Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Christmas Wish Fulfilled ...

Three days before Christmas, the temperatures climbed to the 40's, the rains came in and turned our winter wonderland into a muddy mire. Our dirt road was in danger of turning into an impassable quagmire. I was stressed and depressed just thinking about being stuck. Then, the temperature dropped and we worried about an ice storm that came through New England ... but here on our little mountain? More rain and then a deep freeze.

Christmas Eve brought snow showers, but nothing major. The kids made it out of Boston and New York City without incident and then down our rutty old dirt road. Still, the temperature dropped further and Christmas Day was bitterly cold, but who cared at that point? We were safe and together with food and fires and our Christmas traditions.

Then on Christmas night, the most beautiful snow began to fall. Gently, softly, it settled over everything and made the world so lovely. The next morning, my daughter took these pictures, as we ventured out to go to our little local diner for an easy breakfast. The perfect end to our short holiday interlude with the kids. They're all back in 'their worlds' at this point, but we have wonderful memories of this Christmas!

I hope you've had a great holiday with your families and friends! Happy New Year, friends!

Shared with others at Saturday Snapshot

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top Reads for 2013 ...

My gosh, the year  flew by ... and my self-imposed challenge to read 100 books in 2013 went unfulfilled, but not for lack of trying! I made it halfway to the goal and turned some exceptional pages, to boot! It's funny. I never really pushed the challenge on any of my family or friends, and yet a few people have chatted with me about my best reads of the year ... which got me thinking about the books that I've completed this year. I've always been a sucker for lists and so I'd like to toot my top ten (yeah, okay 11) books of the year ... no synopses, no ranting, just a few works of description ...

Realistic Fiction- grief and redemption ... haunting scenes of emotional isolation

YA Fantasy - the most bizarre and wonderful place with the coolest use of old photos to enhance the plot

Biography- a righteous man in an evil time who held his morals intact against Nazi bullies

Criminal Thriller- one kick-ass Crimie with an ending that will have you shaking your head

Fantasy - a darker than dark re-telling of the Peter Pan story with artwork that is phenomenal

Memoir - growing up in China - UGH - and cheering for the underdog kid

Dramatic Fiction - a chance in a lifetime, a good deed gone awry, a haunting story

Middle Reader Realistic Fiction - a remarkable young boy makes a big change for the better

Religion/Theology - separating the historical Jesus from the spiritual Savior

Biography - a remarkably talented woman creates an artistic haven for herself and fellow artists in Gloucester, MA

Historical Fiction - the beginning of a saga about New York - Grade A historical fiction

So there you go ... my faves for the year. It was hard picking a short list ... there have been so many good books. Reviewing the year, though, has made me realize that I did spread my reading across genres, which was one of the side goals for the 100 Book Challenge. It also made me happy to look back at the new authors that I discovered ... there are so many talented writers out there in the world! I am SO glad that I enjoy reading!I can hardly wait to begin a new year and start working on a new reading goal ... stay tuned.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Christmas Barn ... Saturday Snapshot

This small barn /shed sits on land right along Route 9 between Brattleboro and Bennington, Vermont. It's the road that I travel several times a year to visit my parents over in New York State. Every time I pass this shed, I vow that I will stop and photograph it, as the owners always have the doors decorated with lovely seasonal wreaths or sprays of flowers. This last trip across the mountain pass seemed the time to finally fulfill my promise to myself ... the Christmas wreaths and snowy day made the shed look so nice! And there was a bonus ... see the box in front of the doors? They have lights hidden in it. When we drove home that evening, the doors were all lit up and it was snowing as we passed back by ... it was just lovely! Like a Vermont postcard labelled "Have a Merry White Christmas!"

Merry Christmas !!!

This post is shared with others at West Metro Mommy Reads . Check out what others are sharing this week at Saturday Snapshot!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Place of Greater Safety - Hilary Mantel

Three young men come together at a Catholic school in the years prior to the French Revolution. They come from different classes of society, have vastly different personalities, and end up travelling different life paths that criss-cross during the turbulent years leading up to the dissolution of the French economy, the famine among the French commoners, destruction of the French monarchy, the rise of political factions that wrench a republic from the blood soaked ruins of French society. If you can keep the political comings and goings of the characters straight, you'll have won half the battle with this book. It's an enthralling read, but I am infinitely grateful for the 'Cast of Characters' printed at the beginning of the book!

