When Mariam and I visited California recently, we were on an extremely tight schedule, mostly filled with family visits. The first morning that were were there, however, happened to be fifth grade promotion at the elementary school where I used to teach and I absolutely could not resist taking the opportunity to surprise my former colleagues and a certain favorite student with an unexpected visit.
While I was there, I got to steal a few minutes of time with my friend Evan, children's literature aficionado and third grade teacher extraordinaire. Evan and I had classrooms next door to one another for the five years before I moved to Vermont and he is probably about 89 percent responsible for my deep love of children's literature. As I was leaving his classroom to head downstairs to the promotion ceremony, Evan casually handed me a printed page that must have taken him hours to put together; it was a list of each of the Newbery Medal winning books for every year going back to 1950, as well as the books that were the runner-ups. It is, indeed, a list of some of the very best children's literature ever written and would make an amazing guide for summer library going.
So, with Evan's permission, you can access a PDF of the list by clicking the following link:
I'm glad that he included not only the medal-winning books, but also those that received honorable mentions. Among those books that didn't take top spot but still received honors: Abel's Island, Charlotte's Web and Frog and Toad Together. Some of the very best stories that there are. For our part, we will be printing a copy of the list, highlighting our immediate must-reads and heading to the local library. Summer is here and so are long and lazy days perfect for settling down in the shade with a good book.
Okay, so I made up the part about sunshine. It has actually been raining here (more like pouring) for days and days. But, I kind of can't turn down the opportunity to use an alliterative phrase. I think we all know this by now.
My mom is in town for the next two weeks and we decided to kick off her visit in proper style by going strawberry picking at a farm up the road from here. It was threatening to rain all morning long, but we timed things just right and didn't end up getting all that wet, which was kind of nice actually. I still haven't quite figured out how to manage the bit about wearing a raincoat in really warm weather.
Having many hands was a good thing not just for picking, but for processing too. I washed, trimmed and prepared berries for freezing. Annie 2.0, Mariam and my mom hulled and chopped berries for making jam.
To freeze the berries, I rinsed them, allowed them to sit on a towel on the counter to air dry for about thirty minutes and then cut off the tops and hulled them. Then I arranged them top down on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and put them in the freezer for about three hours. After they were frozen hard, I removed them from the sheet and put them into freezer bags. This way they don't stick together when you freeze them and they are a lot easier to use in future months when the entire world is white and there is no chance of finding fresh fruit.
We ended up with twenty half-pint jars of strawberry jam. We used the recipe from this book, and I think that the flavor is excellent. I'm thinking that this book will probably be my go-to guide for summer canning projects; it is really a stellar resource. And pretty cheap for a reference type book as well. I definitely recommend it. The author, Ashley English, also writes a blog that I think it well worth bookmarking.
We didn't use any pectin, so the jam is perhaps not as firm as it might be if it was store bought. However, it definitely firms up in the fridge and since you would need to stick it in there for storage once opened anyway, this seems just fine for my purposes. I'm thinking it will be super good on toast but also really yummy on oatmeal with a bit of cream or spread onto a warm scone.
It took most of a year, but my first pair of fingerless gloves is officially complete. Considering the inauspicious start that this project got (that multi-colored yarn ended up wound back into a ball), I'm feeling kind of proud. And, considering that I have posted about the knitting progress (or lack thereof) of these gloves approximately four times in the last year, I'm sure all of you are thrilled to know that the madness will now cease.
I took my knitting along for entertainment on our cross-country flight last week and was just tearing out all of my stitches and starting over for about the twentieth time (no exaggeration here) when the woman sitting next to me noticed and decided to intervene. The whole exchange was fairly hilarious actually, because she only spoke German and yet had no problem expressing her horror at my knitting ability. The best moment was probably when she said something like "No. That is bad," and then put out her hand for me to relinquish my latest attempt so that she could fix it. She was really very sweet, however, and we eventually decided that the problem was that I was starting off with such a tight cast-on row that I was having a hard time getting the the first few rows of stitches to look even. Problem solved. She took a nap for the rest of the flight.And I finished my gloves. Just in time for the warmest days of the year. Right. About that...
The kindergarten year has come to a close. It was, as I've mentioned in the past, a bit of a roller coaster ride, as life often is with my smart, funny and fiercely independent little girl. But in the end, she now reads, writes, does some seriously fancy math and apparently, has learned a thing or two about sharks. I'm particularly in love with the writing that she has been doing lately. I can't get enough of the humongous punctuation marks and awkwardly shaped letters. Just the absolute best stuff there is.
For those that have asked, we have indeed made alternate school plans for first grade. Mariam is going to be going to a very small private school with a more independently paced curriculum that also emphasizes community, social responisibility and creative thinking. The school also happens to be on a farm, which obviously was a huge selling point from my perspective. Her going there wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the loving support of our family, who felt as strongly as we did about the need to provide her with a school experience that truly met her needs. We are so grateful to them and so looking forward to the adventure ahead.
