Thursday, November 7, 2013

Musings on a gray day

     The wheel of the year has turned, as we Pagans say, and the new year began at Halloween, a cold, wet, altogether icky night that nevertheless failed to keep my children inside. (Not that I would have tried anyway. It was Halloween, for crying out loud!) We headed out, costumes on, buckets primed, and braved the rain in search of the sweet, sugar-coated manna, Halloween candy. And my children made out like bandits, because there was hardly anyone out. Very happy were my ghouls indeed.
     Halloween, or Samhain, as it is known in the Pagan calendar, arrived to a house in mourning this year, as on October 27 we said a sad farewell to our cat, our faithful, fuzzy, domineering, bossy (we are talking about a cat, after all) companion of thirteen years. Kami was my other baby, and even now, a week after the fact, I still call her when I walk in the door. It's a habit I'm trying to break, as it's only serving to confuse my four year old, who understands that his kitty is gone, but does not quite fully grasp the concept of death.
     And today the sky reflects my feelings, the low-lying clouds are the same gray as my cat's fur, though the weather is surprisingly mild for November, though typically damp. The trees are truly stunning, though, and the cat's-fur clouds are a perfect backdrop for the burnished gold maple in my mother's front lawn. (Yep, pirating Mom's internet, hence my not so jaunty message to you lovely people today. I'll cheer up, I promise. I refuse to believe that misery actually loves company.) October may be my favorite month, but November has its own title in my vast repertoire of vague and odd descriptions:  Cozy Month.
     Yes, the cozy month. Take today for example. Here in Turners Falls it's gray, wet, windy, and altogether yucky. (though the view is fantastic) So I am here, doing what I love, with a steaming mug of tea by my side, curled up on my mother's sinfully squishy couch, covered with a quilt. My sister is making cookies; the house smells like cinnamon, coffee, and is blissfully warm and cozy. Later, I will go home to cook a pot of alphabet soup and loaves of bread, brew a pot of cocoa for me and my children to share, and luxuriate in the knowledge that we have all we need, and are safe and warm. Only in November do I revel in domesticity, though I cook and clean every day of the year. (Well, except when I'm sick. Then super-husband takes over)
     I often wonder why it is that November makes me so home-oriented. Perhaps it's because it is the month recognized as the harvest festival, embodied by Thanksgiving. Perhaps because the weather is generally unpleasant, (not that I like snow much better, but we at least have the advantage of making snow men, and an excuse to make long-simmered stews, like beef and beer stew with mushrooms and potatoes. Really, a momentous happening in our household.), that I am drawn to the center of my home. I spend much of my time in the kitchen; besides cooking, I sit at the table to read, I write poetry and stories at the kitchen table. My children, too, spend a fair amount of time there, as when they get home from school tea is ready, and we sit together, me helping with homework, until they drift away to their own tasks and hobbies, and I begin dinner preparations.
     It is no surprise to me that I love all the Anne of Green Gables books, or the works of Rosamunde Pilcher as much as I do. They are so full of domestic details and tidbits--reading Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers especially makes me want to cook up a huge dinner for my family--these and other books invite you into a home so welcoming and inviting that you just wish you could be there too. (Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells is another good one, as is Lucia Weiss' My Berlin Kitchen)
     So as the month progresses and gets even more and more foul, relish some stolen moments: curl up on your couch or tuck yourself into bed (oh, how I wish I had a proper tray for tea in bed!). Snuggle into your favorite sweater and read a book or look out the window to watch the world go by. I know you don't have much time for this kind of thing, but you can steal a moment here and there, even if it's just five minutes. And if you're lucky enough to have a whole 2o minutes to yourself, grab it, and don't share! Later you can make it up to people if you feel you must, by making them my mother's coffee cake. One slice, and your family won't care that you absented yourself for a whole 20 minutes. Maybe they'll even arrange for you to do it again soon.

                                                Pam Kapise's Coffee Cake

3/4 c sugar
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Topping:
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

* preheat oven to 375; lightly grease and flour a 9 inch square pan (or a 9 inch round pan)
* beat sugar, oil, and egg until mixed, then add milk. Mix well
* add flour, baking powder and salt and mix until well-blended. Spread batter into the prepared pan.
* mix topping ingredients and spread over top of batter before placing in the oven.
Bake at 375 for 25 to 35 minutes, until tester comes out clean.


     This is the cake I came home to once a week, every week after school as a child. It's sweet, moist, crumby, and perfect with tea, cocoa, chocolate milk, coffee, anything, really. It's just perfect.


    

Monday, October 28, 2013

So Very Sorry...

I have been away, lost, un-posty, and I feel like a worm, dear readers. Again our internet connection has stopped working. We're looking into the problem, but until it's actually fixed I will be ion only very sporadically. I'm working on a new children's book as well as promoting my Reiki business, but I'm not so busy that I can't update whenever I and my computer are in a spot wherein I may pirate (arrrrr!) an internet signal.
In apology, I am leaving you with a recipe from Lucia Weiss' The Wednesday Chef blog. Not cookies or snackers, but an amazing, lovely, STUNNING dinner dish that is relatively easy to make and an absolute favorite of my whole family. Enjoy!


Squash and Cheese Pie
Yields 10 to 12 servings as side dish or first course

Notes on the recipe: I ended up grating close to a whole cup of the Cheddar because of the massive amount of filling. So make sure you dip your pinky finger in the puree to taste before pouring it into the pie shell. You'll know then if you need to add more cheese or adjust the salt. Don't worry about the raw eggs; if you're using fresh ones from the market you'll be fine with a tiny fingertip's taste.

1 1.5 to 2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2/3 cup grated aged sharp Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup grated smoked Gruyere
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 9-inch pie crust, plain or whole wheat, baked

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub squash and cut in half lengthwise. Rub cut side with a little oil and place on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast 40 to 50 minutes, until flesh is soft.

2. Meanwhile, sauté onion in remaining oil until onion browns. In a bowl, combine onion with cheeses and rosemary; set aside.

3. When squash is cooked, cool slightly and remove flesh. Place in food processor with eggs, yolks and cream; purée. Pour into bowl with cheeses and whisk to mix. Season with salt and pepper, and spoon into cooled pie shell. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until center is set. Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature.



 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Quick & Easy Tarot, by Lily Oak, a review by moi

                                                       
                Recently I was given the opportunity to review Lily Oak's newest book, Quick & Easy

Tarot, released by Hedge Witchery Books (http://www.hedge-witcherybooks.com), and I am so very

grateful for the opportunity. I read tarot every day; I have even been known to carry my deck around

in my purse for no other reason then to have it nearby. I am not a beginning reader by any means, but

Lily Oak has included pieces of information in her book that were quite new and fascinating to me.

