Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today's song/Goin' Back - The Byrds; and the last post on Letters from a Hill Farm

I have been mulling over the prospect of letting my blog go for quite some time. I've talked to Tom, I've thought long and carefully, and I've written out some 'last post' drafts, but honestly, this song says it all. It is time for me to 'go back.' To live my life without writing about my life. 'A little bit of courage' is right. It isn't easy to stop something that has been part of my life for six years. But the time has come. I've closed the comments. I'll leave the blog up on the internet because it has been a chronicle of my life since November 22, 2006.

Before I go I want to thank all my readers for caring so much about my letters. I have loved our conversations. Nothing is wrong. Really. It is just time.

Goin' Back -  The Byrds

Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin

I think I'm goin' back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I'm returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more electric trains
No more trees to climb
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

I can recall a time
When I wasn't ashamed to reach out to a friend
Now I think I've got
A lot more than just my toys to lend
Now there's more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
But every day can be
A magic carpet ride
A little bit of courage is all we lack
So catch me if you can, I'm goin' back

La la la la la, etc.
Now there's more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
But every day can be
A magic carpet ride
A little bit of courage is all we lack
So catch me if you can, I'm goin' back

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today's song/The Homecoming - Cherish the Ladies

A soothing Sunday tune by Cherish the Ladies from their 2009 Christmas album, A Star in the East.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Today's Christmas cd/Lady Antebellum - On This Winter's Night

 This is a perfect Christmas album. Cheery, heartfelt, traditional. I know I rave a lot about music (and books) that I love, but honestly this is something special. The listener is transported to a comfortable, cozy living room with a fire blazing, while outside a gentle snow is falling. I love Lady Antebellum, and I adore On This Winter's Night.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Today's Christmas cd/Holidays Rule

This is just wonderful! It features seventeen artists, and every single song is unique and interesting. Rufus Wainright and Sharon Von Etten could be singing sixty years ago in Baby, It's Cold Outside. It is a rare treat to hear O Come, O Come, Emmanuel sung by Punch Brothers. Y La Bamba performs a delightful Senor Santa. The Shins do a version of McCartney's own Wonderful Christmastime, while Paul sings The Christmas Song, with Diana Krall on piano.

The winner of Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers is...

... Kay G.! You will so love this book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Last chance to sign up for giveaway

Today is the last day to enter your name in tomorrow's drawing for a copy of Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers. You may read more about it here. The book will be sent to the winner by the publisher, and their stipulation is that you must be in the US or Canada. This would make a wonderful present for a young child in your life, or for yourself!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Sally/December 8

Sally: a brief journey; an excursion or trip.

If you ever plan to stay in a hotel, you ought to read Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky. I first heard about it here:
This humorous tell-all by a former hotel worker really is startling. I simply could not believe some of the things this man said in the interview. I bought the book for a couple people - one who works in a hotel and the other who used to run an inn. I think they will be fascinated, as I expect will I. You may visit the author's website to learn more.

After reading Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers, I realized that I know almost nothing about our former First Lady, so I was delighted to turn on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, and hear Michael Gillette, the author of an oral history of Lady Bird.  You may listen to it online, or via a podcast here. The first thing I learned was that the origin of her name wasn't as presented in the children's book. You aren't going to hear slander or scandal in this book. The author isn't flashy. He has compiled a record of Lady Bird's own words. I look forward to reading it.

My third stop on this week's Sally is on this very blog, six years ago today. I posted a most creative, and very, very sad YouTube remembrance of John Lennon on the date he died. There were no comments that day, since I was a very new blogger and just a handful of people knew Letters from a Hill Farm existed. The original YouTube video is now blocked by EMI, so I went searching and found one that is available.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Quote du jour/Gladys Taber

I would certainly never think of making a list of the world's greatest books. I admire the courage of those that do. A book is what the reader finds in it, so how can you assay them except for your pleasure?
 Gladys Taber
Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge 1953

And what am I reading just now? A Lesson in Secrets, the 8th Maisie Dobbs book by Jacqueline Winspear; and on the Kindle, Disappeared by Anthony Quinn- a riveting mystery set in modern day Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers by Kathi Appelt

65. Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers
by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein
children's book, 2005
finished 12/5/12

December 22 is the 100th anniversary of Lady Bird Johnson's birth. She was born Claudia Alta Taylor, though she was always known by the nickname given her as a baby by her nanny.

 She grew up in great comfort but also in great sadness. Her mother died from falling down the stairs when the little girl was only six years old. A neighbor told the lonely child a story about her mother. 

