• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

New for dangerous girls and daring boys

New since the beginning of the month is The Dangerous and Daring Blog for Boys and Girls – “inspired by The Dangerous Book for Boys and the upcoming The Daring Book for Girls” but “not connected in any way to the authors or publishers of those books”. Rather, the new blog is brought to you by The Llama Butchers, who I believe came to my attention through our mutual pal Melissa Wiley.

Labels/categories so far with corresponding posts include

Battles (1)
Build It (1)
Dangerous (10)
Daring (8)
History (4)
Hobby (1)
Outdoors (2)
Rocketry (2)
Science (1)
Stories (1)

Wowie! I believe I know a few children out on the open prairie who might have fun with those two rocketry posts.

Grand fun to bookmark and to add to the Bloglines subscription. Great good thanks to the LBs for the new blog, especially while there’s still plenty of summer left for unfettered, dangerous, and daring summer fun.

(I hope to post a fair report toward the end of the week, and do some general bloggy catching up. But tomorrow morning we’re off to the fairgrounds again for the day for the big volunteer clean-up.)

The still-lie down

Our beautiful, loyal 12-year-old German Shepherd, mistress of all she surveyed on the farm, died last week.

While she was older and ailing, she was nevertheless coping wonderfully and enjoying all the usual summer activities — chasing chickens, getting to know the new bull, playing and dozing with the cats, gulping down treats left over from barbecues — until she was hit by a neighbor’s truck the week before. After the first few tough days, when we thought we might lose her, she started walking again, albeit stiffly and slowly. She was rallying well until she took a turn for the worse last Tuesday. We’re all rather at sea without her now. As Davy said Wednesday morning in tears, “I knew her even before I was born.”

As a puppy, she pulled all of the plants out of my windowbox to make a more comfortable bed for herself. As a young dog, she had more than her fair share of adventures, come home from her wanders in the woods and fields smelling of skunk, with a face full of porcupine quills, soaking wet from a quick dip in the pond on a hot day. One early winter I saw her coming across the field lugging what I thought was a long tree branch. It turned out to be the haunch of deer who had died in the trees. She welcomed the arrival of new small people around here, though she occasional knocked them over with her enthusiastic tail, and never showed them anything but love and affection, even in her last moments.

From “Dogs” by Harold Monro (1879-1932), for our friend. We will talk about you and remember you, dear, in the light of candles and in the sunshine.

Thus, for your walk, we took ourselves, and went
Out by the hedge, and tree, to the open ground.
You ran, in delightful strata of wafted scent,
Over the hill without seeing the view;
Beauty is hinted through primitive smells to you:
And that ultimate Beauty you track is but rarely found.

Home . . . and further joy will be waiting there:
Supper full of the lovely taste of bone,
You lift up your nose again, and sniff, and stare
For the rapture known
Of the quick wild gorge of food, then the still lie-down;
While your people will talk above you in the light
Of candles, and your dreams will merge and drown
Into the bed-delicious hours of night.

Country fair time!

The latest Country Fair of Homeschooling is up and ready to go. Meg is hosting this month — thank you, Meg!

And I’m a day late with the news because I’ve been busy with our real life country fair, now celebrating its 101st year. The kids and I were at the work bee on Saturday, at the exhibit hall arranging and tidying yesterday, and tomorrow I’m at the hall all day helping to accept and arrange entries. The kids are busy today with last minute Lego creations to enter, the boys finished their wood projects last night, the sheaves are tied and ready to go. The fair opens Thursday, and we’ll be at the fairgrounds bright and early to drop off our pen of five chickens and Laura’s heifer, then we race back into town for the parade, then back to the fairgrounds for lunch and the chicken show. And that’s just part of the first day.

So I’ll be scarce around here until after the fair. It ends Saturday night, then we rest and recover Sunday, then back to the fairgrounds Monday for the volunteer clean-up. Tuesday I’ll probably have to clean the house and tend the garden. And did I mention it’s still hot? Yesterday we hit 35 degrees Celsius, and I heard our province was the hot spot for Canada for the day.

And in between everything, I’m sneaking peeks at Little Heathens, which finally arrived in yesterday’s mail…

Poetry Friday: Gardening and grammar, with Guy Wetmore Carryl

Two poems from Guy Wetmore Carryl’s Grimm Tales Made Gay (1903):

How a Girl Was Too Reckless of Grammar by Far
by Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904)

Matilda Maud Mackenzie frankly hadn’t any chin,
Her hands were rough, her feet she turned invariably in;
Her general form was German,
By which I mean that you
Her waist could not determine
To within a foot or two:
And not only did she stammer,
But she used the kind of grammar
That is called, for sake of euphony, askew.

From what I say about her, don’t imagine I desire
A prejudice against this worthy creature to inspire.
She was willing, she was active,
She was sober, she was kind,
But she never looked attractive
And she hadn’t any mind!
I knew her more than slightly,
And I treated her politely
When I met her, but of course I wasn’t blind!

Matilda Maud Mackenzie had a habit that was droll,
She spent her morning seated on a rock or on a knoll,
And threw with much composure
A smallish rubber ball
At an inoffensive osier
By a little waterfall;
But Matilda’s way of throwing
Was like other people’s mowing,
And she never hit the willow-tree at all!

One day as Miss Mackenzie with uncommon ardor tried
To hit the mark, the missile flew exceptionally wide,
And, before her eyes astounded,
On a fallen maple’s trunk
Ricochetted, and rebounded
In the rivulet, and sunk!
Matilda, greatly frightened,
In her grammar unenlightened,
Remarked: “Well now I ast yer! Who’d ‘er thunk?”

But what a marvel followed! From the pool at once there rose
A frog, the sphere of rubber balanced deftly on his nose.
He beheld her fright and frenzy,
And, her panic to dispel,
On his knee by Miss Mackenzie
He obsequiously fell.
With quite as much decorum
As a speaker in a forum
He started in his history to tell

“Fair maid,” he said, “I beg you, do not hesitate or wince,
If you’ll promise that you’ll wed me, I’ll at once become a prince;
For a fairy old and vicious
An enchantment round me spun!”
Then he looked up, unsuspicious,
And he saw what he had won,
And in terms of sad reproach he
Made some comments, sotto voce,*

* (Which the publishers have bidden me to shun!)

