Thursday, January 31, 2008

Old-Fashioned Pancakes

Colleen has just informed me that it is Pancake Week, and though I'm a day late in starting, I'll take any excuse to make pancakes. I'm thinking, why not have a different recipe each day of this special week?! Tonight's recipe comes from Laurel's Kitchen Caring by Laurel Robertson (the original Laurel of Laurel's Kitchen).

Old-Fashioned Pancakes

2 cups flour (the recipe calls for all whole wheat. I used 1 1/2 cups whole wheat and 1/2 cup white)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 - 3 cups milk
2 Tablespoons melted butter (the recipe called for oil - but I wanted to use butter!)

Stir together dry ingredients.
Beat eggs lightly and combine with milk.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix briefly.
Stir in the butter.

Spray a griddle or electric fry pan with cooking spray.
Pour batter on by large spoonfuls.
Cook over medium heat, turning once when bubbles come to the surface and pop, and the edges are slightly dry.

Boy, oh boy, these are great!

Book Report/No Graves As Yet

No Graves As Yet
by Anne Perry
Mystery, 2003
Finished 1/30/08

This book was not a challenge choice, but was recommended by Kay.

When I come across two particular words in a book, I know that I am in the England I so love reading about. Scrubbed and spilled.

In the kitchen they sat around the scrubbed table

Flaming nasturtiums spilled out of an old terra-cotta urn

I sigh with pleasure, and usually can be confident I am where I want to be. Add punting on the river in Cambridge, and descriptions of rooms and nature, and I'm pretty happy. Then add a touch of mystery, and especially a touch of a spy mystery, and if the writing is good, and the story well-told, I can't ask for more.

No Graves as Yet satisfies each of these most personal qualities.

A sense of place is very important to me in books as it is in life. I have a sort of heightened sensitivity to the "feel" of a house, a road, a town. It has always been there, even as a little girl. My remembrance of locales is strong. I have tried to read Anne Perry's Inspector Monk series, but I have come to the realization that I'm not comfortable in those dark and dreary (and often scary) Victorian streets. I am comfortable in this setting; this golden age of England, just before the eruption of the First World War.

As he passed through Grantchester, a dozen or more youths were still practicing cricket in the lengthening sun, to the cheers and occasional shouts of a handful of watchers. Girls in pinafore dresses dangled hats by their ribbons. Three miles further on, children were sailing wooden boats in the village duck pond. A hurdy-gurdy man cranked out music, and an ice cream seller was packing his barrow to go home, his wares gone, his purse heavy.

This reminds me of the poem by Rupert Brooke, called The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.

I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .

. . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The story begins on a perfect day at a cricket match. As Joseph Reavley watches, his brother Matthew arrives with the terrible news that their parents have died in a car accident. He also informs Joseph that the father was on his way to deliver a document to Matthew:

a document outlining a conspiracy so hideous it would change the world we know - that it would ruin England and everything we stand for. Forever.

On that same day, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. Could the deaths be related, or is this just a sad coincidence?

I really loved this book, and look forward to the others in the series, each of which covers a different year in the war, and follows the Reavley family. I can't wait to read them.

Marcia's book reviews are now featuring the dedications, and I think this is a great idea. I always read them with interest, as well as the little sayings or poems that often preface a book. For this book they are especially meaningful.

Anne Perry dedicated this to:

my grandfather, Captain Joseph Reavley, who served as chaplain in the trenches during the Great War.

The title of the book comes from G.K. Chesterton:

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.

Which came first?

Not the old chicken or the egg question, but short attention span and the crawl at the bottom of the tv screen. I should begin by saying I don't watch television news. The only times in recent memory I have tuned in to CNN was September 11, 2001; and the day John F. Kennedy, Jr. died in the plane crash. Well, yesterday I wanted to watch John Edwards' speech about withdrawing from the Presidential race so I turned on the television. I was astounded at all the junk on the screen. There was a little square on the right telling me how many hours, minutes, and seconds (counting down) until the Republican debate that evening. Why on earth does anyone need to know that? Isn't knowing the hour it begins enough? And then the crawl was telling me about how many were dead in Kenya, and all about Roger Clemons' drug use, and then to top it off, quoted Hilary Clinton's response to Mr. Edwards' leaving the race. Just above the crawl was a square telling in 3 or 4 words what he had just said. Oh, my God, I couldn't believe it. So, you know what I did? I put my hand up so I could just see John Edwards' face. It was his speech, his words I wanted to hear. Can we not give someone that respect? It made me think of conversations I have observed or even been a part of, when one person isn't really listening to what the other says, but is spending that time planning out what he is going to say, or worse, butting in. I think I would go crazy if I watched CNN all the time. I think it would make me feel unfocused, scattered, filled with more information than is good for my brain, and more importantly, my heart.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today's pictures/End of January clouds

I just wish you could feel the cool, fresh wind. This is my favorite kind of day. It is cloudy, but there's a brightness in the sky as well. The temperature is around 40º F.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I Met The Walrus