Her father did his best taking care of her, but finally called in her Aunt Effie to help with raising Lady Bird. From her aunt, she learned an appreciation of flowers. Aunt Effie planted daffodils and when the first one bloomed each year, Lady Bird would sing it a song, and say it was a princess. As the book goes along, we see her strong love of the natural world both in her hometown and later when she goes away to college. When she meets and marries the future President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the reader learns that Lady Bird was especially taken with the flowers in Mexico, where they spent their honeymoon.

When Lyndon is elected to the Congress, and the couple moves to Washington, Lady Bird is saddened by the 'dismal' city landscape. She worries about children growing up in such surroundings as she remembers 'how beautiful flowers and trees had helped her thrive.' After her husband becomes President she takes this feeling still further. 'She knew from her own experience that beauty would help the country recover' from the sadness of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Thanks to her boundless energy, and with the urging of the president, the Highway Beautification Act was passed by Congress. Because of that law the landscapes along the interstate highways of our great land were cleared of signs and rusted cars. The roadsides were blanketed in native wildflowers.
I can hardly believe there was a time when such sights as this were common along the roads.

This is a wonderful, wonderful book. I hope that the former First Lady saw it before she died in 2007. I learned so much about Lady Bird. The writing is engaging, and the illustrations are excellent. Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers would make a perfect Christmas present for a child, or an adult. I am very pleased to say that Blue Slip Media has offered a giveaway of the book.

I will do a drawing a week from today, on Wednesday, the 12th. If you would like to be entered to win a copy please let me know in a comment on any post today through Tuesday, the 11th, or you may email me. The only thing is that the winner must be in the US or Canada.  

The author has put together a fun and instructive PDF, found here, of activities to help celebrate Lady Bird's birthday.

 As a special treat here are the Sweetback Sisters doing Texas Bluebonnets. (not the Texas state song version)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Today's Christmas cd/Christmas with the Puppini Sisters

I bought this a couple years ago, but haven't written about it till now, though I did write about their 2007 album here. You may read more about them on their website. They are excellent singers with a real verve for their material. And they aren't really sisters, though their harmonies are as good as those usually associated with biological siblings. Two members have been there since the beginning while there have been a few incarnations of the third 'sister.' They sing beautifully and bring such fun to music. I guarantee you a smile on your face when listening. The album has the old standards and a couple newer ones like Step Into Christmas by Elton John/Bernie Taupin, and George Michael's Last Christmas (with a wonderful accordion). The Puppini Sisters are retro and oh, so current at the same time. Just great!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Today's Christmas cd/Rod Stewart - Merry Christmas, Baby

Guess what we did today?

And while we put the lights on, we listened to:

A great, great Christmas album! So nice to hear We Three Kings. And Auld Lang Syne with the L in Lang pronounced. And Silent Night with all the verses. And two wonderful rocking songs - Merry Christmas, Baby and Red-Suited Superman. Every song is a winner, and there are some terrific duets. Well worth buying. He even brings Ella Fitzgerald back from the dead to sing What Are You Doing New Year's Eve.

with flash

 Wish my camera could capture those lights. They are the old-fashioned, big, ones, only red, green, blue, orange, and white - the lights of my childhood, and my adult life.

 without flash

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Sally/December 1

Sally: a brief journey; an excursion or trip.

It's been ages since I posted a Saturday Sally, and yesterday I got thinking it was time to bring it back. The idea is that I'll post about three things - websites, news items, or videos that particularly appealed to me in the past week.

The first one is something I heard about on the program Radiolab on National Public Radio. It is a remarkable idea that someone came up with to help Alzheimer's patients in a nursing home in Germany. If you've had any connection with people who suffer from this, or other forms of dementia, you will be familiar with the fact that they get notions in their heads and can't be convinced out of them. They get agitated and insistent that something is true, or that they must get somewhere. This may be a cause of the dreaded wandering they tend toward. The remarkable idea was to put a fake bus stop outside the care center. When a patient gets the feeling that, for example, their mother is expecting them home, they can go outside to the bus stop and wait for a bus to bring them where they 'need' to be. While this may sound cruel, in the sense of fooling them, it is truly the opposite. It is a great kindness to respect the feelings of this person. He or she will go out and sit on the bench for a while until the urgent feeling passes, and they forget what they wanted to do. It has helped enormously and the people in charge have extended the idea to other instances in the nursing home such as a former baker who wakes up at 2am to go bake the bread. Whereas they used to coax him back to bed, not salving his anxiety in the least, now they let him get up and go to the kitchen. The idea has caught on, as at this nursing home in England. You may hear the whole segment here. It isn't very long, and well worth your time.

The second stop is a video of dear Bo, the First Dog, checking out the Christmas decorations in the White House, which is of course to him, only his home. Again, it isn't long but is so delightful. He is just adorable.

