Monday, March 31, 2008

Death of a soldier

The other morning I happened to hear a very moving piece on National Public Radio. Chaplain Thomas Phillips gets a notification on his computer whenever someone in the US armed forces is killed in Iraq. You may listen here.

It was even more meaningful because our area very recently lost a young man. He was much loved, and will be sorely missed. The funeral today was in the local church which holds the most people. There were two floors full, and a tent outside. There were buses of military people. The governor of the state spoke. It was broadcast to military bases in the US, and in Iraq. I'm told there were a thousand people.

The other day I posted Thomas Lux' poem, It's The Little Towns I Like. Where I live, it's the little area I like. There are several small towns all within a few miles of one another, and we are all connected, through friends or family or work or shopping. This young man's death affects each of us. We all have our memories of him. Tom was his eighth grade teacher; our daughter was a friend. Even our close friends who have moved to another town are connected: their nephew is in the same company in Iraq as the man who was killed, and when they lived here, he lived across the street from them. This is the way of it in a small town, or a small area. No one is spared the grief when one of us dies. The other day I drove by two very modest houses with their flags at half-mast for him. I don't know who lives there, but I know they are affected by his death.

There is an online book of remembrance, and reading it is enough to break one's heart.

There was a religious service, followed by a military tribute. As his mother and his father were presented with the solemnly folded flag which draped his casket, I sat with my daughter's sweater hugged to my chest, and that very daughter in the row behind me. And I knew the truth. It could be any of us. As parents, our joy is held by a kite string. It can fly out of our hands in a second's time. Then it is over. All these parents have left are memories.

Seeing all those kids, his high school friends, now men and women, was so poignant. The music was not hymns, but Sarah McLachlan, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, and then saddest of all, sadness heaped upon sadness, Rusted Root's Send Me On My Way. There wasn't another sound. It played so clearly throughout the building, and probably outside. Rusted Root was a huge part of all those kids' teen years.

The words in my heart today come from Ray Davies' song, Some Mother's Son:

While all the parents stand and wait
To meet their children coming home from school
Some mother's son is lying dead

They put his picture on the wall
They put flowers in the picture frame
Some mother's memory remains.

Quote du jour/A.A. Milne

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Quote du jour/Helene Hanff

If you've read any of Helene Hanff's writing, you'll know that she is no shrinking violet. She has strong opinions and isn't afraid of voicing them.

After writing in 84, Charing Cross Road that she has only three bookshelves, she continues:

I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again like I throw out clothes I'm never going to wear again. It shocks everybody. My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but you DON'T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.

Book Report/Spring Snow

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

I love essays, and nature essays best of all. Spring Snow is such a book. Its subtitle is The Seasons of New England From The Old Farmer's Almanac. Castle Freeman, Jr. has written for this publication since 1981, and the book is a gleaning of those writings over fourteen years. If you don't have the annual magazine, you may still hear Freeman's monthly podcasts. Most of the essays are a page long, with the month and year at the end. I love that, too. He's a little more south of me, and over in the next state, but his writing is the very story of our lives here on this hill. I am going to buy a copy of this book for us, and for each of our children.

This book was suggested to me by my internet friend, Alison, who hopes to have her own blog next month. From the title, I thought it was to be a book of spring, but it covers all four seasons. Castle Freeman, Jr. may just be the very best of all the writers about the natural world whom I have read over the years. He writes in the preface that Thoreau didn't venture far from his home more than a few times in his life, and that this book is "in the same tradition." These are essays on "small, familiar matters and everyday occasions available to anybody - available to anybody, that is, who will hold still. I have read somewhere that most Americans move every five years. This book is not for them. Or, yes, it is: it's for them especially. It's for them more and more. Spring Snow is about staying put."

If a writing god were to offer me the talent and gift of writing, and asked, now, what type of writing would you like to do?, I would say, the kind of writing Castle Freeman, Jr. does in these essays. They are each one page of perfection, in subject matter and in execution. He doesn't waste words. He is clear. He draws the reader right in to what he is thinking.

