Sunday, January 17, 2021

Taking Stock and Chicken Stock

 

After being unable to navigate the new PicMonkey photo editor that began January first, I kept putting off my first 2021 post here at the Window.

Instead I jumped into 2021 wanting to pack away all my Christmas stuff, strange for me, and even stranger, I had a huge desire to declutter and simplify. After leaving behind and getting rid of so much stuff when we moved to Florida in 2016 and then back again nine months later, I think I was too shell-shocked to let go of anything more.

But I woke up January 2, 2021 ready for change and started in my kitchen, filling boxes of stuff to give away or donate. And then just as I was thinking about posting again, on January 6th I watched television in horror as our beloved Capitol Building was invaded and police attacked. The thought of more that could have happened has given me nightmares.  After what our country has been through lately, anything as trivial as blogging fled my mind.

I admit here that this has hit me hard. I haven't been able to keep from watching hour after hour of the news this past week. I hope that those responsible for what happened will be brought to justice, the violence in our country stopped, and that a peaceful inauguration will take place on Wednesday.

I finally felt drawn back to the blogging world and yesterday figured out the BeFunky photo editing that blog friends told me about. Actually I just put myself in the site's automatic editing hand for now until I have time and patience to try out doing it manually. And what important subject do I tackle for my first blog post here of 2021? 

The subject of chicken stock, what else?

While I've made my own chicken stock for years because it's so much richer and better than store-bought stock, I first began making it many years ago simply because we were broke, work dried up in our family business during the first Gulf war. I began saving all chicken bone scraps in the freezer for that purpose, something I don't remember even my frugal mother doing. 

I still do that even though I now keep organic chicken bone broth sold at Costco in my pantry too for backup as cooking for two just doesn't often produce the amount of carcass and bones needed for a large pot of stock.

Our New Year's Day roast chicken produced enough scraps and bones and drippings for two large jars of stock and the small jar shown below. See how rich it looks!


I used it this week to cook a bag of the fresh purple hull peas we froze last summer, using saffron in it to make my favorite peas.

Now I know that the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for roasted chicken is popular, but I remain faithful to Pat Conroy's recipe in his The Pat Conroy Cookbook.

 


 
Basically, his recipe says to first heat 1/2 stick unsalted butter and 1/4 cup olive oil together till foamy, about 3 minutes. Then you fill cavity of bird with 1 peeled shallot, 2 garlic cloves peeled and mashed, sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns.

Then rub the chicken with 1/2 lemon and put it into cavity. Put other lemon half in pan along with extra cloves of garlic. Then baste bird with the butter/olive oil mix.

Dust with paprika, salt and freshly ground pepper and add bacon strips over top of chicken.

Roast at 375 degrees F. for 1 hour or more, wiggling legs, checking for temperature of 170 degrees F. in thigh.

Don't do as I did on New Year's Day! Don't forget about the chicken! 

 I have to say that it was delicious anyway, especially after dabbing on Conroy's Grainy Mustard Sauce that goes with the chicken. 

You combine 1/2 cup dry Vermouth (I don't keep Vermouth so substitute dry Sherry) with 1 cup chicken stock in saucepan over moderately high heat till reduced by half.

Whisk in 1/4 cup grainy Dijon mustard and reduce the heat, simmering until slightly thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon (cold weather got mine so I used a teaspoon of dried tarragon) and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme (I keep a pot of this going in my kitchen window year round), add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

It's excellent sauce!


 With the chicken, New Year's Day tradition called for Gourmet magazine's collard greens in my largest pot.

Which wilts down a lot but still makes a mess of greens.



And black-eyed peas, soaked the night before, and some of my hot hot hot sauce on both the peas and greens.



For a starchy side I fixed Lee Bailey's orzo with onions sautéed in butter and oil-cured black olives.