Matilda Maud Mackenzie said, as if she meant to scold:
“I never! Why, you forward thing! Now ain’t you awful bold!”
Just a glance he paused to give her,
And his head was seen to clutch,
Then he darted to the river,
And he dived to beat the Dutch!
While the wrathful maiden panted:
“I don’t think he was enchanted!”
(And he really didn’t look it overmuch!

The Moral: In one’s language one conservative should be:
Speech is silver, and it never should be free!

How Jack Found that Beans May Go Back On a Chap
by Guy Wetmore Carryl

Without the slightest basis
For hypochondriasis
A widow had forebodings
Which a cloud around her flung,
And with expression cynical
For half the day a clinical
Thermometer she held
Beneath her tongue.

Whene’er she read the papers
She suffered from the vapors,
At every tale of malady
Or accident she’d groan;
In every new and smart disease,
From housemaid’s knee to heart disease,
She recognized the symptoms
As her own!

She had a yearning chronic
To try each novel tonic,
Elixir, panacea, lotion,
Opiate, and balm;
And from a homeopathist
Would change to an hydropathist,
And back again,
With stupefying calm!

She was nervous, cataleptic,
And anemic, and dyspeptic:
Though not convinced of apoplexy,
Yet she had her fears.
She dwelt with force fanatical
Upon a twinge rheumatical,
And said she had a
Buzzing in her ears!

Now all of this bemoaning
And this grumbling and this groaning
The mind of Jack, her son and heir,
Unconscionably bored.
His heart completely hardening,
He gave his time to gardening,
For raising beans was
Something he adored.

Each hour in accents morbid
This limp maternal bore bid
Her callous son affectionate
And lachrymose good-bys.
She never granted Jack a day
Without some long “Alackaday!”
Accompanied by
Rolling of the eyes.

But Jack, no panic showing,
Just watched his beanstalk growing,
And twined with tender fingers
The tendrils up the pole.
At all her words funereal
He smiled a smile ethereal,
Or sighed an absent-minded
“Bless my soul!”

That hollow-hearted creature
Would never change a feature:
No tear bedimmed his eye, however
Touching was her talk.
She never fussed or flurried him,
The only thing that worried him
Was when no bean-pods
Grew upon the stalk!

But then he wabbled loosely
His head, and wept profusely,
And, taking out his handkerchief
To mop away his tears,

Exclaimed: “It hasn’t got any!”
He found this blow to botany
Was sadder than were all
His mother’s fears.

The Moral is that gardeners pine
Whene’er no pods adorn the vine.
Of all sad words experience gleans
The saddest are: “It might have beans.”
(I did not make this up myself:
‘Twas in a book upon my shelf.
It’s witty, but I don’t deny
It’s rather Whittier than I!)

* * *

Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904) was an American writer of humorous verse, serious poetry, short stories, and novels. He was the son of Mary Wetmore and New York stockbroker and writer of verse and children’s stories Charles Edward Carryl (1842-1920); the senior Carryl was influenced profoundly by the fantasy writings and nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll. In fact, Charles Carryl dedicated his 1884 book Davy and the Goblin; Or, What Followed Reading “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” to his then 11-year-old son Guy.

Guy Carryl grew up in New York City and attended Columbia University, where he scandalized his Latin professor, emininent classicist Harry Thurston Peck (1856-1914), with his epigram, “It takes two bodies to make one seduction.” Carryl graduated from Columbia in 1895.

The following year, Carryl went to work as a staff writer for the New York monthly magazine Munsey’s, described by its founder Frank Munsey as a popular journal “with pictures and art and Good Cheer and human interest throughout”. He later became the journal’s managing editor. Thereafter, Carryl worked for Harper’s Magazine, which sent him to Paris. While there, he also wrote for a variety of other American publications, including Life Magazine, Munsey’s, and Collier’s.

He is best known for his books of verse, including Fables for the Frivolous (with Apologies to La Fontaine) (1899 and yet another reason to pursue a classical education or at least read poetry), Mother Goose for Grown-Ups (1900), and Grimm Tales Made Gay (1903); The Transgression of Andrew Vane (1902) and Zut and Other Parisians (1903), books of short stories; and, perhaps the best of his three novels, The Lieutenant-Governor (1903).

Carryl died in 1904 at the age of 31. It was thought he contracted “rheumatic grippe” (possibly rheumatic fever) and blood poisoning from exposure fighting a fire at his New York bungalow the month before his untimely death. His works Far From the Maddening Girls and The Garden of Years were published posthumously.

* * *

A good many of the writings of Guy Wetmore Carryl survive online, and while he’s not as popular as he used to be, or as popular as some other poets, he does have a devoted following. Here’s a sampling:

Heidi Anne Heiner has a wonderful selection from Carryl’s Grimm Tales Made Gay at her wonderful and thorough SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages website.

Project Gutenberg has Fables for the Frivolous online; and LibriVox offers the Fables as a free audiobook

The Wondering Minstrels online collection of poetry, including one of Carryl’s serious poems and one fable for the frivolous

A few more poems, at Poetry Archive

“Marvelous Coney Island”, an article Carryl wrote for Munsey’s Magazine, published in 1901. Interesting to speculate if the camel at Luna Park, the Coney Island amusement park, was the same animal that inspired his father (scroll down to “The Plaint of the Camel”, available, by the way, in picture book form as The Camel’s Lament).

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Mentor Texts & More today. Thanks to LiteracyTeacher for hosting!

