Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book Report/Fill My Stocking, 2005

Warm and charming are the two adjectives that come to mind as I write about Fill My Stocking. This little book by Alan Titchmarsh feels so personal, as if he simply wanted to share all the little things about Christmas he cherishes. He is unabashedly sentimental, in the very best way. This is a collection of old familiar carols and lesser known ones; Christmas plays (pantomimes) which he and his friends perform; seasonal excerpts from some of my favorite writings, A Child's Christmas in Wales, The Diary of a Provincial Lady, and The Diary of a Nobody; poems and short stories and essays; and the passage from St. Luke's Gospel, the King James version, of course. He even alternates his introductions to the chapters between red and green color type. It was great to see all the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas written down so I could sing them aloud and not get mixed up. (and yes, I really did sing, to the wonderment of my dogs)

There is a passage from Mollie Panter-Downes, the New Yorker correspondent in London during the Second World War:

Parents have taken advantage of the lull in the Blitz to smuggle children up from the country for a brisk scurry through the toy bazaars, thereby brightening the lives of all the Santas, who had been drooping in their red flannelette and false whiskers among the childless acres of dolls and electric trains.

There is a hilarious story from a church bulletin telling a countryman's impression of going to The Messiah at the local town hall.

A lot o' wimmen stood up after that and all of 'em looked as if they were ... well... gettin' on a bit. Some of 'em must a bin 64 if they was a day. They sang, "Unto us a child is born" and the chaps sang back, "Wonderful" an' I thought, "Wonderful, it's a bloomin' miracle."

The two pieces I loved the most were A Shepherd by Heywood Broun, which tells the story of one of the shepherds who stayed with the sheep instead of going down to the manger, and Carols in the Royal Mews by Alan Titchmarsh about the time he and his family were invited by one of the Queen's coachmen to the ceremony of singing carols to the horses and giving presents to children of the Royal Household. No one really took much notice of:

a small, grey-haired lady in a headscarf patterned with horses, a green loden coat with cape, black trousers and black boots. She wore knitted Fair Isle gloves of cream and blue, and carried a black, patent leather handbag over her right arm.

This book did indeed "fill my stocking" with all I love about Christmas. It made me laugh out loud and smile quietly. It brought a lump to my throat. And it made me sigh with deep joy and peace.

Quote du jour/Hal Borland

Autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of maturity; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance. What man can stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of his world and the meaning of the rolling hills that reach to the far horizon?
Hal Borland

In my neck of the woods, the "ripeness and color" are in the early fall, and now in the late fall we have the "breadth and depth and distance." It is only when those colorful leaves drop to the ground that the world opens up. Time was when one could walk up the hill from this house and see down to the main road, almost a half mile away. There were no trees. The place above, and this place were farms with open land. You know the saying, "if you don't like the weather, wait a minute," well, that's the way it is with trees around here. They spring up when you turn your back. It is hard work keeping the pastures free, and even with all our animals, Tom still has to get out there and mow. In the blink of an eye, there is a little pine, ready to begin a new forest. But this time of year, there is a clarity, a further reach which comes just when we feel like contracting. While we stay inside more, the view out the windows is broader, keeping us connected with the outside world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Today's Pictures/November Sunlight

I was just reading in the kitchen when I looked up and saw the sun shining in, and it got me thinking about how different the light is this time of year. We never see sunlight shining on these places in summertime, but the leaves are off the maple tree out front, and the slant of the sun is lower now, and suddenly these areas are illuminated as if under a spotlight.

Book Report/A Fatal Grace, 2006

In September 2006, I read Still Life, the first book in the Three Pines series by Louise Penny. I liked it very much, and gave it an 'A' in my reading journal. My dear friend, Kay, recently sent me the second and third in the series, and I couldn't wait to begin. The books came at the perfect time because I am embarking on the Canadian Book Challenge (see sidebar) and these books are set in the Eastern Townships of Québec. As far as I know this is the only mystery series using this locale, and it is one dear to my heart since my late father was born there.

Often in cozy mysteries, we meet a horrible character who soon is murdered. Well, the woman in this book was so awful, Tom quit reading it before she was killed. :<) I decided I would stick with it until the series' detective Armand Gamache appeared.

Though he was only in his early fifties, there was an old world charm about Gamache, a courtesy and manner that spoke of a time past. His body spoke of meals enjoyed and a life of long walks rather than contact sports.

I really liked him in the first book, and thought he might redeem the misery of reading about this terrible person, and he did. He is a wonderful character with a wife who is his perfect match.

Yet, even after the introduction of Gamache, the book still had a somber tone, which contrasts with the beautiful locale. I read recently that Louise Penny may be bringing back a 'Golden Age' of mysteries, and the reader can see comparisons with the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. St. Mary Mead is the essence of the perfect English village. It is beautiful and serene at first view, but behind those lovely cottage doors there is crime brewing, as in Three Pines. The series also reminds me a bit of the television mystery drama, Midsomer Murders; idyllic place, not so idyllic lives. This paragraph gives an indication of what I mean.

The days leading up to Christmas were active and full. Clara loved the season. Loved everything about it, from the sappy commercials to the tacky parade for Père Noël through St-Rémy sponsored by Canadian Tire, to the caroling organized by Gabri. The singers moved from house to house through the snowy village filling the night air with old hymns and laughter and puffs of breath plump with song and snowflakes. Villagers invited them into their living rooms and they carried on round pianos and Christmas trees, singing and drinking brandy eggnogs and eating shortbread and smoked salmon and sweet twisty breads and all the delicacies baked in the festive ovens. The carolers sang at every home in the village over the course of a few evenings, except one. By unspoken consent, they stayed away from the dark house on the hill. The old Hadley place.

After reading The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club with its emphasis on dialogue rather than description, this book was a feast for the imagination, as seen in these two passages.

