Tuesday, December 31, 2013

These Were My 2013 Storytellers: A Year of Books

I thought about adults. I wondered if that was true: if they were all really children wrapped in adult bodies, like children's books hidden in the middle of dull, long adult books, the kind with no pictures or conversations." - Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

As I reviewed my list of storytellers this year, I surprised myself even by how many young adult and children's books were on my list. I'm 38 years old. Several are classics I simply missed in childhood, others more recent. I only transitioned from an occasional to avid reader in the past few years, the kind that with a happy heart ponders, "What should I read next?"  For whatever their reasons, these storytellers entered my life when they needed to, simply telling me, now is their time to be heard. And here is my time to share them with you, along with  a few favorite passages and how the book came into my life (often passed on by another reader secondhand) and the cost. I'm including images from my June journey to Washington state, which I'll be posting in a diary series in the New Year.

Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, free, the library. The book club at work read this. I've read Coraline and The Graveyard Book and loved this as much, about a man returning to his childhood home in England remembering mysterious events as a child.

This storyteller reminds me of why we should remember the joy of childhood.

"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”

What made me happy? Memories like making mashed potatoes with my grandfather on summer visits to Switzerland and eating them on blue and white dishes, like these at the Pioneer Farm Museum in Eatonville, Washington.

"There was toast, too, cooked beneath the grill as my father cooked it, with homemade blackberry jam. There was the best cup of tea I ever drunk. By the fireplace, the kitten lapped at a saucer of creamy milk, and purred so loudly I could hear it across the room.

I wished I could purr too, I would have purred then."

"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive."

A path into a magical forest in Rainier National Park.

Linnea in Monet's Garden by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson, $1, estate sale. I still remember being so disappointed when my husband Steve had to go into work unexpectedly on the last day of an exhibit recreating Monet's garden in Giverny at the New York Botanical Garden. I invited my mother instead and it ended up being one of my happiest memories of a day with her. I'm so glad we shared that together since it is from her I inherited a love of flowers. I recalled our visit in "Monet's Garden: A Piece of Giverny in New York."

This storyteller taught me about art, for we are never too old to learn, and reminded me about the wonder of flowers.

Linnea says "I love flowers. I'm even named after a flower, and I'm interested in everything that grows."

Linnea visits her upstairs neighbor, the retired gardener Mr. Bloom, who shares his book on Claude Monet, and they travel to Paris to view Monet's paintings, and to Giverny to see his gardens. Historian David McCullough said, "The transforming power of a single book is beyond our reckoning." I think of Mr. Bloom sharing his book with Linnea and how it transformed her world. It transforms mine too. I can't make it to Giverny, but have a piece of it when I look at this book. There is a charming short film made of this book available on Netflix.

"I never could have imagined all this! This big and this many flowers!

If we could have looked at the garden from above, it probably would have looked like stripes - stripes of gravel paths and rows of flower beds in different colors. Mr. Bloom knew the names of almost all the flowers. In the blue row there were flax flowers, bluebells, delphiniums, foxgloves. In the pink row there were peonies, hollyhocks, and roses."

Foxgloves outside a cabin in Ashford, Washington.

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, by Kristiana Gregory, free, the library. I love the Dear America series, which tells in diary format different major events throughout U.S. history. I wish I could say I was a minimalist with few possessions, but my home is filled with items that remind me of things and places I love: the Southwest, Paris, birds, candles, books, tea cups and pots galore, and such. But I think of our pioneers traveling over rugged lands and leaving their possessions behind them, including those who perished on the unforgiving trail. When I read this passage, I recall what I told my husband, the only thing of real value in our home is our dogs (and us humans too, of course).

This storyteller reminds me in spite of the joy our possessions can bring us, what really matters most.

"I opened the abandoned trunk one last time, to touch the calico my sisters had wore. How I wanted their dresses for my own, to remember them by, and also to look lovely as they had. Ma came up and gently closed the lid.

"It's time to move on, Hattie."

