Category Archives: Our Pleasant Home Book Club

Red/Blue Pencils

caran d'ache and mitsubishi red and blue pencilsOk back to school supplies!

I’ve been using these red and blue editing pencils in my planner this summer. I got the Caran d’Ache from CW pencils last year and I just uncovered the Mitsubishi (similar) in my Japan drawer. (The Japan hoard is vast, guys!) caran d'ache and mitsubishi red and blue pencils, planner checklist, So…I know this is groundbreaking…I use my red/blue pencils to mark my to-do list. (As you can see above, last Thursday was a very productive day.) When I complete a task, I check it off in blue. When I don’t get to something, I draw a red arrow next to the task so I can move it to the next day. I know I could do all of this with a plain lead pencil, but where’s the fun in only having one pencil in your pencil cup?caran d'ache and mitsubishi red and blue pencils, RSVP listI hosted book club this month and I used the red/blue pencil to keep track of RSVPs. Blue checks for yes, red X’s for no. 
caran d'ache and mitsubishi red and blue pencils, color test, Hobonichi techoSo, which pencil is better? Honestly, I just reach into my pencil cup and grab the closest pencil. I’m not using them long enough to truly have a favorite. (Though I do tend to be biased towards all things from Japan!)

The Caran d’Ache is a bit softer, and apparently the lead is water soluble, though I’m not drawing or coloring in my planner, so it doesn’t really matter for my uses. The pencil is a hexagon, which can sometimes be more comfortable than the round Mitsubishi, but again, I’m just checking off to-do lists, so I’m not holding it for very long.

The Mitsubishi is a firmer lead and a round barrel. But the writing feel is similar to the Caran d’Ache. I love the way they both write in my Hobonichi planner, very smooth and easy. Even though the pencils look like the colored lead would be very different, the colors look pretty much the same to me. The Mitsubishi red is a bit more orange and the blue is a tiny bit darker (it says Vermillion and Prussian Blue on the barrel,) but the two pencils are very close in color.

I’d love to hear how you color code your checklists.

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A Moveable Feast & Hemingway’s Daiquiri 

For book club this month, we read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway grew up in Oak Park and our book group originated in Oak Park. Would you believe we’ve never read him? I added A Moveable Feast to our list over a year ago and no one seemed into it. When the Paris attacks happened and all of Paris turned to the old Hemingway title for comfort, I suggested we finally read it.  I think (almost) everyone is glad we did.

I appreciate the book as a peek into an artist’s life in 1920s Paris. I love the interactions between the famous writers. I love the descriptions of the food and the cafes and the seasons in Paris. It is insane to imagine how much they were drinking at the time. And I know we have to take it all with a grain of salt, as the book is a memoir, written years later from Hemingway’s notebooks and published posthumously by his fourth wife, but that doesn’t change the enjoyment I got from the book as a piece of work.

Here are some of my favorite passages.

On eating and drinking (also longest sentence ever!) :

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

Regarding his writing process:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry, You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

The seasons in Paris:

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.

Regarding Katherine Mansfield:

I had been told Katherine Mansfield was a good short-story writer, even a great short-story writer, but trying to read her after Chekhov was like hearing the carefully artificial tales of a young old-maid compared to those of an articulate and knowing physician who was a good and simple writer. Mansfield was like near-beer. It was better to drink water.

And, the saddest line of the book…about his first wife:

When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.

After I read the book I celebrated with a Hemingway Daiquiri. I love this cocktail and the fact that it’s about as far away from the daiquiris I enjoyed in college that you could get.

Hemingway Daiquiri

2 oz light rum

1/2 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

3/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Add all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until fully chilled and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Toast to all of those drunk writers, to Paris in the 1920s, and to Paris today.

 

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Book Club Christmas Tea 2015