This week: a different sort of Library Monday. Mariam and I are wrapping up a trip home to visit my dad in California. For years my dad has been trying to convince me to help him dig through my childhood belongings in his garage to determine whether or not there is anything there I'd like to keep. Over the last few days, we finally got down to it and indeed, more than a few treasures were found. Among them, this set of Childcraft Encyclopedias. I have distinct memories of spending hours upon hours flipping through these pages as a child; learning about dinosaurs, musing on the solar system, memorizing simple poetry. These books were magical for me and I've thought of them often over the years. For some reason, I thought that they had long since been given away and I can't tell you how happy I am to have found them. They are boxed up and ready to ship to Vermont this afternoon.
I also found a fraction of my once considerable collection of Nancy Drew books. Ah, Nancy. I loved these as a kid. I think it's possible that I didn't own quite as many of these as I think I did. I may have gotten most of the ones that I read (the entire series? probably) at the school library. My school library gave us unlimited access and I tested this rule diligently. I'm pretty sure that during my second grade year, I read a Nancy Drew book per day. By the time third grade had rolled around, I had read every single one I could get my hands on. My parents used to catch me in bed at night, long after lights out, book perched on my lap, a flashlight in my hand so that I could keep reading into the night.
The moment when I pulled this book out of a dusty box in the garage, I think that I let out a little squeal. The content of this book was not particularly meaningful to me; in fact, I'm not sure that I ever actually read this one. Seeing that the opening illustration is of Marie Antoinette signing the order for the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, this is not all that surprising. This is in a children's encyclopedia? Kind of intense. (edit: Oops. Suse points out that it is actually Elizabeth I in the picture. Like the label under the picture clearly says. Ahem. I would just like to mention that I have a degree in History. Clearly well earned.)
No, my attachment to this book has nothing to do with what's inside. It is all about how I found it. This book represents one of the strangest and most salient of my childhood memories. It offers physical proof that the events in a story I've often told with some doubt of whether or not it could really have happened, did indeed take place. It goes like this:
Spokane, Washington. I was nine years old, in the third grade, and had a friend who lived outside of town on a small horse farm where her mother boarded and trained show horses. I used to spend many a weekend day running around the farm with my friend, riding a tiny, old Shetland pony her mother had, or playing in the mud in bare feet. During the warm weather months, we would wander through the forest surrounding the house, often going out into the woods for most a day before returning home hungry and covered in dirt.
One day, we took a path in the woods that brought us to a very small, abandoned house in a clearing in the forest. The doors were unlocked, some of the windows were either open or broken, there was an old car parked out front. I don't remember there being much of a road, so I'm not sure how that car got there, but perhaps there had been a dirt road at one time. The house was empty, and had clearly been abandoned for many years. But, everything was still inside. Dishes on the kitchen shelves, furniture in all the rooms; a house full of belongings that looked as if one day their owner had just walked out the door and never returned. And, there were stacks and stacks of dusty old books.
As a nine year old girl, running free in the woods all day, finding buttercups and pine cones and squirrel nests, the discovery of this little house was beyond fascinating. My friend and I found our imaginations completely captured by our discovery and we returned to visit the house many, many times over the course of a year or so. We tried to piece together what might have happened, we watched for evidence that someone had returned to the house or that anyone besides ourselves knew that it was even there. We never found any. It appeared to be a secret place, hidden away in the woods, full of mysteries that our young minds couldn't quite puzzle out. Of course, the true story of what happened in that little house is probably all too ordinary, and maybe even a little sad, but to the nine year old mind, no ordinary scenario was even a possibility. Keep in mind that I was just coming out of my Nancy Drew phase here.
Sometime around the beginning of fourth grade, my friend's family found out that they would be moving to California. We knew our days of exploring the little house were coming to an end, and knowing that we would never return to the house in the woods, my friend and I each took one book from a box of old books on the floor in the entry way. I think we each took a volume of an old, well-known children's encyclopedia called The Book of Knowledge. In retrospect, I suppose that you could say that we stole the books, and that it wasn't at all the right thing to do. But honestly, I think it was just that we both knew that a particularly magical era of our childhood was coming to a close and felt like we really needed a little something to help us hold onto it a little longer.
So here it is. Volume IX of The Book of Knowledge. I don't know if I will spend all that much time reading through this one (the section on the wonders of making leather is a little disturbing, actually) but I do know that I will keep it. It is so very much more than just an old book.
Unfortunately, I'm not actually home today. Because of a death in the family, Mariam and I had to make an unexpected trip back home to California. I've certainly got home on my mind, however, and here are just a few pretty photos from around the interwebs that I've collected on my pinboard and that resonated with my vision of home and what it means.
pin via Cloth.Paper.String
Home is a place for making.
pin via Xenotees
Home is a place for growing.
pin via A Foothill Home Companion
Home is a place for tending.
pin via Poppytalk
Home is where you make it.
