Saturday, May 31, 2014

The immortal John Keats, and 'Endymion'

   Happy Saturday all! I write to you today with a four year old tucked under my arm, so I beg indulgence if odd letters pop up in this post. We're teaching him to type.

     Today is the last day of May, and as I listen to the birds sing and smell the lilacs that have bloomed at the bottom of my steps (I'm horribly allergic, by the way!) I can't help but feel summer has truly arrived, even though Litha is still weeks away. No matter: the sun is shining goldenly, my seedlings are growing tall and blossoming, my stepson is graduating in a week; it's summer in this household! And so, to welcome the onset of summer, I took a small vacation...with John Keats. (Yeah, sorry all; no spectacular photos of Cape Ann or Mystic to share with you, not yet anyway.)

     I finished reading Endymion last night; it was everything I had heard it to be: lush, lyrical, moving in Endymion's near despair, and then crowned with his triumph and joy. It is also lacking the elegance and finish of his other works, such as On the Grasshopper and the Cricket, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and all his sonnets to Fanny Brawne. Endymion is a journey through Greece's mythical landscape as Endymion seeks to find the maid he loved in a dream. He passes field and woods, caverns of riches and traverses Neptune's realm in his journey, seeking truth, love, and gaining knowledge of life in his travels. I'm glad I read it, but it is not a favorite, and I do not think I will read it again. (His sonnets to Fanny, and the letters of John Keats and Fanny Brawne I shall return to again and again, just like the letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrette. Such romance! Such passion!) I am beginning William Butler Yeats' The Celtic Twilight today. I have some chores to attend to, not the least of which is playing in the dirt with my four year old (he has flowers to plant in his own pot) but later today should you drop by you shall find me tucked into a shady corner of my back steps with a glass of iced tea and my book. If I don't see you, have a great Saturday!

     And because we'd far rather be reading than cooking on a lovely day like today, here's a fast and easy quiche that you can't go wrong with...unless you hate goat cheese. In which case, use cheddar or Monterey jack.

Goat Cheese and Basil Quiche

1 unbaked pie crust

8 to 10 eggs, depending on how thick you want your quiche

2 to 3 Tbs. milk, heavy cream or half and half

16 oz. crumbled goat cheese

1/2 C. coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

Kosher salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; place crust in pie plate (if making your own)

 2. Whisk eggs with enough milk to make creamy, add salt and pepper.

 3. Stir in goat cheese and basil, pour into pie crust.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until center is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on rack and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

This is probably my seventeen year old son's favorite dinner. There are rarely leftovers, and when there are, he eats them for breakfast the next day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Concord Days

'A house, without garden or orchard, is unfinished, incomplete, does not fulfill our ideas of the homestead, but stands isolate, defiant in its individualism, with a savage, slovenly air, and distance, that lacks softening and blending with the surrounding landscape.' A. Bronson Alcott, Concord Days

     A bit extreme, I think. I hardly think a house without a garden looks 'savage' or 'slovenly,' but we must bear in mind that Bronson Alcott was wont to compare others to himself and usually find them wanting; and he was an avid gardener. Again, a bit extreme, but I can empathize: I love flowers, and have pots on my back steps planted with peas, beans, lettuce and squash.

      In his essay 'Berries' Alcott includes William Ellery Channing's poem Our Blueberry Swamp, which is a clear example of the love both men had for the New England woodlands they came from.

Our Blueberry Swamp

   ~W.E. Channing

 Orange groves mid-tropic lie,

Festal for the Spaniard's eye,

And the red pomegranate grows

Where the luscious southwest blows;

Myrrh and spikenard in the East

Multiply the Persian's feast,

And our northern wilderness

Boasts its fruits our lips to bless.

Wouldst enjoy a magic sight,

And so heal vexations spite?

Hasten to my blueberry swamp, --

Green o'erhead the wild bird's camp;

Here in thickets bending low,

Thickly piled the blueberries grow,

Freely spent on youth and maid,

In the swamp's cooling shade,

Pluck the clusters plump and full,

Handful after handful pull!