Have you heard about this film? When you go to the site, you can read more about the filmmaker and the movie, and see a trailer. Great stuff.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 1915

Virginia Woolf, painted by her sister, Vanessa Bell

From Virginia Woolf's diary entry, January 25, 1915:

My birthday, - & let me count up all the things I had. L. had sworn he would give me nothing, & like a good wife, I believed him. But he crept into my bed, with a little parcel, which was a beautiful green purse. And he brought up breakfast, with a paper which announced a naval victory (we have sunk a German battle ship) & a square brown parcel, with The Abbot in it - a lovely first edition- So I had a very merry & pleasing morning - which indeed was only surpassed by the afternoon. I was then taken up to town, free of charge, & given a treat, first at a Picture Palace, & then to Buszards. I don't think I've had a birthday treat for 10 years; & it felt like one too - being a frosty day, everything brisk & cheerful, as it should be, but never is. The Picture Palace was a little disappointing - as we never got to the War pictures, after waiting 1 hour & a half. But to make up, we exactly caught a non-stop train, & I have been very happy reading father on Pope, which is very witty & bright - without a single dead sentence in it. In fact, I don't know when I have enjoyed a birthday so much - not since I was a child anyhow. Sitting at tea, we decided three things: in the first place to take Hogarth, if we can get it; in the second, to buy a Printing press; in the third to buy a Bull dog, probably called John. I am very much excited at the idea of all three - particularly the press. I was also given a packet of sweets to bring home.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mrs Bale can't complain

Mrs Bale really can't complain about the weather. It was a marvelously snowy December. January has been a regular winter month, with some snow - but not much, cold weather, thaw, colder weather, some gray days, but a lot of sunshine. My skiing husband and snowboarding children have had a great time. I don't venture out too much, mostly to the bird feeders or to the car, but I still love it. I take deep breaths of the cold, crisp air and feel alive.

When I went out this morning to take some pictures, there was a treat in the north pasture.

The fir tree under the maple is our Christmas tree. Tom tied it onto some branches to give a little shelter to the birds and squirrels that visit the bird feeders.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eating and drinking meme

This one is going around and I thought it would be fun to add my 2¢.

What did you eat/drink today?

Morning - plain homemade yogurt with blackberries, coffee with honey
Lunch - one piece homemade whole wheat toast with marmalade, fresh squeezed Temple orange juice
Started to eat parsnips, sautéed in butter, and realized that while I sort of like the taste, I do not like the stringiness, and will not eat them again. Substituted a mini cucumber with a little salt on it.
Supper - guacamole tacos, milk, lettuce, cosmo later
And 8 glasses of water during the day

What do you never eat/drink?

Meat, fish, cheese, beer

Favourite fail safe thing to cook (if you cook) or defrost if you don't

Always pasta and garlic sautéed in olive oil.

Complete this sentence: In my refrigerator, you can always find:

Milk, yogurt, eggs, butter, cheese, oranges, apples, kiwis (lettuce if not growing our own under lights)

What is your favourite kitchen item?

A tie between the toaster and the Kitchen Aid mixer and the little café press coffee maker

Where would you recommend eating out - either on home turf or elsewhere?

Honestly, I prefer eating at home, but there is a nice Italian restaurant where my son is at college which we enjoy

World ends tomorrow. What would you like for your last meal?

A big plate of homemade french fries, big glass of milk, lettuce

Book Report/The Morningside World of Stuart McLean

The Morningside World of Stuart McLean
by Stuart McLean
nonfiction essays, 1989
finished, 1/23/08
The Canadian Book Challenge, Eh, book 5

When I read the writings of Stuart McLean, I simply must share his words with anyone who is nearby. It feels like passing the peace; like spreading sunshine. And it is so much fun to amaze a listener with little known facts.

These essays were originally presented on CBC's Morningside show in the 1980s. Even when a modern writer does a great deal of research before writing about the past, the finished work never quite has the immediacy and the truth that a book has which was really written during that time. And so it is with these essays. They are very much of the nineteen eighties. I'm not talking about pop culture or music or movies, but simply the day to day life then. And I am happy to say that a couple of the concerns Stuart McLean had did not in fact happen, and did actually improve. Coincidentally, they both involve milk. In one he fears that the Jersey cow will disappear, and in the other he bemoans the demise of door-to-door milk delivery. Well, happily, the Jersey cow is thriving, and even in our little area, the dairy farm from which we buy our raw milk, has over the years shifted their herd from Holsteins to Jerseys. And in these days of low fat milk, there is still a market for the milk with cream that you can skim off the top. Perhaps the increase in cheese production has helped as well. And there are still some milkmen around.

He writes about subjects I have never even thought about and makes them interesting, such as Meccano, making flags, the history of yo-yos. He writes about common, everyday subjects like shoveling snow and delivering newspapers, and makes them not so commonplace. I learned about those fellows who walk around with metal detectors. I learned about a street vendor who sells hot dogs, and a woman, not too much older than my children, who lives on the streets. He is a master storyteller. His choice of words, his choice of topics allow the reader to step inside someone's life, and really understand and care about that person.