When the wagons pulled out it looked like we left behind a general store. There were piles of books and plates, a coffee mill, clothes, tools, and a roll-top desk. A few women wept to see their treasures thrown out. Even I had a catch in my throat. What will be left when we get to Oregon? I asked Ma. How will we make a home?

Mama said, "Don't worry, Hattie. Our home is our family, not our possessions."

A wagon outside the Stage Stop Museum in Washington.

Stream and Shale Coloring Storybook, by J.J. Brown, $12, Amazon.com, a story for younger readers which quotes the great American conservationists John Muir and Rachel Carson throughout. Trees are characters as much as people are in the works of J.J. Brown. There's the friend I call "Jennifer" and there's the writer "J.J." Both friend and writer shares my love of the natural world and understands our need to preserve it for future generations. Stream and Shale follows her day trip to view sites in rural Pennsylvania adversely impacted by "fracking" the process to extract natural gas. When you seen the abundance of commercials promoting natural gas, ask, "Why?" Her book Brindle 24 explores fracking and is recommended for young adult and older readers.

This storyteller reminds me to be a caretaker of our Earth, for current and future generations and all the inhabitants, and not be silent and raise my voice. Also to understand the greater life cycles at play. From Stream and Shale...

"Brown apple trees in the orchards are bare this time of year. They wait for spring. The twisted apple branches are as naked in early March as they were in deep midwinter. In the older wooded areas, trees stand tall. They are gray sentinels silently witnessing the changes around them.

Light snow begins to fall. A fine and steady mist drifts along a patch of Paper Birch trees.  The trees are camouflaged by their white bark. Last year's leaves lay at the base of bare trunks. The water in a lake is frozen into white ice at the bottom of a valley. This lake is lined with pine trees growing thickly around it. Of all the trees, only the pines breath fresh life into the forest now. They share their pleasing fragrance and deep green color."

Breathing in the pleasing fragrance and taking in the deep green color, and thankful for their life force. Trees enveloping the Carbon River in Washington.

The Game of Silence, Louise Erdrich, $7, the Well Read Book Store, Hawthorne, New Jersey. The second book in the "Birchbark House" series set in the 1800s of a young girl Omakayas and her tribe who is displaced by the pioneers who want their ancestral land.

There's a local tribe in New Jersey, the Ramampough Indians, who are often the subject of mockery for eating squirrel. I find it more appalling that people eat factory farmed animals from McDonald's (many whom don't even get out of their car to purchase) than people who live off of the land. There's something to be said for self-sufficiency in this age and maintaining older ways.

A local article noted, "As suburbs grew around them, they have continued to live simply, growing their food in backyard gardens and hunting and fishing on the mountains.  Despite sometimes living below the poverty level, they open their homes to distant relatives, ensuring a Ramapough never goes hungry or homeless, but often living 10 or 12 to a house."

Part of the Ramapough's land has been polluted by toxic paint sludge dumped decades ago by garbage haulers for the Ford Motor Company, and the fight over cleaning up the poisoning of the land continues as I write this. As Steve and I talked about planting a vegetable garden next year, we're also talking about getting our soil tested, and worry about the pungent odor in our air we smell far too often and how it settles into us and everything around. When will people start to care about the environment, only when their land is polluted, and start reconnecting with their food sources?

This storyteller reminds me of the beauty of the Native American culture, and how much we can learn from their ways.

"Nokomis's garden was very old. She had inherited it from her mother, who had inherited it from hers. The earth had grown rich from generations of careful replenishment. All around the edge of the garden a stout fence of driftwood, hung with cheerful rags of clothing, protected the earth and the tender plants. But the garden was more than the space it occupied. Its seeds, too, had been handed down for many generations. During the worst of the family's hunger, two winters ago, Nokomis had finally insisted  that they eat half of her seed beans, but only because she'd saved extra. Nobody even thought of eating more. Nokomis's seeds, after all, were the future."

Seeds from an "urban farmlette" Steve and I stayed at in Seattle. I love the saying on the packet's bottom, "Set a table in the garden" by Renee Shepherd.