The last stop for this week is also an NPR program, this one Word Of Mouth, about tintypes. This was just fascinating, and if you live near Portland Maine you can go see an exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art which runs until February 13. I am particularly interested since I own a few tintypes of my ancestors. My late aunt gave them to me years ago as we spent a lovely afternoon looking through old pictures.

 My grandfather and his sister

The parents of the above children, who died when my grandfather was around six years old. He and my great-aunt were brought up by their aunt and uncle.

Two of my grandmother's three sisters

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Notes on November 2012 Reading

You may notice mention below of a Kindle Paperwhite. I recently bought one, and absolutely love it. It is a perfect little device. Why would I buy one when I've got an early Kindle and a Nook? Well, because I was using way too many batteries in my reading light. Often I'd fall asleep at night and wake in the morning with the little light right in my eyes. The light in the Paperwhite (and how I love that name) goes off after a few minutes. It is adjustable from quite dim to very bright. The 'print' is very readable. The dictionary is the best yet. It is a touch machine with only an on and off button. It plugs into the computer so I can get downloadable books from the library. As I said, perfect.

In accordance with my post about giving up long book reports, here are some brief notes about this month's reading.

62. Mr. Churchill's Secretary
by Susan Elia MacNeal
fiction, 2012
library book 27
Kindle Paperwhite book 2
finished 11/26/12

Fun, interesting, great setting - London and Bletchley Park in World War II, winning heroine and good supporting characters. And a glimpse of Winston Churchill himself. Delightful.

61. The Poisoner's Handbook
Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
by Deborah Blum
nonfiction, 2010
library book 26
Kindle Paperwhite book 1
finished 11/21/12

One of the most fascinating books I've ever read. I can't praise it highly enough. It reads like a fictional thriller. Great writing, compelling subject.

60. Lights! Camera! Murder! book 5 in the Jake Russo series
by Phil Edwards
mystery, 2012
Kindle book 19
finished 11/14/12

Hollywood is making a series based on Gary's sense of taste, and the whole crew go out to see how it's going. Of course there is a murder. I am so fond of these characters.

59. A Conspiracy of Friends - book 3 in the Corduroy Mansions series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2011
library book 25
Nook book 22
finished 11/12/12

After a rather so-so report on the second in this series, I am glad I went on to the third. I liked it much better. The characters seemed more like real people, and of course the author's kindness abounds throughout.

58. My Hippie Grandmother
by Reeve Lindbergh
illustrated by Abby Carter
children's book, 2003
library book 24
finished 11/2/12

reported on here

57. Holiday Grind - book 8 in the Coffeehouse Mysteries series
by Cleo Coyle
mystery, 2009
Kindle book 18
fifteenth book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
finished 11/2/12

reported on here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Today's song/Anthem - Leonard Cohen

Perfect, perfect song and performance, and the women sound like an angel chorus. 


So, ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I seem to hear them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
and the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every single government -
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
on your bitter broken drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Musical coming attractions

This is the Christmas music I've bought so far this year, and you may expect postings about them next month. Merry December music!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Muffin Monday/Gem and Pearl Breakfast Muffins

Today's recipe comes from The Cornbread Book which you may remember from this post.  These are fun muffins to make and to eat! Jeremy Jackson begins by saying:

Some will accuse these of being cupcakes in a cunning disguise. I plan to ignore such naysayers, cynics, and out-of-work poets and enjoy my muffins without worrying about semantics. The cream cheese buds that crown these muffins do resemble pearls, but the gems - the dabs of jam - are hidden inside. Freeze a whole batch of these for breakfast on the run. In a pinch, call them cupcakes and serve them for dessert. Just don't tell me about it.

Gem and Pearl Breakfast Muffins

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk
 1/2 cup unsalted [I always use salted] butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 large egg

Jam or preserve of your choice
Cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese (Unfortunately, low-fat versions tend to "melt" while baking, leaving you with a hole in your muffin. I call such muffins "Stolen Pearl Muffins" and they taste great, but don't look very nice.)
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling, optional

1. Preheat your oven to 375ºF.
Grease 12 muffin cups with vegetable shortening or nonstick cooking spray [what I did] or line them with paper.

2. Sift the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.
Separately whisk together the milk, butter, and egg.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir quickly until everything is just combined - there should still be some tiny lumps in the batter.

3. Fill each muffin cup one-third full with batter.
In the middle of each cup place about 1 teaspoon of jam or preserves.
It helps to make a little well in the batter to hold the jam, otherwise it may leak out the sides of the muffin.
On the other hand, don't make a well so deep that the jam's actually resting right on the metal of the muffin pan.

