November Means… Book Giveaway Time!

Been baking on convection. (Ick)  Been giving (Yay)

Well, it’s November, which means I’ve been writing this blog for one full year!  110 posts, and lots of fun. It’s been a year of changes, of learning, of hopefully growing. If anything, I’ve baked a lot of bread, and given quite a few loaves away.

One of my very favorite giving days was when a whole host of women came to my home and we baked bread en masse. After our time together, they each took their own loaf of bread into the community to give away, and many were struck by the experience. I was struck by the experience, and just a day later I reflected on why I even started this blog. Giving changes you. And I know you–you beautiful readers–you are givers who do it without thinking… without blinking… I appreciate how you’ve encouraged me this last year.

There will be a sale coming up in mid-November. SALE! St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press is putting both The Man and the Vine, and The Woman and the Wheat on sale for just three days. (November 16-18. $15 each) If you’ve been hoping to add one or both of these books to your collection, your time is almost here! Spread the news.

But… before we get there, I’ll be giving away a copy of each of the books here on the blog. The Man and the Vine is first up, since it’s the first I wrote, and all you have to do is comment on this post and I’ll put you in the drawing. Comments will close this Sunday, November 7th, at midnight! (Hi all, comments are now closed…)

Lastly, I’m a gal who has learned to take criticism. You can’t be an author and not listen to advice… If you have any thoughts on how to make this blog better–on how to broaden the scope, or narrow it–on reaching more people, or how to post in a more timely fashion, or about different subject matter you’d like to see posted, I’d love to hear. I’m all ears…

Small Beginnings

Two round loaves of sourdough

Mixed: 9 pm

Molded: 12:30 pm next day

Baked: 4 pm

Left one loaf of sourdough on the front porch of a friend–a friend who is a lot like Caddie Woodlawn…

Recently I’ve been reading through Caddie Woodlawn, a short novel by Carol Ryrie Brink as part of my daughter’s homeschool history studies. The story follows Caddie and her siblings as they learn and grow and stomp through the woods of Wisconsin in the early 1800’s. The story is endearing–Caddie is allowed to run with her brothers, and because of this freedom ends up having a heap of adventures.

Near the end of the book the author inserts just the first few lines of a poem written by Charles Mackay, a Scottish poet. The poem touched me and I wanted to share it here since it is so much about giving. (By the way, I’ve found this poem under three different titles and I can’t seem to find which one is the original. They all fit the meaning of the poem. They are: Song of Life; Small Beginnings; and Little and Great.)

The poem is made up of four short and separate stories. Each one is about giving something small, something that may seem insignificant, but that may amount to very much later… If you have time, read the poem aloud, and enjoy both the rhythm of the language and the meaning. And may we all seek to do some good that may later benefit someone else!

Small Beginnings
by Charles Mackay

A traveller through a dusty road strewed acorns on the lea;
And one took root and sprouted up, and grew into a tree.
Love sought its shade, at evening time, to breathe its early vows;
And age was pleased, in heats of noon, to bask beneath its boughs;
The dormouse loved its dangling twigs, the birds sweet music bore;
It stood a glory in its place, a blessing evermore.

A little spring had lost its way amid the grass and fern,
A passing stranger scooped a well, where weary men might turn;
He walled it in, and hung with care a ladle at the brink;
He thought not of the deed he did, but judged that toil might drink.
He passed again, and lo! the well, by summers never dried,
Had cooled ten thousand parching tongues, and saved a life beside.

A dreamer dropped a random thought; ‘t was old, and yet ‘t was new;
A simple fancy of the brain, but strong in being true.
It shone upon a genial mind, and lo! its light became
A lamp of life, a beacon ray, a monitory flame.
The thought was small; its issue great; a watch-fire on the hill;
It sheds its radiance far adown, and cheers the valley still!

A nameless man, amid a crowd that thronged the daily mart,
Let fall a word of Hope and Love, unstudied, from the heart;
A whisper on the tumult thrown, – a transitory breath, –
It raised a brother from the dust; it saved a soul from death.
O germ! O fount! O word of love! O thought at random cast!
Ye were but little at the first, but mighty at the last.

You Can Do it, Sam

Baked a huge, buttery batch of cookies. Shared more than half with lots of 13 year-olds…

Teaching a child to share is a major theme in homes where toddlers scoot about. It’s still something we’re working on with our four year-old–hey, it’s something I’M still working on! Since starting this blog, I’ve tumbled across many picture books for little ones that focus on that all-important theme. Not too long ago, I wrote about The Quiltmaker’s Gift, an exceptional book of ultimate giving that should be in every picture book library. I’ve also posted about Easy as Pie; a tale that is not so much about sharing as it is about the fun of baking good and tasty treats.

Since I’m not only a mama who spends lots of time in book stores and libraries, but also an adorer and writer of children’s books, there will undoubtedly be more posts like this as time goes by. Hope you don’t mind!