Other storytellers in no particular order:
Charlotte in Giverny, Joan MacPhail Knight and Melissa Sweet, $4, Better World Books.
Charlotte in Paris, Joan MacPhail Knight and Melissa Sweet, $15, Amazon.com.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham, $1, estate sale
My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George, $7, the Well Read Book Store.
The Round House, Louise Erdrich, free, the library.
The Porcupine Year, Louis Erdrich, $7, the Well Read Book Store.
American Dream, J.J. Brown, free, a gift from the author.
These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder, $1, the Goodwill.
These First Four Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 50 cents, Housing Works thrift shop.
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography, William Anderson, $7, the Wilder Homestead gift shop in Malone, New York.
O Pioneers!, Willa Cather, free, a loan from a colleague who thought I might enjoy it knowing my love of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I did so much, I bought a copy of it for my mother for Mother's Day.
Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier, $2, Joanna L. Stratton, the Goodwill.
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert, $25, Shaw's Book Shop, Westwood, New Jersey.
Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson, 25 cents, Our Thrift Shop, Westwood, NJ.
Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende, $1, the Goodwill. I completely forgot to mention this epic tale of a young woman who follows her lover from Chile to California during the gold rush when I wrote my travel diary of Columbia, California
The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood, free, passed on by a friend.
Breadcrumbs, Anna Ursu, $7, the Well Read Book Store
Garden Tales: Classic Stories from Favorite Writers, with photography by Jane Gottlieb and an introduction from Martha Stewart, $4, the Buy and Sell Shop at Abram Demaree Homestead.
The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman, 50 cents, C.A.T.S. Resale Shop.
Thank you storytellers for being part of my life, for your words that are now part of me. What were your favorite storytellers of 2013? Happy reading for 2014, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Wish I'm Asking Santa to Grant: A More Simple Christmas

Reflect silently or aloud your cherished memories of Christmas as a child, if you celebrate it. I remember not so much the presents, but the anticipation of them, playing board games with my older sister Michele in her bedroom after dinner while Santa Claus arrived. We stuck our heads out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of his sleigh.

Winter was always a joyful time, complete with sledding in a local park, building snowmen and making snow angels in our backyard, and ice skating and hot cocoa at an ice skating rink. "Experience" versus "things" is what my heart recalls. It's been far too long sine I've made a snowman. Here is one from a park.

Christmastime and winter still are anticipated with a happy and hopeful heart. We have stopped exchanging gifts in our family, mostly put off by the materialism of the holiday. I look forward to our Christmas Eve fondue, my mom's Swiss German Christmas cookies, the glow of the candles that warm our home and such. Winter brings brisk walks with the dogs, who by their excitement remind me, unless it is dangerous, to never hesitate to be in and savor nature whatever mood she is in, and also provides gratitude for our nice, cozy home when the temperatures dip. It is also a time to read (although I enjoy that year-round), watch the birds gather eagerly at the feeder, and let the soul and mind quiet and the body rest. Naps are aplenty.

I spoke in my Philadelphia post that history puts everything into perspective for me. I subscribe to a monthly newsletter from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, which shared this quote for December from her book, "Little House on the Prairie."

"And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of  such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.
        There had never been such a Christmas

How much have times changed since Laura's childhood in the American West in the 1800s. I remembered her simple pleasures when I read the New York Times article, "Babes in Digital Toyland," describing children on Main Street in Midland, Michigan (but could be main street anywhere) whispering in Santa's ear their wishes: "cellphone," "iPad," "Notebook." Children as young as three are getting devices. Am I the only one getting the blues over all these tablets for toddlers?

I linked back to the article, which I found downright depressing if you want to read more. Just because corporations seeking to profit from the masses are marketing something as "progress" does not make it so. Someone complained to me about the high tech toys her young daughter wanted. I suggested Laura's Little House books. Do people give books - real books - as gifts? I hope so.

