Holiday Reading

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini (Dutton 2015) offers parallel narratives of two people struggling with life’s challenges as the Christmas season approaches. Their stories are told in alternating chapters.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suffers family tragedy and fear of more to come in 1863. But he manages to write a poem titled “Christmas Bells”.

The modern day character, Sophia, learns she will lose her teaching position. She worries not only for herself but for the underprivileged children in the church choir she directs. Longfellow’s poem, set to music, becomes the connecting link between two lives lived in different centuries.

Chiaverini’s previous works – Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival, The Spymistress, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker – also bring to life real and fictional characters in interesting circumstances.


Thanksgiving Dinner circa 1903

thanksgiving-turkeyFor the table I prefer a white cloth with fancy border and napkins to match. A dash of color livens up the table in the bleak November when flowers cannot be had in profusion. Casters in the center, of course, flanked by tall celery glasses. At each end, glass fruit dishes filled with apples and nuts. A bottle of pepper sauce near the casters, a mold of jelly by the platter of turkey, and small side dishes of chopped cabbage garnished with rings of cold boiled eggs. The purple cabbage makes the handsomest-looking dishes.

Serve the soup from tureens into soup dishes, handing around to the guests. After this comes the piece-de-resistance, “Thanksgiving turkey.” A piece of dark meat with a spoonful of gravy, and one of white with a bit of jelly and a baked potato (I should prefer a spoonful of mashed) should be served on each plate, leaving the other vegetables to be passed afterward with the roast pig. After this the salad, and then the plates should be taken away and the dessert served. Then come the apples and nuts, the tea and coffee, well seasoned with grandpa’s old-time stories, grandma’s quaint sayings, and kind words and merry repartees from all.

from Dr. Chase’s Third Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, 1903


Published in: on November 23, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Visiting Maps

Cache CrkIn an April 2010 article for Colorado Country Life, Gayle Gresham wrote: “My love for maps began the first day of 4th grade at Cherry Valley Elementary School in Douglas County. Mr. O’Quinn, teacher in the “Big Room” (4th – 6th grades), walked to the front of the classroom, pulled a shiny new Colorado map down from its roller and announced a map drill. Before I knew it, I was hearing the names of towns I’d never heard before–Wild Horse, Rifle and Grover–and finding them on the…map.

“Years later, I renewed my love affair with Colorado maps when I started researching my family history. Maps became more personal as I searched for the mining camp of “Cash Creek” [later spelled Cache Creek] where my great-great grandparents first settled in Colorado in 1861…I visited Cash Creek and walked the land where my ancestors had walked; I even panned for gold in Cash Creek!” Gayle says one of the favorite map tools is Google Earth because she can “sit at home and soar over the mountains…zoom in on Cache Creek.”

Have you tried traveling to far away places with computer tools? As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the places you will go!”

WWII Letter From A Buddy

To all veterans, thank you for your service.

WWII FranceExcerpts from a soldier’s letter written from France to a stateside Army buddy (my Dad), 3 March 1945.

          We had a beer ration the other day, our first since we’ve been over here, and it was good, what there was of it. We got two bottles each.

          The “chicken” is worse over here than Ninth Headquarters ever was. The chow varies, sometimes we fare pretty well, and on all our moves, which is mighty frequent, we resort to those delicious “K” rations. Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?

         As for the girl situation on my part, it is kinda fifty-fifty as usual. I hear from Ada pretty often, but I think Aileen is pretty sore at me right now. I met a mighty swell gal in England. I hear from her quite often now. If I can get a furlough to England, I’ll sure rush back there. George got himself a gal back there too. We were never stationed in the states at a town better than the English town we were in. It was really swell.

           I did see my brother over here. He is in Maastricht, Holland. I hadn’t seen him for five years.

                                          Sincerely, Larry

When Flying Was New

Wright1909-bOn a recent visit to the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Airforce Base, a 1919 poster for the U.S. Army Air Service caught my attention. It was a list of Flying Regulations for daring pilots of those early day two seater, open cockpit,  double wing planes.

#26 “It is advisable to carry a good pair of piers in a position where both pilot and passenger can reach them in case of an accident.”

Published in: on November 2, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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When Did I Stop Being 20

ViorstThis collection of poems by Judith Viorst was published in 1987. The full title is When Did I Stop Being 20 and Other Injustices. While Viorst’s work is often laugh-out-loud funny, it is perceptive. Lovely and entertaining illustrations were contributed by John Alcorn.