Choose which path, the fruitage hangs, --

Fear no more the gripping fangs

Of the garden's spaded stuff, --

This is healthy, done enough.

Pull away! the afternoon

Dies beyond the meadow soon.

Art thou a good citizen?

Move into a blueberry fen;

Here are leisure, wealth, and ease,

Sure thy taste and thought to please,

Drugged with nature's spicy tunes,

Hummed upon the summer noons.

Rich is he that asks no more

Than of blueberries a store,

Who can snatch the clusters off,

Pleased with himself and them enough.

Fame? -- the chickadee is calling; --

Love? -- the fat pine cones are falling;

Heaven? -- the berries in the air; --

Eternity -- their juice so rare.

And if thy sorrows will not fly,

Then get thee down and softly die.

In the eddy of the breeze,

Leave the world beneath those trees,

And the purple runnel's tune

Melodize thy mossy swoon.


 'But for letters the best of our life would hardly survive the mood and the moment.' A. Bronson Alcott

      What would Alcott make of the world of today, where letters are rarely exchanged, and hurried emails and slang-filled texts are the norm? Letter-writing is a lost art; I had to teach my older children how to write letters as it is no longer part of any (public) school English curriculum. I don't know if my step-children know how to write letters; really, they're so tech-savvy they would probably view it as a weird waste of time. My children get it, perhaps only because they live with a writer.

  When is the last time you received a letter in the mail? Not a piece of business mail, but an honest-to-goodness personal letter, chatty, full of news both interesting and amusing? Same here.


 'Books' (oh, how I love them!):

 ' morsel is more delicious than a ripe book, a book whose flavor is as refreshing at the thousandth tasting as at the first.'

 'The best books appeal to the deepest in us and answer the demand.'

 '...the sight of them, the knowledge that they are within reach, accessible at any moment, rewards me when I invite their company.'


     In his essay on 'Women,' (heaven help us!) Alcott states that 'The ancient philosophers had so good an opinion of the sex, that they ascribed all sciences to the Muses, all sweetness and morality to the Graces, and prophetic inspiration to the Sybils.' While these roles and titles may be true, it is worth noting that the ancient philosophers in fact were outrageous misogynists, Plato one of the first among these ranks.


      Alcott includes an essay on the minister Henry Ward Beecher; short, but lavish and sincere in its praise for the sermons and delivery of his homily to his congregation.

     There are several more essays in this collection; I have only included thoughts on a very small fraction. I have heard Bronson Alcott's book Tablets is also worth reading, but I'm going to wait on that until I've completed this summer's planned list; then I'll go looking for this, as well as a biography of Mary Anning, Rachel Carson (as well as her Silent Spring), and a biography of Margaret Fuller. (I own her Woman in the Nineteenth Century.)


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott, contemporaries, friends

     I have finished Thoreau's Walking, and while exquisitely written and definitely thought-provoking, I did not find it as moving as Nature. (Though in all honesty I believe chapter 8 of Nature eclipses all the rest of the book.) I do appreciate Thoreau's metaphors, however: walking through nature as a metaphor for living life, and the observations we make of nature while walking as the development of our own consciousnesses.

     I am several chapters into Concord Days by Bronson Alcott. Though I have zero respect for the man, his biographer John Matteson (Eden's Outcasts) claims it is one of Alcott's better books. (Possibly his best, as Record of a School was actually written by Elizabeth Peabody.)

     Alcott's memorial essay on Thoreau is incredible: clear, honest, it bespeaks of his admiration and of an affectionate friendship. His essay on Emerson is not so good, which is surprising, considering Alcott considered Emerson to be his dearest friend as well as a mentor. The essay is very distracted-seeming; it goes off on tangents unrelated to Emerson or his vision, then comes back, only to drift off again.