The airwaves are flooded with advertisements that everyone wants these devices and you'll be the hero of your family if you give them one for the holidays. I wouldn't want an iPad or iPhone if someone gave me one for free. I'm living quiet contentedly "app-free" (and have quite more money using what I have instead of upgrading to things I don't need).
A comment in The New York Times article stuck with me, and it speaks to a world of interaction and going out and living life, not just watching it on a screen.
"I homeschooled my children for several years after my son was bullied at the public school. We staged two Shakespeare plays each year. We went to every museum in New England and New York. We made art every day with various materials. We read and read and read. We did a lot of Lego construction. We did simple math and then moved to geometry and algebra. We did a road trip once a month. We cooked, baked, crafted and constructed some pretty amazing snowmen. We had a lot of beachcombing days. It was the best time of our lives. The only screen was the TV screen, and that was not turned on until the late afternoon. My kids are pretty skilled adults now, but they talk about homeschooling with a kind of nostalgia that I never expected."

For the New Year, let's give ourselves a goal of less screen time too. I'm going to get out in nature and listen for birdsong before checking e-mail in the morning. Less turning on the television mindlessly, more reading. Enjoy two underrated treasures: peace and quiet.
I turn to pioneer writings for reflection and perspective. I don't want to romanticize the pioneer times too much. For instance, I'm grateful for the advances in health care (one only need to walk through an old cemetery to see the large number of children lost so young) and my thought is always in the back of my mind, "What about the Native Americans whose land this was we settled on?"

But there is something universal that transcends centuries that appeals to me. I'm sharing with you some writings from "Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier," Joanna Stratton's collection of these women's memories from all those years ago.  

"Like children everywhere, pioneer youngsters anxiously awaited the arrival of Santa Claus. In contrast to the austerity and hardships in their lives, they treasured the few simple gifts tucked into their stockings and eagerly joined in the recitations of holidays poems and prayers and the singing of carols. Mary Rarick Rouse wrote: We knew the Christmas story well and the boy Jesus whose birthday it was. As for gifts, if we every had any they were homemade. No toys to buy if we wanted them, and nothing to buy with. Our stocking was always hung up, faith of childhood for Santa, an apple or popcorn ball or wooden doll or rag one, all homemade. We always found something and how happy we were."

From earlier times, colonial ones, a Limberjack for merriment while music making, and homemade candles.

The barn beside the Abram Demaree Homestead in Closter, New Jersey.

"Harriet Adams described the special jubilation and excitement she felt as a child in the 1870s, remembered hearing...

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.' Then too, the moon and the weather must have fitted in more perfectly to the description, 'The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave the luster of midnight to the objects below."

"In children the sense of comparative values is largely underdeveloped, and I doubt very much if children of the present day, with the profusion of toys now attainable, derive any more joy from their expensive array than we did, with the less expensive and simpler ones which Santa gave us."

As I age, I cherish the winter as a season of fire and light, greenery from the woods that fulfills us while our spring and summer gardens are dormant, and a time of quiet in our harried lives. With the exception of the barn photo above, images shared are from past visits to my favorite local historical group, the Bergen County Historical Society. They are my winter postcards to you, and I send you warmest wishes from my home in New Jersey for a happy Christmas, a rich New Year (remember, that's not in the monetary sense) and a restorative winter season.

Fire in the Dutch Out Kitchen, with water for brewing tea and a corn chowder ready for cooking.

Biscuits and tea by a beloved blue and white pitcher.

Brussels sprouts ready for roasting.

Baskets outside the out kitchen. Steve has rescued so many baskets from the curbside people toss aside. I adore baskets.

Also the pleasure of oranges in winter, like those in the far right. From the chapter, "The Birthday Party" from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie,

"Laura was wondering about the orange before her. If those oranges were meant to be eaten, she did not know when nor how. They were so pretty, it was a pity to spoil them. Still, she had once eaten part of an orange, so she knew how good an orange tastes."

The door to the out kitchen adorned with corn, decorations invoking nature and her bounty are always favorites.