Hilary Mantel has taken the lives of Maximilien Robespierre, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Camille Desmoulins and woven a tale that leads the reader through the tangled and corrupt society of the French nobility, the grasping class of public servants, the rough and tumble street life of Paris, and the bourgeois life of rural France that rises to become a political force to be reckoned with during the years leading up to the French Revolution.

As in a Shakespearean play, it becomes evident for those unfamiliar with these three historical figures that they will meet a sad ending ... the guillotine was, indeed, a sad mistress. What's really scary, though, is contemplating the social force that was behind this historic revolution. I was reminded of a tsunami when I thought about the public fervor that careened out of control during this era. Scary times. Desperate times.

If you are interested in historical fiction, this is a good read ... I think it's challenging, but highly satisfying. I did, though, have to do extensive Internet research/reading to keep on top of the political developments during the late 1700's in France.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: Advent Waiting and Watching

Last evening, we were treated to the first real snow of the season ... and it came at a perfect time. My husband had put a small field grown Christmas tree into the barrel and strung some new LED lights on it. It looked pretty pathetic during the day with its wires draping off the branches and those airy branches waving limp in the breeze, but oh ... what a little snow can do !!!

It was a lovely way to go to bed - the lights from the tree casting a colorful glimmer through the bedroom windows.

This morning, everything has a pretty topping of fluffy white. I loved the red, white, and blue of the winterberry bunch  on my small terrace ... more clouds and a soft grey sunrise ... I'm waiting for Christmas to come and more snow to blanket us! Just quietly waiting ...

Shared with others at this week's Saturday Snapshot ... thank you, Melinda for being our hostess!

Monday, December 2, 2013

In the Body of the World - Eve Ensler

This is a book about avoidance and confrontation, powerful personality and humbled soul, living life and confronting death, internalizing violence and evil and harvesting cancer. This is a difficult and often tearful read that is amazing and cathartic and rejuvenating. This is a memoir of Eve Ensler's bout with cancer, her psychological voyage through the disease, her trial by fire within the healthcare system and her eventual victory over the cancer that ravaged her body.

I couldn't help but be reminded of Dante's journey through Hell when I read this book. Ms. Ensler travels the world advocating for an end to violence against women and children. She recounts the endless people and places that she has witnessed, the causes she has invested her energy in, and tells of the violent family dynamics that caused her such early pain. It is clear that she has spent her life coming to terms with her father's violent and abusive treatment, her mother's passivity, her dangerous and rebellious behavior. Her past has fueled her passions for advocacy, but that advocacy took its toll on her body.

Her voyage through the diagnosis of uterine cancer, the surgical removal of various tumors, the complications of infection, the chemo therapy, and the soul searching and emotional tribulations make for such a powerful read ... that's all I can say. The woman is a force of nature ... a fighter ... a philosopher ... a strong female force for nurturance and peace and healing and feminine empowerment. God bless her.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Snapshot ...

Here comes the Christmas season! Here in my little grey cottage, we do Christmas a little at a time ... I have an Advent calendar that comes out on the weekend after Thanksgiving Thursday. It has little pockets with strips of paper that have small tasks, fun activities, reading ideas, et cetera printed on the small slips of paper. Each day I try to complete that one small activity and before you know it, the cookies are baked, the presents are wrapped, the fun books read, the house is decorated (and not overly so), and we are ready to celebrate on a quiet Christmas Eve ...

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season. If you love all the rushing about and over-indulgence and mania that Christmas preparations can bring, have at it! But if you like a slower and more mellow approach to the holidays, I bid you peace and quiet and contemplation ... and I will be right there along side you in spirit. Merry Christmas !