The chickadee is the caretaker bird. Like his human counterpart who comes to houses in late fall after summer residents have left and sets things right for winter, the chickadee appears all alone one gray afternoon before snow and sets to work.... He's a caretaker of the spirit. He's here to help see you through the long winter that's ahead. If you give him seed - and sometimes even if you don't - the chickadee will keep you company from the first November day when he shows up, right along through the deepest cold and snow, and on into another spring. (November 1983)

The day lily must be an old-fashioned flower, I think. There is scarcely an old house without its lily bed, and they grow on banks beside the back roads where houses once stood. Lilies must have been a favorite garden flower of the farm wives long ago who had little time for cultivating what they didn't expect to eat. The lily was their flower because it needs little care. Just leave lilies alone and they will prosper. (July 1983)

Toward the end of February, as the season begins to commence to turn, every dooryard, every meadow, every wood is full of clocks. The winter buds are fat on the trees, and the brooks are running under the ice.... The tops of south-facing hills keep the sunlight longer and longer now against the night, and dusk lingers nearly until six o'clock. Every meadow is a sundial, the shadows of the trees along its edge reaching farther as each afternoon brings a little more sun. If you cared to keep such minute watch in your own backyard, you could tell the day without the aid of a calendar by measuring the angle of a tree's shadow at a certain hour or seeing how the sunlight lies in the open doorway of a shed. (February 1997)

And to end this very long blog entry, I shall quote an entire essay from April 1985. Simply said, it is just right.

Every spring there is one last all-out snowstorm, but this time people don't meet the weather with any of the varieties of resignation they have perfected over a long winter of successive snows. This time a big snowfall is, well, funny. Spring blizzards are a lark. Why? Snow is snow: if you're sick of it in February, you ought by rights to be even sicker of it in April. Besides, spring blizzards - at least around here - are often among the biggest storms of the year in terms of inches dumped. Last year we had two feet in one April storm. Oughtn't their volume alone to make them particularly oppressive, never mind their timing?

No. This argument starts from a false premise, that snow is all alike. It isn't. Every snow is different, and the big spring snow is the most different of all. That heavy accumulation doesn't weigh on your soul; on the contrary, the magnitude of a spring blizzard is one of the aspects of it that make it a joke. These storms are like an outrageous dessert that winds up a seven-course dinner: General Grant life-size in blue ice cream at the G.A.R. banquet.

And anyway, you can enjoy anything if you know it isn't real. Spring blizzards are like painted scenes of storefronts on a stage set. You enter the illusion knowing you could punch your fist right through the brick walls, knowing that very soon someone will come and pack the sets away. These are white storms. The sky is bright in spite of the snow, and the sun that will be out tomorrow is a spring sun that means business: in a day all this snow will be gone. You needn't take it seriously, then. The birds don't. The summer birds have already arrived, and you can hear the robins singing through the middle of the storm.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Today's picture/Bench

This is a picture of illusion. Doesn't it look like three people were sitting on the bench as the snow fell yesterday? And in the shadow, it looks like me taking a picture - my hair and the camera seem especially clear. But it isn't my shadow.

PS: A few hours later, no more illusion.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mrs Bale reports on Spring around here

Wednesday, first red-winged blackbird under the bird feeders.
Thursday, first robins on the lawn.
Friday, snow all day, into the evening.

Whoopie Pies

This recipe was a real favorite when the kids were little, and Tom and I still love them. They are a bit different from some whoopie pies, in that the filling isn't marshmallow, but a confectioners' sugar frosting. Today I put in a little orange juice. You could also add lemon juice or some melted chocolate.

Whoopie Pies

Beat together:
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla

Mix together:
2 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry, and 1/2 cup white)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
6 T. baking cocoa

In the mixer, at low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternately with 1 cup milk.
Blend well.

Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 350º F. for about ten minutes, but check sooner. Cool on cooling rack.

For the filling:
Beat together 3 T. soft butter and 2 cups confectioners' sugar. Add milk as needed.

When cakes are cool, spread the flat side with filling and top with a second cake, sandwich style.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today's picture/Feather in the snow

Quote du jour/Castle Freeman, Jr.

More than any of the other eleven, March is the test month. It is the most sensitive indicator among the months of what the characteristic local climate and weather are. It is like a quivering, poised needle, which a few miles of latitude or a few hundred feet of elevation can tip back into winter or release into indubitable spring.
Castle Freeman, Jr. - Spring Snow

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Report/The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
by Nancy Springer
unabridged recording read by Katherine Kellgren
young adult mystery, 2007
finished, 3/26/08

I realized that what I like about the Enola Holmes series, and the Mary Russell series, is that Sherlock Holmes is more human in them. He shows warmth and humor. I'm not a scholar of the Conan Doyle books by any means, but having picked them up off and on over the years, they have always seemed serious and dark. Holmes hasn't been very appealing to me as a character. In Laurie R. King's marvelous series, Mary is first Holmes' friend and then wife. Though there is a great difference in their ages, they are complete soul-mates. In Nancy Springer's series, in each book we see Holmes more and more as a caring man. In The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first in this new series, we meet him, and he seems like the Holmes in the Conan Doyle books, but as the story moves on, through The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, and now this latest one, we get to see a man who has real feeling for his sister. And in this book, even the older brother, Mycroft shows a kinder side. Still, these two family members, and her "free-spirit" mother, play second fiddle to the character of Enola (remember her name backwards spells, alone). She is quite a wonderful fourteen year old. This book begins with the fact that Dr Watson is missing. Enola, in one of her many disguises, goes to visit his wife, and sees a bouquet of flowers that is indeed bizarre. The blooms signify death. And there is asparagus, whose meaning we find out at the end. Enola feels sure there will be another bouquet, and when it arrives, the adventure proceeds. These books are in the young adult category, but honestly I think they appeal more to an older reader, who knows a bit about Victorian times and Sherlock Holmes. In each book, we learn more about the characters and about a different phase of life in those times. The Bizarre Bouquets shows us how easy it was to commit someone, especially a woman, to a life in a mental institution. The man had utter power over his wife and her destiny. All the books have delightful codes and use of the language of flowers, both talents taught the young girl by her otherwise not-so-nuturing "mum." I love these books, and eagerly wait for Nancy Springer to write some more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book Report/The Polysyllabic Spree

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

First of all, can you see how my chair kind of continues the outline of his head with even the same color!

This is a sort of book journal, or book blog about what Mr Hornby bought and read for over a year. I like Nick Hornby. I like his energy and his passion. I did get one idea for a book I'd like to read (George and Sam: Autism In The Family by Charlotte Moore) but mostly it was about books I had no interest in. I kept going because his writing is so good, but I think mostly I'm not a fan of books about books.

Today's picture/Eggs

We're now getting around a dozen eggs a day from the chicks who were born last May.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quote du jour/Fortunatus

"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say.
Venantius Honorius Fortunatus

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Today's poem - March Morning by James Hayford

March Morning
by James Hayford

I shoveled my last shovelful of deep snow
For this year when I broke up the remains
This morning of a solid seven-foot pile
At the conjunction of porch eaves and drive,
And threw it out to splotch the lifeless grass
For a few hours until the sun could work,
Stowing meanwhile the shovel in the loft
And finding the gathering pail to start the first
Round of my seven-maple sugar bush.