 

By the way, the chicken stock this all begins with depends on what's in my produce bin but mostly contains the chicken carcass and bones and drippings along with onions and garlic, washed but not peeled, celery stalks, and a few carrots wshed and cut, and fresh herbs (I save herb stems in the freezer for this too), plus a tablespoon of herbs de Provence, 4 bay leaves, a dozen whole cloves, and 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, and water to cover (I use distilled water for the clearest broth!). The herbs should have gone underneath the chicken carcass but I forgot.


 And never stir the stock! But do skim off the scum.

And that gives you some mighty fine broth!

I feel kind of foolish posting a recipe like this since most of you already have your favorite stock recipes. It's kind of like all the young YouTubers who do beautiful vlogs teaching how to do the simplest recipes you'd think everyone already knows. But even so, I love watching their channels and they do often teach this old dog some new tricks and inspire me with their enthusiasm and beautiful work. I admit that I've become a huge YouTube fan of so many of these young women. 

But I do wish they wouldn't twist their biscuit cutter when making biscuits, a big no-no, and that they wouldn't use a garlic press without first cutting out the germ inside. Even when it hasn't turned green it still has an objectionable taste and chefs from the 1960s taught me better than that.

But do I ever leave negative comments on those subjects for them? Not on your life! It amazes me that people do that. I cannot understand the thumbs down clicks on vlogs either. I mean, why not just unsubscribe if you don't like their channel? At least these people are brave enough to have their own channels, so more power to them.

Sorry for my first and probably only rant of 2021. I wanted to start this year off feeling washed clean.


But my rant is meant to be in support of anyone with the gumption to vlog about their personal home life without other women putting them down. 

Please excuse the length of this post! I'll work on my others being shorter, most of the time. And anyhow, you always have the option to exit. Which reminds me that I want to thank you for still visiting here. 

You're so very nice to still do that! 

I see a red light telling me my laptop is about to go dead so am publishing this without proofreading. I'll probably catch mistakes in the next few days and fix them. What, doesn't everyone correct their posts days after they're published? 

 



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A House with Twelve Rooms

It's not just a coincidence that I'm turning today to words of Faith Baldwin as I think about 2020 ending.

She's pictured in the illustration above that I begin every blog post with here at the Window. I begin every new year reading one of her books about her thoughts, this year with her Testament of Trust. 

  


This dear friend of Gladys Taber writes of the New Year as a house, "swept and garnished, the floors and furniture polished, all the clutter tossed out, and everywhere, for welcome, flowers."

 


How I always loved to think of the New Year as that! 

Can I do that this year? Can I toss out the worries and fears and frustrations of 2020 and go into 2021 with my mind swept clear? 

I've decided that would take Herculean effort that I just do not have so I am going to take the New Year as it comes, just as I did its older sister.

 

 

  I expect there will be some dust and clutter along the way but I also will be watching for little miracles every day.

 


 I pray that each one of you visiting this post will have a safe and healthy New Year, and that each month will bring you a myriad of lovely "astonishments".

Pretend that someone with a much better voice than mine is singing Auld Lang Syne right now as I leave you with the wise words of Faith Baldwin:

A year is like a new house; each of us has lived in such a house before; at least the shape looks the same and we know before we enter that there will be twelve rooms. It's funny how we can settle in, while knowing that someday we must move.

Each year's house seems familiar from the time we set foot in it; the furnishings are, to begin with, the same. But they may change, little or much, during our tenancy. And always astonishments await us. There'll be views and vistas we didn't see from last year's house; and almost certainly a step we'd forgotten, down which we'll stumble, or a light switch which will fail, at least temporarily.

There are certain rooms which we'll redecorate, according to our own customs, and there are rooms which will assume new contours--those of pain or mourning; and other rooms will be warm with joy.

Walk with me through the house of one year, all twelve rooms.

Faith Baldwin in 1958's Testament of Trust

 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Favorite Christmas Books: A Christmas Book

 

My copy of A Christmas Book by Elizabeth Goudge is a 1967 First American Edition. It is a compilation of Christmas stories taken from seven of her novels and two complete short stories. One of my favorites in the book is from Goudge's novel Island Magic, a book I haven't yet read but want to because of the details of Rachell du Frocq's pretty rooms and the other domestic details.

