October 31, 2007
Now all I have to do is to keep my fingers crossed for more M&Ms than Smarties in the treat bags....
* * * *
by Molly Capes
Bolt and bar the front door,
Draw the curtains tight,
Wise folk are in before
Chestnuts to roast,
A gift for the fairy,
A prayer for the ghost.
Who will have their fate told
This night is known,
Whose hand is full of gold,
Who goes alone.
A lover for me
And a fortune for you.
Stars shiver blue and green,
Moon's wide and white;
There tattered clouds between
Witches take flight.
Elves at the keyhole
And imps on the hob.
"Twelve" calls the deep bell
To the hollow night;
"Twelve" whisper steeple tops
Far out of sight.
Fires burn high,
Who shall say certainly,
Who can tell truthfully
What solemn company
Pass through the sky?
From Ghosts and Goblins: Stories for Halloween, compiled by Wilhelmina Harper and illustrated by William Wiesner, originally published in 1936 with a revised edition in 1965 (and now unfortunately out of print). The acknowledgments page credits The London Evening Standard for the above poem, which would have been writtten prior to 1936.
October 30, 2007
The guest of honor was the 570-pound squash we picked up earlier in the month at the pumpkin festival; here it is getting loaded in our truck for the trip home,
The squash spent most of the month in our shop, and on Saturday morning Tom brought it, on a pallet, with the tractor to our garage, so everyone, including the squash, would stay warm in the rather chilly temperatures.
Tom tried a knife at first, and for the features, it wasn't too bad.
But for the top, where the flesh is six inches thick, Tom decided
that Daniel's small hatchet was better,
It's the Great Squash, Charlie Brown!
Tom transporting the Great Squash to its final resting place,
at the end of our driveway,
Carefully sliding out the pallet,
After the carving, we went indoors to warm up with apple cider, chili, curried pumpkin soup, carrot cake, and goblins' toes,
The view at night, with the help of a trouble light,
The strength of the Canadian dollar and the complaints of customers have convinced Audrey's Books of Edmonton to cut prices, even if that means selling at a loss.It's worth bearing in mind, too, that not all Canadian independent booksellers can afford to cut prices. Ottawa's Perfect Books has a letter from owner Pat Caven on its website that reads in part,
Co-owner Sharon Budnarchuk said Monday the store is now selling books at their listed U.S. prices and will continue to do so through Dec. 31. The move mirrors a similar discount promotion undertaken a week ago by a major independent bookseller in Ottawa.
"We were very concerned about how the Christmas season was going to go," Budnarchuk said. "We've put a great deal of money into inventory, and you don't want to see the whole thing disappear.
"We're hoping we're going to generate a ton of business that will cover what we initially have to eat because we'll replace all this stock by buying American.
"We've been buying from the Canadian distributor at this stupid price."
Once those Canadian-bought books are sold, the store will replace some of them by buying from U.S. distributors in U.S. dollars, she said.
The prices of many books on Audreys bestseller shelves were set when they went to print months ago. At that time, the Canadian dollar was worth substantially less than its U.S. counterpart.
Canadian booksellers have been badgering distributors to reduce their prices on imported books as quickly as possible, Budnarchuk said, but it just isn't happening fast enough.
With the book industry one of the few that lists its prices in both Canadian and U.S. dollars, booksellers like Audreys have been left on the firing line when consumers demand to reap the benefit of a better exchange rate.
Audreys co-owner Steve Budnarchuk, immediate past president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, flew to Ottawa Monday as part of a CBA delegation scheduled to meet today with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
"The minister needs to understand it's not the retailers' fault," Sharon Budnarchuk said. "We're buying in Canadian funds.
"He keeps saying go and shop where the price is the best. Well, all you're doing is sending them all down to the U.S. and online in the U.S. And that's outrageous."
The spread between Canadian and U.S. pricing is slowly closing, but the gap remains noticeable to any consumer who can do the math. The U.S. listing price for the new Alice Sebold novel, The Almost Moon, is $24.99, $4 less than in Canada. The new Ken Follett thriller, World Without End, sells for $35 in the U.S. and $42 in Canada.
Full parity with U.S. prices may be too much to ask for, given the extra costs involved in getting American books across the border, including shipping fees and customs brokerage fees.
Penguin Group (Canada) has said it plans to sell U.S. books to Canadian retailers at as close to par as possible in the new year. The Canadian publisher is working toward bringing its pricing to within 1.1 per cent of par by January.
Other publishers, such as Random House Canada and Harper Collins Canada Ltd., have been giving discounts of about five per cent to retailers, but only on new titles. Random House has offered a 10-per-cent adjustment on their backlist titles, but they're still selling $21 paperbacks in Canada that sell for $14 in the U.S.
Budnarchuk says these are very nervous times at her store, a fixture in the city for more than 32 years.
"This is a scary thing. We're hoping that the book buyer in Edmonton is going to turn around and say, 'Wow, here are some people who care about customers'."
The American price you see pre-printed on your book next to the Canadian price is often times close to or exactly our cost. If some bookstores have made the desperate decision to honour those prices, they are either independently wealthy or have been bullied into it by all this specious media coverage. The fact that these bookstores are making the reader choose to keep that money by paying American or support the bookstore by paying in Canadian is an insult to the customer. Putting the decision in the consumer's hands is an ugly choice that I won't force my customers to make even if I could afford to. By turning this price war into a skirmish between those independents that survived the upheaval of Chapters, Costco and Pharma Plus entering the field makes the situation all that much more discouraging.* * *
This situation will not be remedied overnight. There are no quick fixes. The publishers have been passing on some small incentives to us that allow us to alter the prices on the new release fall books and have sent notices that they will continue to do so until the spring.
All we can ask of you is the understanding and patience you have already shown us over the years. We will try our hardest to keep you as informed as possible and thank you for making individual, neighbourhood bookstores possible.
Audreys Books, Edmonton
Collected Works, Ottawa
Perfect Books, Ottawa
October 29, 2007
To kick things off, here's a good deal for just about everyone, as long as you don't already have a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine: the magazine is offering a special introductory rate --
United States: 12 issues for $12
Canada: 12 issues for $25 USD
Foreign: 12 issues for $38 USD
Compare this to the renewal rate of $29 annually for U.S. subscribers; $42 USD for Canadians; and $55 USD for foreign subscribers. So this is a dandy time to get a subscription if you don't already have one. It's a magazine the whole family can enjoy.
Other Good Deals:
Lee Valley, the wonderful Canadian woodworking and garden tool company, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with 20 percent off all books to the end of this month (this means you have 'til Halloween). Favorite Lee Valley titles from the Farm School book shelf include Boy Craft and Lee's Priceless Recipes; and Daniel has The Boy Mechanic series from Popular Mechanics on his wish list for when he's older. I also keep eyeing Workshop Math and Construction Geometry as possible math texts for Daniel and Davy in high school, when they might find something with practical applications more appealing.
LL Bean: Not only does your Canadian dollar go much further nowadays for cross-border shopping at LL Bean, but now through December 16th, Bean is offering free shipping to Canada with no minimum purchase.
Not-so-good deals, or, Canadians caveat emptor:
Lego: Thinking that with the Canadian dollar above par I could finally head to Lego.com to do some shopping for the kids, since what I can buy online from Chapters.ca and Mastermind (which, by the way, is offering free shipping in Canada on orders over $100, until November 18th) is fairly limited. On a hunch, I checked the price of the Lego digger (item #7248), and lo and behold it's $29 CAD for Canadians but only $19.99 USD for Americans. Hmmm.... No reply yet to the inquiry I sent along via customer service wondering whether they would be willing to consider an adjustment for Canadian customers. I'd like to buy some more Lego soon for the kids, for Christmas and for Davy's birthday next month, but I'm not willing to pay the Canadian mark-up and shipping and duty, so I just might add on to the K'NEX set we just received and which has been a huge success (will write more and post pics later on), and/or buy some more Lincoln Logs (now part of the K'NEX family) to add to the kids' collection. Especially because the fine folks at Canadian Home Education Resources sent along some CHER "customer appreciation dollars" (think Canadian Tire money but better) toward our next purchase. Now that's a lesson in customer service the companies in this nether section could learn.
Math-U-See: We've been using Math-U-See to supplement Singapore Math, and Davy just completed the old Foundations set, which I had bought secondhand. Considering the purchase of one teacher pack and one student kit each for the new Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon levels for my bunch, I saw on the website that while shipping for Canadian customers is free at the moment, each level would cost me $78 CAN, for a total of $234. Buying in the US, the same three levels would cost me $165 US, with an additional $14.50 for shipping, for a total of $179.50. That's a difference of $54.50, which seems rather high to me, given the present exchange rate. And so I wrote to the local MUS rep. To which I received the following reply,
Well as of today the Canadian dollar is going down [it bounced back quite nicely, thank you]. We purchase and print our books in Canada because the Canadian version is different so we pay more then the American version. We have taken off our 8% postage plus 5.00 shipping charge and that is as far as we can go. Sorry. Thanks [Rep's Assistant]I wrote directly to the company after that -- no reply from anyone there -- and back to the rep, too,
Dear [Rep's Assistant],And the final word on the matter -- and you thought the customer was always right -- from the rep's assistant,
Down, I suppose, is a relative term, considering that it's at $1.02 so far today and fell only in response to David Dodge's comments yesterday.
Could you tell me please whether the Canadian version contain substantially more material than the US version?
Many thanks, ME
The Canadian version contains both the metric measurements and the imperial measurements. The US version has only the imperial measurements. Yes it is a result of David Dodges comments and the radio said the dollar is at 99 cents today and continuing down either way this is the solution that [Canadian MUS representative's name] and Steve Demme came up with seeing as the Canadian books are printed in Canada and cost signifigantly [sic] more than the US version. [Signed, Rep's Assistant]Call me cranky, but I can't imagine that each level has $18 worth of additional metric material. And it still seems rather a slap at Canadian customers, who have been paying more for the same items all along, from 62 cents to the dollar to a buck five; and then there's the little matter that after a full week I'm still awaiting a reply to the email I sent directly to the company. At this point, I'm considering secondhand MUS again -- new doesn't seem to be much of a bargain, especially if I can't factor decent customer service into the price -- and going back to Singapore Math for now, supplemented by Developmental Mathematics by L. George Saad.
And with that, happy -- and careful -- shopping!
October 26, 2007
The Witch in the Wintry Wood
by Aileen Fisher (1906-2002)
This is the story of timid Tim
who thought that witches went after him
when the night was dark and moon was dim.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
This is the tale of how Tim one night
didn't start home until candlelight
when the sky was black and the snow was white.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
He walked through the woods like a frightened goat,
hist muffler twisted around his throat,
expecting to jump at a witch's note:
"Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO."
Out of the night came a sheep dog's yowl,
which Tim was sure was a witch's howl,
a terrible witch on a wintry prowl.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
Tim, the timid, began to race,
certain he sighted a witch's face
back of each shadowy hiding place.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
He ran through the woods on his lonely trek
till horrors! a hand went around his neck,
holding his headlong flight in check.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
Around his throat went a witch's hand
that jerked poor Tim to a sudden stand.
His heart was water, his legs were sand!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
Nobody knows how long he stood
with that hand on his throat in the silent wood
until he could find some hardihood...