There's a very interesting piece on James Hayford and his connection to Robert Frost here. This poem so perfectly describes the pile of snow out back, on the north side of the house. It isn't quite "seven-foot" but is probably four feet. This is the accumulation of snow Tom has shoveled off the roof all winter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book Report/The World According To Bertie

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

Alexander McCall Smith is one of the most prolific writers writing today. He has several different series going, and new titles appear often. But still, he isn't fast enough for me! I'd be happy with a new book every couple months. I so love his books, particularly the Isabel Dalhousie series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and the 44 Scotland Street series, of which The World According To Bertie is the fourth. When I read the first one, I wasn't thrilled. I didn't care for some of the people - Irene, Bruce - and didn't care too much what happened to them. This is what I wrote:

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith 2005
Recorded Books read by Robert Ian MacKenzie
Fiction B

The author wrote this as a daily serial in a Scottish newspaper. He found that he cared about the characters so much that he is writing a sequel. At first I liked this book. Not an A+, but still very good. Then I found myself getting sick of some characters. They got bizarre and boring and their stories didn't really proceed. By the end, I was just slogging along to finish.

A few months later, again from my journal:

Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith 2005
Recorded Books read by Robert Ian Mackenzie
Fiction A+

This book is one of the mysteries of reading. I read the first one, 44 Scotland Street, and thought it was okay but mostly wanted it to be done. For some strange reason, when I saw this offered at RB, I was excited to read it. And when I listened, I simply adored it. I just love AMS. He is probably my favorite living male fiction writer.

And from then on, I have been completely happy in the presence of these quirky, odd, warm characters. You probably know that the books were originally written in serial form in The Scotsman newspaper. I would have loved to read them that way, but this is second best, and maybe even better since I get my fill at one time. It is hard enough waiting for the next book.

As in all his books, along with watching the characters live their lives, we get a bit of philosophical thought, observations about the world and life, and some opinions. I can't help but think many (most?) of these are Smith's own, such as:

His daughter belonged to a generation that had been taught no geography, and very little history. And no Latin. Nor had they been made to learn poetry by heart, with the result that nobody now could recite any poems by Burns, or Wordsworth, or Longfellow.

And then, she thought, there were those books bought and not read. Somewhere there might be those who read each and every book they acquired - read them with attention and gravity and then put them carefully on a shelf, alongside other books that had received the same treatment. But for many books, being placed on the shelf was the full extent of their encounter with their owner.

we always regret impulsive purchases not made. [In this case he was talking about a book a woman didn't buy]

The familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer came back to him unbidden ... Such language, such resonant, echoing phrases ... And what had we done with it, with this language and all its dignity? Exchanged it for the banalities of the disc jockey, for the cheap coin of a debased English.

There's an awfully nice recent article on him here. And from that piece:

McCall Smith has some telling literary heroes: Auden, “who has such humanity and is so sensitive to meter. His literary executor wrote to me to tell me that he and Precious would have agreed on everything.” He likes Barbara Pym, too (“she celebrates small things and perhaps so do I”).

That doesn't surprise me at all. Auden and Pym are two of my favorites. There is a wonderful quote from Auden in the book:

If equal affection cannot be/Let the more loving one be me.

In the preface to this book, Alexander McCall Smith writes:

The book continues the story of Bertie - who has, quite astonishingly, remained six for the past four volumes, even while the other characters have aged and progressed.

And that's it. No explanation. No reasons. It just is. I love it. Fictional characters do take on a life of their own, irrespective of their author or their readers. No wonder they can seem so real to us. And how I love Alexander McCall Smith's creations.