            She begins with the history of tarot, from its origins as a 15th century game

known as 'trionfi' to its evolution in the 18th century to the divination tool we utilize

 today.

          Oak gives instructions on how to choose and 'connect' with your tarot deck (a key

 piece here, because if you do not have a connection with the deck you use, you will either

 not have any results, or your readings will make no sense whatsoever. I speak from

experience).
 
          Her example of taking notes on one's personal impression of each card is stellar;

 my deck is very complimentary to me, but only insomuch as I have memorized the

 meanings given in the guidebook. I have never thought to examine each image to see

 what my own impression would be. I will be rectifying this very soon.

          She provides readers with a brief description of each card of the Major Arcana

 (Those are the 22 cards which are associated with life experiences, and include such

 cards as The Fool, The Wheel of Fortune, The Sun, The Moon, and Death.) Oak also

 includes the definitions of each card. (Helpful if your deck didn't come with a

 guidebook.)

           Moving on to the Minor Arcana, Oak names the four suits: Cups, Swords, Coins

 and Wands. These may change from deck to deck. For instance, the deck I use, Kris

 Waldherr's Goddess Tarot, is comprised of Cups, Swords, Pentacles and Staves. (Should

 you purchase this deck, be aware that the card images of the Major Arcana are very

 different from the ones described in Quick & Easy Tarot, though the cards do have the

 same meanings as the ones provided by Oak.) She defines the meaning of each of the 14

 cards in each suit, then continues on to offer you the elemental meaning of each suit as

 well, very useful when using your cards in ritual.

           Next, Oak takes readers through steps leading to using cards for a reading. She

 gives advice on how to prepare oneself and one's deck, then offers instructions for laying

 out the cards. She offers two three-card spreads, one I've never seen before , so of course

 I had to give it a try. My reading of the three card Week/Moon/Season layout had

 interesting, though, happily, promising results. I'm going to keep my eyes open for

 opportunities both dutiful and fulfilling. Next, a familiar-to-me five card spread, then two seven card
 
layouts I hadn't seen before.

           The final spread Oak offers as an example is the 13 card Wheel of the Year spread, an
 
impressive-looking layout that is actually quite easy to read and comprehend. It's one of my favorites
 
when I'm looking for information concerning an outcome that will encompass several months of
 
fruition.

           I do not read tarot professionally, or for very many other people. For those that may be

interested in pursuing this, however, Oak includes an etiquette section of sorts, giving her readers

advice on how to communicate with clients or friends concerning a reading. This I found very

informative. Maybe one day I will begin offering tarot readings with my Reiki treatments.

           Overall, Lily Oak's Quick & Easy Tarot is an impressive little book: it has all the

information a tarot beginner could need, written simply and concisely, with regard to the

 fact that beginners are just that, beginners. I am not a beginner, but I guarantee I will be

utilizing this gem of a book often.

           Quick & Easy Tarot is currently available for the Kindle, and will be available in

paperback next month.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

     So much has been going on here in Ellie's kitchen: a milestone birthday was celebrated with friends and family gathered around the table; I'm waiting (HOPING!) to hear back from a literary agent concerning a children's book manuscript; I've posted two new essays on the SageWoman blogs, and have been given an opportunity to blog for The Bookish Owl (http://www.thebookishowl.com).
     We've had several lovely warm days, and I've had my little boy out along the bike path that runs by the river, exploring nature, investigating bugs, and getting supremely dirty. (Because what could be more fun, really?)

     Today will be a down-tempo day, as my little bitty one is very sick (Sick enough that he fell asleep for a nap on his own at 9 am...and he had only been up for three hours. This is an unheard-of occurrence.) AND it's COLD OUT THERE! Soooo...an afternoon spent in the kitchen is in order, methinks. Sweet potato cookies? Sure thing. Fresh bread? Of course! What else to do when baby is too sick to play outside? Wrap him in a blanket, tuck him into a corner of the big kitchen bench, and feed him tea and warm fresh-baked goodness. In between baking projects I'll tap away at a couple writing projects.
Plus, I have to plan our Mabon celebration, which is soon upon us. I'll leave you now with my family's favorite dinner-time treat:  Farm-Style Bread. Enjoy!


Farm-Style Bread

1 package or 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 c warm water
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) melted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
7 to 8 c flour (I use a mix of unbleached white and whole wheat, but use whatever you like best)

1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water; allow to sit, covered, for 10 minutes, until foamy.
2. Add butter, salt, eggs, and 4 c flour; beat until smooth. mix in enough flour to make a soft dough, not so sticky that it gets everywhere.
3. Turn onto floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes; place in greased bowl, turning to coat, and let rise, covered, for 1 hour.
4. Punch down, divide in two, shape into loaves and place in greased bread pans. Cover and let rise 1 hour.
5. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before cutting...unless you don't care how it looks, then by all means rip into it right away and slather with too much butter. Ah, heaven.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Burning the midnight....ink?

   I suppose there is an advantage to random insomnia....while sitting around, eye-poppingly wide awake at 2:30 in the morning, there are positively no distractions. Can't turn the television or the stereo on because two of the bedrooms are off the living room, and I don't want to make my daughter or my husband share in my misery. (Trust me, it really doesn't love company.)
   This would explain why I was able to write an entire children's book in the wee hours of this morning, and draft and half-write a second. And these are not infant or toddler board books, with three and four word sentences per page. Nor are they mini-novels. They are (or would be, if I could draw!) picture books: short, 4 to 5 sentence paragraphs per page. I've got this. Why the heck can't I get published? Grr. It's all about sending it in at the right time. (Yes, I am arrogant enough to believe that my work is good enough to publish. Because it is.) I just need to figure out when the right time is.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to School, Part II

     Yesterday my not-so-little girl returned to school, dancing her way into the ranks of the high school hierarchy as a Freshman. Many of her friends left this year to go to different schools, so she was quite nervous. A text sent to me at lunchtime (they are allowed to play with their phones during lunch...I wonder how many actually eat and how many are too busy texting the friends they just had class with) cheerfully announced that she was having a lovely day and that she "LOVES BEING A FRESHMAN!!!!!!!" No more worries on her account.
     Truthfully, I was surprised that she was nervous at all. This is the child who has always taken the world by storm. Born an absolute beauty, she has always turned her big blue eyes toward every challenge, and with typical Aries recklessness (I speak from experience) dives in without a second thought, often suffering the consequences of her impetuousness, but always willing to do it again. She is awe-inspiring.
     In more recent years, she has begun directing her reckless energy into her passions, and in her eighth grade year became the first middle school student to land the lead role in the school musical, starring as Annie. This year, she chose to stay at the high school rather than study cosmetology at the Technical School here in town because the Tech School doesn't have a year-round theatre arts program. She is looking into arts colleges and has asked to begin studying dance. She has plans, and she will achieve them. She's that kind of person. She is an inspiration, my daughter. She has courage and drive I have never managed to attain. She doesn't recognize the concept of failure, and she never will. Then:
 
 
And now:
 
Don't ever change, AlysonRose. You're my wild faerie child, my Wild Irish Rose, and I wouldn't have you any other way.
 