Now, this one really had me shaking my head in amazement. He does a piece on groundskeepers, the people who take care of baseball fields. He talks to the man who works for the Chicago White Sox. If you are like me, you thought the groundskeeper takes care of the field, period. Stuart McLean writes:

It has been said that playing baseball against a team with a good groundskeeper is like facing a team with an extra man in the field.

The man from the White Sox, Mr. Bossard, tells us he studies the statistics of both teams about to play.

He knows, from studying the books, that when his team faces a low-ball pitcher, about 53 percent of Chicago's hits will bounce within an eight-foot radius of home plate. So every time a a low-ball pitcher comes to town, Bossard makes sure the ground in front of home plate is hard and dry, so that those Chicago hits get a good bounce. On the other hand, if it happens to be the Chicago pitcher who specializes in the low ball, Bossard will go out before the game with a garden hose and water the living daylights out of that eight-foot circle, so that every time the opposition hits a grounder, it will bounce in the muck and be slowed down for the Chicago fielders.

It may seem like I've already given too much away, but there are many more surprises within the pages of this book. You will learn about the pencil, eating alligator, and making a life list. There are thirty essays and I loved every one. This would have been a wonderful book just for what I learned, but with Stuart McLean telling the stories, there is a dimension of humanity, of real compassion, and joie de vivre. It will make you feel happy to be alive, and mighty glad that he is in this world sharing tales with us.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Report/Remembering St Ives

Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell
Remembering St Ives
by Marion Dell and Marion Whybrow
Nonfiction, 2003

My January Celebrate The Author Challenge choice was an easy one. For the past few years now I've been reading books either by or about Virginia Woolf in January, her birthday month. I read about this book at Mary's Library a few months ago, and knew I must own it.

The concept is an interesting one. The authors set out to show how the artistic lives of sisters Virginia Woolf, a writer, and Vanessa Bell, a painter, were influenced by their summer years spent at St Ives, Cornwall. I felt the book to be basically a success. I did enjoy it. But as I neared the end, I began to feel that it wasn't quite the unified piece I would have liked. That could be simply because it was written by two women, who split up the writing. One wrote chapters on Julia Stephen (their mother) and Virginia, while the other wrote chapters on Leslie Stephen (their father) and Vanessa.

I prefer facts over conjecture. I read too many phrases such as these:

probably more conscious of her mother's caring ways
It must have been a time of great adjustment
Virginia Woolf seems to have had an ambivalent attitude
Vanessa would have noticed

This is a small gripe, yet I found it jarring. Another problem I had with the book was keeping track of the many artists' names. Once in a while a name was mentioned as if I was supposed to know about him, but I didn't. And it sometimes felt as if there was too much information when the emphasis was supposed to be on the Stephen girls.

However, the wonders of the book abound: Virginia's writings as a child, the family photographs, the work of the artists who painted at St Ives, examples of Vanessa's paintings and excerpts from Virginia's books. And mostly, I was happy reading it because I am so fond of Virginia Woolf, the woman and the writer. I enjoyed reading about Vanessa, and I do own a biography of her waiting on the shelf, but mostly my interest in her is because she is Virginia's sister.

You may recall a book report on Recollections of Virginia Woolf in which I wrote:

She made her own bread, and taught the cook to do so. Can you imagine it? Virginia in the kitchen kneading bread. It makes me ache with affection for her.

Well, I felt that same ache often while in the pages of this book, mostly when I saw the old photographs, and read her ten year old words in her own handwriting.

In conclusion, even with my criticisms, I am so glad I read the book. It is one I will open often, particularly to look upon those pictures. Putting together the lives of Virginia and Vanessa in conjunction with their childhood years spent at St Ives broadened my knowledge of both women. There was a great contrast between their constricted London lives in a dark, gloomy house with the freedom and light of the Cornish coast. That freedom to run, to play outside, and to walk about the town which was an important artist colony had a profound influence on both girls in their chosen careers.

Today's poem - A Time To Talk by Robert Frost

A Time To Talk
by Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Reading time

You read your Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost. The rest of the song is sad but I've had this line in my head all afternoon as Tom read his John Mortimer (The Penge Bungalow Murders), and I the book about Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell at St Ives. He in the warm kitchen, I in the cooler living room; dogs going from room to room throughout the day. The sun was streaming in, but I had no reason to go out. Ah, peace. I do so appreciate times such as these, and ask for little more. A simple soul am I.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Report/Dear Friend & Gardener

Dear Friend & Gardener
by Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd
Published 1998
Nonfiction - gardening letters

This book was my January 2008 TBR (to be read) Challenge choice, and I also read it for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, December/January selection. I am so thankful to Carol for suggesting it. I loved beginning a book about gardening on January 2, and finding that the letters began in January as well. Beth Chatto writes:

January seems to get a lot of people down, in spirit, if not with the sniffles. I have avoided those so far, and your letter has given me a real kick start - just what I needed, and doubtless just what you intended.