book club christmas tea 2015One last thing about the holidays…

Last month, Peggy hosted our third annual Book Club Christmas Tea. As usual, it was a festive event with everyone contributing something tasty. I made this Japanese egg salad, which was delicious. (I take no credit…it’s just a good recipe!) I am not a fan of curry usually, but I really did love this egg salad.Book Club Christmas Tea 2015 3In addition to the egg salad, we had ham salad, cucumber sandwiches, and chicken salad served in little bread boats, lemon cranberry scones and English toffee scones served with lemon curd, cream and cranberry butter, grape salad, toffee pudding, plum cake, and Christmas cookies. (I think that’s everything!)Book Club Christmas Tea 2015 4, cranberry pepper shrub with proseccoI also made this shrub to serve with prosecco. I’d never made a shrub before, so I was a little bit worried, but it turned out really tasty. (Though next time I will crush the peppercorns a bit more because it was lacking the peppery bite.)Book Club Christmas Tea, placecards, Yellow Owl Workshop Placecard stampAnd, because I think every party needs a little paper element, I made these simple place cards out of some red cardstock, my Yellow Owl Workshop stamp embossed in white, and some Jolee’s holly stickersBook Club Christmas Tea 2015 2Peggy’s tables were delightfully decorated, as always. img_7308img_7304We read The Bird’s Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It was a perfect read for December when everyone is busy. (Last year, we attempted an Austen novel and hardly anyone finished.) Most of us finished it in one relaxing afternoon while sitting by our trees. And though it was only eighty pages and maybe more of a tale for children, we found so much to talk about, even comparing it to The Dead. I recommend it if you’re looking for a sweet tale to read this December.

So much work goes into planning this thing–especially by Peggy since she decorates, sets the tables, and cleans up after we all leave!–but it is so worth it. We are already talking about things to add for next Christmas!

(And with that, I think I may be done talking about the holidays…for now!)

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Homemade Granola

trader joes, homemade granola, blueberry almondI hosted book club on Saturday morning. I knew, since we were going to get home late from the Blackhawks game Friday night, that I wouldn’t feel like getting up to bake muffins or something in the morning. So, I tried to think of something tasty that I could make a day in advance, that would still taste fresh and “homey” the next morning. Then the idea of a yogurt bar popped in my head and I decided that would be easy enough, even if I made homemade granola instead of serving store-bought.

This Martha Stewart recipe for Blueberry Almond Granola looked like a winner and -best part ever- I could buy all of the ingredients at Trader Joe’s!! (That’s always a bonus for me…I like my tiny Trader Joe’s and hate having to go to a second grocery store for one ingredient.)

On Friday afternoon, I whipped up a batch of granola and even though I followed the directions to the letter, the granola was over-toasted. It wasn’t really burnt. (I still liked it, but I also like my toast one step below blackened.) But the coconut was really toasty and it kind of affected the taste of everything else. I didn’t feel like I could serve it to guests. So, I gave it another go and so I’m sharing the recipe and method that worked best for me in hopes that no one else will burn their coconuts.

Blueberry Almond Granola

2 cups rolled old fashioned oats

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

1 cup dried blueberries

Pre-heat oven to 350°

Place the oats and the almonds in a large bowl. Mix oil and honey in a small bowl and drizzle over the oats and almonds. Stir to coat evenly. Spread the oats and almonds on a large baking sheet and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. (Mine was done at 15. Keep an eye on it.)

Place shredded coconut on baking sheet and put in oven to toast separately. I left my oven door open and stirred every minute or so for about 4 minutes. You can also toast the coconut on the stove using the method explained here.homemade granola, trader joes Once the coconut is toasted, add it to the oats and almonds and allow to cool. trader joes, homemade granolaStir in the dried blueberries and it’s ready to eat! I served mine with vanilla yogurt and fresh raspberries and blackberries. I think the book club enjoyed it, too…either that or they’re a bunch of good actors!

The granola is a lot less sticky sweet than store-bought granola but you don’t really miss the sugar because the toasty, oaty deliciousness is enough. And I have to say, even my coconut-hating husband liked it!

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A Simple Tool for Book Club Readers

notebook and book darts, book club toolsA long time ago, while reading Kathy’s blog, I learned about these neat little things called Book Darts. They are tiny, thin page markers made of metal that slide on and off the paper without leaving a mark. I know some people like to fold the edge of the page over or use little sticky note page flags. Those are fine options, too, but I usually get my books from the library so folding the edge is not an option and the sticky flags sometimes damage older paper. (Our book club reads so many old books that often, at least one of us is reading a crumbling copy from the library!) So far, I’ve never had a book dart hurt even the oldest books.

book dart, page point in actionThe most genius thing about them is that they can be used to point to the exact words on the page that you want. I often try to take notes while I am reading for book club so that I can remember what I want to talk about during our meetings. But sometimes, I’m so into a book that I don’t want to stop at take notes. Grabbing a dart and marking a passage is often enough for me to remember what I wanted to say.