Peter led them into the cozy living room and threw a birch log on the fire, the flames grabbing and crackling and leaping as the bark burst into flames. Gamache noticed again the honey pine wide-plank flooring, the mullioned windows looking out onto the village green, the piano and the bookcase, crammed with books and covering one wall. A sofa faced the open hearth and two easy chairs bracketed it. The hassocks in front of the seats were covered with old newspapers and magazines and books, splayed open.

The store felt like an old library in a country house. The walls were lined with warm wooden shelves, and they in turn were lined with books. Hooked rugs were scattered here and there and a Vermont Castings woodstove [this is what we have!] sat in the middle of the store with a sofa facing it and a rocking chair on either side.

I enjoyed this book. I loved going back to visit the village; reading about the snow, the sport of curling, the relations between the Anglos and the French in Québec. The mystery was complex, with many psychological layers. I did guess a couple of the elements, and even had a hint of whodunit, but it was still interesting to find out about all the connections. When Tom gave up the book, we talked about the negativity we felt in the first fifty or so pages, and he said it was like the unpleasant woman had put a curse on the whole town. When you read the book, you will find how prescient his words were.

Gamache knew this mystery, like all murders, had begun long ago. This was neither the beginning nor the end.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Today's picture/Thanksgiving survivors :<)

I wish, I wish I had a thousand dollar camera with a super-duper lens so you could really see the beauty of these gorgeous birds. I counted over twenty. They are eating fallen sunflower seeds and cracked corn under the bird feeders.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quote du jour/D.E. Stevenson

Perhaps it is better to give than to receive but it is best to do both, and to do it graciously in the Christmas spirit.
Dorothy Emily Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage

I have been trying for days to find a way to thank you all for the comments you left for the one year anniversary of Letters from a Hill Farm. Your words were so warm and generous, and they touched me deeply. You each make the world, and my world a better place.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The winner!

I put my hand in the mitten:

And drew the winning name! I'll be sending off the local calendar this week, Cindi.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quote du jour/G.K. Chesterton

Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?
Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Planes, Trains & Automobiles on dvd

Del Griffith is one of the finest characters the late, wonderful John Candy played in his way too short life. Del is a traveling salesman who puts a picture of his wife, Marie, on every bedside table in every motel he stays in. He sells shower curtain rings, one of those products we just don't think about, but is such a part of our lives. I have the same rings I've used for 25 years and I don't think they are sold now. So many rings are difficult to open, and ease of opening is very important for being able to wash the curtain. I digress, I know, but it is to show that there are a million things like this in our lives. Little things like a good can opener, just the right desk wastebasket, the perfect pen.

The movie is 20 years old and there have been huge changes in those years. With the rise of the internet, I wonder if there are still traveling salesmen for such things as shower curtain rings. I think the Fuller Brush Man stopped coming door-to-door a long time ago. Twenty years ago our little area had no Walmart, no Lowe's, no Home Depot, no TJ Maxx. There were hometown hardware stores and building supply stores which may have sold the rings, but my guess is they were supplied by a man such as Del Griffith.

Steve Martin plays Neal Page, an upscale fellow in the advertising business. He's in a rush to get home for Thanksgiving because his boss has kept him too long at the office. He is very neat and clean and likes an orderly life. He accidentally runs into the aforementioned, Del, who is quite his opposite. Del is outgoing, a bit of a slob, and not driven, as Neal is. Opposites do not attract when it comes to sharing a motel room or sitting next to one another on an airplane. And of course that's where the fun begins. The movie is both slapstick and tender. We laugh and we wince and we feel great warmth. By the end of the movie both men have changed, and grown into better people than they were before this chance meeting. On the way there are many funny escapades and serious conversations.

Our family has watched this many, many times. It is a Thanksgiving tradition, and with the kids grown, Tom and I still watch it. Every time we see something new, and are fondly reminded of something old. Two favorite lines of Del's which I have in my quote book:

The finest line a man will walk is between success at work and success at home. I've got a motto: like your work, love your wife.

Go with the flow like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream.

The only caveat I will offer about this great movie is that there is one sequence you may want to fast forward, or turn down the volume if you have little ones at home. It is when Steve Martin's rental car is not where it is supposed to be and he must walk a long, long way back to the rental desk. He explodes, and says the "f" word, sixteen times and the agent says it once. Yes, I counted. :<)

And if you are one of those souls who sit and watch the credits, as I am, there is a reward at the end.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book Report/High Cotton, 2007

You may recall back in the summer, Tom was a guest commentator on the blog, talking about yogurt. Well, today he is back! This time with a book report. A while ago I read a great book review of High Cotton on Maggie's blog. I got the book from the library, and as soon as I began to read I knew this was a book Tom would simply love. Well, he did love it, and has just finished. I gently urged him to write a book report and he did.

I’ve just finished reading High Cotton by Gerard Helferich. I probably never would have picked up a book on cotton growing or the cotton industry, but the book is set in the Mississippi River Delta, a region that has always fascinated me. Flat, rural, and sparsely populated, this is what I think of when I imagine Mississippi. The closest I’ve gotten to Mississippi is Memphis, Tennessee, but I have a vivid picture of the state thanks to William Faulkner. And while Faulkner’s Mississippi is quite a bit more dramatic, even gothic, than the happenings in High Cotton, the landscape is no less evocative in Helferich’s book of one cotton farmer’s year in the growing of his main crop.

For those of us not from the South, the Delta in this book is not at the mouth of the great river, but the region east of the Mississippi from roughly Memphis in the north to Vicksburg in the south. The author refers to this area in the prologue as “the most southern place on earth,” from the title of James Cobb’s history of the Delta. Helferich follows Zack Killebrew over the course of an entire year as he thinks about, plants, grows, tends and then harvests his cotton, along with smaller crops of corn and soybeans. As we learn about Zack’s trials as a cotton farmer (and he does think of himself as a cotton farmer even though he grows other crops) we become engaged in the seasonal rituals and realities of the Delta’s cotton economy. Zack is only one of many growers “who still risk everything to raise this ancient and essential crop.”