These letters are the perfect "kick start" for any gardener who is a bit down in the dumps, knowing the gardening season is a long time off.

Reading this book made me feel like a child again, curled up in a chair, listening to the grownups talking. It isn't often now, in my grownup life, that I get to just listen to people. I'm expected to engage, to comment, to be part of the conversation. In the presence of these two great gardeners, I could simply listen and learn. I don't think I've ever put so many page markers and notes (on paper) in a book.

My first question was if the two people were still alive. From what I can gather, Beth Chatto is, though her husband, Andrew, mentioned frequently in her letters as being ill with emphysema, has since died. And Christopher Lloyd, known to his friends as Christo, died two years ago this month. He was almost 85. I felt sad as I read, knowing he was no longer in the world. Yet, I also felt inspired by the great way he lived; still active, full of curiosity, planting, traveling, cooking when he was in his mid-seventies. And the same with Beth Chatto. These are not young people. Their friends are dying, their energies are somewhat diminished, yet they garden hopefully and with all the strength and interest afforded them. What encouragement for those of us still in our twenties, or those nearing our sixties. Just reading their letters gave me faith and hope for my future time in the garden. They were still learning new ideas and trying new plants. Their matter of fact acceptance of aging and change are exemplary. We see Beth's indomitable spirit when we learn that she had become allergic to [touching] most plants by the time she was in her forties. Did she give up gardening? No. She just wears gloves.

There is something special about reading letters, in the way we can enter into someone else's life a little bit. For a while, we can have a "wood" of snowdrops, or hundreds of tulips, or even better, the money to pay a gardener to help us with our chores. We can hear birds that don't live in our area, and see flowers that will not grow where we are. So often as I read, I kept thinking, truly, "England's green and pleasant land."

Through their letters, we see both the pleasure and the hassle of having gardens which are shared with the general public. They are on view all the time. In the very first letter, Christopher Lloyd says,

To what extent are we gardening for ourselves, for the public or for our plants?

I expected the book to talk about just flowers, and was so pleased to read about vegetable gardens, even learning some recipes using those vegetables. I like both types of gardening and often combine them, putting flowers among the vegetables, and tucking a tomato plant in a flower garden. I liked their honesty; the way they wrote about the problems and worries which are so different from mine, yet equally frustrating. I found myself thinking how nice it would be if there were garden magazines that pictured not just perfect gardens, but also showed the crop failures, the impossible weeds, the bug damage. I often feel this way about house magazines. The kitchens are too, too perfect. The living rooms look like no one ever lives in them. I would find it more encouraging, more heartening to see real homes, with possible goals that all of us could work toward. The words of Chatto and Lloyd offer their readers confidence that though we all have imperfect gardens, there is always hope. Of course most of us feel that way anyhow. As soon as August comes, I'm already looking way beyond the late summer weeds and seeing the perfectly weeded rows of next summer. It is great to read of experienced, famous gardeners such as these two, talking about plants they can "no longer be bothered with." I am not a gardener who knows many Latin names, and these two use them pretty frequently, though I wasn't terribly bothered by this. The names of the plants didn't matter to me as much as the gardeners themselves.

And now some phrases that I loved:

Olearia solandri is such a joy both to Fergus [his gardener] and me - every time we walk past it, a great gust of heliotrope scent comes to meet us, interrupting whatever thoughts were running in our minds. CL

One becomes so physically slack in winter. CL

Still, these aggravations occur every year and it's useless to get worked up about them. CL

[May 25] Weeks pass like days this time of year. BC

Such mornings are rare when everything seems right. You have to make time, to stop and stare. BC

I liked reading about other gardeners I am interested in such as Sarah Raven and Alan Titchmarsh. Christopher Lloyd says about the latter that "fame hasn't spoilt him one iota" and "he's always the same warm person who loves a good laugh." Just as I would have expected. Lloyd knew Sarah Raven's father, a Cambridge don, and gardener. She is married to Adam Nicolson, whose grandmother was Vita Sackville-West.

On the back cover of Dear Friend & Gardener, there is a quote from Country Life:

This is a wonderful book, a celebration of friendship, optimism, hard work, gaiety, doggedness, and the possibilities of sudden and unexpected revelation.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Garden Notes/Garlic

Remember all that garlic I harvested in August? There were 34 bulbs, and just last night I used the last of it. I hung it on the north side of the kitchen, and it kept quite well. We planted the same amount, a pound, this past October, and I'm considering buying another 1/2 pound for next fall's planting.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Questions and Answers meme

My old internet friend, Aisling, tagged me for a little meme.