4. Fill the muffin cups with the rest of the batter, so that each cup is about two-thirds full.
Smooth the batter tops to cover any jam that may be peeking through.
Take teaspoon-size balls of cream cheese (a melon scoop works well) and push one into the top of each muffin.
Don't push them too far - just so they're about half buried.
Sprinkle turbinado sugar [I used regular sugar] over the muffin tops, if desired.

5. Bake the muffins for 18-20 minutes, until golden and firm.

Jeremy offers some alternatives:

Berry Muffins: Instead of jam and cream cheese, stir 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, or other berries into the batter.
Cherry-Chocolate Muffins: Instead of jam and cream cheese, stir in 1/2 cup dried cherries and 1/2 cup semisweet, bittersweet, or white chocolate chips.

My cream cheese 'pearls' sunk into the muffin, and the muffins were a little bit hard to remove from the pan, but did that spoil the taste? Not a bit! These are really a delightful treat whether you call them muffins or cupcakes. We had them, not for breakfast but for supper, with Bean, Lentil, and Grains Stew. Perfect. The sweetness of the muffins balances the heartiness of the stew. I will certainly make these muffins again. They are so good.

You may well ask, where's the jam?

I think it must have sunk down through the muffin into the pan. And that's why they were a little tough to remove. But it matters not at all. These are great muffins! Don't be afraid to try them. They are fun to make, and delicious to eat regardless of how they cook.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today's poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
      In the white countenance confession,
            The troubled sky reveals
            The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
            Now whispered and revealed
            To wood and field.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
from Tales of a Wayside Inn published November 25, 1863

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday - Outsider in Amsterdam

The Volkswagen was parked on the wide sidewalk of the Haarlemmer Houttuinen, opposite number 5, and it was parked the way it shouldn't be parked.
The adjutant* had switched the engine off.
The adjutant hesitated.
He had arrived at his destination, Harrlemmer Houttuinen, number 5, and the high narrow gable house was waiting for him. He studied the gable house and frowned. The house had a body in it, a dead body, suspended. The body was bound to be turning slowly. Bodies, suspended by the neck, are never quite still.

*Dutch municipal police ranks are constable, constable first class, sergeant, adjutant, inspector, chief inspector, commissairs. An adjutant is a noncommissioned officer.

I was intrigued by the last part of the first sentence. It says something about the driver, doesn't it? And then the hanging bodies never being 'still' - just the slightest bit creepy, and something we don't always think about. I love that little asterisk and the information about police ranks. I wish more books offered such details. I've spent a fair bit of my English mystery reading time trying to figure out all the police titles like Detective Inspector and Chief Inspector. 

In this 1975 book the adjutant is named Grijpstra and the sergeant is de Gier, and with these words, JanWillem van de Wetering begins his series featuring the two Dutch policemen. The books have been on my to-be-read radar for many, many years ever since I was on the Dorothy L mailing list in my early days on the internet. After I read a posting last month by Peggy I got serious and ILLed the first book in the series so I could finally begin my reading adventures with these fellows. I'm about a third of the way through, and am enjoying it. There are many layers of interest for me: the Amsterdam setting, the policemen who are quite opposite from one another, and the mid-seventies life there. As I've noted before, I really do enjoy reading about a period when it was happening even more than an historical look back from the present day.

For other book beginnings this Friday, please do visit Rose City Reader.

Addendum: If you go here, you may read Janice's post on the same book Peggy wrote about, The Maine Massacre.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Winner of the giveaway


I am thankful on this day for all of you who read my letters, and who take the time to write me notes and emails. You make my world a richer, better place.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Night Before Thanksgiving by Sarah Orne Jewett

The Night Before Thanksgiving
by Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909)


     There was a sad heart in the low-storied, dark little house that stood humbly by the roadside under some tall elms. Small as her house was, old Mrs. Robb found it too large for herself alone; she only needed the kitchen and a tiny bedroom that led out of it, and there still remained the best room and a bedroom, with the low garret overhead.

     There had been a time, after she was left alone, when Mrs. Robb could help those who were poorer than herself. She was strong enough not only to do a woman's work inside her house, but almost a man's work outside in her piece of garden ground. At last sickness and age had come hand in hand, those two relentless enemies of the poor, and together they had wasted her strength and substance. She had always been looked up to by her neighbors as being independent, but now she was left, lame-footed and lame-handed, with a debt to carry and her bare land, and the house ill-provisioned to stand the siege of time.

