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IMG_4821My Christmas books have slowly appeared on the coffee tables and sit on the occasional chair. There is even a children’s section on a low bookcase in the hall. I’m hoping a youngster, or two, finds them to read. I adore children’s literature. Over the years, I have acquired a nice  sampling of books of the season; both through my own purchase and as treasured gifts from family and friends.

A few gifts have been purchased, but, I am running behind. I have started gathering ingredients needed to begin my holiday baking. For me, it IS holiday baking. Not everyone I share the gifts of my kitchen with celebrate Christmas. What we do all celebrate is a collective godliness and goodwill during our holy days, and I find great joy in the gift of giving food whenever I can.

Joy.

A theme of this season and one that has been visiting me often lately.  “A Woman’s Christmas; Returning to the Gentle Joys of the Season” was the first of my Christmas literary treasures to find its way back into my hands. It was in this little volume where I found the quote in my previous post. This is a lovely little keepsake book, full of joyful quotes, photos, a few recipes and short essays. It found me last year in one of my favorite antique haunts, Jackson Square Mall. I gravitate to books Victoria Magazine published, especially those of the late 1990’s. There is a gentleness of spirit and sensibility to them that calls to the old fashioned girl in me.

Joy.

It showed up again in Sunday’s sermon. Our pastor is a gifted speaker and his message sang out to me as he spoke of the difference between happiness and joy. He seemed to expand on the words in the aforementioned quote – a coincidence I soaked thirstily up. His words and those of scripture spoke to me, making a “joyful noise” inside my soul.

Joy.

Later, as I pushed my shopping cart through T. J. Maxx, looking for the perfect gifts while gravitating to decorations I did not need, I thought of my happiness at learning that our family will all be together on Christmas this year, then, the pure joy of anticipating a full house overcame me.

My Tasha Tudor Christmas books will eventually make an appearance, especially her book, “Take Joy”.  I have written of it before, here on the Cutoff, and will try to share it again sometime soon.  In-the-meantime, dear reader, I wish you joy.

” . . . No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

“Letter to a Friend” by Fra Giovanni, 1513

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IMG_4678It’s been far too long since we’ve talked books.

My reading has been rather erratic these days; a season of life where my mind tends to wander as randomly as the snowflakes on this post. I’m on the computer, running more errands than Speedy Delivery, and the “this and that” of life that sometimes overtakes our best intentions. This season of reading lapses has been rather long and chronic, but, I’m thinking a cure is at hand; at least, I hope it is, for books have been calling me.

Here are few books I’ve been dipping into, even double dipping, and I’m finding them to be very tasteful morsels.

Nan, who writes wondrous Letters from a Hill Farm, manages to consistently steer me towards authors I might not otherwise hear of. Her engaging post on Heather Lende’s books, which she wrote about HERE, intrigued me so much that I promptly ordered Lende’s “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name”. Then I remembered Sallie, visited Haines and its vicinity last year, posting about it HERE, where she lives a Full Time Life, taking us along on her adventure.

I love the way blogs interconnect.

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Belle, whose charm and grace always come through in her posts on Belle, Book, and Candle, graciously and generously sent me “Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion”. Belle wrote about this compilation of one page commentaries by David Brinkley HERE. Some of you will remember David Brinkley (and his on air news partner, Chet Huntley). I miss the long ago days of the likes of Huntley/Brinkley, Walther Cronkite, and their ilk. Still-in-all, there are good writers like Heather Lende who give us snapshots of life in well written ways.

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As if these weren’t the only books to keep me company for a brief spell whilst sipping tea in a favorite chair (though not the one that got away), or a hot latte in a coffee shop,

My collection of Christmas books are starting to creep into the scene. Books I never tire of and that feel brand new each season. Perhaps I’ll share a few soon, but, right now, my main Christmas book is “Advent and Christmas from G. K. Chesterton”. A quote, a verse, a prayer, and an action. It helps me to remember the season and keeps me a bit grounded in a month of busyness and in a time of such worldly turmoil. Today, the action, in part, is to “turn one would- be grumble into an occasion for thanks”.  I’m working on this.