1. What am I reading at the moment?
2. What am I listening to at the moment?
3. What am I watching at the moment?

1. I'm reading Dear Friend & Gardener in the kitchen; Letters From Eden upstairs in the plant room; Life is Meals in the living room; and The Morningside World of Stuart McLean in the bedroom. This sounds like a lot of books at one time, but the second and third ones are yearlong books, and I just read a little bit at a time.

2. I'm listening to All Over but the Shoutin' on audiotape, and Paolo Nutini on the cd player.

3. We are watching the second season of Lovejoy.

I'll not tag anyone in particular. It's a fun one to do, so please feel free to answer the questions on your own blogs.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Today's pictures/My new books

Ever since I began reading blogs, and writing my own, I've been seeing these covers and titles. My interest has grown exponentially until my longing heart could no longer refuse. I ordered these three from Persephone Books on January 8th, and today they arrived. The books themselves are perfect, and they also include these bookmarks which match the inner covers, and the little plate about Greenery Street. My happiness is boundless, and I thank each and every one of the myriad bloggers who introduced me to these wonderful books.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How to feel good about the world by reading a seed catalogue

High Mowing Organic Seeds. Four words that represent hope for the future of agriculture. From the opening letter:

What has happened over the last 30 years is nothing short of miraculous. The sheer increase in organic farms and the young people that are returning to the farm gives me great hope for our bountiful and healthy future.

We are a new generation of farmers! No matter what our age or how new we are to it, we are all leaders in moving toward a future in which we can be proud. So, grow! Grow like your life depended on it.

Their "safe seed pledge" heartens me.

For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.

And get this! They are also out to save varieties of seeds.

Winter Bloomsdale [spinach], a once widely available cold-hardy selection of Bloomsdale Longstanding (19 sources in 1981, 7 sources in 2004, 0 in 2006) was suddenly gone. We sold it for a number of years until our supplier had ceased production. Having only five remaining seed packets, we planted them in a secured spot for stock seed production and carefully transplanted every seedling. Shortly thereafter, Woody Deryckx (proprietor of Mt. Baker Organic Seed Growers, Oregon and long-time spinach grower) jumped at the opportunity to do a production from our stock seed, as he had been looking for the seed for several years. We are proud to say that Woody reports the variety to be in good shape, and now available to you!

They have also saved the Ali Baba watermelon. And they also offer four varieties of plants that have been selected for Renewing America's Food Traditions - RAFT - Slow Food Ark of Taste.

With up to 63% of America's native crop varieties having disappeared,the goal of RAFT, as the country's first eco-gastronomic conservation project, is to help preserve and restore the diversity of our food traditions.

The four varieties they sell which are recognized by RAFT are Boothby Blonde (an heirloom cucumber from Maine), Amish Paste Tomato, and Moon and Stars Watermelon, along with Roy's Calais Flint Corn, a Vermont heirloom.

Bravo and hooray!

Book Report/The Secret World of Og

The Secret World of Og
By Pierre Berton
Illustrated by Patsy Berton (Illustrations copyright 1974)
Published 1961
Children's picture book

My fourth selection for The Canadian Book Challenge Eh? is The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton. The book was recommended to me years ago by an internet friend from Nova Scotia. She had read it as a child, and simply adored it. This is a particularly sweet edition because the drawings are done by Patsy Berton, the author's daughter.

The book was published in 1961, and has that older times feel to it. The children really "play." They dress up, they pretend, they have adventures in the fields around their home, without their mother knowing exactly where they are at every minute. No computers or cell phones or video games. Television is a part of their lives, and favorite programs are mentioned, yet these shows are a jumping-off place for their games.

The children are beautifully presented. They are real, fully drawn individuals. I found it a great pleasure to be in their company. Berton clearly understands children, even those too young to speak yet.

On the afternoon that It happened, the Pollywog [the baby, Paul] was in jail as usual; and as usual, he was trying to escape. For his entire life, which seemed to him to have been very long but was actually only twelve months, he had been staring out at the world from behind bars.

First, there had been the crib in the hospital, into which they popped him after he was born, and then there was the crib at home. Sometimes they would take him out of the crib, and pop him in the playpen; more bars. The Pollywog would grip the bars, like a convict, and stare out at the world. He would work out elaborate means of escape and sometimes he actually succeeded in escaping. Nobody ever knew how he did it, but the fact was that occasionally he would be discovered outside his playpen or crib or down off the high chair, which was his third prison.

This ability becomes useful when the children have their adventure, just as the special qualities of all the others stand them in good stead. Berton does a great job in presenting each child's strengths, even character traits that might not be considered so. He can see the whole child, and how, for example, falling into the water twice a day is part and parcel of Patsy's personality. Yes, Patsy, the illustrator. All the children have the Berton children's names: Penny, Pamela, Patsy, Peter, Paul.

The adventure begins when they leave the baby alone for just a minute while they go out and come back into the Playhouse, as if attending a fancy tea. He disappears, and Pamela admits that earlier she saw a little green man with a hand saw cutting out a hole in the floor. She hadn't told anyone because no one ever believed her sightings of such creatures. Well, now she is believed, and off they go after the Pollywog. They come upon an underground community of green Ogs, whose toys and money and comic books bear a surprising similarity to those "lost" by the children over the years.