Poetry Friday: A very sad sonnet

We’re in the third day of what’s supposed to be a five-day heat wave, with temperatures over 30 Celsius (in the 90s F). We don’t have an air conditioner or even a ceiling fan, so the trick here is to close all the windows and pull the shades and curtains around 10 a.m. before the heat of the day comes wafting in. I open everything up around 8 pm, though the sun is still shining. Supper tonight will be vichyssoise (and no, the leeks aren’t particularly local) and some more wild raspberries the kids discovered are ripe for the picking.

Tom is working just south of our house, on a house in the woods at the acreages, so the kids spend their days biking back and forth, helping Tom, filling his water jug, fetching popsicles from our freezer for the hot and sweaty builders.

A neighbor of ours had promised the kids a cat, but it wasn’t until the kids were in the truck with the cat in their laps that the neighbor casually mentioned Kitty was pregnant. Davy renamed her Ann Miller, Laura named her Judy (Garland), and I suggested Judy Ann as, apparently, a not very good compromise. She’s settling in nicely despite the name confusion. According to Davy, the kittens will be named, depending on sex, Frank (Sinatra), Gene (Kelly), Fred (Astaire), Ginger (Rogers), Debbie (Reynolds), etc. This from the kids who named some of this year’s calves Roy (Rogers), Dale (Evans), Frank (Butler), and Annie (Oakley). Never a dull or modern moment around here.

Very Sad Sonnet
by Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)

When as I count the many years I’ve risen
And bathed and brushed my teeth and
shaved and dressed,
How many years within this earthly prison
I’ve slaved and toiled, how many years
oppressed
By social obligations, borne the numbing
Persistency of transcendental bores,
How many years I’ve bothered with the
plumbing,
The window-screens and countless household chores,
How many years, with problems to unravel,
I’ve faced all kinds of sorrow, pain and care –
The income tax return, the ills of travel,
The awful doubt of what one ought to wear –
Oh, then I think, befogged with dark misgiving,
How much I would have saved by never
living!

* * *

Arthur Guiterman was an American poet and writer of light verse. He was born in Vienna, of American parents, in 1871. The family returned to the United States, where Guiterman graduated from the College of the City of New York (present-day City College) in 1891. He was a cofounder in 1910 of the Poetry Society of America, serving as its president in 1925-26.

Today’s Lucky 13 Poetry Friday Round-up can be found at Chicken Spaghetti. Thanks Susan!

Still in the garden

The raised bed flower garden behind the house, back in May.

Same raised bed flower garden behind the house, in the last week. Columbines at far right, poppies to their left, tall things in the center are monkshood. I’m happiest when the cows and calves stay on their side of the barbed wire fence (in the background, at right).

Same raised bed, last week, but from the other end.

Same raised bed, other side. Large rounded clump at far right is a type of daisy. I hacked back the catmint at the front along the corner, so it wouldn’t go to seed and stop blooming.

Closer view of the trellis in the raised bed. Taller blooms at right are cornflowers, and in the middle escaped dill. Big leaves bottom right are hollyhocks. The rest is clematis, sweet pea, and some morning glory, not yet blooming.

The raised bed vegetable garden. From front to back, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, green beans, scarlet runner beans, scraggly carrots, corn, and more volunteer poppies.

Under the deck in front of the house. The page wire and morning glories were my idea to cover up the hole in the wooden trellis, made by Evel Knievel five-year-old Davy last year who lost control and crashed his bike. Morning glories, which open around 5 am and close up by 2 pm, blue lobelia, purple calibrachoa (the flowers that look like small petunias). Can’t remember the name of the tall pink flowers at center, will look at the tag in the pot.

In the garden and around the farm

The kids’ frog farm, with tadpoles and baby frogs found in the ditch by the house. Tom says he’s never seen as many frogs as we have this year because of all the rains. Odd to think as children that I did more tadpole hunting, albeit at the Bronx and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, than my country husband.

A closer view of one of the older frogs. Yes, one of the kids thought that the frog needed some lettuce from the garden.

The neighbors’ derelict barn, amidst the (genetically modified) canola…

More from the garden

Eggs from the duck nest in the backyard, not 10 feet from the house. We watched over the duck and her nest for almost a month, mostly from a distance and not too often, and despite the nearby marauding magpies, the duck managed to hatch out all 10 eggs. We checked on the nest on the second to last day to find it full of nine ducklings, with one to go. The next morning, mama and her babies were gone, and a tenth cracked eggshell was left in the nest. Success!

One of the planters in front of the house, last month.


Violas and pansies, and a pink double impatiens that looks like small roses. The big leaves belong to the nolana (see next picture, below), which hadn’t started flowering when I took this picture. The nolana stems and flowers took off right after; the stems are thick and almost vining, and the bright blue flowers with white centers resemble morning glories, but stay open all day.

The nolana, at far left, blooming in the planter. The blue lobelia at right I stuck in a few weeks ago, when it threatened to take over another planter.

The planter the other day. Colors a bit washed out though in this picture…

Mary Mary quite contrary

And Becky, too. Recent snaps from the garden. I’ll post more as Blogger and dial-up will let me.

Columbines

More columbines. They’ve been blooming for almost a month, show no signs of giving up any time soon, and their shapes and colors make me happy.

This is cheating a bit. This is the Dropmore honeysuckle, above, when it was blooming last month. Gorgeous and pink for the brief while it lasted.

Miraculous blog post round-up

Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living enjoyed the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle so much that she’s decided to start an AVM Blog Post Round-up.

Suzanne is also very talented at making nifty buttons to dress things up, as you can see above. Thanks, Suzanne!

Little Heathens and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in The Christian Science Monitor

From today’s Christian Science Monitor, from Marilyn Gardner’s column, “A harvest of virtues as well as sustenance”, with the subtitle, “Two new books remind readers how closely most Americans used to be connected to the land”:

If spring is the season when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, summer is the time when a former Midwesterner’s heart fills with a different kind of affection — a romance with the land.For some of us, that romance is three-pronged. First, there is the love of the landscape itself: The way the horizon stretches endlessly, stitching together blue sky and black soil. The way silver silos glint in the sun. The way dairy cows graze in velvet pastures.