We learn some amazing facts about the Mississippi River, the source of the region’s fertility: the river at rest carries half a million cubic feet and five tons of silt into the Gulf of Mexico every second; topsoil is measured not in inches (as it is here in northern New England) but in dozens of feet; the great flood of 1927 left a region of the Delta thirty miles wide and a hundred miles long under as much as thirty feet of water. We also learn about hunting and fishing—during bobcat season the limit is five a day, and May 1 to July 15 is the season for hand-grabbing catfish.

But the center of the book is Zack and cotton. Helferich informs us about plowing, seeds, machinery, weather, drought, and irrigation; there are so many ways all this can go wrong it’s a miracle any cotton is grown at all. We also read about the growth of agribusiness, and the processing and sale of cotton. The end of the season has everyone waiting through the exhausting days of harvest—“from can ‘til can’t”—to see if they have picked enough cotton to remain in business for another year. So, sadly, the author also writes about the state of Mississippi exploring other ways for the region to remain viable.

Today's poem - Peace: A Wainscoted Room by Iva E. Reed

Here is another poem by the old friend of ours. I think it is so lovely. Her poetry is often filled with longing for her rural childhood.

Peace: A Wainscoted Room

Give me a room with
wainscoted walls and
bay-windows with sills,

seldom seen anymore.
And let's have a half open
Dutch door in this wainscoted
kitchen, with hens running loose
in back yard

ta-taingly crooning, the way
that they do, soft humming
and chumming the afternoon through.

And let bread be baking,
and bubbling black raspberry jam
with some of it cooling

in stiff marshalled lots,
and kittens well hidden
behind the woodbox.

Iva E. Reed
November 1991

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I'm Bringing to Thanksgiving Dinner

When I was a girl we had turkey and baked potatoes and some kind of vegetable. I never ate those little white onions, or the cranberry stuff that jiggled. One year my dear neighbor made cranberry bread, which I had never tasted before, and I thought I had gone to heaven. In those days, everyone ate pretty much the same foods, and I'll tell you, there was no hummus, no tabouli, no stir fry, no garlic, no wild rice, no brown rice, and definitely no shallots. They were somewhere in the world, but not at my table. We are so lucky now when it comes to food, and we vegetarians are particularly lucky because there is such choice, such variety, and so many different flavors.

We are traveling about an hour to spend the day with friends, and the man's parents. They are lovely people, and this motherless girl always enjoys being with a mother on these special days. And everything is done. I just sit and absolutely relax. The only thing I do is make a couple dishes to bring down. This year I'm bringing the Cranberry Apple Crisp and Tara's shallot mashed potatoes. The only thing I do different from hers, is I don't add milk. I like them better with just butter and salt.

So, I wish my readers in the United States a Happy Thanksgiving, and may your day be calm and peaceful; full of good times and good food.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mrs Bale has a new weather program

Mrs Bale can now tell you all kinds of weather details. Right now at 3:30 pm it says:

Wintry Mix (don't you just love that word, 'wintry')
1 mph wind from the west
100% humidity!
1.9 mile visibility

And to this, Mrs B might add: grey (her spelling), raw, damp, a good day to be indoors.

Book Report/The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club, 1928

The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club
Dorothy L. Sayers

As November 11 approached, I found myself thinking of a murder which happened on that very day. Not in real life, but in the Dorothy L. Sayers' Peter Wimsey mystery called The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club. The "unpleasantness" refers to death in that wonderfully understated British way.

The gist of this story is that a very old man is found dead at the Bellona Club. It is not surprising at his age, but details begin to surface about his estranged sister's death on the same day. It must be found out which one died first because of a will. Did they both die on the 11th? And was there foul play?

The book is not only a mystery, but also is about the young men who happened not to be killed in World War One. It was interesting to read their take on the activities on the 11th, ten years after the war had ended.

All this remembrance-day [not capitalized in that time, I guess] business gets on your nerves, don't it? It's my belief most of us would be only too happy to chuck these community hysterics if the beastly newspapers didn't run it for all it's worth.

What's the damn good of it, Wimsey? A man goes and fights for his country, gets his inside gassed out, and loses his job, and all they give him is the privilege of marching past the Cenotaph once a year and paying four shillings in the pound income-tax.

And this description of a veteran:

George had been very nervy and jumpy, and had started "muttering" again. These had been a form of shell-shock, and they had generally ended in his going off and wandering about in a distraught manner for several days, sometimes with partial and occasionally with complete temporary loss of memory.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers is a very clear writer. So often a mystery has tons of characters, and I am always going back to see just who someone is. Not in her books. The reader remembers who everyone is, and what is going on, and Sayers even has Lord Peter occasionally reminding us by talking over the situation with someone. The book is, in fact, mostly conversation, with little description.

There were a couple parts that really reminded me that this was 1928, not 2007. There is mention of a "telephone-cabinet" so that people could have private conversations. Remember those? Now, people are talking on their cell phones everywhere and don't seem to care a whit that the rest of us hear every word (and wish we didn't have to). And get this! In the morning a doctor is having a whisky and soda. Can you imagine there being liquor on your doctor's breath?!

And I must share what Lord Peter says about reading:

Don't know what I should do without books. Fact, I always wonder what people did in the old days. Just think of it. All sorts of bother goin' on - matrimonial rows and love-affairs - prodigal sons and servants and worries - and no books to turn to. I have to fall back on books for my escape.