Here is one short selection, titled “The Break.”

So I told my parents:

No I do not believe in free love.

And yes I will be home for Sunday dinners.

And no I do not approve of marijuana.

And yes I will take showers daily.

And no I will not turn out like my cousin Ethel.

(I think she is living with a married man in Tulsa.)

And yes I will get a police lock.

And eat a good breakfast every morning.

And only talk to men I am introduced to.

So they said:

If I must be independent

And make it hard for them to sleep at nights,

I might as well do it in Greenwich Village,

Which at least isn’t far from Irvington, New Jersey.


Judith Viorst, in addition to numerous books of poetry, is the author of eight children’s books.

Published in: on October 26, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Particularly Cats

LessingParticularly Cats…and Rufus by Doris Lessing was first published in 1967. It was republished in 1991 by Alfred A, Knoff, Inc. with illustrations by James McMullan. The jacket flap invites cat lovers.

“In a series of captivating, interconnected vignettes, we meet the cats that have slinked and bullied and charmed their way into Doris Lessing’s life: the farm and feral cats of her South African childhood, the London house cats, the city strays (such as Rufus, the new addition to the gallery), the prowling toms, and the ‘kittens, kittens, showers of kittens’.” Lessing “tells the way cats affect her and she them, and the communication that grows between them, a language of gesture and mood and desire as eloquent, finally, as the spoken word.”

James McMullan’s lovely watercolor illustrations (including the cover) offer appealing cats within a home.

Doris Lessing was born in Persia, grew up in Southern Rhodesia, and moved to London in 1949. Her first book was published in 1950 and was followed by numerous works.

James McMullan was born in China, educated in England and settled in New York City. He created posters for the Lincoln Center Theater and many magazine illustrations. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.


Published in: on October 19, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail At the end of this week Women Writing the West will hold their annual conference in Redmond, Oregon. Perhaps for that reason, Susan G. Butruille’s 1993 work Women’s Voices from the Oregon Trail called from my bookshelf.

It begins: “Some thought they were brave. Some–like Horace Greeley (contrary to popular belief)–said they were nuts: those people who traveled more than 2,000 miles across prairie and sage, mountains and valleys and rivers and God only knew what else, in search of–what? Free land. Free-dom. Better health. Adventure. Themselves. Some went because they couldn’t say no. Those in that last category were women.”

The book draws extensively from diaries, letters and reminiscences of women who actually went west on the trail. The back matter includes a lengthy bibliography.

I was entertained by the following statement about women by a “new husband.”

I calculate ‘taint of much account to have a woman if she ain’t of no use…every man ought to have a woman to do his cookin’ and such like, [because] it’s easier for them than it is for us. They take to it kind o’ naturally…I reckon women are some like horses and oxen, the biggest can do the most work, and that’s what I want one for.”

I hope that new wife set him straight!


Published in: on October 12, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Arthur Cluck

Arthur CluckThe Strange Disappearance of Arthur Cluck is a mystery book for children. This work by Nathaniel Benchly was published in 1967 by Harper & Row.  It features illustrations by Arnold Lobel – lovely pencil drawings colored in soft green and yellow ochre. (The interior pages are much more engaging than the dark cover!)

Arthur Cluck is a baby chicken. When he disappears, his mother searches everywhere for him. In despair, she asks a barn owl named Ralph to search for him. Ralph, of course, works only at night. In his search he meets other critters who also roam about in the darkness – a fox and a mouse. The mouse holds a clue to where he might find Arthur.  What he finds is a whole bunch of baby chicks in a crate loaded on a truck and ready to take to market in the morning. Ralph calls out “Arthur” but every chick in the crate answers. How will Ralph find the right chick. It is one special skill, or maybe a “quirk,” of Arthur’s that allows Ralph to identify him. Ah, but I won’t spoil the story by revealing that skill!

More Strange Mockingbird Words

Hoover cartHoover cart – a car pulled by horses because owners could not afford gasoline or repairs; sometimes a hand built cart pulled by a horse. President Hoover had made an election promise of prosperity, measured by “a car in every garage,” but the Great Depression changed things.

Tom Swifts (or Tom Swifities) –  A sentence in which an opening phrase is linked to a pun on one of the words in the opening phrase.  Examples: It’s freezing,” Tom muttered icily.”  “I might as well be dead,” Tom croaked.

Lane cake – a cake made with lots of liquor.

Crokesack – a rough bag, often made of burlap, sometimes used to hold frogs when caught.

Published in: on September 28, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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