Then there is the romance with the bounty of that land, as reflected in the proverbial fruited plain and amber waves of grain. This is the month when the corn is supposed to be knee-high by the Fourth of July, and next month as high as an elephant’s eye, at least in the view of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Finally, there are the bedrock values that spring from this fertile land, beginning with the virtues of hard work and cooperation that are required to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops, fruits, and vegetables.

This summer two authors offer reminders of those virtues. In “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” Barbara Kingsolver describes her family’s year-long experiment in self-sufficiency. Their locus is Appalachia, not the Midwest, but the values are the same. …

For Mildred Armstrong Kalish, author of “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression,” rural life brought other lessons. …

As Americans have moved from farms to cities, two profound changes have occurred. Younger generations have little knowledge of where food comes from. Many people have also lost an understanding of – and an appreciation for – hard physical labor. The poetic description of the Midwest as the nation’s bread basket masks the intense labor and economic uncertainties farmers face. …

Kingsolver knows that most families cannot replicate her family’s experiment in self-reliance. Likewise, Kalish is not sentimental about the economic strains her family faced.

They understand that there is obviously no going back to a more rural way of life. But both books suggest an intriguing question: In a sophisticated urban and suburban culture, built on the premise of bigger, better, faster, and more expensive, is there value in encouraging a greater appreciation for simpler living, closer to families and the land when possible?

Kingsolver and Kalish both make eloquent, persuasive cases for answering in the affirmative. Sustenance, after all, comes in many forms.

Read the rest here.

More from Millie Kalish

From “‘Grandma, tell me a farm story’…and boy, did she ever” by Susan L. Rife for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida, where Mildred Kalish, author of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression — now winging its way to me — lived with her husband in retirement until 2005:

Kalish began compiling her memories into book form about 20 years ago, when she would walk her 4-year-old granddaughter, Meredith, to school and entertain her along the way with stories from her childhood.

“She would say, ‘Grandma, tell me a farm story,’ ” said Kalish. “That’s the title I did the first draft of the book with. I worked on it off and on until about 2002, then decided to really get to work on it.”

Her friend, Marilyn Harwell, a neighbor for “years and years and years” at Pelican Cove, said the two would sit “for five years, talking about her book, drinking single-malt scotch.” …

Although Kalish wrote the book for her family, she thinks it has a broader appeal, thanks to nostalgia for simpler times, and, she said, “Part of it I honestly think has to do with the fact that the world is in such dreadful shape. We’re having tainted food come in from China — shrimp, toothpaste, beef, everything — and we’re having this awful war, the whole Mideast thing, and the political thing. I think that people feel they could not control their lives. In our day, we controlled almost everything about our lives. That gave us a sense of self-sufficiency and self-reliance that people don’t have today.”

[Mrs. Kalish's son Greg] described his mother as “the most unbelievable optimist,” and said her greatest gift to him had been her love of the outdoors. When he and Doug, who now lives about 10 minutes away from Harry and Millie Kalish in Mountain View, were kids, their mother would awaken them at 2 a.m. to drive far away from city lights to watch meteor showers.

Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books

Or, turnabout is fair play.

Sherry at Semicolon was kind enough to submit a poem to yesterday’s Poetry Friday, so since I find I have a reviewish post this week and some computer time this morning, I sent the post to Sherry’s weekly roundup, the Saturday Review Books.

If you discount my initial goof, where my finger grazed “enter” before I finished typing, today’s review is up 62 entries and counting (where the smilies came from, though, I don’t know; I’m just relieved that Mr. Linky behaved himself all day yesterday). What a great deal of great weekend reading! Thank you, Sherry.

Poetry Friday: Fireflies and a round-up

Button courtesy of the very kind Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living

No, not a round-up of fireflies. I’ve already learned my lesson trying to herd cats.

Welcome to Farm School and to this week’s round-up, which I’m happy (and probably long overdue) to host here at Farm School, starting off with a little Ogden Nash for a lazy summer day:

The Firefly
by Ogden Nash

The firefly’s flame
Is something for which science has no name.
I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a
person’s posterior.

And so to the round-up — with the help of Mr. Linky, while I’m off gathering eggs and watering flowers (today is the third day in a row of temps in the nineties and no rain).

Schelle at Brand New Ending gets an early start (from Australia) looking for Truth and Beauty, with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Each and All and an original Fib.

Alkelda at Saints and Spinners is first in the hemisphere, Putting the Good Things Away with Marge Piercy (by the way, Alkelda is hosting the next issue of the Carnival of Children’s Literature, with submissions due July 20).

Michele at Scholar’s Blog has some Shakespeare for a summer’s day, Sonnet 55 for Poetry Friday 57, and WWI

Kelly at Big A little a, our fearless Poetry Friday leader, has an original Requiem for a Laptop, which I could have used last fall. “Black Screen of Death” indeed!

Sam Riddleburger has some haikus by writer and illustrator Cece Bell, including the first ever poem I’ve read about one of my favorite childhood meals, Toad in a Hole. Read his post to find out just how much he loves her, and her poetry. Sam also asks kidlitters to send in haikus for the showcase.

David at the excelsior file, who is “exploring the recovered memories of childhood while exploring my own second act through the world of kids books”, joins the Poetry Friday fray for the first time with a bang — and a bottle — with the ripping pirate poem Derelict by Young Ewing Allison. A hearty pirate welcome, David, to the treasure chest that is Poetry Friday!

cloudscome at a wrung sponge has a poem by Rumi on one-handed basket weaving and craftsmen practicing their craft, with cloudscome’s thoughts on the creative process and the questions, how and where do you write?

Laura at Wordy Girls offers a selection of poems, all 15 Words or Less, based on this week’s photo, which is of a beatiful hydrangea growing three steps from Laura’s front door. Add your own poem to the bouquet of comments in the previous link and Laura will add it to the blog post.

Kelly Fineman has perfect timing and patriotic poetry — Emma Lazarus’s “New Colossus”.

Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a Poetry Friday post chock full goodies — lyrical song lyrics from one of her favorite bands, The Innocence Mission; and also Christopher Robin, and thoughts on the healing power of art, with a request to send along any art-as-healer stories. (Jules, I was this close to pulling Christopher Milne’s The Enchanted Places off the shelf the other day. I think I’ll have to go back and do it. Thanks.)

John Mutford at The Book Mine Set, up north in Iqaluit, Nunavut (can you see us waving from Alberta, John?!), has an original poem — Slouching Toward Nirvana in Iqaluit, inspired by Charles Bukowski.

Christine M at The Simple and the Ordinary is also still in a patriotic mood this week, with some of Katherine Lee Bates’s less familiar verses from America the Beautiful.

Energetic Elaine Magliaro, my old Cybils poetry panel pal, is already thinking about this year’s Cybils, with a round-up post of of her own, revisiting the children’s poetry books she’s read and reviewed to date at both of her blogs, Wild Rose Reader and Blue Rose Girls. Speaking of Blue Rose Girls, Elaine has a Poetry Friday post there with a poem by Linda Pastan on the joys of finding A New Poet.

Sherry at Semicolon has a riddle poem as well as a pictorial hint for the answer for Poetry and Fine Art Friday today.

Adrienne at What Adrienne Thinks About That takes a look at a picture book edition of Casey at the Bat, and finds that illustrator Christopher Bing hits it out of the park.

Gwenda at Shaken & Stirred tackles rejection in verse, with Philip Dacey‘s Form Rejection Letter, for a friend.

Nancy at Journey Woman has been thinking about CS Lewis and Joy Davidman. Nancy offers one of Joy Davidman’s poems, and some book titles and links for more on their lives, and life together.

The delightfully named Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews offers the lyrics to the Lennon and McCartney song In My Life, to celebrate both the first meeting of poets John and Paul on this date 50 years ago and Ringo Starr’s birthday tomorrow. Becky also has a link to the nifty Blog, Blog Me Do.

Eva at Digital Changeling has A Little Lovecraft with some very scary cats. No, they’re not responsible for the fish problem mentioned at the top of the post. At least I don’t think so. And I hope you’re feeling better soon, Eva.

MotherReader has a book in verse for young adults, and the good news is that it’s “funny, realistic, and completely enjoyable.”

Marcie at World of Words captures summer in 13 words, with her Blueberry Haiku, inspired by weekend berry picking. And there’s more, in Marcie’s Poetry Friday 2 post, with a look at Nikki Grimes’s poetry collection (Marcie call it “a novel in verse”), What Is Goodbye?, about the death of a sibling.

Literacy Teacher at Mentor Texts & More offers thoughts on shelter and security with Leslie Bunder’s My Homeland. LT is also hosting the Picture Book Carnival, which sounds very, very intriguing (and has a deadline of July 31st). And don’t miss LT’s links for Summer Reading for Teachers of Writing — scroll all the way down the blogroll on the right to find them.

Little Willow goes over hill, over dale, with fairy queens and elves with an excerpt from her favorite Shakespearean comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sara Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe enters the world of blogging, and Poetry Friday, with why she writes, and her poem (and its reply to Jules, above), The Bones of January. Welcome, Sara.

Karen E. offers one of her favorites (and mine), Emily Dickinson, listening to the murmur of a bee and seeing the red upon the hill.

TadMack at Finding Wonderland agrees, it is a firefly kind of week, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Are There Not Still Fireflies?, written shortly before September 11, 2001, about the flicker of possibilities.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has been teaching a course on improving elementary math all week, and her mind is on numbers. She gives us a few poems about infinity. And don’t miss her post from last week on Joyful Education, about the article “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education”. We can usually add more joy to our studies around here by adding more poetry to our days. Or fireflies.

Jennie at Biblio File offers a stormy summer poem from Emily Dickinson. My favorite line — “The lightning skipped like mice”.

Rebecca at Ipsa Dixit, a terrific new-to-me blog I discovered just this week when Rebecca left a comment here, says goodbye to the long, long Spring with Mary Oliver’s Such Singing in the Wild Branches.

Katie at Pixiepalace is celebrating Kissing Day today, with the help of Robert Burns and a merry tune.

Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library spends Poetry Friday travelling the globe with A World of Wonders by J. Patrick Lewis.

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, who I think is still enjoy lazy days on vacation, went looking for dragonflies and found ethereal Waterwings.

Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living has a lovely July poem by Elsa Beskow — and wouldn’t you know, we just started making hay today. Thanks again for my lovely button, Suzanne. I’ll wear it proudly!

Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen offers an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and notes, “The older my children get, the more children I have, the more Whitman means to me. He understands about wonder.”

Thank goodness for Google Alerts, which I just checked. Kimberley at lectitans leaves tomorrow for Florida, but not before posting her entry for Poetry Friday, the lyrics of the state song, Swanee River. Enjoy the magic and the Yoohoo, Kimberley.

Hornblower at HMS Indefatigable, in Beautiful British Columbia, slides in on the tail of timezones with two Leonard Cohen poems, including the timely Democracy.

Food, Family, Fellowship: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver is as good a farmer as she is a writer. Or maybe that should be the other way around. And her nonfiction is a delight.

I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life over the long weekend, and enjoyed it very much. It’s warm, funny, and includes recipes, including one for mozzarella cheese in 30 minutes that seems ridiculously simple and inordinately tempting. What remains with me is not so much Ms. Kingsolver’s passionate argument in favor of local and especially seasonal food — she is, of course, preaching to the converted over here — but her thoughtful discussions of food and family, and even food and homemaking. For more on the local food aspect, see JoVE‘s post on the book, with good links to places such as Liz’s blog, Pocket Farm (and its new offshoot blog, One Local Summer); and also Mother Crone‘s review. My only quibble with the book — the lists and references at the end are helpful, but even better would have been an index.