Yesterday, I sat by the fire and made a bow for our front door wreath. And then, my husband and I hung it on the outside of the storm door. It's really cold here in New England. I came back inside and we stoked the fires in the woodstoves. I started painting a mirror frame for the bathroom mirror. Thanksgiving leftovers made meals more like browsing fests ... a relaxing way to start the holiday season, don't you think?

My first Christmas wish is that we get some snow soon ... just a bit ... to make things pretty for when we walk down into the woods to cut more greens for the vases and picture frames around the cottage. What are your Christmas wishes?

I'm sharing my wreath snapshot with others on today's Saturday Snapshot over at West Metro Mommy Reads, Melinda's blog. Head on over to see what others are posting! Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Apothecary - Maile Meloy

Ever since I stopped teaching, I have missed the classroom read-aloud time just about as much as I have missed the kids. Consequently, I keep my eyes out for a good middle reader that has the action, the content that is ripe for discussion, setting and events that bring 'teachable moments' to discussion, and a book that I know will lead kids to want more, more, more at the end of each chapter.

I have found it in this kid's novel by Maile Meloy. Her style is fast-paced. She has an excellent way with dialogue that makes it sound 'real and true' to and between her characters. She can tell a tale with mystery and yes, violence without having things get out of hand and too graphic.

In this particular book, she deals with the Cold War that is in full swing after World War II. Her young protagonist Janie Scott is a transplanted Californian in London. Janie's parents have been placed on the suspicion list of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Rather than stay in the States and face blacklisting, they move to London and get work in the British film industry. Janie is unceremoniously uprooted from her California high school and moved with her parents to England. She is homesick, nervous, and confused about her parents' predicament.

Fate will deliver her an adventure that will bring magic and mystery into her life, though. Janie meets some interesting new schoolmates at her small private school that also share mysterious backgrounds. On Janie's first day of school, she meets Benjamin Burrows and Sergei Shiskin. Benjamin's father is an apothecary in a shop near Janie's new flat. Sergei's father is a mysterious presence in the park near the school. As Janie gets to know Benjamin, she finds he wants more than to be an apothecary like his father, but events will transpire that make Benjamin develop more than a passing interest in what his father does in his apothecary shop. Sergei will be dragged into exciting events that develop around a pharmacoepia manual that Benjamin's father guards with unatural and mysterious zeal and his father's involvement with Mr. Burrows. When Mr. Burrows is kidnapped by agents with German accents, Benjamin and Janie become steward of the mysterious and valuable pharmacoepia manual and dash fast to understand just what tiger they have grabbed by the tail! Spies, questionable allies, lies and secrets, and yes, just a bit of teen romance ... what a fun read-aloud for a winter vacation trip, in a classroom in the weeks before school vacation, or curled up before bed each night.

The beauty of the book is that it has a follow-up novel that I really think will inspire kids to follow up on Janie's and Benjamin's adventures ... The Apprentice.  Appropriate for readers from about ten and upward to fourteen or fifteen. ... Christmas is coming ... enjoy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Time to Kill - John Grisham

I'm not usually a lover of the legal/criminal thriller, but over the years, John Grisham has captured my attention. I've usually become familiar with his stories through the movie adaptations of his work, but I've also begun to pick up his books on occasion. It started, though, with his book called A Painted House, which was NOT a legal thriller. I found it refreshing that he would leave the proven moneymaker formula that he'd cornered and branch out a bit. I also liked his book called Skipping Christmas, a nice comment on leaving commercialism and the rushed and fake nature of one up man ship that Christmas becomes in certain circles of society. The first legal thriller that I read was The Firm. That was good enough that I saw the movie when it was released. And then ... I left well enough alone for a long time.

A while back, I heard that Grisham would be releasing a new novel that picks up after A Time to Kill leaves off. Back comes the lawyer that was embroiled in the legal case that A Time to Kill brought to readers. Back comes the locale and the courthouse, the tension, the groups within Mississippi society that use the criminal case as a springboard for their own agendas, and the dark undercurrent of  'backstory'. My curiosity was piqued, but I'd not read his first blockbuster of a novel ... until now.

