Book Review: Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

Category: Book Reviews

Her Mother disappeared when she was fourteen years old and now that the man she thought was her father is dead, Clarissa begins pulling on the threads that unravel the open secrets of her past.

First, let me say that I read this book in an afternoon and later,while cooking dinner, wondered if I dreamed it. I seldom read a book in an afternoon. Even on a snowy winter Sunday afternoon, the perfect sort for this book. I usually find myself distracted after a period of time by all the important, useful things I should be doing. Not this time, a tribute to the seamlessness of the story and the author’s skillful use of short poetic numbered sections within four larger chapters. The view from the middle of part twelve, into the beginning of part thirteen on the next page, lulled me into a sense of better-take-a-break-now safety. I knew all along that I could read “just two more pages”, or “till the end of this chapter”, by which point I was caught up in the story again, lost in my sofa and turning page after page.

I think the author was able to achieve the dream-like feeling in her novel through the inclusion of random details that don’t immediately bear upon the story and yet allow it’s vital details to shimmer through. The section in which Olivia takes Clarissa and Jeremy to visit her friend Fern or the day she gives Clarissa her earrings are both good examples. We never hear about Fern again, but in both instances we glimpse Olivia’s vivid second-life, the one that belongs to her alone and is never shared with her husband.

I thoroughly enjoyed Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. It is the type of novel that I return to, dissect, and learn from.

The Grandmother Gene

Category: To My Great Relief

I knew I was in trouble on the day I watched a little girl with wild brown hair, having recently conquered the left-foot-right-foot sequence for walking, working on the concept of velocity control. She was running often with her little torso far, way to far out in front of her feet. A little human Sedgeway. She was adorable and I could have watched her all afternoon, but as I went back to reading my book, I noticed for the first time ever, absolutely no desire to be wearing her mommy’s shoes. I looked up again, and there she was, cute as a bug, all four on the floor, smiling up at her mommy. I’m sure I never saw a sweeter child than that one, but I was content to order another cup of coffee and turn the page. What happened to me?

My grandmother gene kicked in. Since that day the kids are getting cuter and sweeter and I’ve never seen so many smart and beautiful children in all my life. Their parents are doing a wonderful job and I am free. Finally. Thank you, Father Time.

Desire is like that, live with it long enough, without satisfaction and it simply slides quietly away. Patience is the key.

Sip of Sunday Mocha Mix

Category: Favorite Recipes

Yesterday I was sitting pretty in my everyday saddle, admiring the rakish tilt of my halo and telling myself how great it was that the holidays were over and bring on the salad and boy-oh-boy I couldn’t eat another cookie. Whew! Next thing I know I am prowling the kitchen for leftover crumbs. Truffles, cheesecake, craving chocolate, sugar, the familiar late-afternoon holiday caloric spin and release. All is lost, I am finished.

“A cup of hot chocolate might just do the trick without causing too much damage.”

I warmed the milk gently, stirred in the cocoa and watched it melt when all of a sudden one of those post-holiday guilt-attacks arrived on the scene screeching “Chocolate?? Enough sugar! Ack! What are you doing? Gack! It’s the third of January, already! Christmas is over! O-v-e-r! Are you crazy?”

I admit, I was impressed. And I was busted.

I stared at the steaming cocoa in my pot, blinked at the cup by the stove, and jumped on the first compromise that came to me. I’d add just little bit of sugar after I poured the cocoa in my cup, that way it would be more like drinking coffee, and less like, ummm slaking a craving.

Reaching for the sugar I wound up with the jar of instant coffee from this blow-me-away yummy black bean brownies recipe in my hand. I added a spoonful to my cup and followed it up with three of the tiniest grains of sugar in my sugar bowl. Really.

Then I tasted it and WOW! It was chocolaty. It was creamy. It had a hint of coffee and it wasn’t (hardly) sweet. It was a sip of lazy Sunday morning in the middle of the week. It was a snuggly-dark, stormy, chocolaty afternoon in front of the fire.

It has plagued my dreams. This afternoon I made it into a mix so all that yumminess is as easy as warming up the milk.