 
 
 
.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back to School, Part I

     Today was the day. The weeks of lazy, hazy, ice cream for breakfast days were at an end, and my sixteen year old woke painfully early, scarfed a breakfast of corn fritters, and got ready for The First Day Of School.
     What a change a year can make.

     This time last year he was a shy, unsure, introverted boy, heading to a new school. Familiar classmates were there, but it was still such a change, and sometimes a hard one. Today....
today my son is a confident, self-assured, self-directed young man, eager to return to work, to begin studying the science he so loves, ready to embark on the first leg of the journey to adulthood. As I watched him walk to the bus stop this morning, on his way to begin his Junior year of high school, I sadly realized that as of today many things are at an end. My little boy, my first-born, is an adult now, at least in most ways. He will be learning to drive. He is applying for jobs. He is researching colleges. He still needs me, not quite as much or in the manner that he used to, and that is fine. But I need him too; ages ago, when things were about as bed as they could be, he was my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Inside he's still my baby boy, my Boodah, and I'm so very very proud to be his mother. Congratulations on beginning Junior Year, Henry. Much love, Momma
 
 
Henry attends a technical school, so while he dresses for a day at the office, some weeks he needs to adopt another mode of dress:
and so here he is, my sixteen year old machinist-son, far more knowledgeable about things I never even knew were vital to people's every-day existence. He's just amazing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Much frustration

   I have been having many many problems with my computer lately. I think it's time to take it to the doctor (eg, Staples). Poor sick computer.
   All has not been well here in Ellie's world. My uncle passed away suddenly last week; his funeral was a sad goodbye to someone who lived life to its fullest. And two days ago we learned that my husband's great-uncle passed away as well.
   On a lighter note, my husband, my sister, and my older children and I spent a ridiculous day doing the back-to-school shopping that needed to be done, as my older boy is heading into his Junior year, and my daughter is entering high school as a Freshman. There is no happier sight than a sixteen year old boy, a thirty-two year old woman, and a thirty-eight year old man racing shopping carts through TJ Maxx. (Especially when the fourteen year old girl is IN the shopping cart the thirty-two year old is pushing) Trust me on this.
   The children return to school Wednesday and Thursday, and my little one and I will begin his home preschool program this week as well. I've spent the last couple days planning out his lessons, covering everything from writing and beginning reading to doing a study on blue jays and learning about space, and, of course, cooking. He's very excited. Amazon and my library are going to be very helpful, methinks.
   In light of the returning to school phase that many are in now, I suggest readers check out some of the blog links on my page. Yummy Mummy Kitchen and Family Fresh Cooking have already posted delicious (and super-healthy!) school lunch and breakfast recipes on their pages. And if your family gathers for afternoon tea like mine does (the teenagers are home by 3:00, and the tea service is on the table waiting when they walk in the door) take a look at their snacks and treat as well. (If you really want to go whole-scone for your tea, check out the amazing cookbook, "Alice's Tea Cup")

http://www.amazon.com/Alices-Tea-Cup-Delectable-Sandwiches/dp/0061964921/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377356575&sr=1-1&keywords=alice%27s+tea+cup

I will leave you (hopefully only for now, not for the next week and a half...please be all better computer, please please please! I have an article due for SageWoman soon!!!!!!) wi8th a recipe I've only dreamed of making....but this shall soon be remedied. Ladies and gentlemen, dearest readers, I give you Pumpkin Pretzels.


Notes

- If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice mix, you can make your own by combining 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground allspice and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

-Not a fan of coffee? Just sub it for 1 tbsp of warm water!

Spiced, Brown Butter Pumpkin Pretzels with Coffee Cream Cheese Icing


 

makes 10-11 pretzels

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp (150ml) warm water
1 tbsp active dried yeast
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
3 1/4 cups (425g) all purpose flour (plus 1/3 cup (45g) more for kneading)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix (see notes)
2 tbsp neutral oil (e.g. vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, melted coconut oil)
3/4 cup (185 ml) pumpkin puree
1 egg

For dipping:
1 cup (250ml) hot water
2 tsp baking soda

For rolling:
1/4 cup (55g) butter
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice mix (see notes)
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar

Coffee Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 cup (50g) powdered sugar
2 tbsp cream cheese
strong coffee
optional: 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) chopped pecans

In a small bowl, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tbsp of the brown sugar. Stir, and set aside.In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, spice mix and the rest of the brown sugar. Add the yeast mixture, oil, pumpkin and egg to the bowl. Stir together until you get a rough ball of mixture.

Tip the entire contents of the large bowl out onto a work surface. Knead together for about 10 minutes, gradually adding the 1/3 cup of flour, using it to stop the dough sticking to your hands and the work surface, until you get a smooth-ish, slightly sticky dough. Pop the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl, turning it to coat, cover with a clean tea towel . Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour-ish until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 10-11 equal pieces (roughly weighing 3 oz each) and roll into balls. Dip the bottom of the dough balls lightly into some flour to stop them sticking to the work surface.

Roll each dough ball into a rope about 20″ long.

Shape into a U, cross the ends of the U over each other and fold down to make the pretzel shape.

Combine the hot water and baking soda in a jug, then pour into a shallow bowl. Dip the pretzels into this mixture and place onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Leave to rest while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (210 degrees C). Once preheated, bake the pretzels for 7-10 minutes, rotating the tray 180 degrees, halfway through baking, until golden brown.

While the pretzels bake, brown the butter: melt the butter, and continue to cook over a medium heat until it foams up and brown solids appear at the bottom of the pan. Take it off the heat. Combine the granulated sugar and spice mix in a large shallow bowl.

Brush the pretzels all over with browned butter, then coat with the spiced sugar mixture

Combine the powdered sugar and cream cheese in a small bowl. Add some coffee, little by little until you get a drizzle-able icing, and drizzle over the spice-sugar coated pretzels. Top with chopped pecans, if you want them. Store in an airtight container – they’re best eaten warm  (I think I'll skip the icing, but that's just because I don't like super-sugary-sweet stuff like that. Unless it's chocolate. Then bring on the sweet!)