I just felt such delight reading the book, and only wished I had known about it when my kids were little. As in all the best children's books, the children are bolstered, they learn lessons (though not in a heavy-handed way), and they become more self-reliant. Though not seen much, the parents are mentioned enough that the reader knows the children are deeply loved and cared for. The book says for ages 5-9, and that seems just about right; a perfect read-aloud for the young ones, and a fun beginning reader for the older ones.

Garden Notes/Onions

This is a note-to-self. Next summer, as the onions grow, go out and pull one each day. Bring inside, chop, and put in the freezer. This year we had an abundance of the best onions we've ever grown, but we really don't have the proper place to store them, and some went bad. I figure this will be an easy way to keep them. And easy to cook. Just pull out a bag from the freezer whenever I want some for supper. This was the first time we've ever grown onion plants; plants we bought, not plants we started, and boy, were they a grand success. Prolific, delicious, huge. They were Super Stars from Johnny's, if anyone wants to try them.

Please feel free to leave a comment on the Garden Notes posts if you have opinions on any of the plants mentioned.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Garden Notes/Sedum

Look into S. Matrona, Bertram Anderson, and Iceberg sedums all mentioned in Dear Friend & Gardener.

Please feel free to leave a comment on the Garden Notes posts if you have opinions on any of the plants mentioned.

Garden Notes/Tomatoes/Zinnias, Cleome, Cosmos

One of my intentions in having a blog is to use it as a gardening reference; what I've planted, what has worked, etc. Well, today I had an idea. I'm going to start putting down ideas under the label of Garden Notes. Then I can click on it, and see my lists. I think this will be a quick and easy way to keep track. I wish I'd done it last year, but c'est la vie.

As you may have read, I've listened to Dear Mr Jefferson: Letters From a Nantucket Gardener a few times, and I want to grow some of the plants Laura Simon mentions.

Roma tomatoes, Jet Star tomatoes, lots of zinnias.
Start cleome and cosmos in different flats, since cleome grows much slower.

Please feel free to leave a comment on the Garden Notes posts if you have opinions on any of the plants mentioned.

Book Passage/Animal Instincts

To set the scene; a man has gone back home after his father's death.

Kit sat down slowly on his father's bed, feeling eerily detached from the goings-on around him. He raised his eyes and looked around the room. It had been the hub of his father's small universe – the room in which he slept, wrote, read, and thought. Three of the walls were book-lined – volumes on natural history and farming, wild flowers and poetry; a few were new, most old, some leatherbound. In front of the large window, which stretched almost to the floor, stood a Victorian roll-top desk. The papers on it were neatly categorised into orderly piles, but pigeon-holes were stuffed with a mixture of feathers and luggage labels, a pale blue eggshell on a wad of cotton wool, the stub of a candle in an old brass stick. A pot of pencils stood like a vase of faded flowers to one side of the ink-spattered blotter, on which rested the old Waterman pen that he father had used for as long as Kit could remember.

He felt a stab of sadness, got up and walked towards it. He turned round the chair in front of the desk and lowered himself into it, then leaned forward on the battered leather top and gazed into his father's world, as though looking for guidance. None came.

He swivelled round and took in the rest of the room – the old brown dressing-gown on the back of the faded pine door, the piles of magazines stacked on the threadbare Indian rug that covered the floor – the Countryman and Farmer's Weekly, the proceedings of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, and obscure publications with strange titles. It reminded him of the visit he and his father had made when he was small, to Churchill's home at Chartwell. There, Churchill's study remained exactly as he had left it, even to the glass of whisky on the desk.

Alan Titchmarsh, Animal Instincts

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mrs Bale is so pleased to announce

Mrs Bale is just thrilled that the January thaw continues. My computer says 49º, but the north side thermometer reads 60º, and the east side one, which has been in the sun, is at 80º!! The sun is shining, the ice and snow are melting, and the mud is on the road. I know, I know it won't last, but I'm one who enjoys the weather as it comes, and it sure is a beautiful day today.

Of Primary Importance

I have read that 2008 is an auspicious year. The synonyms for auspicious are:

favorable, propitious, promising, rosy, good, encouraging; opportune, timely, lucky, fortunate, providential, felicitous, advantageous

Aren't those wonderful words? Each one of them holds such promise, such hope, such joy. And today, just eight days into this auspicious year, the New Hampshire primary takes place. I truly don't believe that in all the years of our country, there has been such a primary. There is more diversity, more choice than there has ever been before. In this little state, the very best of democracy has been happening every day for months. In each little town and big city, in small halls and in high school auditoriums, with hundreds in the audience or only fifty, these candidates have talked to us. My satellite dish doesn't offer the main NH television station, so I haven't seen any negative ads. I have heard no bashing. One can see and hear the person and make up one's own mind without any advertising. If we close our eyes, we can almost time-travel back to a day when the media didn't have so much to do with an election. I see more young people interested and involved than I have in a long time. They carry signs, they go to see the candidates, they get the passion for involvement that is so necessary to a democracy. A young seventh grader came up to Tom just yesterday, held up her hand, and said, "this hand has shaken the hand of Bill Clinton!" Well, regardless of our own personal opinions of the man, he was our former President, and how very, very amazing for a young girl to be thrilled by shaking his hand. Honestly, it brings tears of hope to my eyes.