     For a while she managed to get on, but at last it began to be whispered about that there was no use for any one so proud; it was easier for the whole town to care for her than for a few neighbors, and Mrs. Robb had better go to the poorhouse before winter, and be done with it. At this terrible suggestion her brave heart seemed to stand still. The people whom she cared for most happened to be poor, and she could no longer go into their households to make herself of use. The very elms overhead seemed to say, "Oh, no!" as they groaned in the late autumn winds, and there was something appealing even to the strange passer-by in the look of the little gray house, with Mrs. Robb's pale, worried face at the window.

     Some one has said that anniversaries are days to make other people happy in, but sometimes when they come they seem to be full of shadows, and the power of giving joy to others, that inalienable right which ought to lighten the saddest heart, the most indifferent sympathy, sometimes even this seems to be withdrawn.

     So poor old Mary Ann Robb sat at her window on the afternoon before Thanksgiving and felt herself poor and sorrowful indeed. Across the frozen road she looked eastward over a great stretch of cold meadow land, brown and wind-swept and crossed by icy ditches. It seemed to her as if before this, in all the troubles that she had known and carried, there had always been some hope to hold: as if she had never looked poverty full in the face and seen its cold and pitiless look before. She looked anxiously down the road, with a horrible shrinking and dread at the thought of being asked, out of pity, to join in some Thanksgiving feast, but there was nobody coming with gifts in hand. Once she had been full of love for such days, whether at home or abroad, but something chilled her very heart now.

     Her nearest neighbor had been foremost of those who wished her to go to the town farm, and he had said more than once that it was the only sensible thing. But John Mander was waiting impatiently to get her tiny farm into his own hands; he had advanced some money upon it in her extremity, and pretended that there was still a debt, after he cleared her wood lot to pay himself back. He would plough over the graves in the field corner and fell the great elms, and waited now like a spider for his poor prey. He often reproached her for being too generous to worthless people in the past and coming to be a charge to others now. Oh, if she could only die in her own house and not suffer the pain of homelessness and dependence!

     It was just at sunset, and as she looked out hopelessly across the gray fields, there was a sudden gleam of light far away on the low hills beyond; the clouds opened in the west and let the sunshine through. One lovely gleam shot swift as an arrow and brightened a far cold hillside where it fell, and at the same moment a sudden gleam of hope brightened the winter landscape of her heart.

     "There was Johnny Harris," said Mary Ann Robb softly. "He was a soldier's son, left an orphan and distressed. Old John Mander scolded, but I couldn't see the poor boy in want. I kept him that year after he got hurt, spite o' what anybody said, an' he helped me what little he could. He said I was the only mother he'd ever had. 'I'm goin' out West, Mother Robb,' says he. 'I sha'n't come back till I get rich,' an' then he'd look at me an' laugh, so pleasant and boyish. He wa'n't one that liked to write. I don't think he was doin' very well when I heard, - there, it's most four years ago now. I always thought if he got sick or anything, I should have a good home for him to come to. There's poor Ezra Blake, the deaf one, too, - he won't have any place to welcome him."

     The light faded out of doors, and again Mrs. Robb's troubles stood before her. Yet it was not so dark as it had been in her sad heart. She still sat by the window, hoping now, in spite of herself, instead of fearing; and a curious feeling of nearness and expectancy made her feel not so much light-hearted as light-headed.

     "I feel just as if somethin' was goin' to happen," she said. "Poor Johnny Harris, perhaps he's thinkin' o' me, if he's alive."

     It was dark now out of doors, and there were tiny clicks against the window. It was beginning to snow, and the great elms creaked in the rising wind overhead.

     A dead limb of one of the old trees had fallen that autumn, and, poor firewood as it might be, it was Mrs. Robb's own, and she had burnt it most thankfully. There was only a small armful left, but at least she could have the luxury of a fire. She had a feeling that it was her last night at home, and with strange recklessness began to fill the stove as she used to do in better days.

     "It'll get me good an' warm," she said, still talking to herself, as lonely people do, "an' I'll go to bed early. It's comin' on to storm."

     The snow clicked faster and faster against the window, and she sat alone thinking in the dark.

     "There's lots of folks I love," she said once. "They'd be sorry I ain't got nobody to come, an' no supper the night afore Thanksgivin'. I'm dreadful glad they don't know." And she drew a little nearer to the fire, and laid her head back drowsily in the old rocking-chair.

     It seemed only a moment before there was a loud knocking, and somebody lifted the latch of the door. The fire shone bright through the front of the stove and made a little light in the room, but Mary Ann Robb waked up frightened and bewildered.

     "Who's there?" she called, as she found her crutch and went to the door. She was only conscious of her one great fear. "They've come to take me to the poorhouse!" she said, and burst into tears.