 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ah, August

     'Tis a lovely day here in western Massachusetts. Humidity is low, the sun is shining, and while it's lovely and warm, there's a sweet breeze drifting through the open back door, rustling the leaves of the grapevine, and they're whispering fall is coming.

     Fall, my most favorite of seasons. Three of my children were born in fall, I was married in the fall, and my all-time favorite holiday arrives with a gasp, screech, and lots of candy and pumpkins. Is there ever so wonderful a season as fall in New England? (Readers are going to have to help me out here, as I've never traveled outside of the US, and never further from home than Pennsylvania and Florida. How's fall in your world?)

     It's coming, but it's not here, not yet, and summer is still holding her own. On the back steps the peppers and tomatoes are reaching their peak: one pepper picked with much glee, and in a few more days I'll be snapping the next off the plant. My tomatoes are reveling in the near-constant sun, needing water twice a day, but what happy plants they are, and just beginning to ripen into bright yellow globes. I cannot wait to make panzanella out of my very own home-grown tomatoes!

     Just days ago we celebrated the Pagan festival of Lughnassad (or Lammas, as it's more commonly known. It's easier to say.) Lughnassad is the first of the three harvest festivals in the Pagan calendar, traditionally known as the grain harvest, but here in Mass, almost everything is ripening. Our local farmer's market is overflowing with corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, berries, salad greens...I could go on and on. We celebrated the harvest with some homemade bread and a vegetarian feast: a light vegetable soup, salad and tomato and zucchini tart. (We threw some cheese in, too, but sadly that wasn't homemade or even local. I'm working on that.) For dessert, blackberry buckle with lemon-vanilla cream, the blackberries picked by my littlest one and I on the side of the local bike path that runs by the river.

     I must admit I'm not as constant in my faith as I perhaps could be. We Pagans are not as much of a minority as we used to be, but my family practices alone. There is no Pagan church or temple nearby, and the local groups are scattered and have conflicting interests (the most common being adult-only study or practicing groups. We are a family; we would like to worship as one. You wouldn't believe how alien that concept seems to be.) And so, often only minimal effort is put into recognizing our holy day. I often wish I paid more attention, used greater resources, made more of the days that in ancient times were so very important, not just to people's spiritual growth but to their very survival. I let myself get distracted by children, by housework, by writing projects, by excuses.

     Mid-September is the second of our harvest festivals. Let's see if I can do better, hmm? And now, I shall leave you with a delightfully delectable thought for this perfect late-summer/early-fall day: cherry shortbread cookies, perfectly suited for sitting under a rustling grapevine with a mug of hot tea...or a glass of iced. Enjoy!


Cherry Shortbread Cookies

1 c plus 2 Tbs of flour
1 stick butter, sliced and chilled (important!)
1/4 c sugar, plus more for sprinkling, if you'd like (I usually skip it, myself)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c dried cherries (feel free to use more. I always do.)

*Preheat oven to 300; line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
* Using a food processor, mix flour, butter, sugar and salt for 20 seconds. (If you don't have a food processor, use 2 knives and cut the mixture together until it has a sandy, grainy texture.)
*Add cherries and pulse until chopped, 20 seconds (or add chopped cherries)
*Turn the mixture out onto your work surface and shape into a smooth ball o' dough. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a 7 by 9 inch rectangle (more or less), about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 12 rectangles. Prick each cookie 3-4 times with a fork.
*Place cookies on the cookie sheets 1 inch apart (you may need to use a spatula) and refrigerate 20 minutes.
*Bake 30 minutes, until just golden. Cool 10 minutes, sprinkle with sugar, the transfer to a rack to cool completely. (I can never wait that long. Still-warm shortbread is a gift of the gods.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Just an update...but nothing good. Gr.

Hello all. This is just a quick note to let the lovely people that read this know that I will be updating very sporadically; my dear little Toshiba has an evil, terrible, dreadful hard drive-eating virus, and unless I visit my mother's house and pirate her husband's computer, I cannot add new news, creativity and book rants. I am most sorry, but I will pop in whenever I can for this sad computer-less time, and as soon as my compu is fixed, I will be back with a vengeance! Thank you all soooo much for your continued support! Much love, Cole

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Greetings all! Still icky-hot here, but we've had a few days here and there where we've gotten out to enjoy the summer days. Yesterday, for example, my troop of children and I headed to my mother's, where my youngest has a lovely backyard to play. He's very into faerie tales and faeries lately, so OF COURSE, we had to make a faerie house.


These images and 'instructions' are from the very fun website http://www.fairyhouses.com/ . Check it out!

Location


Fairy Houses can take many forms and can be created in many different places.
Find a quiet place away from roads or busy pathways. The base of a tree or the side of a rock could be just right. Close to the ground is usually best. Sometimes you may find a special place in the low branches of a tree or bush.

Look for building areas in woods, beaches, meadows, and especially your own backyard! Use only natural materials to build your house – nothing artificial.

Many fairy houses look so natural that they are almost hidden. Have fun building them everywhere, in every season, and enjoy all of your special visitors!


 

 

Materials


Sticks, bark, dry grasses, pebbles, shells, feathers, seaweed, pinecones and nuts are just some of the materials you can use. A fairy house built in the woods will look different than one built at the beach!

Different seasons will give constantly changing materials that you can use. Be imaginative!

 

 

 



Rules


Be respectful of plants that are growing. Try not to disturb plants that are still living, such as ferns, mosses and flowers. Fairies are careful not to harm anything that is growing.

Our house doesn't look nearly as palatial as these examples, but it just goes to show that if you give a child free reign with his imagination, a backyard, and access to plenty of twigs, pebbles, and a handful of seashells, he'll be well-occupied and happily creative. (Photos will follow...the cable to my camera is missing so I can't download them at present. I'll make my husband give it back when he gets home)


Another great outdoor activity I do with my little one (the big ones are too cool, and have very important video games to play) is "Adventurer" or "Scientist," depending on what we're doing. For these activities I rely heavily on this jewel of a book:
The Kids Nature Book: 365 Indoor/Outdoor Nature Activities and Experiences
http://www.amazon.com/The-Kids-Nature-Book-Experiences/dp/1885593074 . Days' worth of entertainment and fun education!