I have read most of the Wimsey books, but this was the first time I've read The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, though I have seen the television production with the absolutely perfect Ian Carmichael in the role of Lord Peter. It was fun reading the book during the appropriate time period. The story flows, the characters are well-drawn and interesting, and the mystery is just right. I lived happily in one of my favorite time periods, with my favorite detective until the end of the book. A lovely reading experience.

Today's poem - The New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day by Lydia Maria Child

The New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day

Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather's house we go;
The horse knows the way,
To carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather's house away!
We would not stop
For doll or top,
For 't is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
With a clear blue winter sky,
The dogs do bark,
And children hark,
As we go jingling by.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play--
Hear the bells ring
Ting a ling ding,
Hurra for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood--
No matter for winds that blow;
Or if we get
The sleigh upset,
Into a bank of snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To see little John and Ann;
We will kiss them all,
And play snow-ball,
And stay as long as we can.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Trot fast, my dapple grey!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound,
For 't is Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood,
And straight through the barn-yard gate;
We seem to go
Extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait.

Over the river, and through the wood--
Old Jowler hears our bells;
He shakes his pow, [pow means head]
With a loud bow wow,
And thus the news he tells.

Over the river, and through the wood--
When grandmother sees us come,
She will say, Oh dear,
The children are here,
Bring a pie for every one.

Over the river, and through the wood--
Now grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurra for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurra for the pumpkin pie

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Year of Letters

The view outdoors today is a little different from the one I used on my first blog entry, November 22, 2006. In a year's time, as is always the case, some things have changed and others have stayed much the same. For the first time since I was a young girl and faithfully kept a diary, I have documented a full year in my life. The difference is that this journal is on view to the whole world whereas that little book I had was kept under lock and key.

Because the actual blog anniversary comes on our Thanksgiving, I thought I would write today about what my year of letters has meant to me.

First off, I want to thank Les for helping me with tons of technical advice and encouragement when I finally decided to enter the blogging life.

Elizabeth Winthrop, the writer, says that her blogging brother:

suggests that it’s useful to try to stick to one subject when I write in this online journal as it gets a conversation going, but another brother and I discussed the other day how, in our professional lives, we’ve been grasshoppers. Whatever catches our attention pulls us in a new direction. Editors have commented often that I write for so many different ages and audiences which is a consequence, I believe, of my grasshopper nature, so I expect the same will happen here.

I am just like this. I am a general practitioner, rather than a specialist. My "letters" are as they would be if I were composing handwritten notes. When my dear readers come by they may find something about the garden or the animals or a recipe or a book. On "interesting" weather days, Mrs Bale likes to pop in and offer a report. Some days I let the photographs tell my story. There are times I don't write, and there are other times I may have three entries a day. My blog is full of letters to the world, while at the same time it is a kind of country journal that perhaps my children, and possibly grandchildren might enjoy years hence. Sometimes I wish I were the kind of person who focused on one thing, but that just isn't me. And this is probably why I enjoy being home. It is a life full of variety. I may go from putting in a load of wash, to starting bread; from taking photos, to reading; from hanging that wash or rising that bread before heading out to the garden to see what's available for supper.

I view the many blogs I read as novellas or short stories. I can go on a journey without leaving my house (my favorite kind of traveling). Some mornings I'm in the mood for a little touch of homelife in Scotland. Another day, when the light is just right, I remember my 1998 week in Texas, and drop in on Patty to bring back the feeling. There are blogs too numerous to mention which I visit when I want to read a good book review. When I want a quote which will stay with me all day I stop by Kay's. Each blog I visit is as different as the person who keeps it. I can go from seeing bees in New Zealand to my old friend, Heidi's house in Holland. The blog experience has proved an excellent way to keep in much better touch with people I have known for years via email groups. You may have noticed that my blogroll on the sidebar gets longer all the time. My lists are a bit like a TBR (to be read) shelf. I guess I might call them TBV, to be visited. I don't get to all the blogs I love every day or even every week. But as I go along in my day, I might find myself wondering how Lizzie's twins (two sets!) are doing, and I'll go visit. I am in contact with people of many ages, from twentysomethings to seventysomethings. What an incredible thing.

I really, really love all the blogs on my sidebar. My life is deeper, broader, wider because I know these people all over the world. I think of bloggers, at least the ones I read, as a real force for change in the world. They are filled with kindness, fine spirits, intelligence, love for their families and friends and homes and gardens and books and for life itself. I have learned immeasurably from each one. I mentioned on someone's blog that I no longer read any book reviews except those of bloggers. They are all I need. They are smart and witty, and these people write better than most reviewers in publications. I find sustenance in my gardening endeavors each time I visit one of the many garden blogs. There is a hospitality that comes through in blogs. A "welcome to my world" sort of feeling. But it doesn't stop there. These very busy people find time, indeed make the time, to drop by at other blogs. It is an incredibly wonderful network, and I thank each of you for enriching my life immeasurably.

On this day, I find myself thinking about what I might like to do in the next year.

I may want to focus a bit more on movies, including reviews of rental dvds.

I think I want to do a weekly garden tour of the flowers and vegetables, probably beginning in early May.

I want to do more book reports. I have joined some challenges, all of which involve reading my own books, and I hope to write about the books I read.

The other day I had a comment asking for more recipes, and I will try to oblige. Are there subjects that you would like to read about when you come by to visit?

It is fitting that this letter comes at Thanksgiving time because I am so very thankful to each of you who leave your own notes on my blog. I love to read them. You cheer me, you encourage me, and you enlighten me. As a little thank you, I am going to give one of you a present to celebrate this year anniversary. I bought a wall calendar with gorgeous photographs of my area. All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is to leave a comment on my blog from today, November 20 through Saturday, November 24. On Sunday, the 25th, all the names will go into a basket and I will pick one.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quote du jour/Dorothy L. Sayers

Books are like lobster-shells. We surround ourselves with 'em, and then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers,
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Joy of Baking - Sugar Cookies

This recipe comes from the lovely Mary Engelbreit's Cookies Cookbook.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

The recipe begins,

Here is the very best recipe for delicate, pale golden, meltingly sweet
sugar cookies - every batch is a beauty. Who could say no?