Books to stir the imagination. When I see all these children glued to their screens at restaurants, I often think, whatever happened to coloring? Keep coloring books alive!

Light leading up the doorway, with a welcoming pineapple, apples and greenery over the door.

A geranium. For the first time this year, I'm trying to keep my geraniums alive indoors as our pioneer sisters did.
A betty lamp, among the backdrop of an old red barn. Give thanks for the light. Have faith that in times that seem like darkness, the light is there.


Monday, December 16, 2013

In Pursuit of Happiness and Betterment: A Visit to Historic Philadelphia

Think of the people that inspire you, and make you richer. Not in the monetary sense, but in the path for a more rewarding life. Surround yourself often and abundantly with these forces.

David McCullough is one of our national treasures. This great historian has an infectious love of seeking the past and his storytelling in his books, speeches and interviews never fails to inspire me. Out of anyone, he gets me the most excited about learning more about history. He reflects in this 60 Minutes interview,

"The only way to teach history, to write history, to bring people into the magic of transforming yourself into other times is through the vehicle of the story. It isn't just a chronology. It's about people. History is human. Jefferson when in the course of human events. Human is the operative word." See part one below of his tour in Philadelphia, and part two in Paris and in wonderment of the Brooklyn Bridge here.

For my November birthday this year, I asked my husband Steve if we could take a long planned but never materialized trip to visit historic sites in Philadelphia. We've managed to vacation abroad and in the American West, but sometimes planning a trip so close to home (less than two hours for us) took so long. Maybe because it's always there, seemingly so easy to get to. Or maybe I needed the perspective of storytellers and time to take this trip in its due course. Our journey was less than two full days, one night, but really it was hundreds of years in time.

"You understand those other times by being in the buildings, walking the streets, hearing the music and eating the food," says Mr. McCullough. When asked about the last presidential election, he bemoaned the unconscionable  amount of money being spent and despite all the words being produced, none of them memorable.

"We should demand more of them. We should get to be like people who go to the theatre all the time or go to symphony all the time and they know a punk performance when they see one and don't like it. That's the way we should be." We should demand more of them, but we should demand more of ourselves. To better ourselves. Part of this trip was about the pursuit of happiness, but my own course of personal betterment. Education is a lifelong process.

Carpenter's Hall, where delegates form the 13 colonies met for the first time in 1774 to air their grievances.

We couldn't visit the lending library in the 60 Minutes piece since it's not open for public viewing, but a page here showed us a photo of it. Mr. McCullough talked about Benjamin Franklin starting the nation's first lending library.

"At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books and ideas."

My friend, scientist and author J.J. Brown, was interviewed by daughter and actress Lillian Rodriguez about what she loves about libraries in front of the stunning Brooklyn Public Library.

"You can meet people that you've never met through their books. Cicero said that if you have a library and a garden you have everything you need. So if you have a pubic garden and a public library lots of people have everything they need." Authors are communicating years after they've left the physical world.

I think of the words of Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, both authors, "The longest lives are short. Our work lasts longer."

Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and adopted. In the mood for a fairytale, I watched the Pixar film Brave, about a young princess named Merida in the Scottish Highlands who reminded her countrymen, "Our kingdom is young. Our stories are not yet legends." I think of the youth of our nation, and when these legendary figures decided our fate.

Listen closely. Can you hear the debates? Are you tuned into the debates and issues of our age? Are you a witness? Or an activist?

The Signer, in remembrance of those who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States, forever changing the course of history.

The Liberty Bell. The crack seems almost fitting, since liberty at the start of our country wasn't equal for all.

Little Big Chief beside the bell at the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915 in San Francisco. As the sign here reminds us, "Forced to choose between segregation and assimilation that insisted upon suppression of their unique cultural practices, Native Americans may not have seen the hope of fair treatment and equal rights embodied in the Bell."