What makes this book different from some of the other current titles on the subject, especially those published on the heels of inconvenient truths, is that it’s written by someone who obviously delights in and attaches importance to her roles as wife and mother. No coincidence that her co-authors are her husband Steven Hopp, who wrote the investigative, informative sidebars, and her 19-year-old daughter Camille, who wrote a nutrition and recipe sections at the end of each chapter. No doubt their year of food life was so successful simply because it was a family project. Ms. Kingsolver begins with an observation not overly common in North America:

Pushing a refrigerated green vegetable from one end of the earth to another is, let’s face it, a bizarre use of fuel. But there’s a simpler reason to pass up off-season asparagus: it’s inferior. Respecting the dignity of a spectacular food means enjoying it at its best. Europeans celebrate the short season of abundant asparagus as a form of holiday. …The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint — virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of this nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: browbeating our teenagers with the message that they should wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait to experience intercourse under the ideal circumstances (the story goes), will they know its true value. “Blah blah blah,” hears the teenager: words issuing from a mouth that can’t even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now. We’re raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.

Waiting for the quality experience seems to be the constitutional article that has slipped from American food custom. If we mean to reclaim it, asparagus seems like a place to start. And if the object of our delayed gratification is a suspected aphrodisiac? That’s the sublime paradox of a food culture: restraint equals indulgence.

And there’s more, much more:

I haven’t mastered the serene mindset on all household chores … but I might be getting there with cooking. … Cooking is definitely one of the things we do for fun around here. When I’m in a blue mood I head for the kitchen. I turn the pages of my favorite cookbooks, summoning the prospective joyful noise of a shared meal. I stand over a bubbling soup, close my eyes, and inhale. From the ground up, everything about nourishment steadies my soul.Yes, I have other things to do. For nineteen years I’ve been nothing but a working mother, one of the legions who could justify a lot of packaged, precooked foods if I wanted to feed those to my family. I have no argument with convenience, on principle. I’m inordinately fond of my dishwasher, and I like the shiny tools that lie in my kitchen drawers, ready to make me a menace to any vegetable living or dead. …

But if I were to define my style of feeding my family, on a permanent basis, by the dictum, ‘Get it over with, quick,” something cherished in our family life would collapse. And I’m not talking waistlines, though we’d miss those. I’m discussing dinnertime, the cornerstone of our family’s mental health. If I had to quantify it, I’d say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal. I’m sure I’m not the only parent to think so. A survey of National Merit scholars — exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography, and class — turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table. It’s not just the food making them brilliant. It’s probably the parents — their care, priorities, and culture of support. The words: “I’ll expect you home for dinner.”

I understand that most U.S. citizens don’t have room in their lives to grow food or even see it growing. But I have trouble accepting the next step in our journey toward obligate symbiosis with the packaged meal and takeout. Cooking is a dying art in our culture. Why is a good question, and an uneasy one, because I find myself politically and socioeconomically entangled in the answer. I belong to the generation of women who took as our youthful rallying cry: Allow us a good education so we won’t have to slave in the kitchen. We recoiled from the proposition that keeping a husband presentable and fed should be our highest intellectual aspiration. We fought for entry as equal partners into every quarter of the labor force. We went to school, sweated those exams, earned our professional stripes, and we beg therefore to be excused from manual labor. Or else our full-time job is manual labor, we are carpenters or steelworkers, or we stand at a cash register all day. At the end of a shift we deserve to go home and put our feet up. Somehow, though, history came around and bit us in the backside: now most women have jobs and still find themselves largely in charge of the housework. Cooking at the end of a long day is a burden we could live without.

It’s a reasonable position. But it got twisted into a pathological food culture. When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. “Hey ladies,” it said to us, “go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.” They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply. If you think toxic is an exaggeration, read the package directions for handling raw chicken from a CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or feedlots/factory farms]. We came a long way, baby, into bad eating habits and collaterally impaired family dynamics. No matter what else we do or believe, food remains at the center of ever culture. Ours now runs on empty calories.

When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable. (Or worse, convenience-mart hot dogs and latchkey kids.) I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation. …

Eating preprocessed or fast foods can look like salvation in the short run, until we start losing what real mealtimes give to a family: civility, economy, and health. A lot of us are wishing for a way back home, to the place where care-and-feeding isn’t zookeeper’s duty but something happier and more creative.

“Cooking without remuneration” and “slaving over a hot stove” are activities separated mostly by a frame of mind. The distinction is crucial. Career women in many countries still routinely apply passion to their cooking, heading straight from work to the market to search out the freshest ingredients, feeding their loved ones with aplomb. …

Full-time homemaking may not be an option for those of us delivered without trust funds into the modern era. But approaching mealtimes as a creative opportunity, rather than a chore, is an option. Required participation from spouse and kids is an element of the equation. An obsession with spotless collars, ironing, and kitchen floors you can eat off of — not so much. We’ve earned the right to forget about stupefying household busywork. But kitchens where food is cooked and eaten, those were really a good idea. We threw that baby out with the bathwater. It may be advisable to grab her by the slippery foot and haul her back in here before it’s too late.

“Finally,” Ms. Kingsolver writes,

cooking is about good citizenship. It’s the only way to get serious about putting locally raised foods into your diet, which keeps farmlands healthy and grocery money in the neighborhood. Cooking and eating with children teaches them civility and practical skills they can use later on to save money and stay healthy, whatever may happen in their lifetimes to the gas-fueled food industry.

She’s sensible, practical, passionate, and I’d trust her to feed or look after my kids any day of the week. For our family, how we eat, and how the kids learn, not to mention how we make our family decisions, are all of a piece. We don’t often defer to the corporate choices for society’s status quo, and, from the time the kids were in (cloth) diapers, that has pegged us around here variously as nonconformists, free thinkers, and weirdos. On the subject of home educating our children, it’s not uncommon to be quizzed about the reasons behind the choice: “Why bother,” some folks ask, “when the local public/private/parochial school is good enough?” Much as many people now ask about those seeking more local, seasonal, home-grown, or organic foods, “Why bother when the supermarket is good enough?” The answer, of course, is that for many of us, “good enough” isn’t good enough.