Today's cd/Stabat Mater

Pergolesi, Stabat Mater/Vivaldi, Motet, and Stabat Mater/1994

I promise not to repeat too many postings as time goes on, but my Good Friday music is one which I probably will. It is so moving, so emotional, and so real. Whether we are Christians or not, whether we believe every word, still, still this music can touch us. It is said that Christ shared our humanity, our joys and sorrows. Yes, except he was not a parent. It is Mary's suffering this music is about. If you are a parent, you know that watching your child go through trouble is much, much worse than you going through it yourself. Her pain is literally your pain. His sorrow is your sorrow. And even when it ends for them, it never quite goes away for you, the parent. This is something I never knew until I became a mother. All at once, very suddenly, I was part of a world I never knew existed. I thought I knew what love was, I thought I knew what caring was, I thought I knew what sacrifice was. I didn't. Well, I did on some level, but it is not the same. There is a lack of self-consciousness when you are a parent. You truly think of the child before yourself. It is amazing. It is a miracle. So, when Jesus is on that cross, yes he is suffering. But, his suffering is so different from his mother's. Those who have lost a child will know this. Those who have not lost a child still realize it is the worst pain there is. And Mary had to go through it. That's what this music is all about. I cry several times a day on Good Friday as I hear the music floating throughout the house. It is very, very beautiful but very sad, too. And I think, we as Christians, need to go through it on this day. Yes, for Him, but I think equally, for Mary, the mother.

Some of the words:

Her grieving heart
So full of tears and anguish,
Pierced as though with a sword.

Oh, how sad and unfortunate
Was that blessed mother
Of an only son.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Two distinctions

A dictionary defines distinction:

excellence that sets someone or something apart from others

In just the past few days, I have read of two that have been bestowed upon New Hampshire. One is that it is the safest state in the country. This is based on crime rates in the worst crime categories. The second is that New Hampshire has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country: 4.03 gallons a year. The closest to it is Washington, D.C. at 3.84.

Go figure.

Fast, and slow day

I am giving myself a day of fasting. Tom and I used to do this occasionally, but once the kids came along, there just wasn't the opportunity or desire, even, to do so.

I'm not having only liquids, rather a 'slowing' down of food intake. I'm having a bit of yogurt and toast during the day, and then some brown rice and sautéed onions for supper. Other than that, I'll drink some juice, herb tea, and water. It feels like the right thing to do after the excess of food and lack of exercise over the winter; a bit like spring cleaning for me. I'm not going to do anything very vigorous. I'll probably read some blogs and read my book, and have a gentle, slow day. If it feels right, I may continue for a few days.

In the old days they would take a tonic in the spring, and I guess this is my way of doing so. It is serendipitous that this is Holy Week, and today is Maundy Thursday.

Today's poem - It's The Little Towns I Like by Thomas Lux

It's The Little Towns I Like
by Thomas Lux

It's the little towns I like,
with their little mills making ratchets
and stanchions, elastic web,
spindles, you
name it. I like them in New England,
America, particularly - providing
bad jobs good enough to live on, to live in
families even: kindergarten,
church suppers, beach umbrellas ...The towns
are real, so fragile in their loneliness
a flood could come along
(and floods have) and cut them in two,
in half. There is no mayor,
the town council's not prepared
for this, three of the four policemen
are stranded on their roofs ... and it doesn't stop
raining. The mountain
is so thick with water, parts of it just slide
down on the heifers - soggy, suicidal -
in the pastures below. It rains, it rains
in these towns and, because
there's no other way, your father gets in a rowboat
so he can go to work.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mrs Bale drops by on the last day of winter

Just in case I was feeling the slightest bit of sadness that this was ol' man winter's last day until December, the weather was cold, gray, drizzly, and raw. That little smudge you see is a rain drop.

Book Passage/The World According To Bertie

They pushed the door open and entered a narrow hall. At the side of this hall was an umbrella and walking-stick stand of the sort which is always to be seen in country houses - a jumble of cromachs [a Scottish walking stick with a crooked handle similar to an Irish shillelagh], a couple of golf umbrellas; and to the side, along with a boot scraper, mud-encrusted Wellingtons, a pair of hiking boots for a child, a tossed-aside dog collar and lead.
Alexander McCall Smith, The World According To Bertie

Round Hill by Pam Braun, 1998

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quote du jour/Thomas a Kempis

Now is the time to be doing, now is the time to be stirring, now is the time to amend myself.
Thomas a Kempis, 1380-1471