Those things matter to me as much as plot does. The setting of Island Magic is on Guernsey of the Channel Islands, an added bonus as I loved Goudge's other novel set there, Green Dolphin Street.

At the time of the book's setting in 1888, the residents were mainly of French blood but were subjects of Queen Victoria.

 


 
Here are a few of Goudge's descriptions along with pictures from my Island Magic-inspired Christmas Day breakfast of Canadian bacon, fried potatoes, stuffed eggs, yeast rolls, and applesauce--only mine was served at Christmas Eve dinner last year.

 

From Island Magic:

The breakfast was wonderful.


Ham and boiled eggs and steaming coffee and jam and fresh rolls and, most marvelous of all, an island speciality, the goche détremper, a milk cake always baked early on Christmas morning to appear on the breakfast table. Colette helped Sophie to open the oven door and take it out. Its exquisite milk-white freshness was faintly tinged with golden brown on top, and its lovely crisp smell filled the whole kitchen and floated out to greet the churchgoers as they drove into the courtyard, cold and famished.

I couldn't find a recipe for goche détremper online but my French dictionary says it means left to soak.



 I googled Milk Cake and chose Taste of Home's recipe [here] to try and the simple breakfast cake was delicious! [I used whole milk, not 2%.]



 Actually, it is almost exactly the same recipe as for Vasilopita (Greek New Year's Cake) except it doesn't have grated lemon rind and isn't topped with confectioner's sugar, and there's no silver coin in it. I should have asked my friend Poppy about this as her Vasilopita might be very different from either recipe.

 

Here is a description of Goudge's Rachell's parlour. I could never duplicate it in my pictures but I can see it in my imagination and I hope you can, too.

The sun-filled parlour, shut away from the clamor of dinner and washing up, was fragrant and peaceful as the inside of a flower. Part of the tronquet de Noel, the yule log, was burning in the grate and its blue and yellow flames, whispering sweetly, lit up with the sunlight the soft little gillyflowers and forget-me-knots on the curtains, the delicate fluted china, the Chinese dragons and the rosewood table. Rachell looked round on all her treasures and was comforted.

Those "strips of Chinese embroideries" sent home by an ancestor led me to google embroidered "golden dragons dancing on the wall," and I found this at 1stDibs:

 


Gorgeous! After googling it, 1stDibs kept sending me ads for it on FaceBook. Ha! Thousands of dollars! And the rosewood table I found from Scully& Scully was $4,500!

Rachell is exhausted by evening--what mother is not on Christmas Day evening?

She looked around her pretty room for comfort. She looked at her French carpet, its pinks and blues faded to the colour of a dove's breast, at the miniatures over the mantelpiece and the French gilt mirror, at her tea-set patterned in blue and scarlet and gold, and at the stiff-backed chairs that her grandfather had given her grandmother...she was comforted.

 


She glanced around the room. The willow pattern china and the warming-pans...

My own English Allertons blue willow was a gift from my parents, a box full of pieces bought at a Methodist church thrift store, treasures that remind me that they thought of me when they saw these dishes. And I know exactly how Rachell felt because I also look around my rooms at night when work is done and take pleasure from my own pretty things. And if that's wrong, it's too bad.


 Altogether, from these descriptions, I can close my eyes and see Rachell's parlour, and I can see her kitchen: "The sparkling kitchen shone like a glow-worm in the darkness of the world all around them."

Sigh!!

You can find Elizabeth Goudge's A Christmas Book at Amazon [here].

 

Used hardcover copies start at $249.95. I searched everywhere for less expensive copies to show you but even the few paperback 1991 editions were very expensive. Even on Abebooks the two copies start at $241.24. There were none currently on eBay. I hope my children are paying attention to the small fortune in Mom's Christmas book collection and that they don't toss them after I'm gone!

 

May your Christmas Day be filled with health and love, even if it can't be filled to the brim with loved ones this year. It's still the day we celebrate the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem. Rejoice!