(Of course, for longer notes or questions about the book, I keep a trusty notebook set aside for book club. This one was a gift from my pen pal, Cath.)

Do you have anything special you use for book club?

P.S. Sorry for the quiet this week. I am hosting book club tomorrow morning and I’ve been reading and rushing around cleaning up and finally putting Christmas away.

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Another Christmas Tea

Bookclub holiday tea table settings 3 2014Another book club holiday tea is in the books (hehe) and we’re onto a new year. December book club always falls around winter solstice, so it was rather dark all day at Peggy’s, but hopefully you can appreciate the beauty of the rooms and the table settings in spite of my dark pictures. Bookclub holiday tea table settings 2014We split into two tables, each seen above, and as always the place settings were festive and lovely. Peggy should seriously give lessons on how to set a table because I always feel like mine lack the layering that hers have. She has such a great mix of dishes to play around with, too. Bookclub holiday tea cocktail 2014, ginger sage proseccoWe started the morning with a cocktail–ginger sage prosecco. We found the recipe here and I made the syrup, which is easy and delicious and amazingly useful in other cocktails too. It’s warm and wintry, perfect for this time of the year. Bruising the sage leaf before you float it on top of your cocktail is also highly recommended.

Our menu was very similar to last year’s menu. I made ham salad tea sandwiches again, and they were served alongside pimento tea sandwiches and classic cucumber tea sandwiches. We had two kinds of scones, cherry almond and coconut, served with Devonshire cream, Meyer lemon curd, lime curd and lilikoi curd. And we had Christmas cookies and lemon squares and lots and lots of hot tea. peggys house, bookclub holiday tea 1, snowglobesFor our book this month, we read Emma–our first dip into Jane Austen. Sadly, only a few finished the book (which is rare for us!) so the book discussion was not as long and as deep as usual. But lesson learned, choosing a lighter book in December may be the way to go. After the book discussion, we lingered on in Peggy’s comfortable home and chatted about our Christmas plans, families and other books. peggys house, bookclub holiday tea 2, snowmen on the sideboardI’m looking forward to another year of book club, and more reading in general. I didn’t read as much as I should have in 2014, so it’s time for a fresh start. For January we are reading Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton is a favorite of mine, so I’m looking forward to it. We don’t have any other titles planned for the year, which is a preferred way to go. Last year we planned an entire year ahead and a few of us felt stuck with some of the titles. It’s nice to plan a little at a time, and leave some openings for interesting titles that pop up in the newspaper or recommendations from friends. If you’re in a book club, I’d love to hear how you choose your titles.

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Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella GibbonsFor November, my book group read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It was a delight!

The book is completely ridiculous at first, and once you get beyond that and realize that not everything is going to be rational, you can just enjoy the book for what it is: jolly entertainment wrapped up in a parody of a traditional Victorian novel.

Flora Poste’s parents both die and leave her with only 100 pounds per year. Since she refuses to work and she cannot afford to live on her own, her only option is to join some cousins on Cold Comfort Farm. While her cousins’ lives are probably fine and satisfactory to them, she sees a different kind of potential in each of them and develops a strategy to change their paths and shake things up on the farm.

I love Flora Poste. She is feisty and outspoken and she refuses to share a room (solidarity, sister!) One of my favorite parts is when she meets her cousin Reuben for the first time. She invites him to tea and he clearly has no idea how to act around women and tea:

Defeated, Reuben came in.

He stood at the table facing Flora and blowing heavily on his tea and staring at her. Flora did not mind. It was quite interesting: like having tea with a rhinoceros.

I was excited to learn that there is a Christmas version, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, which looks delightful. And, the movie version of Cold Comfort Farm is currently on my desk waiting to be watched. (Kathy wrote a great review of both the book and the movie here, complete with screen shots of the fabulous wardrobe!)

For December, my book group is reading Emma. I’ve mentioned before that we’ve never read Austen in our group before, so it should be interesting…I’m hoping to get through it so I can enjoy a couple of Christmas reads during the holidays, too!

Have you read anything good lately?

P.S. I’m trying to be better about using Goodreads…you can find me here.

