program on foraging for mushrooms! It was a superb program, with a character of a presenter who knew her stuff! Seldom have I enjoyed a library program more in fact. On her handout of helpful books she listed The Mushroom Hunters. It sounded like my kind of nonfiction–and it was.

Like tulip bulbs in old Holland or various drugs today, mushrooms have a “street price,” and therefore are hunted by the sorts of guys who either a) are overly-picky chefs or b) prefer a counter-culture lifestyle.

Author Langdon Cook joined group “B” of these hunters and set off on a year of following the various mushroom harvests around the country and even up to the Yukon Territory of Canada. These are not families out for a nice hike, hoping to collect a few morels for dinner. (That’s pretty common where I live). These are the foraged mushroom “industry,” if you will. Go to a swank, pricey restaurant with a name like, “Thwap” or something equally weird and any mushrooms you get with your mortgage-payment-sized dinner will likely have passed thru these guys’ hands.

The Good

Definitely a cast of characters! Not being from hipster-Seattle, these guys were all too familiar “types” to me, so while they probably weren’t as “colorful” to me, I still got a kick out of a few of them. I also love nature study–mushrooms and all fungi are my favorites–so I like the hunting knowledge imparted as well. I’ll be paying much closer attention next time I hike or walk in a woods, that’s for sure.

I believe in protecting the environment but, like these guys, I don’t think foraging mushrooms should be illegal. The meth labs, off-roaders and partying teens do way, way more environmental damage. The foraged food companies are “forced” by demand to break the law and harvest where commercial harvesting is forbidden while timber harvests are allowed. This makes no sense at all.

Lastly, I’d love to go up to that Boyne City, Michigan, Morrel Festival! Road trip, anyone?

The Bad

While I get it–the book was about, duh!, the actual Hunters, I would have liked to have learned more about the chefs and the foodie aspects of the culture. The guys in this book are mostly interested in earning a living.

I think the environmentalists have gone too far in outlawing mushroom harvesting, or miring it in all kinds of permits. If it is easier to harvest trees that take years to re-grow than to harvest mushrooms, there’s a problem.

Rating

4 stars. Overuse of “helm” and “task” as verbs and some over-the-top phrases (chock-a-block, etc). But these are personal pet peeves of mine and not really a flaw. Cook is an excellent storyteller.

Langdon Cook’s new book, Upstreaming: Searching for Wild Salmon From River to Table comes out next month. I’m sure I will be reading it–and enjoying it! I liked the way he tells a a story. He also offers classes in foraging and in cooking foraged foods–you can view them all on his website here..