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies [depends on the size you make them]

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup margarine [I use only soft butter - 1 cup]
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour [I use 1 1/2 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat]
1 cup coarse white or colored sugar, or a combination [I use less than 1/2 cup regular sugar]

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. [or 350º depending on your own oven]. Lightly grease baking sheets. [I use a cooking spray, and only spray them once]

2. Beat the butter, and two sugars together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the flour at slow speed.

3. Roll pieces of the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll to coat well in the coarse [or regular] sugar. [I put it in a bowl to do this] Place about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Use the bottom of a glass to flatten each cookie. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

My notes are in the brackets. These are the best sugar cookies! Just pour a glass of milk and enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today's poem - Surprise by unknown author


I opened my eyes
And my room was bright,
I wondered what had happened
Outside last night.

I opened the windows
And let everyone know.
The world was covered
With white fluffy snow.

I grabbed my mittens,
My scarf and my suit,
And pulled on my
Brand new winter boots.

I ran outside
And I started to play,
And I hoped that the snow
Was here to stay.

Today's picture/First Snow

This is today's version of yesterday's picture. The whole world is transformed.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Page 161 Meme

Tara offered a fun meme to any of her readers who were interested.

Open up the book you’re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

Since I'm on page 153, I got to read ahead a bit. :<) The sixth sentence on page 161 of The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers is:

"I wish you had spoken more openly."

Short and to the point!

As Tara wrote, anyone who reads this is welcome to participate since, I, too, love to know what people are reading right now.

Today's picture/Raindrops

Today's poem - Working in the Rain by Robert Morgan

Working in the Rain
by Robert Morgan from Topsoil Road

My father loved more than anything to
work outside in wet weather. Beginning
at daylight he'd go out in dripping brush
to mow or pull weeds for hog and chickens.
First his shoulders got damp and the drops from
his hat ran down his back. When even his
armpits were soaked he came in to dry out
by the fire, make coffee, read a little.
But if the rain continued he'd soon be
restless, and go out to sharpen tools in
the shed or carry wood in from the pile,
then open up a puddle to the drain,
working by steps back into the downpour.

I thought he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy muttering of
drip and runoff, the shine of pools behind
grass dams. He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.

Dog rescue :<)

So, you may wonder, what does this woman do all day? Is she bustling about cooking or quietly reading? Oh, for the peaceful life. Well, sometimes. But there are farm adventures, and today's involves those two adorable creatures on my blog header.

One would think that two black dogs would wish to spend a 40º rainy, raw day in front of a warm, crackling woodstove. But they wanted to go outdoors, so I opened the door, and out they ran. They were gone quite a while but I figured they were following their noses in the field, which is the summer pasture and safely fenced in. Then I heard Ben bark. Usually, if not always, it is Sadie who gives the bark to come in. So, right off I knew something was up. Ben came rushing into the house all upset, and soaked, as you might imagine. I called for Miss S. No dog. I shut Ben into a room, and donning my old big coat, which belonged to my late father-in-law, and my Wellies, I trekked out and there she was, sitting prettily behind the fence in the sewer area. I had to go to the barn, shut off the electric fence, pull up some strands, step on some others, and coax her out. It took her a while since she is afraid of getting shocked. Finally, her desire for freedom overcame her fear, and she jumped through. So how did she get there? Were they both there? How did Ben get out? When the dogs engage in these sorts of escapades, we always call them Two Bad Ants after a children's book we used to read to our kids. Well, right now, our two bad ants are happily drying off in the warmth of their home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Report/Simply "Father", 2007

Simply "Father"
Life With Theodore Roosevelt As Seen Through The Eyes Of His Children
By Toby Selda

I first read about Theodore Roosevelt a few years ago, in an unabridged audio of Letters From A Bully Father. I quickly went on to read more and more books about him. I joined the Theodore Roosevelt Association. I think him one of the most remarkable men who has ever lived. He accomplished more in his sixty years than others in a hundred. There are a lot of books out there if you want to read about this amazing man, and more on the horizon with Doris Kearns Goodwin presently working on one. I read about this little book in the TRA newsletter. It can only be bought through the National Parks Service at this time.

In a "note to our readers," the author says:

To develop a plausible story line, fictional text has been created for the characters. This is a work of historical fiction which uses the collective voice of the Roosevelt children to tell the story of their life with Theodore Roosevelt. The book is meant to have the look of a family album from the 1900s.

It does indeed have this look. There are beautiful family photos, reproductions of letters, and pictures of the glorious home on Long Island, New York, called Sagamore Hill.

On the back of the book is a photo of TR reading, with words from Autobiography:

I think there ought to be children's books. I think that the child will like grown-up books also, and I do not believe a child's book is really good unless grown-ups get something out of it.

Well, I got a lot out of this one. Even having read quite a bit about Theodore Roosevelt, I still learned more. In fact, I am quite sure that no one can ever learn all there is to know about this man. If you are already a fan, you'll love this book, and if you don't know much about him, here is a wonderful way to begin.

Home, wife, and children, they are what really count in life.
Theodore Roosevelt

Remembering Robert J.