The person I support will most likely not win, but my world, and this world, and this election is better for his candidacy. And I really feel this way about each and every candidate, regardless of party. Each person has something to say, a bit of a different slant on what should be done in the country. I can't help but think my new hero, John Adams, would be very pleased. I certainly am.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Today's poem - A Way to a Happy New Year by Robert Brewster Beattie

A Way to a Happy New Year
by Robert B. Beattie

To leave the old with a burst of song;
To recall the right and forgive the wrong;
To forget the things that bind you fast
to the vain regrets of the year that’s past;

To have the strength to let go your hold
of the not worthwhile of the days grown old:
To dare go forth with a purpose true,
To the unknown task of the year that’s new;

To help your brother/sister along the road,
to do his work and lift his load;
To add your gift to the world’s good cheer,
is to have and to give a Happy New Year.

Today's cd/Snap!

Dick Siegel
Snap! 1992

This is a terrific "rockin' blues" cd. I bought it at iTunes after hearing the song, Angelo's. Lively, fun, wake you up in the morning kind of music. There are samples of the songs here. He also has a myspace where you can hear more. If you live in Michigan, he's playing in Ann Arbor on Saturday evening. I'll bet he's great in concert.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Quote du jour/Graham Greene

The best smell is bread, the best taste is salt, and the best love is that of children.
Graham Greene

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Book Report/My Senator and Me

My Senator and Me
By Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Illustrated by David Small
Published 2006
Children's picture book

This is the first book I read for the Young Readers Challenge. I bought it after seeing Senator Kennedy on Book TV. He was talking to a group of children, and it struck me that he was in his element; relaxed, cheery, funny, and a big hit with the kids. And how could I resist that dog?! He is a Portuguese Water Dog, named Splash, and here he is in David Small's excellent drawing, and then in a photo of the real fellow.

The book tells the reader where Splash, aka, Champion Amigo's Seventh Wave, came from, and then we get a little visual tour of Washington, D.C. as the dog comes home. Soon another pup is added to the household and she is called Sunny.

I'm teaching her everything she needs to know about Washington.

Yes, the book is told from the dog's eye view, and is so delightful. Thus, it becomes a painless way for a child to begin learning about our government and how it works, and not a bad refresher for the parent reading the book, either. I learned or relearned a few things myself. :<) The heart of the book follows the Senator around as he goes about his daily duties, accompanied, of course, by Splash. At a conference committee meeting, when things are getting a bit argumentative, Splash decides to step in.

It is time to do something. "WOOF! WOOF!" They suddenly stop shouting. The room is completely quiet.
Then my Senator starts to laugh. And everyone else starts to laugh. I think I understand what I was getting at. Working together, cooperating with each other, they finally work out a bill they can agree on.

Of course we know this doesn't really happen, but wouldn't it be a good idea? Add a dog or two and almost any situation can become happier.

In case you read the book and think you might like a Portuguese Water Dog for yourself and your family, you may read more about them at the American Kennel Club site.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Quote du jour/Hal Borland

There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.
Hal Borland

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Today's poem - January Night by James Hayford

January Night
by James Hayford

The shiny trodden snow
In harsh illumination,
So cold your boot soles creak;
The houses double-glassed
Against the searching blast –
These things you may have classed
Under the heading, Bleak.

Fact is, the snow was trod
By people warmly shod
And coated – none in mink –
Sashaying to and fro
Betwixt the stores, the station,
Tavern, and house of God.
And this bright, crowded rink.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Books Read in 2008

You may click on the highlighted titles to read a review.

39. Locked Rooms
by Laurie R. King
mystery, 2005
finished, 12/31/08

38. Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers
by Edie Clark
nonfiction, 2007
finished, 11/28/08

37. Home and Away: More Tales of a Heritage Farm
by Anny Scoones
nonfiction, 2006
finished, 11/19/08

36. The Coffin Trail
by Martin Edwards
mystery, 2004
finished, 11/14/08

35. Mrs. Malory Investigates
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1989
finished, 11/8/08

34. The Skeleton in the Grass
by Robert Barnard
mystery, 1987
finished, 11/2/08

33. Mrs. Malory and No Cure For Death
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 2005
finished, 10/29/08

32. At Home With Beatrix Potter
by Susan Denyer
nonfiction, 2000
finished, 10/19/08

31. Maggie Again
by John D. Husband
fiction, 2007
finished, 10/7/08

30. A Dedicated Man
by Peter Robinson
mystery, 1988
finished, 9/25/08

29. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
fiction, 2008
finished 9/11/08