A woman beside a replica of a bell in the fight for women's suffrage. I've written previously and still believe the culture now is a disappointment for women in terms of role models, who is getting the media spotlight on a daily basis, and the values that are promoted. After Miranda Lambert appeared on the country music awards after some weight loss (I thought she looked fine before), and the next day all the talk was about her slimmer frame and how she achieved it. Steve said, "See how quickly she's praised in the media." I'm so tired of these value being emphasized. How about emphasizing education?

"At no moment in history has a bright young girl with plenty of food and a good constitution perished from too much learning." - from Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things.

One of my most memorable storytellers of 2013 was Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, a sweeping novel bout Alma Whittaker, a female botanist born in 1800 in Philadelphia. I thought of Elizabeth and Alma at once when I saw this poster for the Cornelius Varley exhibit at the American Philosophical Society Museum.

"Alma wished to devote even more time to the study of plants. She had bizarre fantasies. She wished that she lived in an army barrack of natural sciences, where she would be awoken at dawn by a bugle call and marched off in formation with other young naturalists, in uniforms, to labor all day in woods, streams, and laboratories. She wished that she lived in a botanical monastery or a botanical convent of sorts, surrounded by other devoted taxonomists, where no one interfered with another's studies, yet all shared their most exciting findings with each other. Even a botanical prison would be nice! (It did not occur to Alma that such places of intellectual asylum and walled isolation did exist in the world, to a point, and that they were called "universities." But little girls in 1810 did not dream of universities.")

"She also loved her microscope, which felt like a magical extension of her own right eye, enabling her to peer straight down the throat of the Creator Himself." - The Signature of All Things.

Benjamin Franklin writing in 1751 said the microscope, "has opened a world to us...a World utterly unknown to the ancients. There are very few substances in which it does not shew something curious and unexpected."

Off to the Betsy Ross House.

It's hard to conceptualize in our age of documenting so much digitally, but a sign revealed no one actually knows what Betsy Ross looked like. 

Not having money for luxuries such as sitting for a portrait, this image was painted by Charles Weisberger in 1892, decades after her death.

Betsy, I learned, was born at a farm in New Jersey on New Year's Day in 1752, the eighth of 17 children into a Quaker family. She was shunned for marrying outside her faith and was widowed three times, twice by the age of 30, her first husband dying while serving with a local militia, the second in an English prison after his ship was captured by the British. Two of her seven daughters died as infants, and her mother, father and sister died within days of each other during the Yellow Fever epidemic. Did you know the Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793 was one of the worst epidemics in U.S. history? Nearly 5,000 people perished - 10 percent of the city's population, in three months. Recommended for readers young and old is Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, a fictitious tale set during the fever. Learn more about the Free African Society, the city's coffeehouses, farmers' market, and historical figures of the day.

A "No Stamp Act" teapot. I caught a few episodes of the Sleepy Hollow television series, with Ichabod Crane transported from hundreds of years ago. Examining a receipt, he can't believe the taxes imposed and that no protests were happening against these levies. Maybe we're too distracted, I think intentionally, to protest as much as we should. I believe one of the strongest forms of protest is how you spend your dollars.

David McCullough champions the teaching of history and worries how historically illiterate we are. History puts everything into perspective for me.

An interactive kitchen invites children how to make a turkey pot pie as Betsy would (mine would be a vegetable pot pie). Cooking is another lost art.

An 18th Century garden getting ready for winter's slumber. A sign noted, "Neat pathways, geometric flowerbeds, small orchards, and gazebos are characteristics of early Philadelphia gardens."

My birthday dinner at City Tavern. A raspberry shrug (fruit sweetened vinegar with soda water) and a bread basket with Sally Lunn bread (chef Walter Staib described this in a video as an 18th century brioche), a bread with molasses, and Thomas Jefferson's sweet potato pecan biscuits (find a recipe and history for the biscuits here).

Creamed mushrooms on Sally Lunn bread. So comforting on a cold night.

Fried tofu over linguine and vegetables. On City Tavern's menu it notes, "In a 1770 letter to Philadelphia's John Bartram, Benjamin Franklin included instructions on how to make tofu."

