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.



  1. I love Clara, I read her book and watched many of her videos. She reminded me so much of my paternal grandmother who was a few years older but died 20 years ago when I was 28. I did know a lot about my grandmother's life, we were very close, but I wish I had asked her more specifically about the Depression. The strength of these women who lived through those difficult times is so inspiring. My grandmother was never rich but her home was so warm and full of love, more so than my own home was. I treasure the sugar bowl and creamer I have that belonged to her. Seeing your tea time photo above reminds me I need to take them out (and the 1950's tea cups from my husband's late aunt) and have a little tea party! Great post, as always. Your pal in Seattle, Lilypad

    1. Hi Lilypad. So great to hear from you and thanks for the comment. I long to live more like Clara and our grandparents lived, not by need but by choice. I was looking at a photo of an Ingalls homestead site and thought not how sparse it looked but how inviting and cozy. We live with such excess and waste in our society. When I watch the home makeover shows on HGTV the designers always talk about how the updated version is such a great place for family and to entertain, but I think about the many happy times people shared in the old home without the fancy finishings. Styles change but what's most important doesn't. I loved Clara's messages about taking good care of her home and how her stove and wallpaper are old. She had such a light in her eyes which dims so often with old age. It's my hope I have the same light if I'm lucky enough to live to an old age as she did.
      Enjoy your tea time! It's so wonderful you have these family heirlooms. I have a blue and white teapot, sugar bowl, creamer and milk jug from my grandmother I so cherish.
      All the best to you and your family, Catherine

  2. I have to admit, I had a complete HGTV addiction which started many years ago when my son was 2 or 3---we always left the TV tuned to HGTV so that when anyone turned on the TV, it would be something benign and never anything scary on the screen. (And we didn't leave it on a kids' channel because then he would have just immediately started watching whatever was there and not want to stop when we needed to change the channel!) So I just fell into watching "House Hunters" or whatever when I was drinking my tea in the morning. Just this past year, I started really getting sick of the sense of entitlement on display in every episode, the complaints about perfectly fine appliances and counters that were somehow awful because they weren't stainless steel and granite, etc. I know HGTV edits the people to make them even more obnoxious, to try and create drama and conflict, but it was just really stupid and boring and I finally started fast-forwarding to the end of every episode just to see which house they picked. (I really love architecture and design and seeing different parts of the country and the world, so I ended up watching even though so much of it bugged me.) Well, this summer after 5.5 years of renting we bought a townhouse and that made money tighter than it had been, so we cancelled our cable and just got Sling TV. It has HGTV but no DVR so, like in the old days ;-), you have to be in front of the TV when your show is playing at the time it is playing. That ended my addiction and I wish I'd done it years before! I would rather spend time in Clara's kitchen with the old stove than in some fancy remodeled home with "designer finishes".

  3. p.s. the townhouse we bought was built in 2009 and so of course, it has stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, which I really don't like. (Stainless steel really does live up to its reputation as being hard to clean, and the granite is so cold and looks messy to me---I can't tell what's a spot that needs to be cleaned and what's just the natural look of the stone.) But of course we're not going to replace it---even if we had the cash to do so, I think it would be wrong to tear out functional things just to replace them with finishes I like better. I'm just grateful to have a big kitchen and indoor plumbing ;-) and a roof over my head with no more psycho landlord to deal with!

    1. Congratulations on your townhome!
      Sounds like we are both old souls. I too used to be fascinated with House Hunters, etc. and now think what a waste of time, although I do still have a weakness of any HH International in Paris. Likewise, it began to feel predictable (and dare I say programmed) when the comments came about perfectly lovely homes needing to be "gutted" because something wasn't right (not stainless steel, granite), no huge walk-in closet for clothes (which we think little of the labor producing them), the must-have of a double sink vanity. How much time does it take to brush teeth? I think it's just another level of American consumerism, getting us to spend. Our grandmothers probably had more "rich" lives without "spa" bathrooms or "gourmet" kitchens. As an environmentalist, I cringe thinking of all the dumpsters carted to landfills and that no one considers all these materials don't just show up in your home magically, we have to extract them from the earth. On shows like Love It or List It, almost every time I think, these people don't need to spend $100,000, they just need to declutter!
      My only must-have is a "cozy factor." A feeling that you just want to have a cup of tea, curl up in a blanket with a good book or watch a movie, somewhere you want to have a big pot of soup. Something that invokes warmth. When I watch the videos with Clara in her old kitchen making pasta and peas or baked apples, I feel that warm and cozy feeling.