[review + yummy cake recipe] Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda E. Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati

 

Once upon another time, I was lucky enough to visit England’s glorious Lake District, where vistas of pristine lakes, rolling green pastures dotted with sheep, lush vales, charming stone cottages, miles of slate and dry stone walls bordering fertile farmland, and magnificent fells rising in the distance took my breath away.

I was curious to see the area after learning that England’s greatest poets and writers had flocked there for three centuries. Though studying the Romantic poets in college had stirred my wanderlust (my “friends” Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Blake, and Byron enabled me to envision this paradise on earth), it wasn’t until I fully tuned into Beatrix Potter’s connection with Lakeland that I became totally smitten. Visiting Hill Top Farm made me a forever diehard fan.

 

Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

 

Beatrix didn’t just love the countryside, she helped preserve it for future generations. And she established this amazing legacy at a time when it was not proper for women to “travel, attend college, or work.” Her groundbreaking accomplishments are highlighted in this wonderful new picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati (little bee books, 2020).

Young readers will find it interesting that in addition to writing the beloved Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix was also a natural scientist, savvy businesswoman, sheep farmer, and ardent conservationist.

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Savoring the “The Consolation of Apricots” by Diane Ackerman

 

Hello, Friends. I’m so glad you’re here today.

Hope you’re doing well despite these crazy, scary, unbelievably challenging times.

Please help yourself to a warm cuppa and a fresh-from-the-oven apricot scone while you savor Diane Ackerman’s sumptuous poem.

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“Apricot Still Life” by Julie L’Heureux

 

THE CONSOLATION OF APRICOTS
by Diane Ackerman

Especially in early
spring,
when the sun
offers a thin
treacle of warmth,
I love to sit
outdoors
and eat sense-
ravishing apricots.

Born on sun-
drenched trees in
Morocco,
the apricots have
flown the Atlantic
like small comets,
and I can taste
broiling North
Africa in their
flesh.

Somewhere
between a peach
and a prayer,
they taste of well
water
and butterscotch
and dried apples
and desert
simooms and lust.

Sweet with a
twang of spice,
a ripe apricot is
small enough to
devour
as two
hemispheres,
Ambiguity is its
hallmark.

How to eat an
apricot:
first warm its
continuous curve
in cupped hands,
holding it
as you might a
brandy snifter,

then caress the
velvety sheen
with one thumb,
and run your
fingertips
over its nap,
which is shorter
than peach fuzz,
closer to chamois.

Tawny gold with a
blush on its
cheeks,
an apricot is the
color of shame
and dawn.
One should not
expect to drink
wine
at mid-winter,
Boethius warned.

What could be
more thrilling
then ripe apricots
out of season,
a gush of taboo
sweetness
to offset the
savage wistfulness
of early spring?

Always eat
apricots at
twilight,
preferably while
sitting in a sunset
park,
with valley lights
starting to flicker
on
and the lake
spangled like a
shield.

Then, while a trail
of bright ink
tattoos the sky,
notice how the sun
washes the earth
like a woman
pouring her gaze
along her lover’s
naked body,

each cell receiving
the tattoo of her
glance.
Wait for that
moment
of arousal and
revelation,
then sink your
teeth into the flesh
of an apricot.

~ from I Praise My Destroyer (Random House, 1998)

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[review + recipe + giveaway] The Superlative A. Lincoln by Eileen R. Meyer and Dave Szalay

 

We’re celebrating Lincoln’s birthday this week with several sample poems from a new picture book biography and a recipe for his favorite cake.

As a Presidential trivia buff and a big Lincoln fan, I was excited when The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President by Eileen R. Meyer and Dave Szalay (Charlesbridge, 2019), came out this past November.

Meyer’s theme of “superlatives” is a fun and effective way to help kids understand why Lincoln is widely considered to be our greatest President. Her nineteen narrative poems — lively, rhyming, upbeat, captivating — describe some of Lincoln’s most commendable skills, attributes, dreams, and milestones, while providing interesting insights into his personality and character.