 


Monday, December 21, 2020

Sometimes You Just Gotta Laugh

 

 

Sometimes all you can do is laugh. 

You get up that morning with the best intentions to make a special dinner and set a pretty Christmas table for the two of you.

 


 You hand wash the old Spode Christmas Tree plates and the pretty glasses with white Christmas trees and take out your wedding silver.

 


 

You spend hours chopping three kinds of peppers, celery, scallions, Italian salami, capers, and garlic, and boiling, peeling and chopping eggs, thawing shrimp, washing and drying lettuce, mixing a dressing. You both have a hankering for Mama Leone's Shrimp Salad and the special shrimp sauce that she was famous for in NYC since 1906, ever since Enrico Caruso urged Louisa Leone to open an Italian restaurant in her living room. 

It is the salad you made so often back in the 1960s when you were young marrieds. 

 


And you make another old favorite, Cucumber Aspic, more chopping, another dressing. You feel so lucky that your husband loves aspics as much as you do.

And you sit down to eat after taking hot French bread out of the oven. This is going to be so good. And there will be leftovers for your lunch the next day.

 


Your husband prays, giving thanks for the meal you're about to eat and then he takes the first bite.

You put a bite in your mouth and then your husband asks: "Did you cook the shrimp?"

You spit your bite out on your Spode Christmas Tree plate. 

You don't cry. Not like the time you were eight months pregnant with your third child, and your daughter and husband go to the best pizza place in town and they come home without the best pizza in town and say they dropped it on the sidewalk. 

Now you groan, thinking about all that time spent in the kitchen when you could have been working on a blog post. 

And then you just laugh, dump it all in the trashcan and eat all the French bread and lots of the Cucumber Aspic and wish you'd made baked potatoes to go with the meal.

And you remember that it is 2020, after all.

 




Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Christmas Story by Me

 Before Christmas I will post one more favorite Christmas book but today I'm posting a short story that I wrote. My other Christmas book posts have been sweet and sentimental but this one is not. 

This story, "Helena's German Christmas," is part of six prequels I've written when writing a novel I've worked on for years. As I wrote the novel I kept writing background stories for my main characters, three young girls, two sisters and their friend who grow up together. Those background stories became a novella and five short stories over the years.

This one is about the mother of the sisters' friend as she prepares to emigrate to America in 1892. My nine-page short story may show up quite long here and in a busy week before Christmas maybe only a few will read it, so this is for you.

I'm including three pictures of an old and very special German Christmas book that is a treasure--even though I can't read German. My mother's parents lived in a small German-American town, and her father's people were from Germany so I've always been interested in my German heritage. Here it is, and I won't indent paragraphs as I can't get it to work here.

 


Helena's German Christmas

March 1892

Today I will board the SS La Bertagne, leave Le Havre and travel to America.

I will bid Father farewell. I doubt he will kiss me goodbye, although once he loved me, spoiled me even. Wilhelmina put a stop to that. Perhaps I cannot blame my stepmother entirely. Much of the blame is mine but does not the fact that I am only sixteen grant me some forgiveness? Do I deserve the punishment of being made to leave my home and family in Bavaria?

Is it justice for me to be forced to marry Auguste Fischesser, my father's bookkeeper and a man I loathe? A man who was in his twenties when I was born and who made up his mind to marry me when he first saw me in my cradle?

Could not my own brothers, Rudolph and Hermann, have saved me from this fate, persuaded our father otherwise? Is it guilt that kept them at their homes this week with not even one of them traveling to France with us? Why are even they afraid of Wilhelmina?

My stepmother claims they are needed in Nuremberg to mind the family business. Strober's Toys is about to take a giant leap into the future of mass production, and my brothers are responsible for negotiating the acquirement of the new lithograph process that will streamline the family business. No longer will Strober's employ the cottage craftsmen who hand paint our toys. The costly machinery will do away with the need for many of our employees.

