Thursday, July 30, 2009

The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

I just finished reading The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.  It is the first one of his books I have read, so I don't have any of his other works to compare it to, but I really enjoyed it.  Towards the end, I couldn't put it down!

The War of the Flowers is about an under-achieving, 30-year-old musician named Theo Vilmos.  He plays in a band in Northern California with kids 10 years his junior and drives a delivery truck during the day.  He feels like he should've had more to show for his life.  And his life is about to take a serious downturn...with some pretty grim family tragedies.

Then, an encounter with a 6-inch-tall sprite and a single-mindedly relentless, undead "thing" completely changes everything as he finds himself thrust into the world of Faerie, an alternate world parallel to our own.

Although the story starts a little slowly, it eventually picks up speed until it almost becomes frantic. There were enough plot twists to keep it interesting, but a few things were a bit predictable.  There was a little bit of Terminator meets the Hobbit with the Omen thrown in for good measure.  There is also a really well-written description of total destruction that very nearly mirrors the 9/11 tragedy, though it was planned long before the terrorist attack.  Some people may find this section particularly uncomfortable if they were personally touched by the events on September 11, 2001 (and who wasn't, really?), but it was essential to the story.

I enjoyed the depiction of Faerie as something refreshingly real, with its own problems, politics and prejudices. The characters were well-developed, although I am not a big fan of the "unhero" as the main character.

All in all, I think it would make a great movie.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Create Your own Tartan

Are you Scottish?  Or maybe just a Scottish wannabe like me?  Here is a site where you can create your own tartan.

Here is my first design which I named Heather Hills.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival

One more post from my recent trip to the Midwest and West:  Dad and I traveled up to Moorhead, Minnesota for the 32nd annual Scandinavian Hjemkomst (Homecoming) Festival.  This year, the focus country was Finland, but there were plenty of tables and exhibits from the other Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Saami Land and Sweden, too.  If you wanted to spend a little money, you sure could have found plenty to spend it on!  The crafts, jewelry, books, clothing and food were to die for!

One of the most interesting crafts was a type of quilling done in Finland, only with wood strips, called Lastu, instead of paper.  The ornaments were extremely intricate and beautiful with multi-colored strips of wood making up the designs.  I found this image online, but it doesn't do justice to the beautiful ornaments on display at Hjemkomst.

Back in the 70s, a man named Robert Asp decided to try to make a replica of a Viking long boat.  He dreamed of sailing his ship, the Hjemkomst, from Minnesota to Norway.  He built his ship, and even sailed it on Lake Superior in 1980, but he died of leukemia that same year.  In 1982, Robert Asp's family and friends sailed the Hjemkomst 6100 miles from Duluth to Bergen, Norway in his honor.  The ship is now stored in the Hjemkomst Center.

There were many musical events during the festival, and the one that really caught our attention was a Finnish rock/jazz band called KEHO.  The young men in the band range in age from 16 to 19 and the lead musician, Anttu Koistenen, plays a traditional Finnish instrument called a kantele.  The kantele is similar to a zither, but when electrified, it has a thoroughly modern sound.  Everyone should hear Santana played on a kantele!  Although the music was a little too loud for my Dad's taste, I really enjoyed their playing.  I asked one of the boys later if they had a CD, and he replied "Not yet," but you can listen to some of their music on Vimeo.

The name, KEHO, comes from the last names of the performers:  Anttu Koistenen (16) who is studying the ancient Finnish kantele instrument in a more "electric" way, Teemu Eerola (18) who is a first year bass student at Helsinki's Pop Jazz Conservatory, Rasmus Harinen (19) who studies violin, keyboards and guitar at Helsinki's Joensuu Conservatoire, and Jesse Ojajärvi (17) who is studying drums at Helsinki's Sibelius Junior Academy for talented young musicians.

As the brochure says, nothing Nordic happens without food.  The festival's method of selling food really seemed to work well — they sold tickets for 50 cents and each item of food was some number of tickets, so no fumbling for cash and no change required.  For example, the Danish Æbleskiver were 5 tickets and the Norwegian lefse was 1 ticket.  Dad and I tried several different things, some of which neither of us had had before.  I had Finnish Mojakka ja Voi-leipä (beef stew with cracked wheat bread) and Norwegian lefse (potato flat bread similar to a tortilla).  Dad had Danish Frikadeller (meatballs) with potatoes and red cabbage and lefse.  We shared a dish of Norwegian Rømmegrøt (cream porridge) and Swedish Krumkaka (thin, crispy cookies).  Heavenly!  And, no, we didn't have any lutefisk!  If you're Norwegian, you know what I mean!