Sip of Sunday Mocha Mix

In a glass jar combine:

  • 4 parts instant coffee (cheap worked fine for me.)
  • 6 parts cocoa (use excellent quality - never skimp on the chocolate, sugar.)
  • 1 part sugar (the smallest part)

Now comes the easy part: put a heaping teaspoon of mocha mix in your mug, pour steaming milk over the top and stir.

Repair to the study with a good book and my compliments.

Great Writing Links 2011

Category: Birds of a Feather

Christmas is over, even here in Germany where we enjoy two “Christmas Days” one on the twenty-fifth and again on the twenty-sixth (der zweite Weihnachten), while all the world is moving on to Best-Of / Worst-of lists from 2011. The poor year will now be fileted like a fish and laid out bare of all it’s complicated structural bones for us to look back upon.

In the past, I couldn’t see much use in doing this. It seemed like so much was left outLi. “Little is remembered and much forgotten.” Who said that? Meanwhile, it seems to me that these lists, silly as they might be, actually have a powerful effect on binding our collective memory and play a role in choosing exactly which “little” will be remembered.

Ok, so I give in. Below are a few links that helped me in 2011, and which I would like to see added to the “little”. Thanks to everyone involved in making them. You have challenged and inspired me.

Steven Pressfield

He does it for me every time. I’m not what you would term “military type” but his metaphors speak to me in my struggles to free the artist inside. I have a copy of his book The War of Art and I return to it often.

Here are two of his Writing Wednesday articles that I particularly appreciated this year


Moonrat retired this year and stopped posting. I was sorry to see her go because she always made me feel like publishing is possible. She talked mostly about the business of publishing from the perspective of the Editorial Assistant and I’m hoping I can make use of at least some of her gold before the end of 2012.

Her site is still online and you can mine it for yourself here at: The Editorial Ass

Fear.Less Magazine

Click here.

Read it regularly, and don’t miss the archives, Folks.

Living in Brigadoon

Category: This is My Life

And so the days flow by, and all too often I forget to record the funny incidents that make up my life here in Southern Germany. Like the old woman on my way home from the market this morning who stopped me and asked how my husband was feeling. “We haven’t seen him in such a long time.” she said.

What, ‘we haven’t seen him’? You were looking for him? For us? Um hummm. This conversation is, of course, tantamount to admitting what we already suspected (knew), that they watch us from their windows, over their coffee cups in the shopping center, from the third checkout line on the left. That they have always watched us. That they know we exist. But this morning she made it official.

The Swabian culture confounds me. I shop every Saturday at the farmer’s market; at the same vendors. I am friendly and polite. In the space of a mere 6.23 years, (that is roughly 322 weeks) Maria at the cheese wagon acknowledges that, because she might have seen me shop there before, she wanted to tell me that her granddaughter’s Kindergarten is having a play. Another three years pass and one sunny morning Fr. Elster (also at the cheese wagon) asks me my name. “I’m IN!” I holler when I get home. Shortly after that, in my eleventh year of shopping weekly at the Markt, the wife of the farmer who grows my veggies hits it off with my Mom. And so it goes, it’s like living in Brigadoon.

As for my encounter this morning with the lady who lives in the house at the curve on the way to the market, I wondered when it might come - she has been friendly-like-she-might-speak-to-me-eventually now for about 4 years. Sitting on my little motorized shopping cart in the sun, I explained that it was still early and my hubby, a notorious late-sleeper, was perfectly happy for me to sally forth out into the world on a perfect Autumn morning if I’d please bring him a laugencroissant for breakfast, some feta for lunch, and wake him when I got home. “I think all this getting up early, is just a bit too much for him.” I confided.

She smiled at me warmly, her eyes glowing, she leaned toward me pulling a bit on her shopper and confessed in nearly a whisper, “Sometimes, it is a bit too much for us too.” Then, still smiling she nods her head “Auf wiedersehen” and pulls her shopping bag down her driveway.