I will think of my toy maker friends when I unpack my trunk in America. Wilhelmina scoffed at me for taking up space in my trunks with my old toy kitchen pieces that were made by my old friend the master mechanicus. When I see them and my dolls and my Noah's Ark set, I will remember the trips with my father, when I was a child, into the Thuringian Forest, watching as the craftsmen put the final touches of paint on each piece. That will all change in Bavaria now. The families who once made these old toys may go hungry when no one has need of them anymore.

Wilhelmina also has at last convinced my father to produce toys of weaponry, something he has formerly eschewed in favor of cheerful little German trains. And now, with the advent of guns and cannons being produced by Strober's Toys, all German toys will be stamped with a generic Made in Bavaria according to the new regulations.

I hope my stepmother will be happy when Strober's Toys become the premier toy manufacturer, ensuring that her coffers will fill as the toys begin to be sold in Europe and elsewhere. 

Her hated stepdaughter banished, now she will have my father's attention all to herself. If only my mother had lived, not bled to death when I was born, how different my life might have been. Then I would have stayed home under my mother's care and not often been shuttled away to her younger sister in Berlin. I adore my Aunt Louisa but she adores parties and social occasions and was not always the most careful chaperone. 

My Uncle Fritz, an officer in the Prussian Fusilier Guards, was much away, which meant that their daughter Clara and I were often left to our own entertainment when guests flocked to Aunt Louisa's parties, or when we traveled to one Schloss after another in the Tyrol for hunting parties, Clara's governess along to continue our lessons.

I first met him there, in the Tyrol. I was fourteen and Erich was seventeen. 

He was the most handsome boy I had ever seen. His wavy hair was the color of a newly minted gold piece and his eyes were sapphire blue. When I glanced at our image as reflected in mirrors when we waltzed with a group of young people, I saw others watching us. Clara's eyes were on us, too, as she sat in a corner. My cousin did not inherit the pale flaxen hair and clear blue eyes that her mother and I did, but her sullen attitude did not draw young men to her either.

Erich and I were together constantly that week in the Tyrol, reading together in the library, walking the many trails, on sleigh rides with the other young people to the local village. Talking, always talking.

But it was after the boar hunt that things changed. My cousin was not allowed to attend the hunt as she had the sniffles, and she was very angry. Angry enough to hurt me.


The morning after the boar hunt, Erich's mother, a princess of Prussia, kept him by her side, charmingly but ever so carefully announcing their immediate departure for Berlin to take place when breakfast was over. Two years later I found out that Clara had vengefully whispered to Erich's mother that she regretted having to say that her cousin was a wanton of low morals, planning to trap the princess' son into matrimony. For two years I wondered what I had done to make Erich withdraw from me. 

At home again, I was even ruder to my father's bookkeeper than ever before as he fawned over me. Wilhelmina overheard me telling him not to touch me one day when he tried to take my arm. She lashed out at me in his presence, saying that his bravery during the Franco-German war when he was a young man, and his brilliant aptitude for numbers that had helped keep Strober's Toys solvent, made him much more valuable to the family than a shallow headstrong stepdaughter who was ungrateful to her parents.

Two years later, upon an invitation from my aunt and uncle to spend Christmas in Berlin with them, I was packed off once again, and gladly went. After I was there two weeks I stopped looking for Erich at parties and sporting events and entered into the family's Christmas festivities. Between school lessons from Clara's new English governess, hired to improve our English, and the many parties, Clara and I helped with the baking in the kitchen, spices perfuming the air as pan after pan of Springerle, Spekulatius, and Pfeffernüse went into the cookstove. We also helped drape evergreens over doorways, and I discovered I had an aptitude for helping my aunt arrange vases of Christmas red roses and green fern throughout their large Berlin apartment. On Christmas Eve I helped the family hang glass baubles on the Christmas tree and clip tiny silver candlesticks to the branches and fill them with white wax candles.

 


 

My uncle carefully lighted the candles and Miss Wiggins, the governess, sat down to the piano where we circled around her to sing carols. And then it was off to bed and sleep before Kris Kringle came.