Do you feel it? The anticipation? Sometimes it is all I can do to breathe. Though we've had a lot of sunshine this winter, and though I love the winter as no other season, still the light is thrilling now. I've never liked the time changes, either spring or fall, and indeed I have always agreed with Gladys Taber, whose words I used in a quote du jour just a year aqo. But this year is different. I love the early springing ahead of the hour because it feels like I am springing ahead, too. It is light so late now. I find myself eager to get outdoors after a winter when I was in much more than usual. The snow was such that I didn't walk or even snowshoe. The poor dogs would crunch right down through and they stayed close to the house. So I have loved the natural world through windows for months and months now and am almost in rapture thinking of going outdoors, being outdoors, staying outdoors. It feels like I am coming out of my cocoon, my sheltering house, my comfy chair by the warm woodstove. Official Spring begins in my part of the world on March 20 at 1:48 am. I can feel it coming in my heart.

As I walked around the yard this morning, suddenly my eyes were open to all these sights that are on the verge of spring. They are the physical expressions of the "stirrings" in my soul.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coming Attractions

I am so pleased because, not one, not two, but three of my favorite living writers are coming out with new books soon. One is Reeve Lindbergh whose books I love. Have you read her memoir, Under A Wing? Or her fictionalized version of her mother's declining mental abilities, Names of the Mountains? Perhaps her very best book is No More Words, A Journal of my Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She really is an exquisite writer and her kind, gentle spirit infuses each page. The new book, coming out the first of April, is called Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age - And Other Unexpected Adventures. Since Reeve is just three years older than I, you may guess that I will read this with great interest. She doesn't live too far away, and was to give a talk about the new book at a local library this winter. We couldn't go because of (surprise) bad weather, but I just found out it has been rescheduled, and I'm delighted.

She has also written many wonderful books for children and here is an old newspaper clipping of Reeve signing The Midnight Farm for my then three-year-old son.

And Rick Bragg also has a new book coming out, The Prince of Frogtown, about his father. Just this year, I re-read All Over But The Shoutin' and Ava's Man, and again marveled over the way this man can write. It comes out in May, and I am thrilled.

The third is the latest installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith, called The Miracle of Speedy Motors. This one comes out in April. I so love spending my reading time with Mma Ramotse, or Isabel Dalhousie, or the residents (former and present) of 44 Scotland Street.

So, a happy reading spring, indeed!

Honey Walnut Bread

This is a recipe from my old, beloved Tassajara Bread Book, a cookbook published in 1970. It is very much a work of its time, and I still find it meaningful, and full of delicious recipes all these years later.

Honey Walnut Bread
Milk and honey - nothing quite like it.
(1 large loaf)

1 cup milk
1 cup honey
1/4 cup soft butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups whole wheat or 1/2 white flour and 1/2 whole wheat
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup walnuts

Combine milk and honey. Stir over heat until blended. Beat in butter, eggs, flour, salt, and baking powder until well blended. Fold in nuts.
Place in greased loaf pan. Bake one hour at 325º F. Cool 15 minutes in pan. Cool before slicing.

My notes:

This is the first time I've made it, and it is delicious.
I used 2 cups whole wheat, and 1/2 cup white flour.
I didn't heat the milk and honey; I just put them in the mixer.
I used an 8x8 pan instead of a loaf pan.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Supper

Not a recipe, but a picture of my goofy family. :<) We had spaghetti with sauce, and rolls for dipping in olive oil and garlic. It was so much fun.

Book Passage/Life Is Meals

In 16th-century England, water was too dangerous to drink, and Queen Elizabeth I had beer or wine with breakfast. Even wine could be tainted, and the favorite remedy was to float a piece of spiced bread in the cup to improve the flavor, as well as provide a bit of nourishment. Raising a glass eventually came to be named for the bread: a toast.

Life Is Meals
A Food Lover's Book Of Days
by James and Kay Salter

To you!!