Mel Boring's Fun With Nature and More Fun With Nature are also outstanding books ( I don't own them yet, but they're on my To Get list!)
http://www.amazon.com/Fun-With-Nature-Along-Guides/dp/1559717025/ref=pd_sim_b_1

And while you're constructing in your backyard, why not encourage your children to become ecologists? Kids can build wildlife habitats right in the backyard (and they don't have to be enormous. I can't wait for the day my little one and I can build a toad house!)
http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Create-Wildlife-Habitats-City-Suburbs-Countryside/dp/0824986652/ref=pd_rhf_dp_s_cp_36_MJEJ?ie=UTF8&refRID=1C4S6S9RJGMHJ08F8013

Little Bitty and I are currently working our way through The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book, a new title that just arrived at our library. http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Outdoor-Adventure-Book-Things/dp/0762783524/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373392619&sr=1-1&keywords=the+kids+outdoor+adventure+book

Anyway, give these books a look-see, see if they, or any of the Fairy Houses books are available at your library and have some backyard, back step, or even window box fun with your child. You'll both be glad you did.

Summertime Treats!

I've been lax in posting lately, and I'm truly sorry. It's been hot, sticky, and gross, and we've spent our days sitting (melting) in front of fans, trying to stay cool. After watching a dust caribou (that thing was way too big to be a bunny...) roll across the floor I went on a bender, cleaning this place from top to bottom. Now that we can kick back and relax again (my older son quoted Miayazaki's film Howl's Moving Castle as I was cleaning yesterday: "There's a witch on a rampage in here!") I decided we needed some treats that didn't require turning the stove or the oven on. How's popsicles sound to you?




 
 

 
After a four-store search I found popsicle molds, and now we make our own out of juice or iced tea instead of buying sugar- and food-coloring laden ones from the store. The only downside? These will only last about a day-- as soon as they're set my kids dive in...and in...and in. But who cares? They're happy and hydrated, and I don't have ADD kids amped up on red dye and sugar running amok. (and no, I'm not making a dig at rambunctious children--my kids really do have it. It makes for an interesting life)
 
Anyway, try making your own! I've even used things like homemade or iced tea. Pureed fruit works too, though you may have to thin it with a little juice.  Give it a try!
 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Garden Update!


We have baby tomatoes! And peppers! AND my morning glory FINALLY has blossoms! Oh, happiness!




The tomato plants have taken over the back stairs. I can't find it in my heart to complain :)

As my pansies have gone by I've added dill, savory, creeping thyme and monster-sized oregano plants to my herb garden box. Happy is Nicole.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I'm a delinquent...

   It's been a few days since I last posted, and for those lovely people that have been checking in, I'm sorry. The temperature has been scary-hot here, so I've been keeping my little guy inside. No running at the park means no rest time; no rest time means no computer time for Momma! We made it out today, though, and I have a big pile of loot from my local library, with delicious titles like Eve's Diary (Mark Twain); The Dyer's Hand (W.H. Auden); Wild Fruits (Thoreau); Shakespeare's Sisters (Sandra Gilbert); Fire of the Goddess (Katalan Koda); Ravensong (Catherine Feher-Elston); and If You Want to Write (Brenda Ueland).
   The air conditioner's running, iced tea is dripping condensation on the coffee table, and I've got plenty of books to keep me occupied. Now, if only it weren't too hot to bake cookies....

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies are proof that the Goddess loves us and wants us to be happy, joyful, and fat.

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • Waxed paper
  •  
    In a heavy saucepan bring to a boil, the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk. Let boil for 1 minute then add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. On a sheet of waxed paper, drop mixture by the teaspoonfuls, until cooled and hardened.


    Enjoy!!

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Create an Altered Book Journal, continued

    A week or so ago I posted directions on how to make a journal out of an altered book. After sorting through my collection, I found a 1922 edition of Charlotte Bronte's The Professor, my least favorite of her books, purchased because I am a fan and I felt that I ought to own every one of her books, whether I liked them or not. (Also, it was an inscribed antique book for $6.50. Really, I couldn't go wrong.) But I really don't like The Professor, and so it has become the chosen one:




     
    I am no artist, as you can see, but I love the concept so much I decided to go ahead and make a commonplace book, filled with whatever strikes my fancy, and a few attempts at drawing as I see fit. My incredibly crafty and artistic daughter has asked if she can make one, but her excitement was a bit quelled when I told her she had to use one of her books. Mean, mean mom.

    It's summer! Let's garden!

       Now that it's officially summer (okay, midnight tomorrow is officially summer, but unless you're Pagan, who's counting?) it's time to contemplate one of our world's most wonderful features: dirt. Who doesn't like the smell of rich, freshly-turned soil, dark as good chocolate, filled with plant-potential? Okay, you may not like dirt, but you must like food, and without lovely chocolatey-brown dirt, you have no lovely food.
       For the last thirteen years I have lived in an apartment in the middle of downtown Turners Falls. While it had enough room for my large family, there was no yard, and the only green in sight was the strip of scraggly grass on the edge of the road. (I also had the apartment with north- and west-facing windows. Direct sunlight was a rare treasure, usually obtained at 6 AM and 4:30 PM). Two months ago my family finally moved. We are in another yardless apartment, still in downtown Turners Falls, but with one huge difference. (well, two, if you count the abundance of windows that face EVERY DIRECTION! I can sunbathe in my living room! My kitchen! My bedroom! My fourteen year old cat oozes around the house from sunlit patch to sunlit patch. She's blissfully happy.)
       My lovely new home has back stairs. South-facing, sunlight-gilded back stairs, and they're all mine! Check it out:



     
     
    I'm not sure which part of my back step garden I like best. Maybe the sun-drenched tomato and pepper pots. Or maybe my little herb and pansy window box. Actually, it's probably the vine-shaded corner on the first landing, where I can sit with a mug of tea and a book, and read outside without the sun glaring off the page into my eyes. This little garden is a work in progress: we're just getting into our growing season here in western MA, and I've got plans for a few more additions: a second window box of herbs, because I put them in everything, even cookies (I'll even share my favorite savory cookie with you here at the end); a cluster of cucumber plants and one of zucchini plants; and just because I'm a faerie-tale princess at heart, a rosebush, if I can find one that will thrive in a pot. At the very bottom of the stairs is a pot of morning glories that have just begun sending spindly tendrils up the railing to twine with the grapevine. (The vine came with the apartment, and I love it. I'm thinking of adding a hops vine...they're beautiful, and I do live over a restaurant/bar. I think the owners would appreciate that.) Anyway, today being a glorious sunny day, I've got plans to go play in the dirt. How about you?
    And now.....COOKIES!!!!
     
    Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies

    Ingredients
    1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened
    1/3 C sugar
    1/4 C pine nuts (I've substituted blanched almonds before...they're cheaper than pine nuts)
    1/4 C shredded Parmesan cheese
    1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary OR 1/2 Tbs of dried rosemary, finely ground with a mortar and pestle
    4 cracks of fresh black pepper
    3/4 C all-purpose flour
    1/2 C cornmeal
    1 tsp salt

    Preheat oven to 300F
    Mix butter and sugar together in a large bowl until creamy and smooth.  Add nuts, Parmesan, rosemary and black pepper.  Stir to combine.  Add flour, cornmeal and salt.  Stir to combine. 
    Form into 1-inch balls with your hands and place on a prepared baking sheet, flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.

    Bake about 25 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.  (These cookies will keep for several days in an airtight container.)


    Enjoy! Preferably outside, with a mug of tea, and whatever book you're treating yourself to this summer. (I'm currently working my way through Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers for the umpteenth time.)
     

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Midnight ramblings, because I'm sad and I have insomnia. (I'm cheerful, huh?)

         It was a rough day here, readers. Four years ago my grandmother Ellie passed away, and the pain is still as raw now as it was then. I didn't get to say goodbye, so I'll never really have closure. I suppose the pain never really goes away, but over time it becomes softened, the sharp edges are worn away to a dull ache. I'll have to wait and see.
         On a brighter note, I'm at 100 views, which is AMAZING, thank you all so very much. People from the Netherlands, Armenia, Spain, Venezuela, Germany and Mexico have stopped by, as well as readers in the US. That makes me feel all sparkley inside, like a rainbow exploded or....something.       Anyway, THANK YOU, all of you, any of you, who stop in a read my rambling posts about posty-ness. I am forming a better idea about where I want this blog to go and how I want it to grow into a big, strong, proud blog when it grows up, so if you kind and lovely people just bear with us (me and the blog) we'll become something worth reading, I promise.

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    We're making ice cream!!!!

    Thanx Natalie at Super Healthy Kids!!

    Raspberry and Cream Banana Ice Cream (I'm using strawberries, tho )


    To make this, blend in a food processor:
    • 1 1/2 frozen bananas
    • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
    • 1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
    Blend until smooth and creamy.  Eat immediately or place in the freezer for a harder consistency.  This flavor is creamy and delicious, but also refreshing!

    Thursday, June 13, 2013

    Summer Reading, Continued

    It's been raining rather steadily here for a few days, long enough for me to have made some progress on my stack of summer reading books. Thus far I have finished:

    The Peabody Sisters by Megan Marshall (An incredible 20 year's worth of work on a group of sisters that made an enormous impact on education in the nineteenth century.)

    Saffron and Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand (I'm buying this one. The stories were GREAT!)

    Anam Cara by John O'Donohue (not as moving or thought-provoking as I'd hoped.)

    Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Fascinating. I've always liked crows, but other than looking up and thinking 'oh, look, a crow,' I've never really thought about them. Haupt has encouraged me to look at them--really look at them, that is, in a whole new way.)

    I still have a huge pile to work my way through, including a ludicrously decrepit copy of the life of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Can't wait to travel with Sir Richard!!

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    Grace is Overrated!!! (Well, not really, but Christie Zimmer's blog is SO KOOL!!!)

    http://www.graceisoverrated.com/

    I think this is my new favorite place. A blog about journaling? I'm there. She even has downloadable/printable pages for kids' journals! Christie, I think I'm in love.

    Grace is Overrated

    Practicing gratitude, for everything, anything, and then some :)

       In many different traditions lighting a candle is a sacred action. It expresses more than words can express. It has to do with gratefulness. From time immemorial, people have lit candles in sacred places. You may want to begin or end your day by the sacred ritual of lighting a candle on this gratefulness. Or you may want to light a birthday candle for a friend. One single guideline is all you need: Slow down and do it with full attention.
                                           ~GrannyMoon

    https://www.facebook.com/GrannyMoonsMorningFeast

    Monday, June 10, 2013

    Create and Altered Journal or Commonplace Book, via Crafting a Green World!

    How To: Create an Altered Journal

    A fabulous Repurposed Book as Sketchbook tutorial by Livividli Lifestyle Blog was linked up to our Green Crafts Showcase this month. I was so inspired by it that it will not only be featured tomorrow as one of the top 5 projects, but I wanted to create my own version. Instead of a sketchbook, I repurposed my book into a journal.

    What You Will Need:

    1. An old book. You can easily find these at garage sales or thrift stores.
    2. Crayons or any other items to decorate your journal.

    How To Do It:

    1. Decide what the purpose of your journal will be. Here are some ideas:
      • a travel journal
      • a place for quotes or poetry
    How To: Create an Altered Journal
      • a scrapbook (almost like a smashbook!)
      • a sketchbook like Livividli Lifestyle Blog
      • write down creative project ideas– I always have a journal in my purse for when ideas pop in my head!
      • an everyday journal
    How To: Create an Altered Journal
    2. Go for it! The great thing about this project is that there aren’t any guidelines or rules. Envision what you want for your journal and then put it on paper.
    3. Optional: Decorate the outside of the book. You can easily glue recycled paper to the outside of your book to cover it and make your own “title.” I didn’t decorate the outside of mine because I like that it’s “incognito.”
    What do I do with mine? I like to write different quotes from Pinterest that inspire me, ideas for projects, and everyday journal entries. As Laura from Livividli said, I love the layered look of the words underneath and the surprise aspect of someone opening the book and finding something different.

    What kind of journal would you create?

    Nicole Ellie says: I LOVE books. (For those of you that know me I'm sure this is an understatement.) I love to read them, look at them, write in them, art in them. I've never thought of doing an altered book like this; I always put way too much work into making the book a canvas for some failed art project or something like that. This is so much easier, and way more fun. So easy, in fact, that I'm pretty sure I and my little guy can each begin one today. If I don't have a book lying around that I can sacrifice, I can always hit the Salvation Army or my town's Little Free Library. (Not necessarily what the Little Free Library is for, but I make regular donations. They won't mind.)
       Getting back to Crafty Green Bonnie's question, what kind of journal will I create?? I've already got a journal: I've been keeping one steadily for a couple years now. However, amid daily complaints about washing dishes (will they ever learn to wash themselves???), random cookie recipes, introspective soul-searching (I'll find it one of these days), and scrawled story and poetry ideas, I add quotes from books, snatches of poetry that move me like mine never can, and my thoughts on them. 
       These are the grounds for a Commonplace Book, a journal-like device most popular in the 17th through 19th centuries, though the poet W.H. Auden and novelist E.M. Forster both kept and published, Commonplace Books. My first experience with the Commonplace Book was in my Western Lit class (aka, the Dead White Guys class) at GCC some years ago. I found the concept difficult, mostly because we were creating a Commonplace Book about the class' reading material, and with the exception of Sappho and Hilda Doolittle (thrown in so it could avoid being called the Dead White Guys class), I found the reading material exceedingly boring. That, and I'd already translated Virgil's The Aenead from the original Latin in high school, thus earning the wretched book my everlasting hate.
       And yet, while rereading my stack of journals, I came to realize that I had an appreciation of the Commonplace Book and continued to include it in my regular journal. No more! I have a large-print copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress sitting on my shelf. I had intended to read it...after all, it was Louis May Alcott's favorite book, and if it's good enough for my idol, it's certainly good enough for me. However......