Reading Barbara Kingsolver, I was reminded of the late Laurie Colwin, another writer in the kitchen. From the introduction to her second and last volume of essays and recipes, More Home Cooking (1990):

These days family life (or private life) is a challenge, and we must all fight for it. We must turn off the television and the telephone, hunker down in front of our hearths, and leave our briefcases at the office, if for only one night. We must march into the kitchen, en famille or with a friend, and find some easy, heartwarming things to make from scratch, and even if it is but once a week, we must gather at the table, alone or with friends or with lots of friends or with one friend, and eat a meal together. We know that without food we would die. Without fellowship life is not worth living. …The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift.

Go ahead. Give a little.

Updated to add: My other, early thoughts on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle posted here.

Words to remember, words to live by

A Creed for Americans (1942)
by Stephen Vincent Benét

We believe in the dignity of man and the worth and value of every living soul, no matter in what body housed, no matter whether born in comfort or born in poverty, no matter to what stock he belongs, what creed he professes, what job he holds.

We believe that every man should have a free and equal chance to develop his own best abilities under a free system of government, where the people themselves choose those who are to rule them and where no one man can set himself up as a tyrant or oppress the many for the benefit of the few.

We believe that free speech, free assembly, free elections, free practice of religion are the cornerstones of such a government. We believe that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States of America offer the best and most workable framework yet devised for such a government.

We believe in justice and law. We do not believe in curing an evil by substituting for it another and opposite evil. We are unalterably opposed to class hatred, race hatred, religious hatred, however manifested, by whomsoever instilled.

We believe that political freedom implies and acknowledges economic responsibility. We do not believe that any state is an admirable state that lets its people go hungry when they might be fed, ragged when they might be clothed, sick when they might be well, workless when they might have work. We believe that it is the duty of all of us, the whole people working through our democratic system, to see that such conditions are remedied, whenever and wherever they exist in our country.

We believe that political freedom implies and acknowledges personal responsibility. We believe that we have a great and priceless heritage as a nation — not only a heritage of material resources but of liberties, dreams, ideals, ways of going forward. We believe it is our business, our right and our inescapable duty to maintain and expand that heritage. We believe that such a heritage cannot be maintained by the lacklustre, the selfish, the bitterly partisan or the amiably doubtful. We believe it is something bigger than party, bigger than our own small ambitions. We believe it is worth the sacrifice of ease, the long toil of years, the expense of our heart’s blood.

We know that our democratic system is not perfect. We know that it permits injustices and wrongs. With our whole hearts we believe in its continuous power of self-remedy. That power is not a theory — it has been proven. Through the years, democracy has given more people freedom, less persecution and a higher standard of living than any other system we know. Under it, evils have been abolished, injustices remedied, old wounds healed, not by terror and revolution but by the slow revolution of consent in the minds of all the people. While we maintain democracy, we must maintain the greatest power a people can possess — the power of gradual, efficient, and lawful change.

Most of all, we believe in democracy itself — in its past, its present and its future — in democracy as a political system to live by — in democracy as the great hope in the minds of the free. We believe it so deeply rooted in the earth of this country that neither assault from without nor dissension from within can ever wipe it entirely from that earth. But, because it was established for us by the free-minded and the daring, it is our duty now, in danger as in security, to uphold and sustain it with all that we have and are. We believe that its future shall and must be even greater than its past. And to the future — as to the past of our forebears and the present of our hard-won freedom — we pledge all we have to give.

from The Family Reading Book: Selections from the World’s Great Writers and Thinkers Past and Present, edited by David G. Legerman, 1952, Doubleday & Company.

* * * * * *

Stephen Vincent Benét was born on July 22, 1898, in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania, to a military family, which meant a great deal of travelling. Benét was raised around the United States, living in California, Illinois, North Carolina, and New York.

He published his first volume of poetry, Five Men and Pompey, in 1915 at the age of 17. His second volume, Young Adventure, followed two years later. A year after that, Benét graduated from Yale University. His writing career, centered around fantasy and American themes, began in earnest in the 1920s after his marriage to writer Rosemary Carr.

At the height of his all-too brief career, Benét was one of this country’s most popular and critically acclaimed writers of fiction and poetry. His bestselling epic poem — try that, nowadays — of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, won the Pulitzer Prize for American verse in 1929. At the time, the poem was called “the Iliad of the Western world” and its author “the Homer of the Civil War”; Margaret Mitchell said she was inspired by the work when writing Gone with the Wind. I picked up a first edition not too long ago for all of $10.

In the early 1930s, Benét published two works infused by American history and legends. The first, Ballads and Poems, 1915-1930, appeared in 1933, and contained the poem American Names, whose last line,

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee”

was taken by historian Dee Brown as the title for his classic 1970 work, subtitled “An Indian History of the American West”.

The second, A Book of Americans (1933), called by Time Magazie “a lyric history in verse”, was written with his wife Rosemary. Five of these — about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Nancy Hanks, and Negro spirituals — were collected by Helen Ferris in her children’s poetry anthology, Favorite Poems Old and New. One poem from the book, about Johnny Appleseed, was turned into a picture book about five years ago, with illustrations by S.D. Schindler.

Benét’s classic short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, an American version of the Faust legend, was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1937 and won the O. Henry Award. Benét wrote the screenplay adaptation for the 1941 movie (also known as All Money Can Buy), starring Walter Huston (Anjelica’s Canadian-born grandfather) as old Scratch. The story was later selected for Benét’s short story collection, Thirteen O’Clock, which also included the classic early science fiction piece, By the Waters of Babylon.