Let me say that vigilante justice is a scary proposition for me to consider. On page one, the book places the reader right smack dab in the center of a heinous act. A child is abducted, beaten, raped, and left for dead only to survive and suffer great psychological pain and irreparable physical harm. Her father, while calm and strong for his family, is so deeply traumatized by what has happened to his little girl that he snaps. He gets a gun and sets about killing these two drunken criminal thugs in a very public way.

Thus begins the domino effect that a sensational murder case will cause in this small rural county in Mississippi. Black leaders will galvanize the black community, white supremacists will drag the specter of the KKK back to the public eye, prosecution and defense lawyers will grovel for publicity to enhance their careers, local friends will be challenged to remain friendly with each other as they confront their biases, and a small tight-knit family will be thrown into the limelight under the worst of conditions. It's a tight story with a lot of threads and Grisham tells it well.

I was still left with uneasy feelings and questions about the discrepancies within the legal system where race is concerned, the ethics of lawyers and society's prejudices and passions for vigilantism. Perhaps that is precisely what Grisham aimed to leave his reader with ... boy, what a read!

Addendum- Sycamore Row , Grisham's new book, is currently sitting pretty at #1 on the New York Times best seller list ... ca ching, John!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Antique Books - An Interesting Story

Bay Psalm Book Goes to Auction - New York Times article

This New York Times article grabbed my attention this morning. It was in a series of links that came up when I was researching another topic on the web. Reading about the auction, I felt sad that the Old South Church felt it had to auction such a beautiful piece of liturgical history for the sake of church upkeep. So sad ... our little church is also suffering the pangs of financial woes. I guess it's universal these days. While the endowment at Old South Church is sizable, their presence in the middle of Boston is costly. It's a shame that they feel the need to put up for sale pieces of their historic legacy to keep themselves 'sustainable' - just sayin'. 

To follow this historic book auction ... check in at Sotheby's site here for information on how all this goes down. Auction day is the 26th of this month, I think. 

UPDATE .... posted November 30th. So ... when all was said and done at Sotheby's on the 26th, this little book sold for $14,126,000 to an undisclosed buyer. Pretty impressive, don't you think?

Saturday Snapshot - Andres Institute of Art


A couple weekends ago, my husband and I had old friends visit. On Saturday, we were poking around the region that we live in (New Hampshire/Massachusetts border) and found this wayside art installation in the woods of Brookline, New Hampshire called Andres Institute of Art. It has a really interesting story that I'll link here.

The long and the short of it is that it's a series of trails up, around and over Bear Mountain in Brookline. Along the trails, are some of the most interesting modern sculpture and also some of the most bizarre modern sculpture that I've ever seen. There must be at least fifty sculptures placed in small cleared sites alongside several intersecting walking and mountain bike trails that criss-cross the mountain. The artists displaying their work are from all over the world - the Ukraine, Poland, Vermont, New York, Latvia, Viet Nam, France ...
the materials are varied  - marble, existing stone that is from the installation site, aged machine parts, metals, glass, 'found materials --- i.e. cast-off stuff'. It got to be a bit overwhelming because some of the pieces were just beyond our ken and we got a bit punch drunk towards the end of our visit. It was a fun day in the woods, though, and the sunshine and fresh air made us happy to be rambling along the trails.



Divergence close-up



Nearly Naked

Untitled ... but we called it Here's Johnnie!

After all that culture, we headed for LaBelle Winery for a tasting and then took off for a nice lunch at The Black Forest Cafe and Bakery . What a fun day with friends!

If you're ever in the vicinity ...

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly photoshare administered by Melinda over at West Metro Mommy Reads ... head over and check out the rest of the contributors' posts! Join us with snapshots and commentary of your own! The more the merrier!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Hills of Tuscany - Ferenc Máté

The idea of chucking it all here in the States and moving to a small place in a foreign country is a dream of mine. Several years ago, my husband and I had the chance to live in Germany for a short time; our love of travel and discovery was awakened. Ever since that junket, we've tried to think of a way to get back to Germany on a more permanent basis. We dream. We websearch places and towns in Bavaria. We dream.