 

 

The poems are arranged chronologically from Lincoln’s humble beginnings as “Most Studious” (a self-taught learner), to his youth as “Most Distracted Farmer” (who preferred reading to farm chores), to being “Most Respected” (short stint at boot camp), to his tenure as President (a “Most Permissive Parent” whose sons ran wild in the White House). With the “Strongest Conviction,” he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, then later delivered his “Greatest Speech,” the Gettysburg Address.

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alcott’s little women: a pair of poems and yummy gingerbread (+ a holiday blog break)

“I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!” ~ Jo March

 

Season’s Greetings!

Are you excited about the Little Women movie opening on Christmas Day?

To get us in the mood for all things Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee and Laurie, I’m sharing two poems from the novel and a recipe from the new Little Women Cookbook by Wini Moranville (Harvard Common Press, 2019).

 

 

I think most of us can remember when we first read Louisa May Alcott’s classic — I was nine, staying with two older girl cousins downtown for about a week during the summer. We spent most of our time playing “school,” and during one of our “classes,” I began reading Little Women.

 

 

Since I wasn’t able to finish before it was time to return home, my cousin Judy let me take her copy with me (it was an abridged edition published by Whitman in 1955). I can’t remember if it was a loan or a gift, but I do remember her telling me how much she loved the book and that I should definitely read it.

Fast forward to 6th grade, when we acted out the opening scene in English class. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” was my Jo March ‘stage debut,’ marking the first time I would read the entire novel. Like so many others, generation after generation, I was hooked for life.

 

 

I so wanted to belong to the March family, to experience that deep bond of sisterhood. I had a huge crush on Laurie, and loved Mr. Laurence because just like Beth, I loved music and playing the piano. Of course I identified with Jo, because she was a writer, only wishing I could be as feisty and forthright. And wasn’t Marmee the best mother anyone could ever ask for? As the child of a working mother, I envied children whose moms had the time and patience to listen to all their concerns.

Just like The Secret Garden made me fall in love with England, Little Women made me long to visit New England — the gorgeous autumn colors and beautiful winter vistas! the rich history and Colonial architecture! the lobstah rolls, fish chowdah, maple syrup, brown bread, baked beans, boiled dinners, Indian pudding, Yankee pot roast . . . *drools* . . .  “licks chops”. . . oh wait, where was I?

 

 

With the new movie coming, I decided to reread the book, since it had been about a decade since I last gave it my full attention. When I scanned my bookshelves, I found Judy’s copy alongside my Little, Brown edition. Didn’t realize I still had it! It’s probably the only book that survived my childhood. My mother gave away my entire Golden Books collection (still grieving), and though I read voraciously, I didn’t own many novels — mostly everything came from the library.

 

 

One of the things I especially enjoyed this time around was taking a closer look at the poems Alcott included in the story. There was the elegaic “My Beth” of course, as well as the incantations in Jo’s play featuring Hagar, Roderigo, and Zara. In a letter Jo sent to Marmee, she included “a silly little thing” for her to pass on to Father about helping Hannah with the wash, the delightful “A Song from the Suds.” And who can forget that splendid Christmas when Jo and Laurie made a snow-maiden,  complete with a crown of holly, a basket of fruit and flowers, and a carol, “The Jungfrau to Beth,” to cheer up the convalescent?

 

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[tealicious review + recipe] Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party by Erin Barker

On a fine autumn day, what could be better than finding this lovely handwritten note in your mailbox?

You are cordially invited to a tea party in the back garden at dusk. ~ P

You probably know I’m always up for a tea party, and this one just happens to be doubly delightful. It’s being hosted by none other than the ever dapper Mr. Pumpkin, who really knows how to rock a waistcoat and top hat (I could never resist a top hat). Besides, taking tea at twilight is just too tempting. 🙂

Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party, a seasonally spooky story and counting book in one, was written and illustrated by Cincinnati-based author and illustrator Erin Barker, who first sketched a “pumpkin-head guy” having tea with a “skeleton person” for Inktober back in 2016.

They weren’t your average run-of-the-mill pumpkin and skeleton, though. They were dressed up as proper English gentlemen, and were saying things like, “I dare say,” and “Indeed.” Erin’s Instagram followers loved the sketch, and months later her editor suggested the characters should have their own book. So Erin developed a charming storyline inspired by her own love of hosting get-togethers with friends and good food.

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