     There was a tall man, not John Mander, who seemed to fill the narrow doorway.

     "Come, let me in! " he said gayly. "It's a cold night. You didn't expect me, did you, Mother Robb?"

     "Dear me, what is it?" she faltered, stepping back as he came in, and dropping her crutch. "Be I dreamin'? I was a-dreamin' about - Oh, there! What was I a-sayin'? 'T ain't true! No! I've made some kind of a mistake."

     Yes, and this was the man who kept the poorhouse, and she would go without complaint; they might have given her notice, but she must not fret.

     "Sit down, sir," she said, turning toward him with touching patience. "You'll have to give me a little time. If I'd been notified I wouldn't have kept you waiting a minute this stormy night."

     It was not the keeper of the poorhouse. The man by the door took one step forward and put his arm round her and kissed her.

     "What are you talking about?" said John Harris. "You ain't goin' to make me feel like a stranger? I've come all the way from Dakota to spend Thanksgivin'. There's all sorts o' things out here in the wagon, an' a man to help get 'em in. Why, don't cry so, Mother Robb. I thought you'd have a great laugh, if I come and surprised you. Don't you remember I always said I should come?"

     It was John Harris, indeed. The poor soul could say nothing. She felt now as if her heart was going to break with joy. He left her in the rocking-chair and came and went in his old boyish way, bringing in the store of gifts and provisions. It was better than any dream. He laughed and talked, and went out to send away the man to bring a wagonful of wood from John Mander's, and came in himself laden with pieces of the nearest fence to keep the fire going in the mean time. They must cook the beefsteak for supper right away; they must find the pound of tea among all the other bundles; they must get good fires started in both the cold bedrooms. Why, Mother Robb didn't seem to be ready for company from out West! The great, cheerful fellow hurried about the tiny house, and the little old woman limped after him, forgetting everything but hospitality. Had not she a house for John to come to? Were not her old chairs and tables in their places still? And he remembered everything, and kissed her as they stood before the fire, as if she were a girl.

     He had found plenty of hard times, but luck had come at last. He had struck luck, and this was the end of a great year.

     "No, I couldn't seem to write letters; no use to complain o' the worst, an' I wanted to tell you the best when I came;" and he told it while she cooked the supper. "No, I wa'n't goin' to write no foolish letters," John repeated. He was afraid he should cry himself when he found out how bad things had been; and they sat down to supper together, just as they used to do when he was a homeless orphan boy, whom nobody else wanted in winter weather while he was crippled and could not work. She could not be kinder now than she was then, but she looked so poor and old! He saw her taste her cup of tea and set it down again with a trembling hand and a look at him. "No, I wanted to come myself," he blustered, wiping his eyes and trying to laugh. "And you're going to have everything you need to make you comfortable long 's you live, Mother Robb!"

     She looked at him again and nodded, but she did not even try to speak. There was a good hot supper ready, and a happy guest had come; it was the night before Thanksgiving.

"The Night Before Thanksgiving" first appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript, Saturday 16 November 1895.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Today's poem by Robert Frost

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
 Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
 She walks the sodden pasture lane. 
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
 She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
 Is silver now with clinging mist.         

The desolate, deserted trees,
 The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
 And vexes me for reason why.         

Not yesterday I learned to know
 The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
 And they are better for her praise.

Robert Frost (1874–1963)  

A Boy’s Will  1915

Friday, November 16, 2012

Quote du jour/Christopher Morley

There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way.
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Today's song/Don't Give Up On Me - Solomon Burke

I so love this song from the 2002 album of the same name, done by the late, and sorely missed, Solomon Burke (1940-2010)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Today's poem by Robert Frost

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

From New Hampshire  1923
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Muffin Monday/Fluffy Muffins

Today's recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks. There is another recipe from this delightful little book here.

Tonight's muffins are called

Fluffy Muffins

Cream together:
1/4 cup soft butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 beaten egg

Sift together:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add dry mix to creamed mixture.
Add 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup sour cream or heavy sweet cream. (I used sour cream)
Spoon into greased muffin tins.
Bake in preheated 400º F. oven until brown. (took about 15 minutes)

These are very quick and easy to make, and absolutely yummy. We had them for supper with Gladys Taber's Leek Soup.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quote du jour/Alexander McCall Smith

It was now late on Sunday afternoon, an emotionally flat time for many people.
From A Conspiracy of Friends by Alexander McCall Smith

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts about reading, writing, the blog, and life

This has been quite an unusual reading year for me. I have taken advantage of the library more often. I've borrowed many a book, read a little or a lot of them and discarded them. I don't think I've ever read so many pages of a book I eventually quit. I've always been one to drop a book as soon as it didn't interest me. I continued to do so this year. But here is what is so weird. I read over half of many books, liking them quite well, praising them to Tom, and then suddenly I couldn't care less. I became bored or annoyed with the subject matter or the way a book was written. I can barely understand this, even though I experienced it time after time. And then the books I did finish, and wrote about, were fine. They were okay. They were pleasant. Some were exceptional. But as I look back, the overall feeling is one of mild interest. Not a satisfying reading year at all.