    Friday, June 7, 2013

       Rainy, rainy day. What to do with a rambunctious three year old when he can't go outside and ride his beloved bike? Something needs to be done: the cat is beginning to fear for her life.
       Days like today make me wish I had heeded Sarah Ban Breathnach's advice and created a Rainy Day Cabinet, after the manner of Victorian mamas the world over. Lacking a Rainy Day Cabinet, I've turned to Amanda Blake Soule's The Creative Family to see what I can come up with before the cat loses any more whiskers.
       We are recently installed in a new apartment with an abundance of space and naked walls. Let's play.....Art Gallery!
       Mr. Rambunctious has been given free reign with all the art supplies his little heart desires, and I've gone digging through boxes for picture frames. I'll replace the photos with pieces of my kids' artwork, and viola! Naked wall in living room becomes Wall of Pride. And, like every true gallery, we can change the art work out every so often, to keep the display "fresh."
    Before.....sad, embarrassed, naked wall!
     
     
                                                       After! Are they not just so talented?? Already the living room looks brighter and more welcoming. I have to admit I'm rather persnickety about decorating. I want my home cozy and welcoming, but pretty, too, and so I try to keep the decorating in each room to a select color and style scheme. Do the kids' pictures really fit with my scarlet Art Deco style couch and the paisley rug (red, robin's egg blue, tan and turquoise)? Nope, not really. But my children are 20, 17, 16, 14 and 3, and childhood is rushing away from our family so fast (or already gone). So I will sacrifice my 'Country Living' living room for the sake of my children's pride, and in the end, make all of us, even persnickety me, a whole lot happier. (Especially the cat, who was able to find a secure hiding place while we arted.)

    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    Dinnertime musings

    My little Bubbah, my Bean, and I spent a glorious afternoon at my mother's today, playing outside and watching a pair of spastic squirrels square off over Bubb's dropped peanut butter cracker. (We eventually tossed them another one, just to make it fair. I surmised the squirrels were sisters--they still went after each other's cracker.) After spending a day sunning and relaxing, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking an elaborate dinner. Plus, it's shopping day. The inside of the fridge looks remarkably like Antarctica: white and empty. Soooooo...what's for dinner? Let's hop over to http://yummymummykitchen.com for inspiration!

    Bakes Spaghetti with Burrata it is. Thank you Marina!!!

    Baked Spaghetti with Burrata 
    serves 8 

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
    1 small yellow onion 
    4 cloves garlic, minced 
    1 teaspoon dried basil 
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 teaspoon sea salt 
    1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper 
    1 (28 oz) plus 1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes (or my favorite, 1-2 boxes Pomi strained tomatoes) 
    1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste  
    1 cup sliced bell pepper, any color 
    1/2 cup sliced crimini mushrooms 
    localoffersIcon
    2 tablespoons capers (optional) 
    8 oz. cooked meatballs (optional)
    localoffersIcon
    1 lb. spaghetti (whole wheat, gluten free, high protein, etc.) 
    8 oz burrata or fresh mozzarella (packed in water), drained 
     
    In a large pot over medium heat saute onion in olive oil until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and saute another minute. Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste and cook 15 minutes. Add peppers, mushrooms, capers, and meatballs and simmer until vegetables are just softened, about 3 minutes. 

    Meanwhile, cook spaghetti until al dente according to package directions and drain. Preheat broiler. 

    Toss spaghetti with sauce and transfer to a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Tear cheese into pieces and scatter over pasta. Place dish under broiler and cook 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted and browned in spots. 

    Make Ahead Option: 
    Assemble the entire dish and cover with foil. Refrigerate for up to 1 day. Instead of broiling, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and browned. 

    Vegan Option: 
    Use vegan meatless meatballs and vegan mozzarella or parmesan cheese. 

    Gluten Free Option: 
    Use gluten free spaghetti and meatballs 
     
     
    I used gemelli instead of spaghetti, and mozzarella, but it was still fabulous: fast and tastie. Yummy Mummy is one of my favorite food blogs, AND Marina has a cookbook available. Guess what I'm itching to pick up??
    Ciao!
     

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Morning Meditation?

       Happy Morning, everyone! (No, I'm not one of those delightfully chipper morning persons you read about--my husband will be the first to tell you.) I've been awake for a couple hours now, and feeling mostly human, so you get nice Cole instead of evil just-woken-up Cole. So why am I so chipper this morning? It's a beautifully sunny summer morning (Okay, almost summer. I know it's not summer yet...I'm Pagan. We get that stuff. No big party? Not a new season then. See? Perfect logic.) and I woke up to birds singing at the birdfeeder, and had a chance to meditate. Yes, meditate. Not meditate as in sitting pretzeled up making funny sounds with my breath while warbling Vedic chants (not to say that's not a great way to do it) but just lying in bed, watching the leaf shadows move on the walls, listening to my baby breathe beside me.
       Meditation is about finding peace within. Allowing yourself to relax fully so that you may achieve a true sense of peace and calm, thereby gaining the ability to do...anything. If you are at peace with yourself, centered within your Self, you begin to see that the small irritating things that fly at you during the day like rabid mosquitos really are just small, insignificant things that aren't worth your anger or worry. And the big things that suddenly fly up before you, wings outstretched, talons bared? You find yourself more able to deal with them. You are calm, able to look the issue in the face and stare it down into submission.
       Do yourself a favor, give yourself a gift of time. (I know, what's that??) Tomorrow, when you first wake up, give yourself 5 minutes. Listen to yourself breathe. Listen to the birds outside. Have a cat? Give them a scratch and listen to them purr. If it's raining, listen to that. See how much better you feel over the course of the day. I know I'm feeling pretty good this morning. And now I'm off to clean up some spilled grape juice. http://www.meditatelikeagirl.com/


     

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    It's Summer! Let's Read! (Okay...We're Breathing! Let's Read!)