Another of his short stories, The Sobbin’ Women, was based on the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine women and later turned into the screenplay for the MGM musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Lyricist Johnny Mercer took Benét’s story title and turned it into a musical number, Sobbin’ Women (“Y’heard about them Sobbin’ Women who lived in the Roman days; It seems that they all went swimmin’ while their men was off to graze…”)

In the 1940s, with the prospect of another world war looming on the horizon — Benét was turned down for military service in World War I because of either poor eyesight or the effects of a childhood bout of scarlet fever (I couldn’t be sure which in my Googling) — Benét turned toward government service, writing radio broadcasts and other works, such as the creed above, to urge America’s entry into the war. Other works included narration for the 1940 Rural Electrification Administration documentary Power and the Land (if you get only one DVD about the Great Depression to watch with your children, make it this one); the 1942 radio play They Burned the Books, about Nazi book burning in German; a short history of the United States, America, commissioned by the Office of War Information for translation and distribution in Europe; and, commissioned by poet Archibald MacLeish, then Librarian of Congress, “The United Nations Prayer”, to be used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to close his radio address on Flag Day, June 14, 1942. Some of Benét’s radio scripts, We Stand United, and Other Radio Scripts, 1940-1942, can be found online.

Stephen Vincent Benét died of a heart attack in New York City, on March 13, 1943, at the age of 44. He was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1944 for the unfinished poem Western Star, which was to be a multi-volume verse epic about the American frontier. Rosemary Carr Benet died in 1962, at age 64, of cancer.

Worth noting: Benét’s brother, the poet and critic William Rose Benét (1886-1950), was the editor of a book I’ve mentioned before and find very, very useful: The Reader’s Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts, 1948, published by the Thomas Y. Crowell Company. I’ll stick with my older edition, thank you, but you can find a new edition here. William Rose also won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1942 for The Dust Which Is God; his other works include Rip Tide (1932), a novel in verse, and A Book of Poems in Wartime (1944). He edited the works of his wife, poet Elinor Wylie, as well as The Oxford Anthology of American Literature (with Norman Pearson) and The Poetry of Freedom (with Norman Cousins). He was survived by his fourth wife, the children’s writer Marjorie (Story of Ping) Flack.

Gosh all hemlock!

I’m enough of a Luddite that I found it more than a bit disconcerting earlier today, when bringing up the Amazon website to look at a book, to find the main page welcoming me with “Science Picks for Becky”. But disconcertedness turned to intrigue when the first cover’s illustration, and then its title, caught my eye: Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, just out in May and just thirteen dollars and twenty cents. And the cover is adorable. A glowing five star review from someone who didn’t seem to be related to Mrs. Kalish. Hmmm…

Then I went Google hunting and found Elizabeth Gilbert‘s glowing review in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. On the front page. From which:

Some of what follows is unsurprising. You’ll never guess it, but these kids were taught to work. They planted potatoes, tended livestock, hayed fields and were beaten for any lapses in judgment. They did without luxuries (electricity, leisure, heat) and were never coddled on account of their tender youth. (“Childhood was generally considered to be a disease,” Kalish recalls, “or, at the very least, a disability, to be ignored for the most part, and remedied as quickly as possible.”)

For anyone from an old-school farming background, this is familiar territory. “We were taught that if you bought something it should last forever — or as close to forever as we could contrive,” Kalish reports predictably. Or: “When one of us kids received a scratch, cut or puncture, we didn’t run to the house to be taken care of.” If all that “Little Heathens” offered, then, were more such hard-times homilies, this would not be much of a book. But this memoir is richer than that, filled with fervency, urgency and one amazing twist, which surprised me to the point of a delighted, audible gasp: Mildred Armstrong Kalish absolutely loved her childhood.

It’s not merely that she appreciated the values instilled by the Great Depression, or that now, in her older years, she wants to preserve memories of a lost time (though all this is true). No — beyond that, she reports quite convincingly that she had a flat-out ball growing up (“It was quite a romp”) and her terrifically soaring love for those childhood memories saturates this book with pure charm, while coaxing the reader into the most unexpected series of sensations: joy, affection, wonder and even envy. …

Later in life, Kalish became a professor, and while the foundation of her writing is still English-teacher English (orderly, with perfect posture) her old pagan rhythms seep through every disciplined paragraph. “This was our world,” she writes, but one gets the feeling that Garrison, Iowa, was really her world, which she experienced with the awe of a mystic. In the violet dusk of a cornfield, in the cool mornings on her way to chores, on the long, unsupervised walks to school, in the decadence of eating bacon drippings, heavy cream and ground-cherries, Kalish’s simple life routinely aroused her to an almost erotic extreme. (Then again, this was the only kind of eroticism available; the poor girl was never taught even the starkest fundamentals of human sexuality, regretting that “in those days, we were supposed to get such information from the gutter. Alas! I was deprived of the gutter, too!”) …

Kalish is wise enough to know that the last link to the past is usually language, and rather than lament what’s been lost, she stays connected to her youthful world by using its gleeful, if outdated, lingo. (Tell me the last time you heard someone exclaim, “Not on your tintype!” or “Gosh all hemlock!”) She admits self-deprecatingly that there were certain expressions she heard spoken so often as a child that she grew up mistakenly thinking they were each a single word: “agoodwoman, hardearnedmoney, agoodhardworker, alittleheathen, adrunkenbum, demonrum and agoodwoolskirt.”

Memories too can run together like this, becoming mishmashed over time. Not with Mildred Armstrong Kalish, though. As a natural-born memoirist (by which I mean not only “one who writes an autobiography” but also “one who remembers everything”), Kalish has kept her memories tidily ordered for decades. Now she has unpacked and worked them into a story that is not only trustworthy and useful (have I mentioned the recipe for homemade marshmallows?) but is also polished by real, rare happiness.

It is a very good book, indeed.

In fact, it is averyveryverygoodbook.

Sounds delightful, and perfect for Summer. Sold. And great good luck to Mrs. Kalish.

Pssssst:
The book’s website is here. Complete with farm recipes. Oh, and you can wet your whistle with a preview of Chapter One.

Also, this charming article, “Her stories of farm life could fill a bestseller: Hopes are high for debut by local grandmother”, from The San Jose Mercury News.

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