After breakfast on Christmas Day there were gifts from family as well as from Kris Kringle, almost as many for me as for Clara. I missed my father and brothers and I missed the times as a child when I had gone with my father to the Christ Child Market where my brothers were selling Strober's Toys, but I did not miss my stepmother or Auguste Fischesser's ingratiating presence. 

I was happy to be in the home of my aunt and uncle. I wished that I need never return to Bavaria and my stepmother's constant faultfinding. I believed that my aunt must have had all of my own mother's charm and love of gaiety, had I but known her myself. And Aunt Louisa often told me stories of my mother. These I memorized by heart and comforted myself with them when loneliness overwhelmed me.

It was one of my most pleasant Christmas Days ever. That night we all dressed for my aunt's annual Maskenball. I wore a simple white silk gown with puffed sleeves. Aunt Louisa insisted that Clara wear white too but agreed to have hers made up in velvet. Her gown probably cost three times more than my own, but I was content with mine and felt I had never looked more grown up. Aunt Louisa's own maid arranged Clara's hair but I wore mine in the simple smooth coronet of braids that I had worn ever since I was old enough to put up my hair.

I stood just past Clara herself when receiving guests that night and everyone was kind to me. I danced continuously, both with young and older men, with little boys, and with my uncle. Towards midnight my cheeks were rosy from the dancing, when a familiar face appeared in the crowd, a head with burnished gold hair. It was Erich, accompanied by a circle of uniformed male friends. 

He had not been invited but a Prussian prince needs no invitation. He goes where he wishes and dances with whom he pleases.

Eventually he danced with me, but then very properly danced with Clara and every female there. Between dances, wine continued to be served, even Clara and I were allowed to have a half glass and join in the Prosit that rang around the room.

I slipped away to check on my hair, loosened from the dancing, Miss Wiggins having called my attention to it. I left my chamber and was on the landing when Erich called to me from the doorway of a small sitting room.

What happened next is a memory I will never forget. Recalling it may save my sanity in the future, for no matter what happens in America, I will know that once I experienced the height of lovemaking. Erich told me he had never forgotten me and then drew me against the fine wool of his dress uniform and looked into my eyes lovingly and kissed me. 

He closed the door and led me to a sofa, pulled a small portrait of himself from his pocket, telling me never to forget him, that one day when I was old enough he would come for me and ask my father for my hand in marriage.

I smiled at him, my heart pounding, and promised. He kissed me again, then made love to me, his gentleness and tenderness leading me through the first pain. Strangely, I felt no fear, only trust in Erich. I don't think I completely understood what was happening but my senses swept me away and I never even thought of asking him to stop.

Afterwards I righted my clothing at Erich's concern that we must rejoin the party. But before we could leave the room, my cousin Clara walked in.

Erich squeezed my hand, glared at my cousin as he walked past her and through the open door. Her crooked smile towards me was triumphant and for the first time I felt shame as I passed within inches of her to leave the room. Miss Wiggins was on the landing and she reached for my arm as I started to run after Erich. She looked at me with pity, smoothed my hair with her hands, turned me around to check my dress and then whispered to me, "Please, Miss Helena, don't go after him. Come into my chamber with me."

I was sent home the following day, a letter from my aunt to my father in my reticule. Upon leaving, Aunt Louisa kissed my brow and, with much tenderness, explained to me that I could never expect an offer of marriage from Erich. He had been betrothed since infancy to a princess of Saxony.

For two months I was confined to my room at home while outside my window snow fell. The plans my stepmother had for my eventual marriage to the younger son of a count whose elder son was an invalid with no heir would never come to pass. He wanted a virgin bride and I thanked the grüB Gott that I was not one. He was arrogant and ugly and known for mistreating his horses and his servants, and even his elder brother. That had mattered not to my stepmother.