Researching this post, I found a video Chef Staib preparing the mushroom toast and fried tofu. He said the tofu is one of his restaurants top sellers. I love the reaction of the host's first bite of the mushroom toast in using the word "earthiness."

The orange cake in the 60 Minutes piece isn't on the menu anymore, but fortunately Martha Washington's chocolate mousse cake is.

We stayed right across the street from City Tavern at the historic Thomas Bond House bed and breakfast.  A wine and cheese hour with local Pennsylvania wines.

Their inviting parlor.

Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiastic chess player, and a marker in a museum about him noted, "Franklin realized his passion for playing chess helped him be an effective colonial representative and later diplomat for the United States. Chess cultivated important traits of the mind. Strategic thinking in the game helped him anticipate moves during negotiations and checked him from making rash decisions. Chess led him to listen better, be patient and hope for positive change, especially called for during the debates creating the Constitution of the United Sates."

 Do you play chess? My husband loves playing and one day must show me how.

Breakfast at the Thomas Bond House. After strawberries and honeydew melon in almond syrup and banana bread, we savored eggnog pancakes with caramel vanilla syrup, cranberry juice and English breakfast tea.

The table decorations remind us to give thanks. Since reading the Signature of All Things, I've taken to visiting Elizabeth Gilbert's Facebook page, which I love for inspirational quotes, images of readers with her books, and their happiness jars. She shared this quote I love, "It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy."

Inspiring me, this quote by Benjamin Franklin, and giving me pause if we shifted our attentions away from chasing after lost youth and pursuits of vanity, what would our country look like if instead we asked,

"The Morning Question, What Good shall I do this day? Evening question, What Good have I done today?"

At the Christ Church cemetery, pennies on the grave of Benjamin Franklin.

There are so many stories here, such as the resting place of Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a yellow fever survivor and a founder of the American psychiatry movement. From the appendix of Fever 1793,

"Dr. Rush was one of the most famous doctors in the country.

He gave patients mercury, calomel, and jalap to make them throw up and have diarrhea. He drained blood from them (a common practice) to get rid of "pestilence" in their bodies. Medical experts speculate that Rush's treatments killed many of his patience.

Rush's insistence on perilous remedies for yellow fever patients was a rare misstep for the energetic doctor. He was far ahead of his time on many issues. He fought against slavery and capital punishment, and argued for public schools, the education of girls, and the compassionate treatment of the mentally ill. He treated his insane patients with gentle understanding."

Most resters here have little fanfare and lie in quiet anonymity, but their lives mattered too.

"Fall is my favorite season because it reminds me of death. When the leaves fall and they turn a beautiful color and the tree gives up its year's leaves it reminds me of death and that there's something that endures and sustains beyond death because there's the tree and there's the trunk of the tree and the tree continues to live. So it reminds me although there's death, there's sustained life, there's strength." - author J.J. Brown.

Christ Church, founded in 1695.

Inside lie some resting places. Above one soul, a stone on the floor here noted the earth had been bountiful to him. I want to be kind to our earth and give thanks for her bounty. I loved Merida's reflection in Brave, "Some say our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it."

Carmen's Cheesesteak and Hoagies at the Reading Terminal market. 

They had a vegetarian Philly cheese steak! Wheat protein is the substitute for the steak, and I added hearty mushrooms here too, with a root beer.

Elfreth's Alley, said to be our nation's oldest residential street, dating back to 1702.

A word I found invoked so often in historic or older homes: character. They seem to have a soul to them. What stories lie here untold?

I love the welcoming pineapple over the front door.

It was starting to get cold and blustery, the perfect excuse to duck into the City Tavern's pub area for dessert: an apple ginger cobbler with cinnamon ice cream and hot apple cider.

I had the Woodlands on my list to see after I learned it was an inspiration for the White Acres estate in The Signature of All Things, but we arrived just as dark was settling in and we needed to make our journey home. They have haunting cemetery grounds all around.


So many journeys to take in our short time here. I'll never reach all the lands I long to see. Thankfully we have the portals of books  to access those places and times beyond our reach.