Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Hour of Our Pearl

"It is the hour of the pearl—the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself." - John Steinbeck, Cannery Row.

It is the hour of our Pearl, our June baby who is finally here born a few weeks ago to this very tired and absentee blogger. Her middle name, Elizabeth, chosen after my own mother. I liked the vintage appeal, beauty and simplicity of Pearl. I read it was a top 25 name in the late 1800s.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite authors who wrote of her childhood in that era, had a sister, Grace Pearl. Soul searching for names had me thinking of the origin of my own name, Catherine, and I'd asked my mother in the past why she'd chosen it (in part because it was a name they would know in her native Switzerland). Do you know the origins of your name and why it was chosen?

I wonder what passions of mine Pearl will love too? Only time will tell. Grace, our toddler, currently loves herbal tea, books and time in the garden, as do I. She has a favorite thyme plant she carries around, pictured below, and loves to smell all of the herbs. I'm already bringing the scents of herbs to Pearl's little nose. Will any of these imprints take? My mom remarked that while so many young children everywhere are glued to devices (I've even seen infants with a screen plopped in front of them), our daughter looks at the flowers and the sky for the moon, an interest of Steve's. I've never looked at the moon so much in my life since Grace started pointing it out, and she finds hearts everywhere. She's been my teacher on my path too, as Pearl will be. Whatever passions they pursue, I hope above all else they are lovers of life.

Will they find beauty in simple things, like laundry drying in the sunshine? Baby laundry seems to me especially cheery.

I was in the hospital for five days and had no television. Aside from not wanting to pay the $12 daily fee, I longed for the peace and quiet I recalled from my hospital stay when I had Grace. We were in our own little nest, a respite from election fatigue and the tabloid times we live in.  With now two children to take care of, and as I recover from the birth which has forced my body to rest,  I'm reminded of how precious my free time is and how I want to spend it in places that are good for my body and spirit, like the garden, and among great storytellers, or even just catching up on restorative sleep. I never spend time reading, outdoors or napping thinking that I'd wasted time. So much of my online time surfing seems like precious time gone forever. With the exception of watching a few favorite programs or films, television is often wasted time too.  As I had to adjust my diet during pregnancy for a healthy baby and am trying to maintain it as I nurse, I'm on an internet and television diet too.

I chose Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth to read in the hospital, drawn to the shared name of author and baby. Spending time with Ms. Buck was so much more gladdening to the spirit than another day of election coverage...

"Moving together in perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses stood there had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth." - Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

I think of how Buck's character of Wang Lung always longed for the land. His soul seemed so dissatisfied when he was apart from it. My mom and I visited a local farm with Grace before I had Pearl, and after walking through the magical greenhouses, my mom remarked afterward that it was like going to church. Maybe that's why time in nature feels like a religious or spiritual experience.

"Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an' he says, 'All that lives is holy.'" - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

It's hard not to see the beauty and wonder of the world, even the holiness, words, in flowers, in my children's eyes. Do you see it everywhere?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

These Were My 2015 Storytellers: A Year of Books

"Sometimes when Rose was reading, she would catch a whiff of the musty smell of her book. She put her nose down in the fold and inhaled deeply so that wonderful smell, the smell of adventure in faraway lands, would fill her up. She rubbed her hand across the pages to feel the velvety surface of the paper. When she closed her eyes, her fingertips could even feel the words that were printed there, each letter raised just a little, almost like the special language that her blind aunt Mary could read.
To Rose, a book was as real and alive as if it breathed and walked and spoke." - From Roger Lea MacBride's "In the Land of the Big Red Apple," a novel of Rose Wilder Lane's childhood in Mansfield, Missouri with her yet-to-be famous parents, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder

My nearly two-year-old daughter Grace is fascinated with books. She often plucks my own books from my hands and flips through the pages as if trying to decipher a mystery. No fancy images, just words. There's magic in here, I tell her. I love the feel of a real book too, and the adventures they bring me on. How I miss traveling, I told my husband Steve, as we've taken day trip staycations with Grace for convenience and budgetary reasons the last two years. I miss those road trips, just being out there with the land, an almost religious experience. But I travel in time and space through the portal of books, and they invoke memories of past travels too.

With all of the award season hoopla given to films and those who participate in them, I wish we had a public equivalent celebrating authors. Michael Punke, author of The Revenant, doesn't seem to get the glory Leonardo DiCaprio is receiving, even though he was the one who brought the story to life. As much as our society and politicians talk about education, it seems like we value materialism and sports far more than pursuits of intellectual betterment. For me, reading is an essential part of lifelong education.

One of my favorite scenes in the film The Age of Adaline starring Blake Lively is when Adaline is being courted by Ellis and he says he is going to bring her flowers. He surprises her with a trio of books with flower names: White Oleander by Janet Finch, Daisy Miller by Henry James and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. When I looked up Dandelion Wine on Amazon, I noticed customers who purchased it also bought the other two. I guess I wasn't the only one smitten with this scene. The film was poorly reviewed by critics, but I loved the magical feel of it, the time travel, the fashion, the San Francisco setting, and of course the nod to books.

I don't have a reading goal, just to have books, and the beauty of words, in my life, just as I want the beauty of nature to never escape my notice. I am including passages of favorite quotes from my year-end storytellers. Thank you storytellers, for bringing this magic into my life.

"You may hate being pregnant, but the minute the baby is born, she is God's precious child, given to you as a gift." - A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas.

A major reason I haven't been blogging, aside from caring for Grace, is I am expecting another daughter due in late May or early June. I've simply been too tired or not feeling well to get onto the computer to write, or when I'm not taking care of household matters, want to purse other interests in my free time when Grace is sleeping, like reading, of course.

Tulips and bleeding hearts returning to my garden each spring. Isn't the miracle of life amazing? I cannot wait to meet the little soul that is growing inside me this winter, waiting for her spring.

"It would seem she has everything she could want - she is fed, carried, she is rocked, put to sleep. But no, walking is the thing, the consuming urge to seize control. She has to walk to gain entrance to the world. From now on, she will get from here to there more and more by her own effort. As she goes, she will notice worn grass, shops or snow or the shapes of trees. She will walk for reasons other than to get somewhere in particular. She'll walk to think or not to think, to leave the body, which is often the same as becoming at one with it. She will walk to ward off anger in its many forms. For pleasure, purpose, or to grieve. She'll walk until the world slows down, until her brain lets go of everything behind and until her eyes see only the next step. She'll walk until her feet hurt, her muscles tremble, until here eyes are numb with looking. She'll walk until her sense of balance is the one thing left and the rest of the world is balanced, too, and eventually, if we do the growing up right, she will walk away from us." The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich

Walking along New York City's High Line. With all the craze over gym memberships, exercise equipment, DVDs and fad diets this time of year, isn't there something so wonderful in the simple beauty of just going for a walk?  Not to mention it's free. I believe so firmly in the merits of walking, for body and mind.

 I can't resist including another quote from The Birth Year.
"Full of the usual blights, mistakes, ruinous beetles and parasites, glorious for one week, bedraggled the next, my actual garden is always a mixed bag. As usual, it will fall far short of the imagined perfection. It is a chore. Hard work. I'll by turns aggressively weed and ignore it. The ground I tend sustains me in early summer, but the garden of the spirit is the place I go when the wind howls. This lush and fragrant expectation has a longer growing season than the plot of earth I'll hoe for the rest of the year. Raised in the mind's eye, nurtured by the faithful composting of orange rinds and tea leaves and ideas, it is finally the wintergarden that produces the true flowering, the saving vision."
At the show of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo at the New York Botanical Garden this fall. We have a family membership here and also recently saw the holiday train show. I have such a euphoric feeling being here, and it's one of my favorite places in New York. With such a mild winter we've been experiencing thus far I know I have no right to be daydreaming about gardens so often, but I can't help myself.

"Rose carefully and gently pushed the growing pile of rosy-golden apples around each time another crate was dumped into the wagon.
She waded carefully through the apples without lifting her feet, so she wouldn't step on a single one. Soon the whole wagon box was a sea of red and yellow, full almost to the top. She wanted to dive right in, it looked so inviting. She picked two of the reddest ones she could find, gave one to Mama, and they each took a bite.
"Delicious," said Mama through a mouthful, the juice running down her chin. "If there were no other food in the world, I think I could live on apples alone."
Hers was the sweetest apple Rose could ever remember eating.” - In the Land of the Big Red Apple by Roger Lea MacBride.

Pictured above a bin of apples from an apple picking outing at Twin Star Orchards in New Paltz, New York. We took a day trip here in October and I am including some photos for memory's sake. Travel, even just an outing for a day, is on an equal level of books as a great passion and pleasure in life.

I agree with their motto of "ugly apples taste better." Nothing is worse than a perfect looking red delicious apple from a supermarket. Give me an ugly apple any day.

Wood fired pizza with apple cider, the smell of pine and apple wood burning in the air, an idyllic outdoor seating area away from the harried pace of modern life. There's so much to love here. Nothing fancy, nothing modern, nothing expensive. Just timeless, simple pleasures.
"You showed me there is something in the forest to cure most anything that bothers you." - The Constable's Tale: A Novel of Colonial America, by Donald Smith

In Muir Woods in California on our honeymoon. I believe in the magical and healing properties of the forest, for mind, body and spirit.

"Old age. I don't know when it really starts, and I'm not interested in finding out. Julia pretty much ignored the whole thing, and that may be the only real lesson there is for the end of our days. Just pretend like it isn't happening, until you have no choice but to accept reality. If you're lucky, like Julia, you'll die peacefully in your sleep after having enjoyed a dinner of onion soup." - Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo

An onion soup at Pigalle in New York City, an old lunch haunt when I worked in the city. I turned 40 this year and I look forward to all the days ahead granted to me. I'm thrilled if I make it to old age.

"It's a great idea to analyze how screen time has changed your life and how it alters your behavior. If you don't like what you see, implement changes. Get comfortable again with real human connection and don't give so much power to the screen and what is behind it. Real life is in the present moment, happening right now. We never know how many days we have in front of us. Let's live them fully, not virtually." - Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance by Jennifer L. Scott, who also pens one of my favorite blogs, The Daily Connoisseur.

Have you seen the Rashida Jones advertisements for Verizon? One features her visiting her mother who ignores her when she tells her daughter to turn off her Wi-Fi. Her mother cannot wait to sit down and look at her tablet. Another has Rashida running out on a friend on movie night since the film isn't downloading fast enough. Apparently conversation must be a thing of the past.  The most recent has her mother and two others visiting Rashida and they get carried away on how fast her network is. She tries to engage in conversation over a hot drink, but everyone is glued to their devices. The ad ends, "Get out of the past. Get Fios." Meant to be humorous, these commercials do not leave me laughing. I want to run back into the past sometimes. While there's so much that is wonderful about technology, the anti-social behavior of teens and adults and the addiction to these devices is a serious matter. What values are corporate America selling us?

No one was glassy-eyed, looking at their screens, scrolling mindlessly, when my mother brought over a homemade plum tart we enjoyed with coffee on the patio one warm day. The only tweets at that moment: birdsong.

"On the following morning the little hut on the Alm opened wide its doors and windows as if to drink up the early sunshine. Days went by. The warmth of the spring sun woke up first the little blue gentians - those with a white star in the center; then, one by one, all the other lovely flowers opened their petals. There were jonquils and red primroses and little golden rockroses with thorns on the edge of their petals. They all bloomed in their brightest colors while Peter watched the miracle taking place, as he had watched it every spring since he could remember. He had never quite seen the beauty of it, however, until Heidi had come to show him." - Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten, the first of two sequels written by Johanna Spyri's translator

Wildflowers in Rainier National Park in Washington state. My mother introduced me to the beauty of flowers as I have childhood memories of her garden, and I remember my grandparents' garden in Switzerland too, with pictures of my grandmother and mother if front of their blooming geraniums and my grandfather standing by giant sunflowers. Our society is so materialistic and we so emphasis "stuff" and upgrading, but we forget about what can be most fulfilling to the soul.

"She turned away, after a long moment, still speechless. It seemed to her that at last she had seen such splendour that, wherever she went, it would stay before her eyes. No matter what happened, she had lived through this moment. Even if she should go to the dismal old chateau there would still be something - something to which she could turn when she needed courage."  - Heidi's Children by Charles Tritten

A courtyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I recall many of our travels fondly, and so often find my mind returning to the sacred, enchanting lands of the Southwest. That's what I love about travel, even if you are there for a short while, and maybe only once in your life, the memories linger far beyond. The same holds true for books.

"Still, who knew how the old mountain took retribution for having its insides clawed out.” - Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas, a novel set in 1920 in a Colorado mining town

In Colorado, driving on the road from Durango into the mining town of Silverton. An oil spill caused by an EPA cleanup crew at a mine near Silverton has devastated the water supply, something we take for granted until it's tainted. Have we treated the mountains fairly in our nation's short history? Hardly.

"They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it." - Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

At the New York Botanical Garden, a reminder we must care for our earth.

"Lincoln's heartbeat picked up a little, the way it always did when he rounded that last bend in the road and saw home waiting up ahead.
Home." - A Creed Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller

Home to me always evokes happy thoughts of my husband, daughter, our two dogs, our wonderful neighbors, a place for a cup of tea, a comfortable bed, a fire on the patio, my cherished garden.

A storyteller at the Ramapough Powwow. Whether in written or oral form, let the wonder of stories fill your life with a little magic.

Goodreads is a favorite site to keep track of my reading lists (read and to-read) as well as quotes. I loved my storytellers and want to seek out more works by many of them, although Linda Lael Miller, whose books I read from library displays, isn't my cup of tea so I don't think I would read her again. Since we're a one-income family as I'm a stay-at-home mom, I'm using the library more than ever now, and we rarely see movies in theatres, enjoying the privacy and sanctuary of our own home and the frugality of free library DVDs.

These were my 2015 storytellers:

Gifts: (I requested the von Arnim and Scott books.)
At Home With Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life by Jennifer L. Scott
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting byPamela Druckerman
Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance by Jennifer L. Scott

Gifts for Grace:
Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales
Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne
When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
Christmas in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Loan from a friend:
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Thrift Shop:
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, 50 cents from the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey

Better World Books, my favorite go-to online used book retailer for great prices, efforts to promote recycling (many books are library discards) and promoting literacy around the world.
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown, $4
Frightful's Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, $2.50.
The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim, $4
The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich, $4
Whiter Than Snow by Sandra Dallas, $4
Charlotte in New York by Joan MacPhail Knight, $4, a gift I bought for Grace's first birthday for her library.
Charlotte in London by Joan MacPhail Knight, $4, also for Grace,

Local Book Shop:
When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke, from The Well Read book store in Hawthorne, New Jersey, about $15.

Brookfield Days, Caroline #1, by Maria D. Wilkes, from the Little House Chapter Books series, from the library
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Springwater by Linda Lae Miller
Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day by Gene Baur with Gene Stone
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression by Clara Cannucciari
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
In the Land of the Big Red Apple, by Roger Lea MacBride (library book sale)
The Constable's Tale: A Novel of Colonial America by Donald Smith
Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo
Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten
Heidi's Children by Charles Tritten
A Creed Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller
A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

Monday, October 12, 2015

Summer to Fall: It's Harvest Time

A sun-kissed peach at Demarest Farm in Hillsdale, New Jersey. In my opinion, more satisfying than the latest version of any iPhone.

Canned peaches were a marvel to homesteader Mary Bee Cuddy in the Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones film, The Homesman, portraying the harsh, isolating life on the Nebraska frontier in the 1800s.  A peach pie was a taste of home back in the East, something a potential husband Mary Bee was trying to attract might find pleasing. In Isabel Allende's California gold rush novel, Daughter of Fortune, she wrote of the fortune seekers, "They would pay any price for the apple pie that gave them a moment's respite from homesickness."

Whether it's the latter half of the 19th century or 2015, there's something so nourishing to the soul like a piece of pie, especially made at home or from a farm. I feasted on a fresh blueberry pie this Columbus Day weekend purchased at Old Hook Farm in Emerson, New Jersey, which my sister described as very "Little House on the Prairie." I could see this on Caroline Ingalls' windowsill for cooling at Plum Creek. This is been made into another "sale" weekend, yet another excuse to go shopping and consume. Home Depot's advertisement had a banner "Take on Fall" and below it "Let's Get Upgraded." When I hear upgraded I always think, buy things you don't truly need. I'd take a piece of pie at the farm any day over time at the shopping mall. This is my take on fall.

August was our first time peach picking, which we did at Demarest Farm.

I ate more peach melba than I ever did in my life this summer. I adored too peaches for snacking and my husband Steve's peach crisp.
I love the "Come back to the country" t-shirt worn by the driver of the tractor. I think as a nation we all need that, to turn away from our addiction to technology and come back to something more tangible. I keep thinking with the bombardment of pumpkin products each fall that seems to increase each year, do we really like pumpkin that much, or is it something pumpkin represents that we're longing for?

In the BBC adaption of Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford, Laura Timmins describes, "The last few days of summer were a time of headiness and plenty....while the Lark Rise men brought home the harvest." Most of us in modern life have no part in harvesting. That can be a good and/or bad thing depending on your perspective. We're lucky and grateful to have farmers in our lives supplying the good and plenty. We loved the variety of our CSA with Abma's Farm in Wyckoff, New Jersey, produce plus add-ons of eggs, dessert bread and Tomasello wine. Here's an update of what we received. For 20 weeks, we paid, $440 for the produce, $40 for half a dozen eggs weekly, just under $300 for the wine and the bread, which I signed up for the third week, was a big splurge at $7.25 a loaf. So the weekly photos represented about $45 worth of food. Considering all the meals we got out of it, we considered it worth the cost. We could spend that much going out for one meal, which we rarely do anymore, save for farm lunches maybe once a week. We may just do produce and eggs next year, possibly bread. I really enjoyed trying the wines but am not a big drinker.

Week 12: Swiss chard, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, beets, leek, lettuce, cherry peppers, cherry tomato pints, with eggs, cornbread and chardonnay. I always took a mix of brown and white eggs and think of one of my favorite episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Country Girls, when Harriet Oleson tells Caroline that brown eggs are 4 cents less a dozen, which Caroline victoriously refutes.

Week 13: Cubanelle peppers, carrots, corn, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, lettuce, leek, with eggs, apple banana fusion bread (I swapped the offered zucchini bread to try a new one), and riesling. 

Week 14: Bok choy, kohlrabi, lettuce, corn, garlic, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, with eggs, Morning Glory bread (with carrots, coconut and raisins) and Rkatsiteli white wine.

Week 15: Leek, Swiss chard, lettuce, bok choy, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, with eggs, pumpkin bread and Autumn Leaf red wine.

Week 16: Tomatoes, leek, corn, lettuce, bell peppers, and a watermelon from a Sussex County farmer, with eggs, apple cinnamon bread and pinot noir.

Week 17: Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, collard greens, lettuce, arugula, and peaches from a fellow farmer, with eggs, cranberry bread and sangiovese, which went so well with baked ziti on chilly, rainy night.

Week 18: Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, Swiss chard, a head of lettuce, arugula, radishes, apples from Sunshine Orchards in Milton, New York, with eggs, banana chocolate chip bread and a cabernet reserve.

Week 19: Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, eggplant, a head of lettuce, arugula, apples and butternut squash. We had a choice of spaghetti, butternut or acorn squash. With eggs, zucchini walnut bread, and a vintage port.

I cannot wait for butternut squash soup. I know pumpkin products get all the glory these days, but I love other fall fruits and vegetables equally: squashes, cranberries, pomegranates, apples and such.

Week 20: Kale, arugula, radishes, a leek, green beans, acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, apples, with eggs and pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and a Broomstick Brew wine. Everyone got to pick out a mum: yellow, purple or orange. It was so sad picking this up for the last time!

I celebrated the autumn equinox at Demarest Farm my mom and daughter Grace with an army of people who came for apple picking.

We just came for lunch, sharing cheese lasagna, sweet potatoes and spinach, with pumpkin cheesecake and hazelnut coffee.

"Autumn was her happiest season. There was an expectancy about its sounds and shapes: the distant thunk pomp of leather and young bodies on the practice field near her house made her think of bands and cold Coca-Colas, parched peanuts and the sight of people's breath in the air. There was even something to look forward to when school started - renewals of old feuds and friendships, weeks of learning again what one half forgot in the long summer. Fall was hot-supper time with everything to eat one missed in the morning when too sleepy to enjoy it.” - Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

There's a television ad for Campbell's with a young couple in the kitchen both glued to their handheld devices while eating dinner. The woman's foot softly touches his, and the announcer says, "Nothing like a good quick meal to bring two people together" and their meals are for "real, real life." So have we have all been reduced to not human beings but consumers, so mindlessly looking at our gadgets?
While there's so many wonderful things about technology, I think these devices play too heavy a hand in our world, and they've become an actual extension of our body: arm, hand, iPhone. How can we appreciate our food while looking at a device?
Nearby our lunch table was a group of teenage girls, each one with a phone in their hand that they were looking at the entire time we were there. I told my mother of my concern of raising our daughter amidst this mob mentality of phone dependency. I think of an exchange between characters on Lark Rise to Candleford, with Alf resistant to the machines that would soon change his world.

"It takes courage to move with the times, Alf. " - Gabriel
"What I've been taught, sir, is sometimes it takes courage to stand still." - Alf

I think we need to put the devices down and get back to savoring our food, interacting with one another, looking not down but at this beautiful world around us, and letting our minds run free instead of being distracted.  What's happening now, especially a generation taken over by companies selling these devices and contracts, doesn't feel like progress in the least.

When I completed the four seasons of Lark Rise to Candleford following the closely knit agricultural community in England in the late 1800s, I felt a longing for more, since it was a world I craved. I loved simple things about it, like all the tea times and meals on Dorcas Lane's fine green and white china. No one ignoring each other looking at their phones here. John Dagleish, who plays Alf Arless, said that now "Everything is kind of sound bites and newsflash and flashplay. Everything sort of bombards you. It was a much slower pace of life. People take their time over their thoughts, over their words. It's definitely a lost kind of innocence that they had. We're bombarded with so much information now that we've sort of lost a bit of our imagination maybe and that magic of living off the land and supporting each other."

I think farms get so mobbed during the autumn because as a people we long to reconnect with the magic of living off the land, if at least for a little while. I always savor a slower pace of life when I lunch at the Abram Demaree farm stand in Closter, New Jersey. I always call this a bit of a secret farm, a hidden gem that serves up comfort food.

I was craving the simplicity of grilled cheese with tomato.

Fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. I've seen shows where they are trying to sell houses and they bake these at open houses to invoke the feeling of home. HGTV says "the intoxicating scent brings back childhood memories for many." For all the materialism in our society, isn't it so that things like simple gifts from our kitchens really pull at our heartstrings?

On the way home, we picked up the blueberry pie and apple cider at Old Hook Farm, where I admired the fall decorations. Isn't autumn the most cheerful, cozy time? I think like Scout, now called Jean Louise in her adult life in Got Set a Watchman, for many of us it's our best season.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Spring and Summer 2015 Storytellers: Two Seasons of Books

"When I was your age I used to ask myself, "What is a story?" Well, ain't it like a magic spell taking us away someplace else. And where do stories come from and why do we tell them to each other...
Don't we tell stories because they help us to understand each other?" - Emma Timmins, from the BBC adaption of Flora Thompson's trilogy, Lark Rise to Candleford.

I've been lost in the dreamy English countryside in the end of the 19th century, a breath of fresh air from turning on the television today and being bombarded with the tabloid feel of the presidential campaign and the dumbed down Kardashian-dominated news. Lark Rise to Candleford  called to me from the library DVD shelf, four glorious seasons like the four seasons of the year. It is a literary lover's gem. Works of great poets and authors are often weaved into the storylines: a public reading of Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, a passage from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, a gift of a Thomas Hardy novel, characters soul searching after reading Samuel Smile's Self-Help and David Hume's A Treatise on Human Nature. I consider if a series set in modern times would involve so many storytellers, what books of our day would they include now?

I'm so curious and drawn to what's on people's bookshelves. In Lark Rise, George Ellison visiting Dorcas Lane, peruses her home library and remarks on Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and a well thumbed copy of Lord Byron's Don Juan, which young Laura borrows. "I read a great many things," Dorcas says.

I love to read a great many things too, and feel my spirits lifted and mentally stimulated with a book in my life. These were my storytellers for the spring and summer of 2015, a quote from each to remember their beauty and wisdom. I find myself often drawn to passages on nature.

"Ask nature questions, and you will get answers." - Frightful's Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, from Better World Books, $2.50.

Nature is so healing to both the mind, body and spirit. A Navajo medicine basket photographed during my Southwest travels.

"He wished he knew how to make tea, wished he even had some to try with. That was what Miss June-bug wanted when she was feeling low, a good cup of tea, and it always seemed to brace her right."  - Springwater, by Linda Lae Miller, from the library.

A cuppa at New York City's Tea and Sympathy. It's a comforting thought that no matter how fast-moving and changing the world is, there is something so timeless and universal about the simple pleasures like tea, gardens and books. Tea braces me up right just as it did June-bug in the Montana frontier romance story.
 "If you can live well and be happy without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn't you?" - Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day by Gene Baur with Gene Stone, from the library. The book includes 100 plant-based recipes.

At the Farm Sanctuary shelter in Watkins Glen, New York, where farm animals are friends, not food.

"Miss Maudie hated her house: time spent indoors was time wasted. She was a widow, a chameleon lady who worked in her flower beds in an old straw hat and men's coveralls, but after her five o'clock bath she would appear on the porch and reign over the street in magisterial beauty.
She loved everything that grew on God's earth, even the weeds." - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, from the library.

I spend less time in the garden worrying about the weeds, and admiring more of the beauty, including my cherished geraniums.

"Family was very important to us. It was one of the only things we had, and what kept up grounded. Some of the best times we had were the times when we were all together. It didn't matter what we were doing. During the holidays or just on a weekend afternoon, the whole point was just being together. There doesn't seem to be as much of that going on today. People are so busy. But family is everything." - Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression by Clara Cannucciari, from the library. Visit her Great Depression Cooking channel on YouTube.

A family fondue night on a chilly day with sparkling apple cider. With all the ways to keep in touch - e-mail, calls, text and social media, I think of how "busy" we consider ourselves in modern life with little time for breaking bread. I love cozy, simple meals like a fondue. The weather is just about right for it. Clara's cookbook is nearly a vegetarian cookbook since there was little meat during the depression, and she's said they are better off for it. Clara is sadly no longer with us, but we have her book and videos with their wisdom of eating wholesome, hearty foods and living frugally.

"The sunset was a splendid display. I wondered if it was showing off for my benefit or if it was often that spectacular. Rarely had I seen such a gorgeous scene; the riotous colors flamed out over the sky in shades that I had no words to describe. Birds sang their last songs of the day before tucking in for the night, and still the darkness hung back. Now, I thought, I understand the word "twilight." It was created for just this time - in this land." When Calls the Heart Janette Oke, from The Well Read book store in Hawthorne, New Jersey, about $15.

The sun setting on Rialto Beach in Washington state. Why is it only on times like vacations that we pause to view a sunrise or sunset?

"As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment." - Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, from a shelf of free books from the library.
Moments on my Southwest travels, like here visiting the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, seemed to linger on too more than a moment. My time here still haunts my soul.

"On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds' early service; she would have pondered over the meaninglessness of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going ungazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.
It was waiting to receive her, but she neither looked nor listened." - Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, from the library.

A cardinal on a winter's day. I want to bear witness to the silent, austere beauty born again each day.

"Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including tastes. It doesn't always require the parent's active involvement. It can come from staring at the sky, smelling dinner as it's being prepared, or playing alone on a blanket. It's a way of sharpening the child's senses and preparing him to distinguish between different experiences. It's the first step toward teaching him to be a cultivated adult who knows how to enjoy himself. Awakening is a kind of training for children in how to profiter - to soak up the pleasure and richness of the moment." - Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting byPamela Druckerman, a gift from my sister.

Remembering the simple pleasure and richness of an apple tarte tatin at New York City's Pigalle, a haunt near my old office. I don't want my daughter Grace to be ridden with the food guilt that is part of American culture. I also want her to take in the world around her and not be glued to a device.  As a society, I believe we need to learn how to profiter.

"That's my little piece of heaven. Go ahead."
Ciro followed Remo through the open door to a small enclosed garden. Terra-cotta pots positioned along the top of the stone wall spilled over with red geraniums and orange impatiens. An elm tree with a wide trunk and deep roots filled the center of the garden. Its green leaves and thick branches reached past the roof of Remo's building, creating a canopy over the garden. There was a small white marble birdbath, gray with soot, flanked by two deep wicker armchairs.
Remo fished a cigarette out of his pocket, offering another to Ciro as both men took a seat. "This is where I come to think."
"Va bene," Ciro said as he looked up into the tree. He remembered the thousands of trees that blanketed the Alps; here on Mulberry Street, one tree with peeling gray bark and holes in its leaves was cause for celebration." - The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani, a loan from my neighbor.

Unless you are an immigrant, one cannot understand the homesickness felt in the heart and soul for a home country. My parents are both from Switzerland and even here for decades I think my father is afflicted with constant homesickness. Remo and Ciro finds a piece of Italy in a Little Italy garden in The Shoemaker's Wife.

The company I used to work for in New York City relocated a few times, and when we were right across the street from bustling Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, I used to steal away to the Saint Padre Pio Prayer garden, a secret garden of sorts. In the latest version of Disney's Cinderella, the Prince takes Cinderella to his secret garden, one no one had ever been to. I can still remember the comforting aroma from the candles in the hallway as I walked out into the garden. In Lark Rise, George Ellison struggles with religion and the church to match what he feels in nature. To me, time in nature is a spiritual experience.

"If one believed in angels one would feel that they love us best when we are asleep and cannot hurt each other; and what a mercy it is that once in every twenty-four hours we are too utterly weary to go on being unkind. The doors shut, and the lights go out, and the sharpest tongue is silent, and all of us, scolder and scolded, happy and unhappy, master and slave, judge and culprit, are children again, tired, and hushed, and helpless, and forgiven." - The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim, from Better World Books, $4.

At the Saint Padre Pio Prayer garden in New York City.