It may be that only those of you in New England and northern New York state will recognize this man. Robert J. Lurtsema had a classical music program on WGBH, the Boston public radio station, called Morning Pro Musica. He was the morning voice in our home for many, many years. We would set the alarm to wake up to the birds which always opened his program, I believe at 7 am. How things have changed. Now the public radio stations I listen to have talk, talk, talk all morning, and mostly all day as well. Politics, opinions, dire news coming into our homes. But not in those days. We didn't know how lucky we were, how truly blessed we were to have that lovely, calm, quiet voice in our radio lives. I learned more about classical music than I ever could have in college, along with all the correct pronunciations. Each day of the week, after the birds, he opened the show with a different piece. My favorite was Respighi's Ancient Dances and Airs, which I think was the Thursday music. In his obituary, Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe wrote:

He tended to program the early hours chronologically, with music of the medieval, Baroque, and Classical eras predominating ( "Nothing too jarring before 9 a.m.," he liked to say)

Now the jarring starts early, early and never stops.

Also from the obituary:

Hearing the news read in Mr. Lurtsema's magisterial tones - The New York Times once described his voice as having ''the texture of warm fudge'' - was a unique experience. Indeed, a listener once wrote him, ''If the end of the world were coming, I'd want to hear it from you. I can hear you saying, `Well, there has been an announcement that the world will end in 28 minutes. That gives us just enough time to hear Telemann's Sonata in F for Recorder, Oboe and Continuo.'

He was also a big influence in our lives in terms of Scottish music. He was the host for Burns' Night, a celebration of the great poet's birthday in January. One year, Tom and I drove down to Boston through the snow in our big red four-wheel drive truck to be there. We saw the wonderful Jean Redpath and the Vermont Scottish weaver and singer, Norman Kennedy.

He would have been 76 today. I am thankful he was a part of my listening life, and oh, how I miss him.

Quote du jour/Bob Marley

When the rain fall,
It don't fall on one man's house top.
Bob Marley, So Much Things To Say

A Frosty November Morning

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Supper - Dark Waffle Cake

Years ago we visited the Boston Children's Museum with the kids. My favorite section was a re-creation of a 1930s-1940s house. On the coffee table of the living room was a book called Foods and Fashions of 1936, and in that book was a recipe from Gracie Allen. I copied it down, and we've made these waffles a few times. I just found the book online in one place, and it now goes for $50! This is really a dessert, but it is Sunday supper day, and anything goes, right?

Dark Waffle Cake

Cream 3/4 cup butter with 1 cup sugar.
Beat 4 egg yolks and add.
Sift 1 cup flour with 1/2 cup cocoa and 2 teaspoons baking powder.
Add to creamed mix, alternating with 1/3 cup milk.
Beat well.
Add 1/4 cup chopped nuts and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Beat 4 egg whites till stiff and add.
Bake in hot waffle iron.
Serve with whipped cream.

This is delicious, especially with a glass of nice cold milk!

The Optimistic Gardener

You may have seen my Garden Bloggers' Book Club October/November book missing from the sidebar. I wrote to Carol, and told her I had too many books going this time of year, and wasn't going to get a chance to read the selection, Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts. I do own it and plan to read it sometime, just not now. Carol wrote back and asked, if as an alternative to doing a book report on the book, I might consider a quote from it, and write about that. Here is the quote:

I can’t resist them and invariably let optimism get the better of judgment, which come to think of it may be the first principle of gardening.

"Them" refers to plants.

Well, it just so happens that my relief from gardening is over. My little vacation from a preoccupation with flowers and vegetables has left me refreshed and ready to begin again. The problem is the month is November, not May. But the consolation is I've started some lettuce, and have begun thinking about next year's garden. The quote is very apt. I can't resist. I have always bought more seeds than I have room for. In my dreams, I have more gardens than I do. And listening to my favorite, favorite gardening book which I just bought from Recorded Books does not help one bit. It is called, Dear Mr. Jefferson, Letters From a Nantucket Gardener by Laura Simon. I've already read it two or three times, and I am happily immersed in it again. I lay in bed this morning thinking, how about an annual bed? I've never devoted space to just annuals, but it would be nice I think to have a little "cutting garden" for the colorful, little jewels that I would love to bring inside to a jar on the kitchen table, or just admire outside. Let's see, how about some cornflowers, which I grew this year in honor of a dear blogger I read faithfully; and cleome for the bees we just might keep next year; and some zinnias Laura Simon loves called "Cut and Come Again" - why not? I've never grown them before; and Jewel Mix nasturtiums because I just saw the most beautiful one I've ever seen here; and some more of the Bright Lights cosmos that were tucked in among the perennials this year, and really should have a place all to themselves, along with all the other beautiful cosmos varieties. Do I have enough room under my lights to start all these? Should I buy some more? :<)

I want to try a few kinds of zucchini to see if I can finally have success, and get so many that I, too, will be giving them away. We had to repair a water line this year, and Tom suggested we use the dug up area for corn instead of putting in grass seed. Hooray! That will give us more room in the garden for peas and yellow beans and those onions we grew this year. And it's been a long time since I've grown spinach and Laura Simon was talking about the old variety Bloomsdale Savoy.

See how it goes? All gardeners are like this. Yes, our optimism does get in the way of our judgment, but heck, that's what makes the world a happier place, isn't it? Optimism is a good thing, as long as we don't get too discouraged when the sweet peas don't blossom or the weeds get to be too much. We let those things go and begin thinking about next year. Ah, the gardening life!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A little November gardening

Many of the gardeners I visit still have flowers, or are doing fall cleanup. Since my season has been over for quite a while now, I've had nothing to say and no pictures to show except the post about the dreaded yellow iris, which is all dug up and taken to the dump in several garbage bags, so hopefully it won't spread anywhere else. :<) I've had our two geraniums under the lights for a while now and they are doing just great. And you can see that Raya enjoys that inside sunshine, too.

Today, I planted some lettuce seeds, Garden Babies Butterhead. The intent is to keep planting so we can have lettuce all winter. We still have quite a few seeds left from this summer. I use soil from Gardener's Supply.