We’re still another 20 years from being friends, and I doubt one or the other of us will make it all that way, but if we do, I’ll be sure to report it here.

Who Can Deny Love?

Category: Writing

It was a lovely August evening with a bonfire and wine. A muskrat rustled in the bush by the stream while Janice told a story about an old man who lives in her village. Two years ago he was seen for the first time escorting a young Vietnamese woman through town. A few months later they were holding hands and exchanging private smiles. She was pregnant. Now he is often seen by the fountain in the middle of town with his son hanging on to both his fingers, trying to figure out how to walk. The old man looks happy and his wife looks happy. They exchange private smiles over the baby’s head.

Janice and I smiled over the idea that an unmarried man in his later years, chose not to settle in at the local pub and drink beer, watch soccer and wait patiently for the last days before his funereal to pass, but instead to open up a catalog (and possibly a can of worms) choose as best he could and see what happened. We agreed that Love - as a way of life - could turn the world upside-down.

“Pfft, but-but-but the old man was probably just bored and wanted a maid he didn’t have to pay.” sputtered Daniel, our devils advocate. “Haaarh, you girls have heads full of jelly. You are so full of romance you can’t see a business deal when it bites your nose. She was probably very poor and happy to leave that misery and get a free ride into the Western world.”

We ladies advanced the theory that the old man offered the young woman an escape from poverty, received her graciously, and treated her upon her arrival with respect, in effect loving her before knowing her. Or, maybe it was the other way around, he “bought a bride” and she although young, came to keep him company, brought laughter and cleanliness into his home, put zinnias on the table, treated him with respect and joy as a human, not an old man. We were not talking about being “in love”, but about the deeper act of loving. What honest person has the stamina to deny Love and refrain from loving in return?

Alice Munro Interview

Category: Quotes

When you travel you see a lot of this in the faces of middle-aged people in restaurants, people my age—at the end of middle age and the beginning of old age. You see this, or you feel it like a snail, this sort of chuckling along looking at the sights. It’s a feeling that the capacity for responding to things is being shut off in some way. I feel now that this is a possibility. I feel it like the possibility that you might get arthritis, so you exercise so you won’t. Now I am more conscious of the possibility that everything could be lost, that you could lose what had filled your life before.”

Alice Munro @ The Paris Review

Five Different Ways to Start the Day

Category: Writing

Jana knows five different ways to start the day. On Mondays she literally jumps out of bed, it is the only way to keep herself from burrowing underneath the flowered duvet and scratching the whole week.

On Tuesdays she drinks tea and she rewards her healthy intentions by plugging in the tea pot and creeping back under her covers for five minutes. Occasionally, on Tuesday she goes to the shower instead of back to bed but she always takes too long and has to heat her tea water again then she feels bad for wasting electricity.

Wednesdays she seldom goes to bed before three o’clock in the morning, but she doesn’t have to work until late in the afternoon so it’s ok. Wednesdays she simply doesn’t acknowledge mornings.

Thursdays she doesn’t acknowledge evenings going to bed early and getting up at oh-dark-thirty and watch for the bus. Her handsome neighbor gets off the bus very early on Thursday mornings disappearing into his house not to be seen again until next week. Every week she considers going outside to wait - as if to get on the bus - just to see if she would have the courage to speak to him. She doesn’t actually do this though because she can’t figure out how to explain that she doesn’t care if she misses the bus (in case he speaks to her) and she has no idea where she would go if she must get on the bus. She thinks it’s a nice dream and next week she will be pluckier. On Fridays she rolls out of bed and sits on the floor.

Fridays she cries her way out of bed. How can she not hate Friday mornings? They are always the same.

Thanks to Sarah Salway for today’s writing prompt.

Today’s IJ

Category: Books & Reading

Don’t laugh, and I know it’s been nearly a year but I’m still working on it…

Ennet House was not only founded but originally renovated, furnished, and decorated by the nameless local AA ex-con, who – since sobriety doesn’t exactly mean instant sainthood – used to lead teams of early-recovery dope fiends on after-hours boosting expeditions at area furniture and housewares establishmentsau

David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest