Tuesday, July 30, 2013

At the Seashore, Real and Fictitious

At the Seashore, Real and Fictitious
     I was brought up loving the seashore.  Its intensity of sunshine, foamy waves of cool saltwater, the dunes, the salt sea air in my hair, and the crying gulls of the New Jersey shore, are marked in my memory. This is where I would visit my grandparents for a weekend every summer of my childhood. And this is where one old Kodak slide gives evidence of my very first taste of ice cream - in my father’s arms, in 1960.

     My grandparent’s had a little yellow house on stilts. Their front yard was sand dunes. Beyond the dunes was the Atlantic Ocean. After supper, after a day mostly spent waist high is seawater, my mother took out a large aerosol can and sprayed my sun-toasted arms and legs wet with mosquito repellent (not advised today). Then, I’d wander the dunes in the cool of the evening. (These dunes are off limits today to protect against erosion). I’d listen to the lighthearted birds hidden and at home in the dune grass. Their clear songs would repeat their sounding joy – a joy that matched my own.

Brother and Sister 1963, Bayside

     From my grandparent’s high deck I could see the shinning sea. My grandpa would hand me his heavy binoculars to give me a closer look at the fishing boats that dotted the horizon. Indoors, out of the incessant wind, my grandmother embroidered in the easy chair closest to the picture window so her threads wouldn’t blow away. She would keep the window glass sparkling clean for the sake of the view.

Paul Michel Dupuy (1869-1949)

     All the sensory impressions I have tucked away securely in my imagination of the seashore (for the remainder of my life) came back to me when I read Island of the Blue Dolphins. It is a sensitive tale of realistic fiction. If you haven’t yet read Island of the Blue Dolphins, summer would be a good time to saunter through its pages. It isn’t a long story. I read it in four hours – although not all in one sitting. Yet, it is a square meal that gives you a satisfying feeling when you are done. 

     Off the coast of Los Angeles, California is a small rocky island, San Nicolas. Indians had lived on the island for centuries. When writer, Scott O’Dell learned a bit of history about the island, that a schooner carried an isolated tribe of Indians off the island in 1835, he set out to write a story. He wrote about this real island and the real girl who, the captain reported, jumped off the schooner and into the sea.

     In Island of the Blue Dolphins, the schooner’s white sails had filled. The ship was already moving away. Although the rest of her tribe urged her not to jump, twelve-year-old Karana would not be persuaded. She screamed and broke free from the arms that held her when she discovered her brother was not onboard. She spotted him running along the cliff with a spear in his hands. He was only six-years-old and would be left alone on the island for who knows how long. She must swim to shore. What did she see when she reached him? How did she live on the Island?
     Karana tells the story. She brings the nature, on this lonely little island, to the forefront: wild dogs, “devilfish” (octopi) elephant seals, sea otters, shellfish of various sorts (to eat), seabirds, and more. The setting is exotic but it is Karana that we care about most. She survives isolation with ingenuity, courage, and perseverance. Although a girl is the main character and she retains her feminine nature, boys will like to read how Karana “roughs it” with the loyal company of a dog. And yet in roughing it she lives life to-the-fullest. 
     Island of the Blue Dolphins is literary enough for a high school student. Anyone, junior high up to adult, will find it a sad and beautiful story. 

     Dean photographed our hardcover on the Jersey shore – a couple years back - and I, on the sofa I’m sitting on now with my laptop.  

     For young readers – or for reading aloud – children will find the settings of Time of Wonder and One Morning in Maine, to be light and summery with a bit of adventure. This time we explore the coast of Maine. The visit will be brief but you may find yourself wanting to vacation there each summer. 


        I photographed Mr. McCloskey’s stories outside my parent’s seaside bungalow. They are driving inland to see us next week. Perhaps they’ll bring me another copy of their local newspaper, The Beachcomber.

 The books I chose to feature are linked to Amazon.com.

Comments are welcome,
Karen Andreola 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Welcome Indoors

  Welcome Indoors

Colonial yellow fireplace surround  
   The weather is hot. The Lady-of-the-House has been indoors. Phew, how thankful she is for air-conditioning. Other years she’d been without it. Then, all the cooking for the day was done immediately following breakfast. 

     All week the Lady-of-the-House has had her nose in books and her fingers to the keys. That writing will be shared later. Today she invites you to take a leisure stroll with her in the cool of indoors – or should she say scroll? 

     In springtime the Man-of-the-House bought his wife a faux rose bouquet. She had her eye on it when they walked through the tourist shops of Lancaster on their wedding anniversary.

     When she returned home she placed the flowers on the fireplace mantel. The Man-of-the-House also bought her a pineapple, a real pineapple. He is good at slicing it into pieces with a menacing-looking kitchen knife. He does this often for her even though he himself is allergic to this delicious fruit.

     Coming down the stairs in the mornings the Lady-of-the-House can snatch a peek at the historic sampler of Sarah Tobias. The original was probably stitched in red. The cover of the cross-stitch book by Blackbird Designs shows the original antique. It suffered years of light damage and so is a very faded pink and tan in its present condition.

Colonial blue stairway

     With the staircase painted blue the Lady-of-the-House decided to stitch the sampler in three shades of blue, brown and white Gentle Arts Threads. She enjoyed improvising the colors of the funny little “spots.”

Sarah Tobias sampler in blue

     She must have been drawn to stitching this sampler because Sarah lived in Pennsylvania, a neighboring county, as a matter-of-fact. That was nearly two hundred years ago.

     The Lady-of-the-House added her own inscription to tell that it was “respectfully reproduced in 2009.” Later, in a local antique store she spied some old bed linen with a few of the same decorative spots all in red.

     In the front hall, at the bottom of the stairs, is a picture that was given to the Lady-of-the-House. She was forward enough to drop a hint for it – out of character. It hung in her daughter’s house.

Colonial blue entrance hall and split staircase

     “That picture is darling,” she told her daughter when she was visiting.
     “It’s my most recent find at the corner charity shop,” her daughter said proudly. “Can you guess what I paid for it?”
     “I can’t think,” her mother said.
     “Two dollars.”
     “Yes, really.”
     “Hmm, it would look good in my house,” her mother mused.
     “Take it.”
     “Honestly?” her mother said brightly.
     “Yes, take it.”
     Giving-in halfway her mother said, “Okay, I’ll borrow it.” It’s been borrowed two years. But it must be known that the walls of her daughter’s house are adorned with pictures that were once hung on her mother’s walls.

     Cutting fabric for piecing was done here and there over the winter. Squares were cut into triangles. Triangles were made into pinwheels. Pinwheels were sewed together to make a pillow. It became a birthday present for her daughter.

Folded star pincushion in Colonial reds

Antique pie safe

     “I have enough fabric to make another one just like it.” This idea occurred to the Lady-of-the-House when she wanted to see what the finished pillow looked like on a chair, before it was slipped into a gift bag. It matches the country style and colors of the family room, she noticed.

     But alas, she got swept up into other projects.

(You can see the "Charlotte Mason" sampler framed over the pie safe.) 

pin wheel pillow piecing

     For another married daughter’s birthday the Lady-of-the-House made Madelines.

Madelines homebaked

     Madelines are a buttery finger-food dainty enough for a tea party. They can be served with fresh berries or a spoonful of berry preserves (not shown). The painted border of blackberries on the birthday girl’s Brambly Hedge plate had to suffice for that afternoon.

Madelines on Brambly Hedge plate

 Come Again,

Karen Andreola 

Monday, July 1, 2013

To Purl Along Pleasantly With the Pages of History

To Purl Along Pleasantly with the Pages of History

historic log house


     There are a good many log cabins around Lancaster County. Passing one on the road I am impressed that it has been kept up by the husbandry of generations.

historic log house

     “There are sixteen still standing in our town,” a white haired lady, in an antique shop, told me. I don’t remember how this casual chat began. I do remember pausing a moment before I asked her if she were a member of the historical society. She sounded informed. “I’m the vice president,” she said.

historic log house

     With some congenial coaxing and a smile that proved that my interest was genuine, I asked a few more questions. I learned that most of the log houses are hidden. Having been “renovated” with siding their logs (felled from the enormous forest trees that once grew here) are no longer visible. “Do you see that house on the other side of Main Street? That’s a log,” the lady said. She pointed to a Victorian clapboard. I stepped closer to the shop’s window to have a look.
     “Hmm, I never would have guessed,” I responded.  But I hadn’t missed its sign. It tells tourists that soft pretzels are made inside.  

     In another shop I enjoyed picking out some quilter’s fabric for a log cabin design I was dreaming up. I was feeling patriotic when I assembled a collection of red and blue calico, with a mind to convey an early American feel to my piecing.

     With the fabric washed and ironed, on another day I cut my logs.  

     I decided to use a quick method of piecing that builds four identical cabins at a time. The center square is red. This represents the warmth of the hearth. I sewed four red squares to a long strip. Then I cut along the edges to separate the cabins, turned them and lined them up on another long strip, sewed down the strip, cut the cabins apart, etc.

     By following this code of multiplicity my log cabins were ready to be joined. I’m hopeful the pucker in the middle will be remedied with quilting. And I’m still undecided about what fabric to use for the border and binding.     
log cabin quilt top

    While I was fabric piecing I was reading Abraham Lincoln’s World by Genevieve Foster. The time period studied is 1809 to 1865, Lincoln’s lifetime – a time when log houses, like the one Abe Lincoln was born in, were built in the new villages being settled in the mid-west. Some villages, such as Chicago, would have clusters of hundreds. 

Genevieve Foster history books

     Are you a teacher who has little to no interest in history? No need not feel embarrassed if this is true. Your impressions may have come by having to rush through or cram through history. Or perhaps, like me, you were given social studies, not history. Those who like history are those who’ve been able to take their time with it. Learning this way, along with my young children, my previous impressions of the subject were transformed.

red bee balm
Lilies and bee balm in the garden

     A good biography or history book has story-telling competence. The pages

“purl along pleasantly as a forest brook, tell you ‘all about it,’ stir your heart with the story of a great event, amuse you with pageants and shows, make you intimate with the great people, and friendly with the lowly. They are just the thing for young people whose eager souls want to get at the living people behind the words of the history book . . . A child who has been carried through a single old chronicler in this way has a better foundation for a historical training than if he knew all the dates and names and facts that ever were crammed for examination.” *1

     We shouldn’t be surprised when young people, confronted with an overview bristling with names, dates and events, loose their taste for the subject of history. Working closely with children and observing what is was that opened the doors of their mind, Miss Charlotte Mason recommends letting students

“linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.” *2

       Abraham Lincoln’s World gives children a look at the life of Lincoln. But it is largely about his times and the discoveries and contributions made then. Students who read the bite-size biological sketches of men and women (1 to 4 pages in length) learn about a whole cast of prominent characters mostly living in America but also some from around the world. 

     This panorama of people, political events and political influences, allows children to see how America fits into a wider scope.

     Chronologically arranged and interwoven in the story are, what we can call the main characters. They reappear in the big picture, now and again.

     The five collage pages are advantageous to seeing and studying the big picture.

“Let him know the great people and the common people, the ways of the court and of the crowd. Let him know what other nations were doing while we at home were doing thus and thus.”*3

     Genevieve Foster both wrote the stories and drew the pictures in 1944. Traditional Christian virtues are assumed and accepted as the norm. They are not replaced or antagonized by today’s immoral tolerances. A scene in chapter two took me by surprise. Napoleon kisses his new young wife enthusiastically in the wedding carriage. To skip this colorful detail I suggest reading the first two chapters aloud, as a “starter,” before your student reads the remainder of the book himself. Some of you, having read this tidbit, are smiling. I’m smiling too, but my face is not as pink as that of Napoleon’s Marie Louise.
     Overall, I think Genevieve Foster’s histories are suitable for silent reading for students in 5th through 9th grade and make for pleasant reading. They are part of the history courses by Beautiful Feet Books, which also rely on other biographies to round things out.

     A notebook of written narrations would be a good accompaniment to any of Genevieve Foster’s books. The student familiar with narration, for a change, could pose one or two questions himself on select chapters as he reads them.  He can then answer these - orally or in writing. Forming questions is an intelligent exercise. Of course the teacher can set narration questions, too. The simplicity of this method does not diminish its strength – quite the reverse is true.
red bee balm
I brought the red bee balm indoors.

A Convenient Stage
     To give a young student stories of people that take him to live in their settings, that evoke him to sympathize with their struggles, disappointments, discovery and accomplishments, is to lay a foundation for high school. By that time any overview of important names, dates and events, put in front of the student will cue his mind to make associations. His imagination formed in his younger years, will be there in readiness to recall what is needed to fill in any dry text with a pageant of actors on a convenient stage. 

Thank you for visiting,
Karen Andreola

End Notes

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, first published in 1886
*1 page 282
*2 page 280
*3 page 281
The terms “bristling” and “convenient stage” are borrowed from Miss Mason.