This room is always warm since the heat from the wood stove goes right up the old stairs off the kitchen, plus it is south facing, so it is the perfect place to have the grow lights. Recently I also brought up my desk, and a second Adirondack chair. This is where I read my "yearlong book," which this year is Henry Mitchell's One Man's Garden. 2008's will be Letters From Eden by Julie Zickefoose.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Quote du jour/Lilias Folan

The yawn is said to be like honey for the body; it has the ability to both soothe and energize.
Lilias Folan, The Inner Smile

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose. These are the words the Dillon Panthers high school football team, in the television program, Friday Night Lights, say all together before every game. Great words, don't you think? And in the locker room there is a sign which reads, Football- Training for the rest of your life. This is the highest goal; this is sports at its highest level. Playing sports doesn't always work out that way, but this is the ideal. Learning how to work with others, learning you are not alone whether you are the star or the one who drops the ball, learning to play fair, learning to lose and win with grace and poise. These are good lessons. They are life lessons. These are things that can get us through every single day.

I'm not from Texas but I have cousins there. When we were all little, they came up to visit every summer. I remember late night conversations with Patty about Texas Friday night football games. The notion of games played under lights seemed such a romantic idea to me. Where I grew up, we had Saturday afternoon football games. They were wonderful enough, but oh, nighttime games seemed so grownup to me. In Texas, even in her very small town, they take their football, and their cheerleading, very, very seriously. My uncle went to the local high school football games, both home and away, long after his kids had grown, until he died.

In my teen years, football was important. The games were played just once a week, so we had all week every fall to prepare for that day. Everyone showed up. Friends, girlfriends, parents of players, other parents. It was the weekend event. And then there were the Friday night pep rallies. The whole Main Street was closed off, and we marched behind the band and the cheerleaders. On the night before the last game of the season, we'd walk up to the park on the hill where we'd have a big bonfire, and afterwards there would be a dance at the school. These sound like such simple pleasures now. Kids have so much more going on. But then, and even now in many areas of the country, this still goes on.

Friday Night Lights is a television show without stereotypes. Let's see, there is the "ideal" high school couple; he's the star quarterback, she's the beautiful cheerleader. There's a stereotype, right? Well, no. In the first episode this boy is hurt playing football, and in an instant, he becomes paralyzed and in a wheelchair, possibly forever. And that beautiful girl, well, her perfect life falls apart when her father has an affair and destroys the family life she has always known. Then there's the sweet boy who is launched into the quarterback role. In a more by-the-book television show, he would become a great athlete overnight, win the girl, etc. Well, it is hard, hard work for him to learn this position. And he must do it while taking care of his grandmother who seems to be at the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. His mother is long gone, and his father is a lifetime soldier in Iraq. Oh, and he also has a job. It goes on and on. The characters in Friday Night Lights are real. We know them. There are wonderful families and very broken families. There are high school alcoholics and there is racism, and there is generosity and real decency. All just like real life. It isn't afraid to show the down side of so much town support, with grown men being more interested in these games than just about anything else in life. Indeed to many of them, these games are life.

I first heard of Friday Night Lights from reading a blog entry a few weeks ago, and I am so grateful. After watching the first episode of the second season, we started taping it each week, and renting the dvds of season 1. And this will demonstrate how much we really love this show - Tom is already dreading the end of the first season dvds because then we can watch it just once a week. These people are in our minds and in our hearts. We both agree we have never seen anything to beat it (and this from two huge LOST fans).

Quote du jour/Charlene Ann Baumbich

She always kept her flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt stored right next to one another since she so often sifted combinations of them together.
Charlene Ann Baumbich, Dearest Dorothy, Help! I've Lost Myself

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Today's picture/Clouds

The Joy of Baking - Wild Rice and Quinoa Muffins

When I read Tara's piece on quinoa, I told her I would post a recipe using this wonderful grain. I got it from Mollie Katzen's site a while back, and have made these muffins many times since. They are a meal in themselves. Look at all those ingredients! A powerhouse of nourishment, but also, very, very delicious. Tom, who doesn't care for the taste of quinoa in another recipe I make (and will share sometime) loves these muffins.

The recipe does involve a few steps, but hey, so does a main dish, and this is as nutritious as anything I can imagine. The first thing with quinoa, pronounced keen-wa, is that they are coated with saponins, a natural covering to keep the birds away. These are used for soap and must be washed off before using. If you buy your quinoa in a box, you probably don't need to do this, but I get mine in bulk. So, let's see, what to do while holding a strainer under running water for five minutes. I let it be a very Zen time. I play with the sprayer, and make little mounds in the quinoa like those metal things you put your hands in to make a print. Sometimes I spray in one place and make a little quinoa fountain. Today I also looked out the window at the dark day and falling rain, marveling at the cheerful little birds at the feeders.

1. Cook one cup dry wild rice until done, maybe 40 minutes.
2. Cook one cup dry quinoa until done, about 15-20 minutes. Along with the fun to be had washing quinoa is the unique beauty of it after it is cooked. You know it is done when this little ring forms around it.

3. Mix 1 1/4 cups wild rice and 1 1/4 cups quinoa together. There will be some left over with which you can make a nice lunch with sautéed vegetables.
4. Add 2/3 cup cranberries.
5. In a separate bowl mix together:
2 cups flour
3/4 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
6. Add to grain/cranberries mixture.
7. Beat an egg, add 1 cup milk, and 1 1/2 t. vanilla, and add to other mixture.
8. Add 1/4 cup melted butter

Spoon into greased muffin cups, and bake in preheated 375º F oven for 20-25 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Makes 12-18 muffins, depending on size.

We're going to have them for supper with an easy, light, delicious soup I call "Louise's Soup" after the woman who gave me the recipe.