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Our December book group discussion will be on  Marina Chapman’s “The Girl With No Name”. I’m just getting started with this read and finding it a challenge to put it down. We will, I am sure, have a lively and engaging discussion in a few weeks along with our (wait for it) annual book exchange and food is always involved. I promise, no double dipping there.

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Well, time’s a wasting. The sun is out, temperatures are mild. It is a good day to get the car washed, for salt and snow and soot and such wreak havoc on cars in our climate. My Christmas shopping has barely begun and there is all that baking, which I love to do. Did I mention our garden club meeting on Monday? Oh, I should have, for this month we are celebrating the 1950’s and all things Disney. I can’t wait to see what our members wear, but, first, I need to consider what I’ll use for a table arrangement. Hmmm. I think I will turn this grumble into an occasion for thanks; for this remarkable consortium of gardeners, for the ability to do the work needed, and for all the joy it brings.

How about you? What are you reading?

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The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all.
Laura Ingalls Wilder *

Today is Foursday. Our Ezra attends preschool on “Tuesdays and Foursdays”.

Since today IS Foursday, and since I’ve been rather absent from these pages lately, I wanted to tell you about a few adventures we have had after the terror of Tula 2. Our little adventure started last Foursday as we headed up North to visit with our northern family and help Katy while our son-in-law, Tom, was away for a few days, but, let me begin in at the beginning.

My Tom, whom I will refer to as I often do as Antler Man, and I decided to take a little extra time driving on up, in part to soak up what we hoped would be a colorful landscape of colors throughout Wisconsin. The further north we went, the more vivid nature’s palette became.

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We finally arrived at our destination in time to meet Kezzie’s school bus. For those of you close to grandchildren, this is likely routine, but, for those of us with some distance between our grands and ourselves, it is a treasured treat.

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Katy, Tom and crew have been observing what is bound to become a family ritual, and one I highly recommend to all of you, wherever you live and whatever you climate. For them, way up north, they have dubbed their activities Parktober, in which they visit a state park every weekend in October.

On Saturday, last, before Tom left, we all piled into the car, layered with warm clothes and provisions. We drove past sweet little towns along the Minnesota side ledge of the Mighty Mississippi. Some lunch, some ooh’s and ah’s at the famous river town of Red Wing, and we headed to Frontenac State Park for a hike.

This is one of the first views we saw, overlooking Lake Pepin. By-the-way, the photo was taken by our Kezzie.

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This is from the Minnesota side and it is Lake Pepin. THE Lake Pepin that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about as she told of the Ingalls family’s westward migration from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, crossing the lake, which is a very wide spot of the Mississippi. They crossed in winter, over ice, as it was the most expeditious way to cross at that time.

For those of you who often read my words here on the Cutoff, you know from my ramblings how fond I am of Laura’s books and her story. It was so thoughtful of Tom and Katy to include us in their weekend’s Parktober, and sweet of them to pick this particular state forest.

The wind was brisk, so off we went, following a trail into the woods.

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We started to descend down dirt steps and I realized that what goes down, must come up. Hesitant, with a bum knee, I opted not to take the trail. Katy took pity on me, and we ventured in a different direction – through the prairie. It was warmer than on the bluff, with sun beating down on us, grasses surrounding us, and the colors of Autumn at their peak. Laura and Ma, er, Katy and Mom, walked close to two miles, snapping photos, talking, not talking, the sorts of discussions one has when on the prairie. It was one of those times where life grows sweeter by the moment.

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Well, dear reader, it is still Foursday and I have a few evening chores to attend to. Before I close, here are two stores we stopped at in Red Wing on our way home. Who can pass up chocolate and books?

I took a photo of Kezzie – and she took a photo of me.

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One last photo, in the prairie. I couldn’t see the camera’s screen for the glare of the sun. Sometimes, you just have to click and hope for the best.

I think I will call it my Foursday tree. Thanks, Ezra, for a brand new word.

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*Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/laura_ingalls_wilder.html#mSCuTTI5s8UyO0Cy.99

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Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Owl. Owl who?

Owl good things come to those who wait.
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Well . . .