After I went two months without bleeding coming, my world fell apart. A marriage contract was arranged with my father's bookkeeper. There were startling conditions from my stepmother, a condition that we emigrate to America. Auguste accepted this condition as his brother Joseph lives in New Bayern, South Carolina and is a prosperous farmer, and two maiden aunts who also had emigrated. His brother had written often that he was sure to find work as a clerk in the bank there in New Bayern if he would come. 

Auguste had two conditions of his own. One was that I was to reside under his roof with no more than a total of thirty days' absence in a year. His second condition was that I agree to accept his husbandly rights to my body.

I felt as a cornered rat must feel and stood up and refused, threatening to leave and go to Aunt Louisa's. My father pushed my stepmother from the room as she railed at me, turned back as if to say something but hung his head and left. Later Wilhelmina returned to my room and explicitly told me that if I did not sign the contract, I would be turned out on the street after my child was born and the child, mine and Erich's child, would be placed in an orphanage. 

Beaten down at last, I agreed to sign the contract but only if the conjugal visits were specified to be limited to once a week, with a promise that I would always have a bedchamber to myself. The contract was duly signed, a reasonable settlement made to Auguste. Nothing to me except the promise of a Paris wardrobe before we sailed. After two weeks in Paris we took a train to Le Havre and have been staying in an inn while arrangements have been made.

And so I am about to depart. The captain of the ship has agreed to marry us once we are in open waters. Before night falls. Before Auguste will claim me as his wife.

That is my sordid story. At sixteen I have a sordid story.

Time to leave. I pick up my bonnet, stand before the mirror and put my hands on my stomach. Then I open the door and leave to go to America.

 

There it is, my Christmas story, neither sweet nor sentimental. But back soon with another Favorite Christmas Books post, one by Elizabeth Goudge.

Have a safe and blessed week before Christmas! 

 

 


 


 


 


 

 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Favorite Christmas Books: Christmas without Johnny

 Christmas without Johnny by Gladys Hasty Carroll covers seven days in the life of a nine year old boy who is so unhappy at school due to being bullied that he gets sick to his stomach each school morning. 


This book may have been written in 1950 but could just as easily be true of today's children who are bullied at school. Although the author never deals with the bullies directly, she does, even more importantly, deal with the parents and school teacher and Sunday school teachers, with all the adults in Johnny's world. The adults around him from whom a kind word would help so much, an observant eye, a listening ear.

 


The author from Maine not only tells an important story, I love her descriptions of the time and town:

It was certainly going to be a white Christmas. It had snowed heavily in the night, but the big snowplow had been out before daybreak, clearing the streets, and before nine o'clock the sidewalk plow had gone through the village. The pattern was that of a broad band of Hamburg insertion, and two narrow bands, all separated by ruffles of lace, running around the hem of the smooth white cambric petticoat which was the lawns before the house and the outlying fields which narrowed with distance as if fitted to a woman's waist.

Now that's just plain pretty and shows you that this is not a depressing book, even if your heart breaks for Johnny. This young boy is lost for a day but falls into kind hands--to a few people who listen to him, see him. And there is one man, in particular, who takes time to believe him and stand up for him, giving Johnny a very good day, the first he has had in a while.



 But Mr. Dwight cautions him:

Don't think, though, Johnny, that life is always as you saw it there today. Grown-ups are not always treated as they would like to be. Life is not often easy. But when life is hard for a child it is harder than it could be for anyone who has lived through the process of growing up. What I can't see is why so few adults realize that. They think children are happy enough just because they are children. So when life is hard for adults and they can't fight back successfully at people of their own size they often strike out at children. That's why some children are the most miserable creatures in the world. That's why some of them run away. That's why some of them never come back.

Mr. Dwight takes Johnny back to his parents and teacher, people who are worried sick over his disappearance. His parents love him, his teacher takes her job seriously, but perhaps none of them had understood Johnny's fears and worries and problems until Mr. Dwight has some words with them before telling them that a tired Johnny is asleep in his car.

I do think that today's teachers probably see a child like Johnny with so much more care, and today's parents probably are more observant of their children's worries than adults in the 1950s. I don't think kids told their parents about their worries back then, speaking from firsthand experience. It was a different time. 