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
Then he looked around like a shaky calf,
thinking of words for his epitaph,
and "Oh, ho, ho!" he began to laugh...
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
For what he saw was a funny sight --
it wasn't a witch at his throat by night,
but a pine branch pulling his muffler tight!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
The more Tim chuckled, the more he thought
how most of his fears were like mufflers caught
and stretched much tighter than mufflers ought.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
And the end of this story of timid Tim
is -- nevermore, when the night was dim,
did he fear that witches were after him!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.
* * *
This poem is from Ghosts and Goblins: Stories for Halloween, compiled by Wilhelmina Harper and illustrated by William Wiesner, which I found on the shelf of the little village library while the kids were art lessons. The book, originally published in 1936 with a revised edition in 1965 (and now unfortunately out of print) includes not just stories -- mostly folk tales from around the world, including several by Joseph Jacobs -- but also poems -- Carl Sandburg's Theme in Yellow, Walter de la Mare's Someone -- and is great readaloud fun in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
Wilhelmina Harper compiled several other holiday anthologies, also out of print, including Easter Chimes, The Harvest Feast, and Merry Christmas to You. Worth searching your library for.
* * *
Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children had a wonderful Poetry Friday birthday post for Aileen Fisher in September of last year.
* * *
The last Poetry Friday round-up for October 2007 -- boo! -- can be found today at
at Sandhya Nankani's Literary Safari. Because yesterday was St Crispin's Day, Michele at Scholar's Blog has the St Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, one of Laura's favorite passages to recite.
October 22, 2007
Factor #1, "Word of Mouth": "Who do we really trust? When the chips are down, it's the opinions of our friends and family and colleagues that matter in all things. When you're trying on an item of clothing you don't scratch around for a piece of pertinent fashion journalism, you just ask a mate to have a quick look."
Factor #9, "Praise for": "Once upon a time in the monomedia world, the reviewer was king. Powerful newspaper literary critics bestrode the world of publishing like colossi. Now not so much. As Mr Rickett [Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller] notes: "People themselves are the reviewers now on Amazon and on all kinds of sharing websites. Reader response has almost supplanted the top-down role of the critic."
* * *
By the way, the latest online edition of The Bookseller includes an interview with Peter Usborne of Usborne Books, including his thoughts on children's nonfiction:
Now Usborne wants to turn the spotlight back on traditional non-fiction publishing. "I initially thought that the internet would kill non-fiction, because teachers would tell children to use the internet to help with homework. But if you key in 'castles' [on a search engine], you get 900,000 possible websites. The internet is an inadequate resource for children."
Although space that retailers devote to children's non-fiction has declined, Usborne believes it is time to address this. "People's attitudes are beginning to change. I really believe that we can bring back non-fiction and make it a success again, but that is up to the trade as much as the publishers. I hope that they will start to back non-fiction again."
But I still hold to the "chicken nugget theory" of kids' food (not to mention children's books, or any other kind of twaddle), which Jennifer Steinhauer wrote about last year in her Sunday NY Times article "Generation Pad Thai". Ms. Steinhauer lists some chefs' rules at home for making sure their kids "not only eat better [but are] better eaters":
1. Make your children eat at the table from a very young age. Jody Adams, the chef at Rialto in Cambridge, Mass., said that her children -- Oliver and Roxanne -- never had highchairs. "It was really hard, because 2-year-olds throw food. But I saw the benefit in treating the dinner table as something that was important and that everyone had to participate in."And if you want to take a page from Barbara Kingsolver, too, have the kids grow the vegetables for an infinitely better appreciation of the green stuff, even without brownies.
2. Make them eat what you do, even if you have to purée it. "If we ate butternut squash and carrots, so did they," [Hugo] Matheson said, "and sometimes with fish. I just really thinned it with cooking water." Grant Achatz, the chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago, treated his 4-year-old to a 10-course dinner. "He didn't finish everything, but he tried every course, which included white truffles, crab, bison," he said. Do not feel compelled to top this.
3. Pack lunches fashioned from leftovers. "If we go for Thai food," said Naomi Hebberoy, a chef and owner of the Gotham Building Tavern in Portland, Ore., her daughter, August, "takes pad Thai the next day."
4. Eschew Baggies filled with Goldfish. (Car rides are exempt.) "If kids are hungry, they're going to eat," Dolich said. "If you fill them up on Bugles, they won't."
5. Buy them the most expensive chocolate you can afford. Who craves Ho Hos when they've had Scharffen Berger? I do. But I wasn't raised on the good stuff.
Lest you think this is some culinary tomfoolery, these are the food ways our forefathers hewed to. "Historically, there was no such thing as children's food," said Andrew F. Smith, who teaches culinary history at the New School in New York. "Babies would eat what adults ate, chopped up, until Gerber created baby food in 1927." "Children's meals" didn't exist until the McDonald's Happy Meal came along in the late 1970's, Smith said, and only when snack-food producers concluded that their real market was children did they start sponsoring events and advertising in the 1950's.
October 21, 2007
Joy (we've decided to abbreviate her triple-barreled registration name) and Thunder get a first look at their new home; Thunder follows his mother very closely, and doesn't need a lead just yet,
Our original horse, Sioux, an aging black Standardbred, at left, below; she is as curious about her new corral-mates as Joy is concerned about protecting her colt and her privacy. The cattle on the other side of the fence came over for a look-see, too.
The cats, however, are unimpressed. As usual.
Well, when they finally rolled in nine hours later, after an afternoon spent eating cups full of homemade beef-and-barley and chicken noodle soup and countless pieces of pie (one of the benefits of the rural auction sale is the food at the concession stand), the kids reported that Dad didn't get the tractor. They seemed unusually giddy.
"But we got HORSES!"
It turns out Tom was the winning bidder on a 14-year-old gray Paint mare and her gray colt, and the mare is supposedly in foal (stay tuned next Spring), a bargain for $550, even without the baby-to-be. If the kids were giddy last night, it didn't compare to this morning while they were getting ready to hitch up the trailer to go with Tom to bring home the new horses.
Pictures to follow.
October 19, 2007
“I’d rather drop dead in my tracks one day than end up in a wheelchair in some nursing home watching interminable replays of The King and I,” she said before hooting with laughter.From Deborah Kerr's New York Times obituary today, quoting a 1986 Chicago Tribune interview.
Sic Transit Gloria Candy.
Shooting the Rapids, oil on canvas, 1879, by
Frances Anne Hopkins
We were doing farm chores and driving around in truck the other week with the radio set to CBC, as usual, when I caught a bit of music and Shelagh Roger's comment that it was based on the Caldecott Honor book by Holling Clancy Holling -- long appreciated by homeschoolers as an author of marvelous living geography books -- Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941, about a young Indian boy from Nipigon, on the shores of Lake Superior, who carves the small figure of a man, named Paddle-to-the-Sea, in a canoe, which begins its journey on a snow bank near a river leading to the Great Lakes and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean, in a journey fraught with danger. Think of it as a North American version of Hans Christian Andersen's Steadfast Tin Soldier (to which the modern Ratatouille also owes a debt), but less morose and more delightful. Since the Sounds Like Canada's website didn't have the information up right away, I Googled around for a bit and, though I didn't come across the answer I was looking for (until the next day), I did discover a few interesting things.
First, there's a National Film Board movie version of the book, directed by the legendary naturalist, canoeist, film maker and author Bill Mason (1929-1988). The movie, made in 1966 and running just under 30 minutes, is available to purchase here and here, and to rent from Zip.ca. From the NFB's website: "For all children and those adults for whom the romance of journeying is still strong. This great NFB children's classic is adapted from a story by Holling C. Holling. During the long winter night, an Indian boy sets out to carve a man and a canoe. He calls the man "Paddle to the Sea." The boy sets the carving down on a frozen stream to await the coming of spring. The film charts the adventures that befall the canoe on its long odyssey from Lake Superior to the sea. This delightful story is photographed with great patience and an eye for the beauty of living things, offering vivid impressions of Canada's varied landscape and waterways."
Second, celebrated Canadian classical guitarist (and one-time squeeze of late PM Pierre Trudeau, which becomes more interesting shortly) Liona Boyd in 1990 put out a CD of original music along with her reading of the book. The CD is out of print, but I've been able to find a copy on audio CD through interlibrary loan. You can listen to a few of the tracks here (see sidebar at left). But still in print is a a Boydless unabridged audio CD of the book available from Audio Bookshelf, read by Terry Bregy.
So we've begun rereading the book (which Davy barely remembers), listening to the CD, poring over maps, talking about trees, and when we're all done we'll watch the movie.
* * *
Holling Clancy Holling, the American author and illustrator, was born in Jackson County, Michigan in 1900. After graduating from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923, he went to work in the taxidermy department of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and also worked under assistant curator and noted anthropologist Ralph Linton. In 1925 he married Lucille Webster, and they worked together in the writing and illustrating of numerous books. Before turning to writing full-time, Mr. Holling also worked as a teacher at NYU, a freelance designer, an advertising artist, and illustrator for other people’s books.
Mr. Holling's last books, from Paddle-to-the-Sea onwards, are a masterful blend of history, nature, art, and storytelling (which, yes, sadly, may be too slow-moving for many of today's high-speed children), and the marginalia is fascinating. Holling Clancy Holling died in 1973.
Holling C. Holling books still in print:
Tree in the Trail (1942); "The story of a cottonwood tree that watched the pageant of history on the Santa Fe Trail where it stood, a landmark to travelers and a peace-medicine tree to Indians, for over 200 years."
Seabird (1948); a carved ivory gull becomes a mascot for four generations of seafarers aboard first a whaler, then a clipper ship, a steamer, and finally, an airplane.
Minn of the Mississippi (1951); a turtle hatched at the source of the Mississippi is carried through the heart of America to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pagoo (1957), illustrations credited to both Holling C. Holling and Lucille Webster Holling; the study of life in a tide pool through the story the hermit crab, Pagoo.
* * *
For more wonderful movies by Bill Mason, including several with more paddling:
Song of the Paddle (1978); "Outdoorsman Bill Mason, his wife, and two children set out on a wilderness canoe camping holiday. In this film, the art of canoeing is more than technical expertise; it becomes a family experience of shared joy. Along the way there are countless adventures and much lovely scenery, including the Indian rock carvings of Lake Superior."
The Path of the Paddle series, Quiet Water and Whitewater
and two classics about wolves, Cry of the Wild and Death of a Legend
A few extra Canadian canoe resources:
The Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario, whose website includes a page of profiles of patriotic paddlers, including Bill Mason and Pierre Trudeau, who paddled as well as he pirouetted, and who wrote an essay in 1944, when he was 25, Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe: "What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature."
Trudeau's fringed buckskin jacket and canoe have been on exhibit at the Canadian Canoe Museum since 2002; though the canoe at the moment is on temporary loan to the ROM in Toronto, through earhttp://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifly January as part of the Canada Collects exhibit.
UPDATED to add the Old Curmudgeon's suggestion, Canoeing with the Cree, the late reporter Eric Sevareid's account of the expedition he, then 17, and 19-year-old friend Walter Port embarked upon several days after graduating from high school. The boys paddled 2,250 miles in an 18-foot canvas canoe, from the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay.
And finally, from the Canadian Poetry Archive,
Said the Canoe
by Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)
My masters twain made me a bed
Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;
Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder
Of dreams of rest; and me they spread
With furry skins and, laughing, said:
"Now she shall lay her polished sides
As queens do rest, or dainty brides,
Our slender lady of the tides!"
My masters twain their camp-soul lit;
Streamed incense from the hissing cones;
Large crimson flashes grew and whirled;
Thin golden nerves of sly light curled
Round the dun camp; and rose faint zones,
Half way about each grim bole knit,
Like a shy child that would bedeck
With its soft clasp a Brave's red neck,
Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,
The awful plumes shake on his crest,
And, fearful, drops his timid face,
Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.
Into the hollow hearts of brakes--
Yet warm from sides of does and stags
Passed to the crisp, dark river-flags--
Sinuous, red as copper-snakes,
Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,
Glided and hid themselves in night.
My masters twain the slaughtered deer
Hung on forked boughs with thongs of leather:
Bound were his stiff, slim feet together,
His eyes like dead stars cold and drear.
The wandering firelight drew near
And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,
On the sharp splendour of his branches,
On the white foam grown hard and sere
On flank and shoulder.
Death--hard as breast of granite boulder--
Under his lashes
Peered thro' his eyes at his life's grey ashes.
My masters twain sang songs that wove--
As they burnished hunting-blade and rifle--
A golden thread with a cobweb trifle,
Loud of the chase and low of love:
"O Love! art thou a silver fish,
Shy of the line and shy of gaffing,
Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,
Casting at thee the light-winged wish?
And at the last shall we bring thee up
From the crystal darkness, under the cup
Of lily folden
On broad leaves golden?
"O Love! art thou a silver deer
With feet as swift as wing of swallow,
While we with rushing arrows follow?
And at the last shall we draw near
And o'er thy velvet neck cast thongs
Woven of roses, stars and songs--
New chains all moulden
Of rare gems olden?"
They hung the slaughtered fish like swords
On saplings slender; like scimitars,
Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,
Blazed in the light the scaly hordes.
They piled up boughs beneath the trees,
Of cedar web and green fir tassel.
Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,
The camp-fire blushed to the tender breeze.
The hounds laid dewlaps on the ground
With needles of pine, sweet, soft and rusty,
Dreamed of the dead stag stout and lusty;
A bat by the red flames wove its round.
The darkness built its wigwam walls
Close round the camp, and at its curtain
Pressed shapes, thin, woven and uncertain
As white locks of tall waterfalls.
by Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood --
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
* * *
Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating is hosting today's Poetry Friday round-up with Keats's Ode to Autumn. As Kelly, and Robert Frost, write, "I believe that today, I'll take a walk and see what autumn has to offer. I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too." Take a walk over Writing and Ruminating and join Kelly for a promising Friday.
October 14, 2007
One of the reasons I was eager to participate in the Cybils again this year is that my kids had so much fun with all of the poetry books that arrived last year. With yet another package slip from Canada Post in the mailbox requiring a trip to the post office to pick up a brown box or padded envelope, the kids started squealing, "It's just like Christmas!"
When [Cybils co-founder] Anne and I led a panel session on the Cybils at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference this [past] weekend in Chicago, one theme in particular kept popping up during discussions: How do we decide if a book is child-friendly or not?
This is an important question for the ninety panelists and judges evaluating the hundreds of children's and YA books nominated this year. One of our main goals is to find quality books children will love. In other words, we're looking for well written, intelligent, and kid-friendly titles.
But how do we -- a group of 88 adults and 2 [3?] teens -- decide what is child friendly? What are our criteria? Will we know child-friendly when we see it?Tell us what you think. How does an adult reader recognize a child-friendly book? What are your tell-tale signs of a fun and compelling read? Feel free to answer in the comments or on your own blog.
My simple answer for how I recognize a child-friendly book is that my kids enjoy that particular book. And I don't expect all three kids -- a ten-year-old girl who prefers historical fiction and stories about horses, an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy who likes best Asterix and how-to manuals, and an almost seven-year-old who enjoys stories about horses, pioneers, and how-to manuals -- to enjoy the same books, either. One out of three is good enough for me, provided that that one child thinks the world of that one book.
Last year, the easiest way to find which books the kids really liked was to search their beds. The books they didn't like -- that didn't catch the kids' interests or left them cold -- stayed in the designated "Cybils piles" in the living room. The books the kids enjoyed were discovered in their respective beds, under pillows and stuffed animals and on top of quilts, and with bookmarks (sometimes just torn slips of paper) between the pages.
This year, with middle grade and young adult nonfiction on my plate, it won't be quite as easy for me to read all the books with my children, since some titles will certainly be too advanced in language or emotion (or both) for them, at least for the boys whose combined age is 15; often, I'll use one book on a subject for Laura and something simpler, usually a picture book, for the boys. From all the review's I've read of Grief Girl, Erin Vincent's memoir about her adolescence following the death of her parents in a traffic accident more than 20 years ago when she was 14, it seems the sort of book I would gladly give Laura in a few years, but not now at age 10.
But even with some books meant for older readers, the kids in general and Davy (not quite seven) in particular have made their way by looking at the pictures and reading, or having me read aloud, the captions. And after all the books we've read together, I have a pretty good idea what their thoughts and tastes will be in a few years, which books will be worth keeping, and even adding to our home school studies. As home schoolers, too, we have the luxury of adding any books that arrive to our late autumn/early winter curriculum, or just to our afternoon and bedtime readalouds. We can set aside for the moment Farmer Boy or our study of Lewis & Clark, to spend a few afternoons and evenings reading about trash, dinosaur eggs, and James Beckwourth.
One thing I found interesting last year was how some of the titles that tried too hard to appeal, and be appealing, to kids -- whether they are "educational" (a definite concern in this particular category, where a lot of the titles are purchased by libraries rather than individuals and many tend to be the kind of book children use "just for reports") or simply (and sometimes scatalogically) underestimate children's senses of humor and sophistication and awareness of what's clever were among those that did not make it to kids' favorites lists. Which is why, last year, Adam Rex's Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich -- a true Halloween delight, by the way, which you still have time to order from your favorite bookseller or via interlibrary loan -- made a considerably larger impression on the assembled Farm School children than, say, Hey There, Stink Bug!
* * *
By the way, speaking of children and nonfiction, don't miss author Marc Aronson's current post, "I Want to Be a Historian" at his blog Nonfiction Matters on the subject, or the conversation to which he refers over at Alison Morris's ShelfTalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog, with her latest post, "Who's Borrowing? Who's Buying?".
October 12, 2007
if you're eight-and-a-half or almost seven and your mother won't sign you up for hockey in town (because it's thoroughly family unfriendly, with two practices and one game -- far away and with lots of driving -- each and every week) and it's not yet cold enough (thank goodness) for the pond behind the house to freeze.
Besides, for about $20 (about 1/40th of the cost of the official version in town), I've managed to equip them quite nicely thanks to the Goodwill shop, roller skates and hockey skates included. Though the unauthorized baseball glove was bought new. And the goalie stick was rescued from a dumpster.
by Rosemary (1898?-1962) and Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943)
We couldn't put in all the great
Or even all the small,
And many names with sterling claims
We haven't used at all.
But here's a rather varied lot,
As anyone can see,
And all and each by deed and speech
Adorned our history.
Some got the medals and the plums,
Some got their fingers burnt,
But everyone's a native son,
Except for those who weren't.
So praise and blame judiciously
Their foibles and their worth.
The skies they knew were our skies, too,
The earth they found, our earth.
by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét
There are lots of queer things that discoverers do
But his was the queerest, I swear.
He discovered our country in One Four Nine Two
By thinking it couldn't be there.
It wasn't his folly, it wasn't his fault,
For the very best maps of the day
Showed nothing by water, extensive and salt,
On the West, between Spain and Bombay.
There were monsters, of course, every watery mile,
Great krakens with blubbery lips
And sea-serpents smiling a crocodile-smile
As they waited for poor little ships.
There were whirlpools and maelstroms, without any doubt
And tornadoes of lava and ink.
(Which, as nobody yet had been there to find out,
Seems a little bit odd, don't you think?)
But Columbus was bold and Columbus set sail
(Thanks to Queen Isabella, her pelf),
For he said "Though there may be both monster and gale,
I'd like to find out for myself."
And he sailed and he sailed and he sailed and he SAILED,
Though his crew would have gladly turned round
And, morning and evening, distressfully wailed
"This is running things into the ground!"
But he paid no attention to protest or squall,
This obstinate son of the mast,
And so, in the end, he discovered us all,
Remarking, "Here's India, at last!"
"He didn't intend it, he meant to heave to
At Calcutta, Rangoon or Shanghai,
There are many queer things that discoverers do
But his was the queerest. Oh my!
by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét
I don't know who this Indian is,
A bow within his hand,
But he is hiding by a tree
And watching white men land.
They may be gods -- they may be fiends --
They certainly look rum.
He wonders who on earth they are
And why on earth they've come.
He knows his streams are full of fish,
His forests full of deer,
And his tribe is the mighty tribe
That all the others fear.
-- And, when the French or English land,
The Spanish or the Dutch,
They'll tell him they're the mighty tribe
And no one else is much.
They'll kill his deer and net his fish
And clear away his wood,
And frequently remark to him
They do it for his good.
Then he will scalp and he will shoot
And he will burn and slay
And break the treaties he has made
-- And, children, so will they.
We won't go into all of that
For it's too long a story,
And some is brave and some is sad
And nearly all is gory.
But, just remember this about
Our ancestors so dear:
They didn't find an empty land.
The Indians were here.
* * * *
For more poetry and Poetry Friday, head over to Two Writing Teachers for today's round-up. Thank you, Ruth and Stacey!
October 09, 2007
All of the children's books listed below are narrative histories and overviews of the period, rather than books about a particular element of the American Revolution (which means the list doesn't include any biographies or the terrific Jean Fritz books, such as And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?). And interestingly, all are illustrated (the first two are picture books) and by authors who have written extensively for children about history, especially American history.
For children (ages 8 or 9 and up/younger as a readaloud):
Liberty or Death: The American Revolution: 1763-1783 by Betsy Maestro with illustrations by Giulio Maestro, from the Maestros' wonderful "American Story" series
George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer (useful for Canadians and other Loyalist types)
For children (ages 10 or so and up):
Give Me Liberty: The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Russell Freedman
For children (ages 12 or so and up):
The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence by Marc Aronson; nifty free teacher guides at Marc Aronson's website.
October 08, 2007
On Saturday, we went to the big pumpkin festival and weigh-off in the province. The kids got to see one of the biggest pumpkins (this isn't the grand prize winner, which weighed over 1,100 pounds)
and while my back was turned (buying a couple of slices of pumpkin for starving children), Tom decided to bid on one of the giant squashes. He ended up with the second place squash, all 570 pounds of it, which he and the kids plan to carve for Halloween.
Laura examined some of the other squashes,
while our our new pet got loaded for the trip home,
We got home in time to have a quick supper and then head out to meet the fruit truck from B.C., where we picked up a 40-pound box of Macintosh apples; 25 pounds of onions; some blue grapes; three gorgeous summer sausages, very similar to Italian dry salami, made by Mennonites; and two wheels of cheddar cheese from a small Alberta dairy.
Yesterday we had our big Thanksgiving meal with Tom's family, and today we've all been puttering around, Tom and the kids doing various farm chores (Tom helping a neighbor load up some of the hay bales we're selling, the boys using the grease gun for the first time, Laura riding the horse and rounding up cattle), and me canning pears,
The vegetables and fruits have been cleared out of the garden. I have a few more tomatoes to turn into sauce and freeze, and in a few weeks we'll cover the strawberries with a protective layer of straw. I still have to clean out the flower garden, though.
* * *
By eleven o'clock on Thanksgiving Day the aunts, uncles, and cousins had all arrived. The uncles and Big Kids usually stayed out on the front porch discussing cars, animals, crops, politics, and the price of hogs, soybeans, and corn. Then they would gravitate to the back of the house or, if the gathering was on a farm, to the horse barn, ostensibly to see a new foal or check out a new stall (and leaving the women and the Little Kids to do all the work). It was years before I discovered the real reason: Someone had stashed a bottle of Old Grandad in Old Jude's grain box.
The aunts and Little Kids gathered in the kitchen. Each aunt would have brought her specialty. Green lima beans, mashed potatoes, apple salad, cabbage salad, bread-and-butter pickles, vinegary beet pickles, baked acorn squash, ground-cherry, apple, and raisin pies, devil's food and angel food cakes, charlotte russe, and jams of all kind were unpacked and put on the table.
All of a sudden the kitchen was buzzing with laughter and chattering, questions and answers, orders and suggestions. Everybody pitched in. There were Wealthy apples to be peeled, cored, and sliced, boiled milk dressing to be assembled for that apple salad, gravy to be made, potatoes to be mashed, cakes and pies to be sliced, cream to be whipped, a goose to be carved. Even the littlest ones were pressed into service to bring in more wood for the kitchen fire or fresh water from the pump. They knew that they would get an oatmeal cookie for their efforts.
from Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. And what's Thanksgiving without Grandma's Apple Cream Pie?
So I was interested to read The Wall Street Journal's Author Q&A interview this past weekend with Mr. McCullough. Especially when interviewer Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg asked the noted historian [emphases mine],
What do you think is the best way to get young people interested in history?Read the entire interview here.
Mr. McCullough: Barbara Tuchman was once asked about this problem. She said there's no trick to interesting young people in history. All you have to do is tell stories. History shouldn't be taught as a memorization of dates or quotations, or as a huge survey. It is most appealing to anyone, but particularly the young, when you take a defined subject and bring it to life by telling the story. It's what happened to whom and why, and the fact that these were human beings just like you.
It's a wonder to me how many volumes of history -- and even some biographies -- don't tell you what people looked like, or what they sounded like. That's what everybody wants. It's in our human nature. All the great old fabled stores began…once upon a time, long, long ago, and immediately we're interested. The two most popular movies are about history: "Gone with the Wind," and "Titanic."
WSJ.com: What's the major issue with teaching history?
Mr. McCullough: The problem with education today, whether it's in history or literature or science, is us. Education truly begins at home. We've got to bring back talk about the story, about our country, who we are, why we have the blessings we enjoy and what struggles were part of that story. We also need to discuss what mistakes were made, and what noble achievements were accomplished.
We're raising generations who are historically illiterate. It's appalling. And it's our fault. We've got to do a better job of educating our teachers and not just raise their salaries. We have to raise the appreciation level of their work throughout our entire society.
There was a marvelous specialist in education in England at the turn of the century, Charlotte Mason, who wrote about how we learn. She said that history ought to be taught in a way that the student begins to understand that history is an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas. How different that is from a lot of boring dates and names and battles. Remove the music, poetry and humor from history and you squeeze out everything that touches the soul.
WSJ.com: How does that relate to your new book?
Mr. McCullough: There is nothing like the experience of holding originals in your own hands. It's a tactile connection to a vanished time and people. I think the closest thing to it is if you are in the real room where something of consequence happened, you feel it. And I think that this collection comes as close to giving one that sense as anything could.
I remember as a kid going to Williamsburg, Va., and in a shop I got a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. That was one of the best things I had, and I hope a lot of young people will have that feeling with this book. ...
WSJ.com: What's next?
Mr. McCullough: I'm working on a book about Americans in Paris. It will cover the 19th and 20th centuries. It will be about writers and painters, but also about physicians, sculptors and composers, from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. to Mary Cassatt to George Gershwin to Edith Wharton. It's about creative ambition and the American desire to venture forth where others haven't gone. It's also about American masterpieces that we take to be so representative of us but only happened because of the experiences of those who went to Paris. I'm learning so much. It's the kick of learning that spurs you on.
October 05, 2007
What [the book] details is a father's struggle to connect with a beloved son who is totally disinterested in homework and who, at six-foot-four, is a man-sized adolescent frequently skipping out of high school to wander about the big city at will.You can read the rest here.
"All we ever talked about was his poor performance at school," the Toronto author and winner of a Governor General's award for A Perfect Night to Go to China explains in an interview.
"And it really was turning him into a liar. And it was creating antagonism between the two of us. And finally I just said 'I can't do this, I've already done Grade 10. I can't do your homework for you. I can't do this. You're going to have to make a choice.' And to my horror, he said 'I don't want to go to school anymore."'
Gilmour makes a deal with Jesse, telling him he can quit school as long as he watches three movies a week with his dad and absolutely stays away from drugs.
"I was trying to salvage my relationship with him because I thought not only am I going to lose the school battle but I'm going to lose him over it."
Jesse Gilmour, now 21, is doing a few interviews alongside his well-known father as the book about his sometimes tumultuous adolescence is launched, and he concurs that dropping out was the correct -- and probably the only -- course of action for him.