Spooky Short Stories for Halloween

Edgar Allan Poe book with skullEeps, Halloween is fast approaching! Are you in the mood for some spooky reading? In years past, our book group has read some good books for Halloween: Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, and The Jungle to name a few. My favorites, though, are the short stories we’ve read. Just because a story is short doesn’t mean it can’t leave a haunting impact. These are my favorites:

“Graves for the Living” from Nightwebs by Cornell Woolrich (1937): This one has it all–secret societies, paranoia, fear of being buried alive–such a good one for Halloween week. The fifty pages turn quickly and you find yourself gasping for air and being suspicious of everyone! Woolrich also wrote the short story “It Had To Be Murder which became Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie Rear Window.

“The Apple Tree” from The Birds & Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier (1952): We inched outside of our “pre-1930s” restrictions for this one and it was worth it. A man is “haunted” by his dead wife in the form of an apple tree on his property. “The Birds,” another story-to-Hitchcock movie favorite is included in this collection.

“The Monkey’s Paw” from The Lady of the Barge by W. W. Jacobs (1902): Three wishes on a mummified monkey’s paw…what could go wrong? This was named one of the scariest short stories of all time and I would have to agree!

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe (1841): It’s the first modern detective story, but it has enough mystery and suspense to be a great “ghost story” too! Anything from Poe works this time of year though, right?

What creepy stories have you read lately?

P.S. Totally unrelated: Happy Anniversary to my parents, celebrating 42 years today!! (Here’s a picture of them on their wedding day!)

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Our Pleasant Home Book Group

pleasant home book groupI’ve mentioned being in a book club a few times over the past few years, but I figured it’s time to write a post about it. It is one of my favorite things, so I can’t believe it’s taken so me so long to talk about it here.

I know a lot of people are in book clubs. They read a book, they (may) talk about it, they drink wine, they eat snacks and go home. Our version is a little bit different. Our book club was originally started in 2002 as a park district program with the Pleasant Home in Oak Park. The group met in the Pleasant Home library and read books that would have been in the home’s library during the John Farson era (early turn of the century.) The first book was So Big by Edna Ferber. Apparently there were close to fifty people at the first meeting and the group gradually whittled down to a small group of core members who came every month with a handful of people coming and trying it out for a bit and not returning. There are still four original members from that very first meeting.

I joined the group in 2008. I was taking a drawing class at Pleasant Home and my teacher told me about the group. I had never been in a book club before, but the premise really interested me. I was a literature major in college and I missed reading “the classics”. Actually, at the time, I was hardly reading anything because I was so busy working. A book club would force me back into the reading habit and this book club in particular was reading great older titles, something I knew I’d enjoy.

My first book was A Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I read it diligently, loved it and went to the meeting. As I walked in the door, I noticed that everyone was older than me. I felt a little bit out of place for a quick second and then instantly at home. Anne took down my information to send me a book list, my (small) contribution to the discussion was met with interest, Peggy invited me to lunch with the group…it was welcoming and I remember going home thinking that I had found “my people”–a feeling only matched by meeting fellow letter writers.

Now, six years later, one thing I love most about our group is that we are multi-generational. Our ages span from twenty-ish to seventy-ish. (We’ve had three members pass away, most recently Anne, who was in her eighties.) Everyone brings such a different perspective to the book because of her age and background. Our discussions would be much different, I think, if we were all women in our thirties. The other thing I love is that the group formed organically. We are all friends/friendly now, but for the most part, it is a group of strangers who have the interest of old literature in common. And, while it is all women now, at a few points in the twelve year history of the group, there have been male members.

In February, we had our last meeting at Pleasant Home. They decided to stop hosting our group as a park district program. (The house is open very limited hours and apparently paying a staff member to be there to open the door for us was too much for the Home’s budget.) So, now we meet in our homes–our “pleasant homes”–and it’s quite nice. The hostess usually bakes a little something and serves coffee and tea. While meeting in the Pleasant Home library was always interesting, our own homes are much more comfortable.

One of our biggest challenges is finding solid books that are still in print or are still available in a large enough quantity for each of us to borrow a copy from the library system. A lot of times, a great title will come to our attention, but since it’s not widely available, we can’t read it. Right now, we are reading mostly from the 1930s and before, so obviously, even after twelve years, there is still a huge amount of literature yet to read. And, believe it or not, the group is reading Jane Austen for the first time in December!

I’m hoping to do another post about my favorite titles that we’ve read and of our top “scary reads” from past Octobers. In the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’re in a book club and what kinds of books you read!

P.S. That’s us pictured above (with the exception of Susan R and two new members) after one of our last meetings in the Pleasant Home library.

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