     



       Soo...it being that most marvelous time of year, SUMMER, what are your plans? Mine, being Momma and Writer, are going to be the same as my plans for spring, fall, and winter (minus the hot cocoa and quilts, and with a few sandy-beach reading spots thrown in). Somehow, tho, it does seem that I have more time for reading through the summer, probably because my idea of dinner in the summer is salad, not stew; ergo, I'm only cooking for about 15 minutes instead of 45.
       Anyway, here you are, my summer reading list. I have not read all (most!) of these, so I can't guarantee they're worth the time, but the ones I have read, I'll let you know. ;) ***All of the photos and info found here are via Goodreads. Know Goodreads? You DON'T?!? Check it out today!!! http://www.goodreads.com

    Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
    Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
       
    Discover the Celtic Circle of Belonging John O'Donohue, poet, philosopher, and scholar, guides you through the spiritual landscape of the Irish imagination. In Anam Cara, Gaelic for "soul friend," the ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic wisdom provide such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death.



    The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American RomanticismThe Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
    Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody were in many ways our American Brontes. The story of these remarkable sisters — and their central role in shaping the thinking of their day — has never before been fully told. Twenty years in the making, Megan Marshall's monumental biograpy brings the era of creative ferment known as American Romanticism to new life. Elizabeth, the oldest sister, was a mind-on-fire thinker. A powerful influence on the great writers of the era — Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau among them — she also published some of their earliest works. It was Elizabeth who prodded these newly minted Transcendentalists away from Emerson's individualism and toward a greater connection to others. Mary was a determined and passionate reformer who finally found her soul mate in the great educator Horace Mann. The frail Sophia was a painter who won the admiration of the preeminent society artists of the day. She married Nathaniel Hawthorne — but not before Hawthorne threw the delicate dynamics among the sisters into disarray. Marshall focuses on the moment when the Peabody sisters made their indelible mark on history. Her unprecedented research into these lives uncovered thousands of letters never read before as well as other previously unmined original sources. The Peabody Sisters casts new light on a legendary American era. Its publication is destined to become an event in American biography. This book is highly recommended for students and reading groups interested in American history, American literature, and women's studies. It is a wonderful look into 19th-century life
     

    Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories

    Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories
      
    Widely praised and widely read, Elizabeth Hand is regarded as one of America's leading literary fantasists. This new collection (an expansion of the limited-release Bibliomancy, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2005) showcases a wildly inventive author at the height of her powers. Included in this collection are "The Least Trumps," in which a lonely women reaches out to the world through symbols, tattooing, and the Tarot, and "Pavane for a Prince of the Air," where neo-pagan rituals bring a recently departed soul to something very different than eternal rest. Written in the author's characteristic poetic prose and rich with the details of traumatic lives that are luminously transformed, Saffron and Brimstone is a worthy addition to an outstanding career.

    Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
    Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
    by
      
    There are more crows now than ever. Their abundance is both an indicator of ecological imbalance and a generous opportunity to connect with the animal world. CROW PLANET reminds us that we do not need to head to faraway places to encounter "nature." Rather, even in the suburbs and cities where we live we are surrounded by wild life such as crows, and through observing them we can enhance our appreciation of the world's natural order. CROW PLANET richly weaves Haupt's own "crow stories" as well as scientific and scholarly research and the history and mythology of crows, culminating in a book that is sure to make readers see the world around them in a very different way
     

    Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey

    Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey
    by
      
    More than a quarter of a million Americans crossed the continental United States between 1840 and 1870, going west in one of the greatest migrations of modern times. The frontiersmen have become an integral part of our history and folklore, but the Westering experiences of American women are equally central to an accurate picture of what life was like on the frontier.
    Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah: Volume 1Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah
    ***This review is by Goodreads user Torben. Thanx Torben!
     
    Burton is one of the great characters of the Victorian age. Brave and adventurous like many of his contemporaries but with a personal attitude that was very different from the hypocritical and puritanical attitude commonplace in Victorian society.

    This book tells of how Burton made the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, in disguise. A thoroughly dangerous undertaking as any Non-Muslims entering the holy cities would likely have been killed if discovered. Burton tells his story with an eye for detail and a great sense of humour. His descriptions of the characters, savoury and unsavoury, he meets on the way are excellent. He very much comes across as an intelligent man with a great thirst for knowledge. If you are interested in Islam, Arab life or Burton himself then I couldn't recommend this book enough.


    Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women WritersForbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers
    by
      
    As these eleven dark and wild stories demonstrate, fairy tales by Victorian women constitute a distinct literary tradition, one startlingly subversive of the society that fostered it. From Anne Thackeray Ritchie's adaptations of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" to Christina Rossetti's unsettling antifantasies in Speaking Likenesses, these are breathtaking acts of imaginative freedom, by turns amusing, charming, and disturbing. Besides their social and historical implications, they are extraordinary stories, full of strange delights for readers of any age. *** My planned degree is in Nineteenth Century Literature and Women's Studies. This book looks like fun!
     
    Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folk Tales for Mothers and Daughters to ShareMirror, Mirror: Forty Folk Tales for Mothers and Daughters to Share
      
    With more than 200 books to her name, popular storyteller Yolen (editor of Favorite Folktales Around the World) can be forgiven for one that doesn't quite measure up. The subtitle notwithstanding, this collection compiled with her grown daughter, with whom she has co-authored two children's books, is more apt to resonate with women than kids, for whom the authors' commentaries on parental expectations, sex and abuse, which are sprinkled with references to psychology and feminist texts, will be too didactic. Impatient teens who want to read a story only once may also balk at the structure. Each section highlights several variations of either a particular tale -- including ones about Persephone, Rapunzel and Snow White -- or a theme -- such as caring daughters, mothers-in-law or bad seeds. On the other hand, mothers of all ages will welcome the opportunity to get reacquainted with mother-daughter folk stories like the French "Diamonds and Toads" (also known as "The Fairy") about just rewards, as well as ones from Bengal, Nigeria and Armenia that are less familiar in the West. Some stories are unnerving, like "Daughter, My Little Bread", an Indian tale about a newlywed who kills her mother and then is killed by her husband, while the Lebanese tale of self-sacrifice, "The Mother", is heart-warming in the best sense. There's no denying the pleasure of a well-told tale, or in this case forty of them, although mothers may need to do some extra work to spark conversation about them.
     
     



    The Kitchen DaughterThe Kitchen Daughter
    by
      
    After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

    A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.



    The DovekeepersThe Dovekeepers
      
    Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.

    Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. ***I don't know how many times I've read this book. It doesn't matter. I love this book. I will read it again this summer. And probably again.
     
    Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who WriteFruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write
    by
      
    Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!!  **One of my favorite "about writing" books ever!



    The Ordinary PrincessThe Ordinary Princess
      
    Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone's surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is! ***Because I refuse to grow up. LOVE this book!!