There were also musicians playing while people ate, and the group playing while we ate was ASI Spelmanslag Friends.  The group is headed by Paul Dahlin and includes his wife, Marikay, and his son, Daniel.  They are often joined by students from the American Swedish Institute Spelmanslag (fiddlers' team) where Dahlin teaches.  The group plays traditional Swedish dance tunes such as waltzes, schottisches and polskas.  The polska, not to be confused with the polka, is the oldest dance rhythm in Sweden and feels just a bit strange to modern tastes.  Daniel Dahlin has even written several original polskas, one of which was played during their set.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Farley Fest, Milbank, SD

My home town, Milbank, has a festival every year named for the local lake, Lake Farley.  My husband laughs at the name Farley Fest because he says it sounds too much like Fart-ley Fest!  Which, of course, conjurs up some pretty hilarious images of tooting contests, "fragrant" clouds hanging over the festival, etc.

This year, I ran the Farley Fest 5K which starts on the track at the high school and then heads out onto the nature trail before finishing up on the track again.  I had never been to the nature trail before, but it was really lovely to run through a typical prairie grass setting with tons of flowering plants and grasses up to 5' tall.  If you get a chance, you should definitely take the 1.5 mile walk.  I even managed to get 2nd place in my age group!  (not bad for 1 week after a 30k :-))

Also, as part of Farley Fest, the Hollands Grist Mill was actually running during the day on Saturday, grinding corn for keepsake bags.  The English-style Mill has been the symbol of Milbank for decades and reconstruction was recently completed at a cost of over $1 million.  This is the first time the Mill has run in a very long time.  Visitors were even allowed to ascend to the upper stories to see the Mill's mechanisms at work.  Very cool!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Save this link!

Any time you need to be cheered up, watch this:  Guaranteed to improve your mood!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bear Country USA and President's Park

Since we were just in the Black Hills a year ago, Dad and I decided to visit some of the lesser known attractions this year — Bear Country USA and President's Park.

Bear Country is a drive-through wildlife park with plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the critters!  There are fences to keep the animals apart from each other, but they can come right up to the vehicles if they want to.

The bears were being fed while we were there and there were pieces of raw meat and slices of whole wheat bread scattered along the roadside.  Curiously enough, most of the bears seemed to be more interested in the bread than the meat.  One of the largest bears came right up to the car and we had to wait for him to amble across the road in front of us before we could move on.

We even caught a couple of bears in the act of doing "the naughty", though the little female didn't seem to be enjoying it that much.  Maybe bears aren't that different from humans?

We also saw reindeer, Artic wolves, timber wolves, mountain goats, Big Horn sheep, miniature mules and even a white buffalo!  For the kids, there is a baby animals petting zoo, too, but we didn't stop to see that this trip.

Since we had received a free pass to President's Park while in Mitchell, we headed there next.  This attraction is fairly new and doesn't seem to be well-known yet.  There are 20-foot-tall busts of each one of the presidents along a pleasant half-mile walk.  Each president also has his biography on a plaque nearby.  The bust of President Obama was in place, but not quite finalized.  Note the wet plaster at his neckline!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota

Well, after nearly two weeks with very little Internet access, I finally have time to post a few things.

On our way from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Sheridan, Wyoming, we took a little sidetrip to Mitchell, South Dakota to see the famed Corn Palace.  The Corn Palace is entirely redecorated every year using over 275,000 ears of corn and other natural materials.  This year, the theme selected by the committee was "American Destinations."  The panels were decorated with famous monuments — like Mt Rushmore, the Space Needle and the Arch in St Louis — from all around the country.

A group of hunky young men were trimming the branches from some green material which looked like weeds to this untrained eye.  Bunches of it were being placed in the design by the artist.  The green will eventually mellow to a nice golden color like the rest of the decorations.

But, on this day, the big attraction was the bust of President Obama being transported by flatbed to the President's Park in the Black Hills.  It was kind of eerie seeing the president's head and shoulders in two separate pieces!