I suspect part of this was the daily tension and worry about Tom's father. You may remember me telling you he had Alzheimer's when I wrote about Still Alice. Beginning a year ago, we started thinking he would need to be in an assisted living facility. But then he seemed okay at home. Between his landlord, and Tom, and the people downtown, he had a full life and was well watched over. Yet, I worried. I worried about the steep stairs up to his apartment. I worried about him walking on uneven sidewalks, especially after he fell a few times. I worried because he sometimes went down the hill to Main St. at night, thinking it was time for breakfast. A couple times the kindly police brought him home.

In the past few months, we began to see that the time of assisted living was past, and that his next stop would have to be a nursing home. He was on a waiting list for two of them. But before a space opened up, he went downhill very suddenly, and after collapsing one day while Tom was there, went to the hospital via ambulance, and died the next day. One couldn't ask for a gentler, more agreeable end of life. He was happy, cheerful, and well-cared for.

The wisdom that comes only with looking back made me realize that my reading life the past twelve months has been an anomaly. I couldn't sit still very long. I would read a little and then hop up and do something else. Television in the evening was a bit of a refuge from tension, and I went through seven seasons of Bones, catching up to the current one.

Not only was I not that happy in my books, I had a terrible time writing about them. Although I wanted to keep track of my reading here, it became a chore. And not only after finishing a book, but sometimes during it. Occasionally it felt like reading for the blog entry. What will I say? Will I focus on this part? Was this totally due to my concerns about my father-in-law? I don't think so. I think my state of mind simply clarified a feeling that has been slowly growing in me. I think I don't want to write about my reading anymore. I am tired of doing so. I want to read like the proverbial child, one book after another without stopping to analyze or talk about it. I want to simply enjoy without having to explain why.

I don't know just yet where this feeling will lead, but I know the direction of my letters is going to change. I think I will still keep a list of books read, but I am not going to write about them anymore. Maybe I'll do as I did at the very start of my blog, and do a 'book of the month.' Maybe I'll do end of month postings with just a few words about each book. Maybe I won't do anything but list them.

Time, as they say, is fleeting. I don't have 60 years of reading ahead of me. I want to let myself purely love what I read without any obligation to write about it. And I am going to begin now, with one exception. I was sent a lovely children's book to read and write about, and offer a giveaway copy to a reader, so I will do that. But other than that book, I'm done. I'm not going to join any challenges.
My reading will return to a quiet and joyful pleasure.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Product placement/shower curtain

If you look under Letter Topics, you'll find very few 'product placements.' Of the six postings there, the camera has been replaced by one I like much better, and the crackers are not available in my area anymore. I also never buy that oatmeal now. I got rid of the tee shirt when Ben died. But the remaining two are still very popular here at Windy Poplars. Sadie gets her Sea Jerky every day, and at eight years old her legs are stronger than they were seven years ago. The pudding makes its way into the shopping cart occasionally.

In the US, people of both political parties bemoan the fact that so very little is made in our country anymore. I was delighted to find that the cotton duck shower curtains sold by The Vermont Country Store are made in Vermont with US grown cotton. A minor miracle in these times. And I don't find the cost prohibitive at all because these curtains last a long time. All you have to do is wash them occasionally, and hang them to dry. They are thick enough so water doesn't get through, eliminating the need for a liner. And you aren't throwing away those awful, stiff plastic things that take forever to biodegrade.

This is what the company has to say:
We didn't believe it 'til we tried it, but it's true: You can have a cotton shower curtain and your bathroom will stay dry. Which means you can get rid of that annoying, billowing liner that clings to your legs and cuts your showering room in half. Our 10 oz. 100% cotton duck fabric shower curtain's tenacity and tight weave ensure that water won't seep through. Available in 65" X 72" bathtub shower or 38" X 72" shower stall. Machine wash, line dry. Made here in Vermont.

    • Fabric shower curtain has rustproof metal grommets that won't tear out
    • Machine wash and line dry; any wrinkles disappear after hanging
    • Cotton shower curtain available for shower stalls or bathtub showers
    • Tightly woven 10 oz. 100% cotton duck fabric shower curtain will not let water seep through
    • Made in Vermont
At The Vermont Country Store we say it's curtains for the shower liner: Our heavy-duty cotton shower curtain is a solo act.