I waited and waited, for many months, and then, when I least expected it, on a blustery Thursday morning, opportunity came knocking. Early for an engagement, I parked my car and realized I was right across the street from a newer bookstore I’ve been wanting to visit. With forty minutes to spare and opportunity calling, I crossed the street, walked a few more steps and, I opened the door.

This is what I found this inside.

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It looks like a kitchen. Well, it really IS a kitchen. It is a kitchen, inside a bookstore, which is inside a furniture store.There are often cooking classes at Prairie Path Books, with food authors come by, and there is a tasty collection of cookbooks and memoirs that are sure to tempt my palate.

Book clubs are invited inside for their discussions. There is even a nicely appointed room where food and drinks are welcome, not to mention a discount on the books they are reading and discussing.

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Prairie Path Books is owned and operated  by women who have a vision for books and bookstores that align with what I always feel a bookstore should be. It sits inside Toms-Price, a long-established furniture store in downtown Wheaton. We own a cabinet from the store.

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The poetry and humor section and a wall of greeting cards grabbed my attention as soon as I stepped inside. A tasteful array of books the store recommends, with seasonal home decorations take their place on a book table, some books with personal notes attached, or newspaper articles about an author cleverly tucked inside. I was amazed at the attention to detail and applaud the exquisite reading selections in all genres.

Can a bookstore have a sense of self? I think this one does. It knows what readers who answer the knocking of opportunity want to read.BookcoverCROPPED-198x300

The younger set? A cozy little room and an open larger reading area where several children were reading or imagining with parents nearby. The store offers an array of children’s bookish activities as well as a large selection of children’s books.

Prairie Path Books has the perfect chairs for sitting upon with a potential read, but, of course it would, it is housed in a furniture store!

My meeting time was nearing, so, I picked up the small volume that caught my eye when I first walked in, Marilynne Robinson’s  book of essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books”. I made my purchase, and vowed to return to Prairie Path Books when I had a little more time for a closer ‘book look”.

Owl good things DO come to those who wait.

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 http://www.jokes4us.com/knockknockjokes/knockknockanimaljokes.html *

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nightingaleI don’t know if it is my general busy-ness right now or one of those pockets in life sometimes experienced; times when books sit on the literary burner for a spell, simmering. Unlike many folks, summer is not generally a season where I have time for much reading. I’m often found outside pulling weeds, hunting caterpillars, photographing flower petals or visiting gardens and garden centers, botanical gardens and arboretums. My personal reading well has run dry, which will soon become a challenge as our book group will soon be discussing “The Goldfinch” and I,  have managed a mere 46 pages.

I have, however, recently finished an audio book that kept my attention and had me riding around the block in my car a few more times for just one more chapter.

“The Nightingale”, by Kristin Hannah, begins on the west coast, 1995. An elderly woman, whose voice is heard periodically in the story, will be moving into a senior living with the help of her son. She has a recurrence of cancer for which nothing more can be done. She harbors a secret.

We then meet Vianne, whose life is somewhat idyllic on the family farm about a mile outside of the French town of Carriveau. Her husband, Antoine, is quickly drafted into the French army as rumors of a German invasion spread. No one thinks the Germans will invade.

Isabelle, 18 and headstrong, has been dismissed from her current school. It is one of many schools where she was invited to leave. Isabelle returns home to her father, Julien, in Paris. He promptly sends her packing to her sister, Vianne. This is something he has done to Isabelle all her life. Isabelle learns quickly and first hand that, indeed, the Germans will stop at nothing and do invade France.

A German captain is soon billeted in Vianne’s home. She can either allow this to happen, or be thrown out with her young daughter, Sophie. When Isabelle arrives, a tenuous situation becomes even more precarious for Isabelle’s temper and defiance threaten the household’s safety. Isabelle soon leaves, compelled to do something about France’s occupation. She joins the French Resistance, eventually becoming the infamous Nightingale as she leads downed British and American pilots over the Pyrenees. Vianne is left to cope with the horrors of the Nazis in her village, coping as best she can, starving, witnessing the rounding up of Jews, including her best friend, leaving her baby boy, Ari, for Vianne to raise; a crime to the Nazis.