But there are still Johnny's today who slip through the cracks, far too many of them.


 I never realized how rare copies of these vintage Christmas books I have are. But I did find this one here.

No, not the $768 one! There are used ones starting at under $5. I saw that the copy I linked to in my last Favorite Christmas Books post sold, as did the one in the first post. And naturally, I just know it was bought by one of you so maybe I have a small part of boosting the economy. [And I don't have an Amazon store so if you do buy something I link to anywhere it's just in hopes I can spread the love of these old Christmas books.] 

It's turned cold again here in Nashville, very good reading weather. And RH and his brother are finishing the electrical work to hang my beautiful green light fixture on the carport and workshop that they've spent over a year building in our backyard in their spare time. The painters were here last week and the building is now a beautiful Swedish red, the wide window trim is white, and the doors green. It's turned out just as I hoped it would when I published the post about it early in the year with inspiration pictures from Pinterest.

I hope to show it to you soon but I'm beginning to have doubts that Christmas lights will make it up on the building this year. That's okay with me, I'll just be thankful to be here myself this Christmas and each family member, long distance or not.

Take care, friends. I mean that.




Saturday, December 12, 2020

Sunday Breakfast

 

I take very good care of this little green book because this 1950 edition of the 1922 book by Abbie Graham is only to be found for around $170 now. I bought it decades ago when Sarah Ban Breathnach quoted from it in her early Simple Abundance book. Probably many of her readers bought Ceremonials of Common Days and so now copies are scarce.

Graham writes of Sunday:

Sunday is my Festival of Beauty, of Loved Things, of Leisure, and of Worship. I reserve for it whatever I most enjoy--flowers, blue china at breakfast, books, important letters, special walks, colored candles at supper and waffles, pine incense and colored flames in my fire. On Sunday I would not do any work, nor say nor think nor do unworthy things. I may this day announce to the people whom I like the fact that I do like them.

It was easy to set aside Sunday for worship when our children were at home. Even when they all grew up and left home, RH and I still attended and Sundays were special. Then came the post-hysterectomy days for me of insomnia, always made worse when I knew I would have to be somewhere early the next morning. 

One blessing to me in these days of  pandemic has been the live streaming of church services, and I'm careful to be ready to sit down and watch Nashville's Covenant Presbyterian's service, enjoying hearing the hymns and anthems that I grew up hearing before the sermon.

RH and I try to have a special Sunday breakfast. If he cooks it's going to be pork chops and the grits he does so well, low and long for the creamiest grits ever. I do the scrambled eggs and bread of some kind with it.

When I cook, it's going to be either waffles or pancakes and he fries up the bacon for it. 

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I made buttermilk waffles and set the table with my favorite breakfast dishes, this restaurant ware we bought over 40 years ago in an old warehouse on the river in downtown Nashville that is now full of the music and dining places that draw tourists here year round.



When I uploaded the pictures, I was surprised to see that the Moravian Star that hangs over our dining table showed up clearly in the dish.


They go well with pieces of brown drip-edge serving pieces we have. When we have company for a pancake or waffle breakfast the taller pitcher hold maple syrup and the shorter one holds melted butter but this morning they were just for show. I was out of the special blackberry jam I prefer with pancakes.


 These vintage pheasant glasses were perfect for fall but got put away with the other fall things in December.

We look forward to this one unhurried morning to eat breakfast together and usually watch the CBS Morning show. And I enjoy setting a pretty breakfast table that morning and I think RH enjoys it too. Or maybe he just humors me! 

Abbie Graham's Sunday Festival of Beauty is good for the soul. And our bodies need a day of Leisure. That's hard to pull off but I do try never to do laundry on that day, my one line in the sand. Not saying or thinking anything unworthy is more difficult, so thank God there is Grace for that! 

Graham says that on Sunday she will "announce to the people whom I like the fact that I do like them." And I would like to say to those who continue to visit me here that I do like you, very much!

Thank you, and have a safe and lovely Sunday!