Today's pictures/Barred Owl

What an utter thrill for us to have this barred owl, also known as the hoot owl, visiting today. He (?) has been sitting in the trees right outside the house for hours and hours now. The other birds around today; the chickadees, pine grosbeaks, blue jays, nuthatches, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and a couple of crows don't seem to mind his presence at all. Neither does he show interest in them. I wondered about the red squirrels, but he seems disinterested in them as well. But perhaps it is all a ploy. We'll see. Anyhow, the last time one came by was in February, 2003. We are like kids running from window to window and standing outdoors just watching. These pics were taken through the telescope.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A walk in the woods

After being fortified by the Irish soda bread, Tom and I and the dogs took off up the hill, into the woods. We haven't walked for ages because the snow has been too deep. Today the temperature was in the high 30ºs, and the snow has melted a fair bit, so we decided to go.

Beech leaf
The dogs smell a visitor in the woods
Something died here
I love the way the branches look against the sky
Tom and the dogs
Tired Sadie
Tired Ben

The tiller waiting for spring

Irish Soda Bread

The following recipe comes from the Finding Fair Food blog. It is absolutely, positively the best Irish Soda Bread I've ever had. I used just raisins. And I soured the milk by putting a little lemon juice in the measuring cup, adding milk, and letting it sit a bit. Oh, and I used butter instead of shortening, but you probably already knew that. :<)

Irish Soda Bread

Preheat oven to 375°.

1 Cup all purpose flour
1 Cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Whisk the above ingredients together and put into the food processor. Add 6 Tablespoons chilled shortening and process until mealy. Then remove back into the bowl and stir in 1/2 to 1 cup raisins or dried currants or cranberries, 1 Tablespoon caraway seeds, and a few chopped nuts if desired (I don't think the Irish do this.) Gradually add 1/2 to 3/4 Cup buttermilk or soured milk and shape into a round loaf or put into a greased loaf pan.

Brush the top with milk. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

Product Placement

Since the first, and so far, only product placement I've done was in October, I thought you wouldn't mind another one. :<) This time it is for Quilts, hands down the healthiest cracker on the market. Oh, you can find a myriad of boxes in the "health food" aisle of the grocery store, but read those labels and you'll find white flour (not even unbleached sometimes), sugar, etc. The ingredients in Quilts are whole wheat and salt, period. Not organic, but still, pretty darn good. And to top off the quality, I find them delicious. Crisp and not sweet, just what I want in a cracker. Now you might ask, what does she put on these crackers? Well, sometimes Alouette, but most often a little peanut butter and strawberry jam; a perfect mid-afternoon snack to tide me over until suppertime. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quote du jour/Julie Zickefoose

One of those blazing blue winter days that seem to grace New England all the time...
Julie Zickefoose, Letters From Eden

Book Report/The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
by Nancy Springer
unabridged audio read by Katherine Kellgren
young adult mystery, 2007
finished 3/13/08

Last night I felt like a child again; specifically the child who holds a flashlight under the covers to read when she is supposed to be sleeping. I didn't hold a flashlight, but I did listen to 4 1/2 audio tapes (4 1/2 hours!!) under the headphones, while Tom slept. I thought I'd just listen a little bit, but honestly I could not stop. I had to know what was going to happen next in this adventure of Enola Holmes, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft. The book begins where The Case of the Missing Marquess left off. I'm not going to give many details because to do so might give away something from the first book. This is one series that really should be read in order. I suppose you could pick this one up and read it first, but you would have missed the richness of the first story, which told us how Enola came to be where she is now. Again, we learn a lot about Victorian London - definitely not a time or place I would like to be. Nancy Springer does a tremendous job bringing the reader into the mind and heart of this fourteen year old girl. I have to keep remembering that in those days, children that young were often working, and 'childhoods' were not what they are now.

I think you will love this young Enola, and I'm quite sure will read the book as eagerly as I did. It is worth it to be a little tired today. After all, I spent the night in 1880s London, having all sorts of adventures alongside our heroine.