This is the story of resilience. It is of the plight of French women in World War II and of their often unsung wartime efforts. It is also the story of sisters, complicated and often volatile, but full of love and endurance. It is a historical journey of the horrors of war in France, but, I think could also be applied to any war. It is about courage; courage of different kinds, for Isabelle’s is of outward resistance and action, while Vianne’s is one of protector and hidden defiance.

There are many hard scenes in “The Nightingale”, especially those in concentration camps and what women do to save their children. In spite of this, I encourage you to read Kristin Hannah’s latest book, even if it means while driving your car.

 

 

 

 

 

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A few weeks ago, I mentioned a book we received in one of the private gardens during an Open Day for the Garden Conservancy. I meant to post on it sooner, but life, in the form of young grandchildren and lots of great family time, filled my days until now.

And do, once upon a time in a garden  . . .

When we approached to ticket table at Mettawa Manor, we were given a raffle stub, along with a map of the estate and some general directions. Our delightfully informative greeter invited us to return with the stub to the ticket table when we finished our garden visit and to return it in exchange for one of the many books the estate’s owners were giving away from their personal library.

What a generous gift – and a great idea to file in my revolving folder of a mind –  perhaps to use sometime in one of my activities.

There were still many lovely books about gardening, landscaping, cooking and such when we wandered back to the table. As soon as I saw the cover of “A Glorious Harvest”, I knew it was destined to follow me home. Poor Tom. He didn’t have a chance.

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“A Glorious Harvest: Robust Recipes from the Dairy, Pasture, Orchard, and Sea”, by Henrietta Green, is filled with enticing recipes, informed text from the author, a culinary writer, and the most delectable photographs.

From entries like Paper Bag Potatoes and Roulade with Asparagus, to Tarte Tatin and Whole-wheat Bread, I am putting on weight just browsing this engaging cookbook/reference book/instruction manual on all things gastronomical. As I sit here putting words to screen, a recipe, really quite simple, called Paper Bag Potatoes, is calling to me. Perhaps I will visit a farm stand tomorrow, dig up some new potatoes from one of the bins, pull out some parchment paper, and see what aromas and tastes issue forth.

Ah, the many wonders of visiting gardens on Open Days.

Have you eaten, I mean read, any good cookbooks lately?

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BraveCompanionsI was looking for something to read; a book to pick up with a stand-alone chapter to pass an hour or so on my Independence Day afternoon. David McCullough’s” 1776″ and “Truman” were standing at attention as I reached for his “Brave Companions: Portraits in History”.  A bookmark with early scenes of Boston rested inside. It reminded me of the charming bookstore, Toad Hall, where I purchased “Brave Companions ”  on a trip to Massachusetts several years ago. Just what I needed on a slow, holiday afternoon.

I enjoy reading David McCullough’s books. His conversational style of writing brings historical characters, events and places alive.His unique voice and storytelling style often make me want to learn more. Be it about Harry Truman or the first year of the Revolutionary War, I always come away from McCullough’s books feeling a wee bit more knowledgeable about subjects I love.

So it was on this Fourth of July that I opened “Brave Companions”, surveyed the chapters’ topics,  landed on Washington on the Potomac, and took a brisk stroll with Mr. McCullough. We walked past historic venues and notable spots, with bits and pieces of the people and places and occurrences that make Washington, D.C. a remarkable capital city.

I finished the chapter, a fitting essay to read on this day, then I rested my eyes for a spell, thinking about my favorite Fourth of July. It was the summer we took our girls to D.C. for a family vacation. We did the touristy things one does in D.C., but the memory that stands clearest was how we spent the Fourth of July.  We walked from our hotel across the Mall and heard a dramatic early morn reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives. We took the trolley to Arlington Cemetery, then to the Lincoln Memorial, several buildings of the Smithsonian, the Vietnam Wall . . . and walked and rode on and on, ending our day with fireworks on the Mall, the Washington monument looming above as if holding the colorful display for all to see.

It was nice to remember that Independence Day, appreciating Mr. McCullough’s words on the pages just read, and feeling grateful for what I have.

How about you? Have you read any history or historical fiction lately? Have you read anything by David McCullough?

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