     And since it's perfect reading weather (I know, when do I think it's not?) here is a recipe for one of my favorite summertime drinks, basil lemonade, with strawberries. Enjoy! (Found in a Vegetarian Times magazine; taken from the website.) *The strawberries are my own addition*

Serves 6
30 minutes or fewer
Even in a world of fancy sodas and gourmet iced teas, homemade lemonade will always be a treat. This version gets infused with fresh basil, but you could also use mint, or lesser amounts of rosemary, sage, or thyme. The basil syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge, so you may want to double the recipe and use the extra to sweeten iced tea or spring cocktails.
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed, plus 6 basil sprigs for garnish
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced (optional)
1. Bring basil leaves, sugar, and 2 cups water to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and bruise basil leaves. Simmer 5 minutes without stirring. Strain, pressing on basil to remove liquid. Cool.
2. Pour 2 cups basil syrup into large pitcher. Stir in lemon juice and 4 cups water. Transfer to refrigerator, and chill well. Serve over ice, garnished with basil sprigs and sliced strawberries.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

'The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.' ~RWE, 1836

   Greetings all; it's been a few days, a few crazy-busy days, as my household gears up and dives into end of the school year happenings. We've hit the weekend now, though, not just any weekend, but THE weekend, that 3 day stretch of fun and freedom, Memorial Day weekend. Not just for beach and barbecue fun, though. Let us not forget all those currently serving, those waiting to be called up, and those that have done their duty to family and country. Thank a veteran if you know any, and if you don't, take a moment amid your weekend revels and spare a thought for all of those who have, and are, giving themselves for their countries.

     In my last post I shared a summer reading list; I have commenced, and in fact just finished the first part, namely Ralph Waldo Emerson's incomparable essay Nature, which is not about nature, as one might expect, but rather the human mind, and how it relates to, and relies on nature for its completion and wholeness.

     What are we, who are we, in relation to the world around us? This is what Emerson wishes us to understand: "The beauty of nature reforms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation." It is only through an appreciation of nature can mankind achieve wholeness. And if we fail to properly observe and appreciate our interconnectedness and reliance upon nature we, as well as the world around us, will be doomed: "The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty is solved by redemption of the soul. The ruin of the blank that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye."

     There is a sickness in this world, a sickness of greed and violence, and it's destroying us, and our world with it. I don't mean pollution or deforestation, or any of the other very valid environmental concerns the planet is facing. I mean the world around us, humanity itself. We live in a world where children are abused and mistreated; Emerson, himself a father, recognized in children the world's saving grace: "The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child. [...] the thick darkness there are not wanting gleams of a better light...with reason as well as understanding. Such examples are...the miracles of enthusiasm (which can be perceived as hope -NKP); prayer; eloquence; self-healing; and the wisdom of children." Children are our greatest hope, and yet perhaps one of the least-treasured aspects of this world. We live in a world where gentle creatures are raised for not greater purpose than to become food (and I'm not placing any blame of those of you who love a juicy steak--my husband is one of you), and are raised in horrific conditions and maltreated, simply because they can be. People of this world are living in abject poverty and filth, unable even to have clean water, only in part due to their circumstances, and largely due to pollution. Entire species of animals are becoming extinct as I type this; children are dying of starvation. Our world, our very humanity, is diseased, and there doesn't seem to be a cure.

     People care, I know they do. We see evidence of this every single day. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of us to fend off the growing threat of soul-sickness. More of us have to be willing to try, to give, to believe. It's difficult, I know. We have obligations, we have our own problems, we have our own needs, and we have to take care of those. Somehow, we have to find some kind of balance, before it's too late to save all of us.

     "The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. Love is as much its demand as perception. Indeed, neither can be perfect without the other." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1836

Monday, May 12, 2014

sends me a poem a day, and today's is a perfect paean to spring! Enjoy!!

The Frog Pool

Week after week it shrank and shrank
as the fierce drought fiend drank and drank,
till on the bone-dry bed revealed
the mud peeled;
but now tonight is steamy-warm,
heavy with hint of thunderstorm.

And hark! hark! hoarse and harsh
the throaty croak of the frogs in the marsh:
"Wake! wake! awake! awake!
The drought break!"
but no, that chorus seems to me
more a primeval harmony.

The thunder booms, the floods flow
blended with deeper din below,
and every time the skies crash
the swamps flash!
and the whole place will be tonight
a pandemonium of delight.