I am more than aware of how this whole gardening business is supposed to work. I absolutely understand that people have been growing plants for food for centuries with good success. And yet, I am always in awe of the whole process, especially when it goes well. Over the last month or so, we have spent many an afternoon and evening planting seeds and starts into the soft dirt and checking the weather forecast for rain. Other than adding a bit of mulch, we've otherwise left things pretty much alone.
Handfuls of crunchy, sweet lettuce.
And just-picked spring onions, ready to be thrown into a batch of risotto. Somehow, it just seems like magic.
I do believe it's now official, so I'm going to go ahead and call it: summer is here. We picked up our first CSA share of the summer this afternoon and it was filled with all kinds of wonderful greens, herbs and yes, that which represents all things summer- a basket of strawberries. I also know that it is summer because it has started raining here all the time and from what I can tell, that is what summer in Vermont is all about. Sudden and steamy rainstorms that blow over as quickly as they first rolled in.
Although this basket of summertime goodness could easily lend itself to some serious localvore foodie cooking marathons, we tend to go pretty simple with dinners the night that our CSA share comes into the kitchen. Tonight's menu: herb and cheese omelets with baby lettuce and slicing turnips and oatmeal maple bread toast on the side. Strawberries for dessert.
Early Summer Omelet
2 Tablespoons half and half
Pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons scallions or spring onions
1 Tablespoon green garlic
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and tarragon)
Grated cheese (about a 1/3 cup, whatever kind you like! Sharp cheddar is good here)
Beat the eggs together with the half and half and a pinch of salt. Pour the eggs into a well-buttered pan over medium-low heat. As the egg cooks, gently use a spatula to pull it away from the side of the pan so that uncooked egg can flow into the empty space. Continue doing this until your egg is nearly cooked, but not all the way. Spread the chopped herbs, garlic and onions onto half of the egg, topping them with the cheese. Then fold the other half of the egg over the filling. Flip the omelet (that's what it is now, after all) so that you can give both sides a nice brown crust. Yum!
If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, check out this helpful site. Also, if you are a Vermonter, there is some ability to get assistance paying for a farm share through the Northeast Organic Farming Association, if your family qualifies.
This book is a very new acquisition for us, but I am already more than sure that it is destined to become an absolute treasure in our house. The Tree That Time Built is an anthology of poetry for children; a beautifully chosen set of poems about science, nature and imagination. From birds to mushrooms, fossils to insects, this book contains a wealth of words on nearly any subject a little mind might wonder about. It is exactly the kind of book that both you and your little ones can get lost in as you read aloud, or that you might use as part of an integrated science and writing lesson for an older child. The book also comes with an audio CD, which contains a selection of the poems read aloud. My own daughter fell asleep listening to the CD last night, lulled to sleep by the sound of poems about changing seasons, frogs and forests.
One of the most wonderful things about this book is just how far reaching an anthology it is. There are poems here from accomplished poets past, such as Sylvia Plath and Langston Hughes. But there are also poems here from more modern poets, as well as poets who live and work in other countries and whose work has been translated into English. This diversity of authors provides a wonderful breadth of subject matter and approach to writing about the natural world. People in different times and places view the world in different ways and this is reflected in the vastly different directions from which the poets approach their subject matter. Some write on things as small as the atom, others on the enormity of life in the universe and the role of the cycle of life in it. Many write with humor, others with deep affection and awe, but all write with an appreciation for the vastness of the world and all the many lessons it has to offer if only we observe and listen.
The anthology is divided into a number of sections, each dealing broadly with a theme, such as plant life, animals or fossils. This division makes it easy to tap into a child's particular interests by starting with poems related to what they already know and love. We are all about dinosaurs, fossils and birds at our house these days, and my daughter was immediately drawn to the poems written about these things. And although dinosaurs might not initially appear to be the most delicate or poetic of topics, the poems in this book manage to make them just that. One poem, about the desire of all creatures to take to the sky and the bargain that dinosaurs made to find their place there, is especially beautiful and both Mariam and I loved it from the very first read.
Another note about this book for parents who might use it for educational purposes or for projects that reach beyond read-aloud; many of the poems in the book are accompanied by a paragraph or two that makes note of some interesting scientific or literary fact about the poem or it's muse. This makes for individual poems or groups of poems which lend themselves to deeper study and making connections between science and literature curriculum. The teacher in me absolutely loves this!
In all, this book is not to be missed. It is relatively new (published in late 2009) so I don't know how widely available it is at local libraries. However, it is absolutely worth a dedicated search. It is beautiful, touching, funny and sweet. This is the kind of book that can and should be taken to the beach and to the woods, read by campfires and in hammocks all summer long.