Of course, that being said, we'd have to win the lottery. To feed the fantasy, I sometimes pick up books that take me to a different country, a different lifestyle, and a different climate. Good Lord, this latest book has gotten me hooked on the idea of getting my sorry butt to Italy's Tuscan region before I go belly up!

Ferenc Máté writes of he and his wife's decision to finally settle down, after a life of travel, living in a variety of unconventional places, bouncing around the globe at various jobs. The place they choose is Tuscany. The frantic search for a house drives the first half of the book, but interspersed are colorful descriptions of the landscape and the light of Tuscany, the food and wine, the friendliness of the local people, and some history of the region that charms Ferenc and his wife, Candace.

The second half of the book is a slow joyful settling in to the small house and the surrounding countryside. We meet the neighbors, the local townspeople and tradesmen. We learn a bit about farming, as Ferenc and Candace begin to reclaim the land surrounding their home. We hear about festive meals with neighbors and friends and forays into the countryside to forage for the ingredients of late suppers, languid picnics, and romantic interludes. It's all very dreamy and wonderful and is a perfect armchair vacation to a place that is sunny and picturesque, delicious and wine-soaked, romantic and timeless.

Yup ... Tuscany has been added to the bucket list. Thanks, Ferenc.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Johnny Appleseed - The Man, the Myth, and the American Story - Howard Means

First, let me say that I have grown up with the family story that John Chapman was somehow tied to my family tree. Now, that being said, I have known that he never married, was somewhat of an eccentric, was definitely a spiritual man, had few roots (pardon the pun), and definitely had a part in planting loads of apple seeds.

Fast forward to a couple months ago ... my son came to dinner one Sunday and, in dinner conversation, mentioned a new book that he was reading about John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed and how it was a study in separating the historic man from the great American folk hero. He said it was a good read in that it had discussion on the history of the era in which John was active within the NewYork/Pennsylvania/Ohio frontier, the spiritual awakening of the era, and the economics of expansion westward. Being a history geek, I asked him to share the book when he finished reading it.

Eric brought it over last week and I have been reading a bit of it every day since ... I am not disappointed. It's exciting to read the historical information about Chapman's time in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and his connection to the Cooley family (my ancestors). No huge genealogical revelations have come from the book, but the connection is validated by someone else (Howard Means), at least.

The biggest thing I take from the book is a new awareness of the wide open spaces of that post-Revolutionary War frontier in the immediate region just west of the Eastern seaboard. I grew up in New York state, so the idea of wilderness on the Allegheny plateau and the idea of people walking westward by following creek beds and river valleys is just so intriguing. For me, the region is criss-crossed by back roads, small farms and small industrial towns, cut through by the swath of the New York Thruway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and scarred by coal mines slag heaps, quarries and gravel pits, defunct mills and factory towns. It all seems kind of sad when I drive through these days.

To think that places along those rivers provided rich loamy bottom land for Chapman to start apple tree seedlings is just so cool. His business model for surviving seemed to get free seeds from cider mill presses, seed them in on unclaimed land, return to tend them as they grew, harvest them as seedlings and sell or give them to homesteaders who were moving into the region. What a guy! Talk about living a green life and practicing a simple lifestyle ... it gives the reader a look at that era immediately after the new nation formed, when people were moving out away from the thirteen colonies coasts and in toward the frontier.  That's a window of time that we don't often peer through. The great events of the Louisiana purchase were several years off, the Eric Canal was just a dream in some man's mind, there were grand ideas being written about and grand events incubating in New York and Philadelphia, but on the frontier, people were chopping down trees, trading pelts, walking the old Indian trails, and carving out a place in this new country called the United States by claiming the land.

It's a good book, folks. Worthy of a read ... and I'm not saying that just because I have a long ago connection.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - First Hard Frost

It was cold last night ... so crisp and crystalline in the back yard this morning! I snapped a few pictures of my herbs, the vegetable garden and the leaves on the grass ... so pretty! 

oak leaves

cat mint


Brussels sprouts

milk weed seed and oak

shared at Saturday Snapshot photoshare