28. Nova Scotia
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
nonfiction, 2003
The 2nd Canadian Challenge, Eh?
finished, 8/16/08

27. Tottering in My Garden
A Gardener's Memoir
by Midge Ellis Keeble
nonfiction, 1989, 1994
The 2nd Canadian Challenge, Eh?
finished, 8/11/08

26. Gallows View
by Peter Robinson
mystery, 1987
finished, 7/16/08

25. The Pioneers of Inverness Township, Quebec
An Historical and Genealogical Story
by Gwen Rawlings
nonfiction, 1979
The 2nd Canadian Challenge, Eh?
finished, 7/10/08

24. Mary Cassatt
Reflections of Women's Lives
by Debra N. Mancoff
nonfiction, 1998
finished, 7/9/08

23. Impressionism Transformed
The Paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell
organized by Susan Strickler
nonfiction, 2001
finished, 7/2/08

22. Springtime in Britain
by Edwin Way Teale
nonfiction, 1970
finished, 6/19/08

21. One Writer's Beginnings
by Eudora Welty
nonfiction, 1983, 1984
Southern Reading Challenge
finished, 6/12/08

20. No Place Like Home
by Mary Higgins Clark
fiction, 2005
finished, 6/5/08

19. Meet Me At The Butterfly Tree
A Fairhope Memoir
by Mary Lois Timbes and Robert E. Bell
nonfiction, 2001, 2005
Southern Reading Challenge
finished, 5/23/08

18. A House In The Country
by Jocelyn Playfair
fiction, 1944
finished, 5/19/08

17. Home to Holly Springs
The First Of The Father Tim Novels
by Jan Karon
fiction, 2007
finished, 5/3/08

16. Living with Dogs
Text by Laurence Sheehan
Photographs by William Stites
nonfiction, 1999
finished, 4/18/08

15. Forward From Here
Leaving Middle Age – and Other Unexpected Adventures
by Reeve Lindbergh
nonfiction essays, 2008
finished, 4/18/08

14. The Unicorn & Other Poems
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
poetry, 1972
finished, 3/29/08

13. Spring Snow
by Castle Freeman, Jr.
nonfiction nature essays, 1995 (compilation from 1981-1995)
finished, 3/29/08

12. The Polysyllabic Spree
by Nick Hornby
nonfiction essays, 2004
finished, 3/25/08

11. The World According To Bertie
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2007
finished, 3/21/08

10. Address Unknown
by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
fiction, 1938
finished, 3/5/08

9. The Good Rat
A True Story
by Jimmy Breslin
nonfiction, 2008
finished, 3/5/08

8. Nobbut A Lad
A Yorkshire Childhood
by Alan Titchmarsh
memoir, 2006
finished, 2/29/08

7. The Snow Goose
by Paul Gallico
fiction, 1941
finished, 2/10/08

6. No Graves As Yet
by Anne Perry
mystery, 2003
finished, 1/30/08

5. The Morningside World of Stuart McLean
by Stuart McLean
nonfiction essays, 1989
The Canadian Book Challenge Eh?
finished, 1/23/08

4. Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell
Remembering St. Ives
by Marion Dell and Marion Whybrow
nonfiction, 2003
Celebrate The Author Challenge
finished, 1/20/08

3. Dear Friend & Gardener
Letters on Life and Gardening
by Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd
nonfiction letters, 1998
2008 TBR Challenge, and Garden Bloggers' Book Club December/January choice
finished, 1/15/08

2. The Secret World of Og
by Pierre Berton
Illustrated by Patsy Berton (Illustrations copyright 1974)
children's picture book, 1961
The Canadian Book Challenge Eh?
finished, 1/10/08

1. My Senator and Me
by Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Illustrated by David Small
children's picture book, 2006
Young Readers Challenge
finished, 1/5/08

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Quotes du jour/Michael Pollan; Black Eyed Peas and Rice

Tom heard Michael Pollan on NPR this morning, and these are some words he jotted down.

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize.
Eat until you are 80% full.
Eat more plants.
Move food closer to the center of our lives.

This is from In Defense of Food, which I've just ordered from Amazon.

Our supper on this first day of the new year fits the bill just perfectly.

Black Eyed Peas and Rice

This can also be made with black beans. I got the recipe from a vegetarian site online, 12 years ago.

2 cups cooked black beans or black eyed peas
2 cups cooked brown rice
10 oz. package of frozen corn
1 jar of salsa (16 oz.)
1 1/2 cups of V8 juice, or the health food store alternative, which I use, called Very Veggie
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Mix together and bake in a greased casserole dish for 1 1/4 hours at 350º. I stir it a couple times while it is baking. You may serve it in tacos, with cheese, sour cream, or eat just as is. This is truly delicious, and so good for us!