You may buy your own here. And if you buy two in the next month, you can get free shipping. Or you could buy one and buy some other great products they offer to add up to $65.

The Vermont Country Store Christmas Delivery Cut-Off Dates*

Enter Promotion Code FSPW36 in Your Shopping Bag

*Valid on in-stock items only. Not valid on previous purchases, sales of gift cards, product exchanges, or duties and taxes. Surcharges may apply due to size, weight, or special handling required. Multiple-address orders must have at least a $65 value to each location to qualify for Free Shipping. Not to be combined with any other promotions. Expires 12/12/12 at midnight ET.

In addition to all these positive factors, the curtains are beautiful. I have both the white one, and the blue tick stripe.

You can see the part that got wet during today's showers. The cotton duck absorbs the water. Also, I wanted to show you that it is wide enough to fit on the curved shower rod. Truly a perfect product.

Addendum: from the dictionary:

Cotton duck

Cotton duck (from Dutch doek,"linen canvas"), also simply duck, sometimes duck cloth or duck canvas, commonly called "canvas" outside the textile industry, is a heavy, plain woven cotton fabric. There is also linen duck, which is less often used.
Duck is used in a wide range of applications, from sneakers to use for artists' paintings to tents to sandbags.[1]
Duck fabric is woven with two yarns together in the warp and a single yarn in the weft.[citation needed]


Van Gogh, Vincent, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889

Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm

Courtauld Institute Galleries, London (F527). Van Gogh wears a coat made from cotton duck.
Duck is classified according to weight in a numerical system, with grade 1 the heaviest and grade 12 the lightest variety. Besides this, traditional names exist, which are rarely used today.
A numbering system is used to describe the various weights of duck cloth, based on the weight of a 36×22-inch piece. Weights below 19 ounces are called numbered duck. The grade of numbered duck refers to the number of ounces subtracted from 19 for a 36×22-inch piece of fabric. For example, a piece of #8 numbered duck with dimensions of 36"×22" weighs 11 ounces (19 − 8 = 11); those above 19 ounces are called naught duck.[2]
Numbered duck is nominally made in weights from 1 to 12, but numbers 7, 9, and 11 are no longer used. Some typical uses of various grades (with weights in ounces) are[1]:
  • #1 (18 oz): hammocks, cots, sandbags
  • #2 (17 oz): hatch paulins
  • #3 (16 oz): heavy-duty bags
  • #4 (15 oz): sea bags
  • #5 (14 oz): heavy work clothes
  • #6 (13 oz): large boat covers, heavy work clothes
  • #8 (11 oz): work clothes, clothes bags
  • #10 (9 oz): work clothes, shower curtains
  • #12 (7 oz): light clothes

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle

57. Holiday Grind - book 8 in the Coffeehouse Mysteries series
by Cleo Coyle
mystery, 2009
Kindle book 18
fifteenth book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
finished 11/2/12

The season for Christmas books has begun! This year I set up a reading schedule of the Coffeehouse books so that I'd read the Christmas installment in November.  And now the authors (Cleo Coyle is really Alice Alfonsi and her husband Marc Cerasini) have a new holiday book which is coming out December 4. Since I have three books to read ahead of it, I'll portion out my reading over the months so I can read Holiday Buzz in November 2013. Though I prefer doing so, this isn't a series that really has to be read in order since the author does such a good job of catching the reader up on who's who.

In Holiday Grind, our utterly unstoppable heroine, Clare Cosi finds the body of a friend who dresses up as Santa each year. Who would kill Santa Claus?

This isn't a light, cheery little Christmastime mystery. It illustrates that sadness and melancholy and troubles don't magically disappear when December rolls around. In addition to the murder, we see Clare's boyfriend, Mike Quinn's problems with his ex-wife.

As I've noted, each book in the series focuses on a different part of New York City. In this one, we ride the Staten Island Ferry

out to Staten Island. Here is a photo of the damage there from Sandy. I can't help but think that Cleo Coyle will write about this storm in an upcoming Coffeehouse mystery.

The love the authors have for the city and its environs is evident. A great, great series.

I might not have included this as an entry for the Foodies Challenge since there wasn't as much coffee information as in the other books, but a large portion of the book is devoted to Christmasy foods and coffees which makes it practically a little cookbook. Here are just a few of the topics.

Coffee Drink Recipes, Caffe Latte Recipes, Fa-La-La-La Lattes, Holiday Recipes.

I would recommend you buy a copy for yourself and wow your friends and family with food and drink for the season, and enjoy a great mystery at the same time!