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.