"I hated high school, I hated it. I was completely happy to get out of there. And even now, I'm going to university now, which I like, but even if I could go back, I probably would do the same thing again," he says emphatically.
"For some people high school just doesn't work for them. It's just terribly straining and boring in a way that it becomes unhealthy to you."
But if high school was a strain for Jesse, the decision to let him opt out was nothing short of terrifying for his dad.
"I spent about a year waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning with my heart thumping thinking, my God, he's going to end up in a cardboard box in Los Angeles ... where can you go in this world with a Grade 9 education?" Gilmour says.
People of his own generation went to school out of fear because they were terrified of what would happen if they didn't have an education, he notes.
"Most of us got a B.A. because we were frightened of the consequences," Gilmour says. "His generation isn't frightened of that stuff at all. I don't know why they're not. But they're really not."
Gilmour, who has worked as a film critic and cautiously served up erudite observations about plot, direction and acting techniques to his son, doesn't even attempt to describe the three films per week as a substitute for an education.
"He really didn't get anything out of it except he got to spend time with his father, and what teenage boys really need is to spend time with their fathers," he says.
"We could've gone skydiving, or we could've gone scuba-diving. It wouldn't have made a difference. It wasn't really the films. It was an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together before he was gone for good."
As it turns out, the films worked as a kind of conversation-starter, and father and son would go outside on the porch, smoke cigarettes and "talk about everything under the sun" - including Jesse's attempts to sort out matters of the heart when he falls hard for one girl, and later, for another. There are troubled times, too, when Jesse breaks his vow to stay away from drugs.
But Jesse's opinion diverges somewhat from that of his father when he talks about the "nourishment" he got from seeing a range of movies, including some he describes as "great art."
"On The Waterfront," "Notorious" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" were among the many films the pair watched together.
"The more you learn about it the more you can appreciate it. So it's true the movies were more just kind of a jumping off point that me and my dad could spend time together, and have a real relationship during that time. But yeah, I think I got a lot out of the movies."
A few years after the film club began, Jesse decided to go back to school and signed up for a crash course in the required subjects, with tutoring by his mother. Last month, he began studying Italian cinema, classical mythology and world religions at the University of Toronto. ...
Gilmour, 57, says that during those "film club" years, his professional life was "a catastrophe." Now, he calls it an unbelievable stroke of luck because it gave him time at home with his son at a time when teens are "gradually shutting the door on their parents and they're keeping their private lives to themselves."
"It was like winning the lottery, and not recognizing it until about halfway through that this was actually a victory, not a life catastrophe."
by Roy Campbell (1901-1957)
I love to see, when leaves depart,
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and feeling
Save what is pure and will survive.
Already now the clanging chains
Of geese are harnessed to the moon:
Stripped are the great sun-clouding planes:
And the dark pines, their own revealing,
Let in the needles of the noon.
Strained by the gale the olives whiten
Like hoary wrestlers bent with toil
And, with the vines, their branches lighten
To brim our vats where summer lingers
In the red froth and sun-gold oil.
Soon on our hearth's reviving pyre
Their rotted stems will crumble up:
And like a ruby, panting fire,
The grape will redden on your fingers
Through the lit crystal of the cup.
* * *
For a Poetry Friday round-up full of wit and whimsy (and turtles), head over to Emily's Whimsy Books. Thank you, Emily!
by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', an' I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, an' the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
'Er petticut was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-let — jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud —
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay —
When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' her cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay —
But that's all shove be'ind me — long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year sodger tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't 'eed nothin' else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells!
On the road to Mandalay —
I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
'Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and —
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay —
Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments, an' a man can raise a thirst:
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea —
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
Oh, the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
* * *
Emily at Whimsy Books has today's Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks for hosting, Emily.
October 04, 2007
Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake (makes one 8- or 9-inch cake, square or round)
12 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
1½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. powdered ginger [I use 1 tsp. and also add 1 tsp. cinnamon and a pinch of allspice]
½ tsp. salt [I use just a pinch, and I omit it entirely if I'm using salted butter]
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small pan, add the brown sugar, and stir over low heat until blended. Pour into a square cake pan and arrange the pear slices in the pan; set aside.
Mix the flour, baking powder, ginger and any other spices, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the remaining 8 tbsp. (4 oz.) of butter in a small pan [I use the same small pan from before]. Remove from heat, add the milk and egg, and beat well.
Add to flour mixture and beat until smooth. Pour over the pears and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate, fruit-side up. Serve with whipped cream [or vanilla ice cream, or a drizzle unwhipped heavy cream] if you wish.
There, I feel better already. Don't you? ☺
PS The above recipe is also very nice -- especially if you're a gingerbread purist who requires molasses in your gingerbread -- if you substitute one of Laurie Colwin's recipes, such as this one from Home Cooking, adapted from the Junior League of Charleston's The Charleston Receipts (first published in 1950), though admittedly she likes her gingerbread more gingery than I do:
- Cream one stick of sweet butter with ½ cup of light or dark brown sugar. Beat until fluffy and add ½ cup of molasses.
- Beat in two eggs.
- Add 1½ cups of flour, ½ tsp. of baking soda and one very generous tablespoon of ground ginger (this can be adjusted to taste, but I like it very gingery). Add one teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ tsp. of ground cloves and ¼ tsp. of ground allspice.
- Add two teaspoons of lemon brandy*. If you don't have any, use plain vanilla extract. Lemon extract will not do. Then add ½ cup of buttermilk (or milk with a little yogurt beaten into it) and turn batter into a buttered tin [buttering not necessary if you make the upside-down cake version].
- Bake at 350 degrees F for between 20-30 minutes (check after 20 minutes have passed). Test with a toothpick/cake tester, and cool on a rack.