1. Put a 28 oz. can of crushed, chopped, or diced tomatoes through the food mill into a saucepan. You may eliminate this if you want a chunkier soup. I prefer more of a broth-y soup for this recipe.
2. Sauté an onion in olive oil, turn down heat, and add a couple cloves of garlic and cook some more.
3. Add the onions and garlic to the tomatoes.
4. Stir 1 T. broth ( I use Rapunzel vegetable broth) into a cup of warm water. Add this to the tomato mixture, along with 3 more cups of water.
5. Add 1/2 a 10 oz. package of frozen spinach.
6. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer.

Today's cd/Coco

Colbie Caillat, Coco, 2007

On this dark and dreary 40º day in northern New England, what better cd to put on than Colbie Caillat's debut album, Coco. Suddenly there is warm California sunshine in this house. What cheerful, upbeat, energizing music. Tom compares her to Jack Johnson, and I agree. They both calm me down and lift my spirits. I love this album. If you haven't heard her on the radio, you may visit her myspace and listen to some songs.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Book Report/The Battle For The Castle, 1992

There's always trouble when fictional characters let someone else in on a special secret. In the first book, The Castle in the Attic, William kept his own counsel; he didn't tell his best friend Jason about the castle or his "magic powers." Well, in this book, published seven years later, and taking place two years later, he spills the beans. There is a rite of passage where these young boys live that they all "must" jump the trains (jump on, crawl across the top, and jump off on the other side) when they are twelve years old. William, still small for his age, does not succeed. I think his telling Jason about the castle is his way of making himself look good in his friend's eyes after blowing his attempt. And Jason wreaks havoc just as Omri's friend, Patrick does in the Indian in the Cupboard books. He is a loose cannon whom William cannot fully trust as they make themselves small, and proceed on a new adventure. Once they arrive, things get better and they must band together to save the kingdom from a new peril.

The very idea of twelve year old boys jumping a train will shake up any readers who are parents of young ones. In the television interview I saw, the author of the book, Elizabeth Winthrop addressed this:

The biggest thing about children's books is that you cannot talk down to children. You cannot preach to them in any way. I have to get down on that child level. I have to leave the adult behind. There are times when your characters do things that you just say, "no, don't do this" - I mean in Battle For The Castle, William jumps a moving train and every single part of me is screaming, "don't do this, William," but that is what he would do.

I'm not a fan of rats. They probably top my list of things I'm afraid of. And so, this book was a little bit hard for me to take. Picture giant ones, standing on their back legs, progressing along "like a great black oil spill." Yuck!

The Battle For The Castle will be very appealing to those approaching the teen years, or just entering them. There is a subtle sense in the book that the older generation will not face the facts, and it is up to the young to take things into their own hands. In order to succeed this time, William must depend on his wits, not his ability in gymnastics. We meet a wonderful girl character, who is descended from one who could tell the future and knew all about herbs. These two gifts, combined with the talents of Jason and of William, save the day. Kids (and adults) love a series, even if it is only a series of two, so I'm sure this book made a lot of readers happy to see William again. And he came of age in a truer, better way than that of jumping trains.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday Supper/Blueberry Pancakes

The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook
Receipts for Very Special Occasions
By Mary Mason Campbell
Illustrated by Tasha Tudor

I grew up with a butt'ry, and this old farmhouse had one, too, until we knocked down the wall and made it part of the kitchen. And though it is not a separate room now, that part of the kitchen is used just as a butt'ry would be. Here is the way it is described in this beautiful cookbook.

City people used to have pantries. The country counterpart of the pantry was called a "butt'ry." In occasional hidden corners of New England, this country room may still be found in use, but only the most old-fashioned houses, loved and lived in by the most old-fashioned kind of people, have a "butt'ry" these days.

The butt'ry (properly spelled buttery, of course) is a small room with a smell of good things to eat and a look of delicious plenty. It is located next to the kitchen in the cool corner of the house. Its window is shaded in summer by a crab-apple tree. We can watch a robin and her mate busily raising their family in the nest tucked between branches. We can reach out the window with a long-nosed watering can to give a drink to the fuchsia and begonia plants trailing their flowery stems in the dappled shade of the leaves. Through the window, we watch the lilacs and the old-fashioned roses come into bloom, and enjoy a view of the perennial border against its background of gray stone wall as its colors and patterns change from the daffodils of early spring to the last flowering chrysanthemum of autumn.

This most appealing description goes on for several pages, telling the reader of all the wonderful foods and ingredients which are stored in such a room. I have read these words many, many times and find them achingly nostalgic. They paint a picture of the physical details of the butt'ry which tell us much about how it was used, and how life was lived in older times. I love this book which is filled with receipts, the old-fashioned word for recipes, for holidays throughout the year. There are stories about the fun which was had on Valentine's Day and Easter Breakfast and the Thimble Tea and the Quilting Bee. Tonight's Sunday Supper recipe comes from Fourth of July Breakfast and it is:

Blueberry Pancakes

In a small bowl, whisk together well 1 egg, 1 cup milk, and 2 rounded Tbs. sour cream.

Into a larger bowl, sift together 1 cup flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. mace, 1 Tbs. sugar, and 1 Tbs. baking powder.

Into this dry mixture, pour the liquid and beat well with wire whisk or egg beater. Add 2 Tbs. melted and cooled butter and stir until mixed. If you like pancakes thin, add a bit more milk, perhaps 1/4 cup.

Fold in 1 cup blueberries. Drop batter by large spoonfuls onto hot, lightly greased griddle. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other; turn only once.

The batter is light and delicious even without the blueberries. Serve with plenty of fresh butter and maple syrup in generous pitcherfuls. This receipt makes about a dozen pancakes.

My notes:

I used the Kitchen Aid mixer.
I used an electric fry pan sprayed with cooking spray.
I used 1 teaspoon baking powder, not 1 tablespoon. It just seemed like too much to me.
I didn't use mace.
Lastly, and most important, they taste wonderful. Utterly delicious!