James Martin Devaney  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List


1. Nature: Ralph Waldo Emerson; Walking: Henry David Thoreau

Essays by two of Transcendentalism's greatest minds.


2. Concord Days: A. Bronson Alcott

 A collection of essays, not just about Concord, but various topics Alcott found interesting. Should be an experience.


3. Endymion: John Keats

Ah, Keats. One of his great romantic epics.


4. The Celtic Twilight and a Selection of Early poems: W.B. Yeats

A volume of essays on the nature of the faerie realm within Irish culture, as well as poetry.


5. Madame Curie: A Biography: Eve Curie

A biography of one of science's greatest minds, written by her daughter.


6. The Book About Blanche and Marie: A Novel: Per Olov Enquist

style='float:left imageanchor=1' v:shapes="_x0000_i1030">Sadly, a work of fiction. Blanche Wittman was a real person, and she really was Marie Curie's lab assistant. Unfortunately, there is apparently no biography of Blanche Wittman, though Enquest does write his novel from historical sources (letters, notes, diaries, etc.).


7. A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer: Elisabeth de Feydeau ; translated by Jane Lizop

Looks fairly self-explanatory.


8. The El Dorado Adventure: Lloyd Alexander

I first met Vesper Holly when I was ten years old and she was seventeen. I loved the four books I read. (I still own The Illyrian Adventure and The Drakenburg Adventure {1 and 3, respectively}) I'm thirty-seven, she's still seventeen, but I'm looking forward to hanging out with Vesper again just the same. Hopefully we won't get into too much trouble.


9. The Jedera Adventure: Lloyd Alexander


10. The Philadelphia Adventure: Lloyd Alexander


11. The Xanadu Adventure: Lloyd Alexander


12. Swimming With Giants: My Encounters with Whales, Dolphins and Seals: Anne Collet

I cannot wait to read this book.


13. Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food and Flavor: Laura Esquivel

The author of the incredible Like Water for Chocolate gives us nonfiction autobiographical essays? Yes, please.


14. A Darkness Forged in Fire (1): Chris Evans

A new-to-me fantasy epic. Oh, we are off on adventures this summer. (My seventeen year old already has his eye on this one.)


15. The Light of Burning Shadows (2): Chris Evans


16. Ashes of a Black Frost (3): Chris Evans


17. Composing a Life: Mary Catherine Bateson

 Cultural Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson explores how five women have learned to shape their lives around unforeseen and unplanned circumstances, many of which most American women face today.

This book is about life as an improvisatory art, about the ways we combine familiar and unfamiliar components in response to new situations, following an underlying grammar and an evolving aesthetic.

Bateson sees discontinuities and interruptions in life, such as raising children, career changes, and divorce, as creative material rather than disruption, and she seeks to create a unifying thread of all life experience.

Just as change stimulates us to look for more abstract constancies, so the individual effort to compose a life, framed by birth and death and carefully pieced together from disparate elements, becomes a statement on the unity of living. These works of art, still incomplete, are parables in process, the living metaphors with which we describe the world. (Taken from The Blue Bookcase:



18. Laughter, Tears, Silence: Expressive Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Open Your Heart: Pragito Dove

Again, fairly self-explanatory. Still working my way into a meditation practice. This looks like it will complement the books I already own.


19. The Tempest: William Shakespeare

20. Antony and Cleopatra: William Shakespeare



21. Sophie's World: Jostein Gaarder

This is my daughter's book. It is a Young Adult intro to philosophy. Philosophy is a HUGE subject. I'll be smart and start small.


22. Thomas Jefferson's Garden book, 1766-1824, with relevant extracts from his other writings: Thomas Jefferson, annotated by Edwin Morris Betts

 I don't know if I'll get to this one before summer's over. I have never been to Jefferson's beloved Monticello, and I don't really know if I ever will. However, history clearly states that Jefferson was an avid gardener who collected plant species and created new hybrids, constantly reveling in the world around him.

I lost 4 of my images; I'll try to remedy this soon. All images found on Google.