You Can Do it, Sam is another sweet story that helps inspire little readers to share. Sam and his mama bear decide one snowy morning to bake twelve small cherry cakes. They measure and stir and bake them in the oven, then head out into the neighborhood to share. Sam’s a little bit nervous about being the one to do the giving.

Mrs. Bear pulled up close to the first sleepy house.

Here we are, Sam. I’ll wait here and YOU take the cake.”

“All by myself?” whispered Sam.

“Go, go, go!” Mrs. Bear put her arm around Sam. “You can do it, Sam.”

Cherry cakes! This book is really fun, and has given me ideas to think about for my own giving. First of all, Mama Bear packages the sweet cherry cakes in bright red bags with little tags that say, “A Tasty Surprise.” I’ve been wanting to come up with a unique way to wrap my bread for giving. I’d like it to be simple, and homemade looking, and not expensive. Right now I simply find some brown paper, or an old gift bag, and hand the bread over that way… I’d love your thoughts…

And…. I know just how Sam feels when he’s nervous about giving away his cakes. I feel each and every time an uncertainty about what I’ll say when the door opens, about whether the folks will actually eat the bread–or will think it’s horrible, poisoned, and just toss it into the trash. Sam has to be brave. You can do it, Sam!

You can do it, Jane!

Sun Bread

Rosemary Rolls–shared with neighbors

Seed cookies–shared with science class

Sourdough on the rise…

My youngest is attending preschool for the first time, two mornings a week. It’s his first foray out of the house–and his play time gives me a few extra moments to really concentrate on my Madeleine, who is homeschooling this 8th-grade year. The school is just a two-block walk, and they have dance class, and art class, and music class, and a playground with water features! Plus, they get to go to the library… When Madeleine and I walk John Ronan to school, and settle him into class, we always longingly look at each other–wishing we too could stay the day there and play!

Though John Ronan is a clear machine boy–with a penchant for underground pipes, copper downspouts, gears, lights, levers, and pulleys, he’s also a baker’s son, and a baker’s grandson, and a baker’s nephew. Bread abounds in this family, so I laughed when the preschool teachers handed me two books that he had checked out, both about BAKING. Too funny.

The one I particularly liked is Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. The story begins,

The wind it whooshed, the snow it whirled,

The rain streamed down; it sloshed and swirled

And washed the colors from the world.

The prose is really lovely, and full of humor, and the story centers on a very grey and wintry world that a baker makes bright and cheery by creating a giant loaf of bread that looks like the sun. This world is populated by creatures of all sorts who are invited to share the sun bread,

“The baker’s made a sun!” they cried.

The baker let them all inside…

And filled them up from toe to head

With puffy, hot, delicious bread.

Then, they dance and sing while eating bread, and eventually the sun itself finally comes out to play. The baker’s giant loaf of sun bread reminded me of this loaf that my brother’s made a few weeks ago.

This would be an adorable book to bring out in the middle of winter, just when you and the kids are starting to tire of the white sky and grey clouds… I know it’s only fall now, but the days pass quickly and before we know it, winter will be here!

Meanwhile, I’m off to the preschool to return the book and collect leaves along the way. Our sky is blue today, but I just might shape the sourdough that’s rising into a giant sun anyway!

Quilted Gifts

Two loaves of brown buttermilk bread

Mixed: 7:30 pm

Molded: 10:00 am next day

Baked: 11:50

Gave to a quilting friend

One of my very favorite children’s books is The Quiltmaker’s Gift. A friend sent a copy to us several years ago and it’s a wonderful repeat read, a story you never tire of, no matter how old you might be. I read it the other day to my four-year-old, who immediately wanted me to read the prequel, The Quiltmaker’s Journey. They’re both lovely…

If you haven’t seen or read this book yet, find it and tuck a child next to you, and read! It’s a story about an old woman who makes beautiful quilts and finds people who are on the street and in need, and gives them away. She doesn’t sell her quilts, or barter them, and this angers the king, who loves getting things–not giving… Over time the king learns to give, but I don’t want to give it all away. This quiltmaker is the ultimate giver. A much better giver than I’ll ever be…

I was baking some buttermilk and Guinness beer bread and wanted to share a loaf with a quilter. Immediately I thought of a friend who sewed a lovely flannel quilt for my little one when he was born. I love people who sew–they are so amazingly creative and brave! I wish I were more courageous, and maybe someday I will be, but right now I simply sew things in straight lines, like this sweet little napkin that I worked on a few weeks ago. This was before the scones…

Here’s the after 🙂

So, if you’re in the market for children’s picture books, consider these two lovely choices. The illustrations are so marvelous you can peer over them for hours–and if you know any quilters–these two books are sure winners.

And if you’re in the mood for buttermilk beer bread

sew a quilt, give it away, and, somehow, I’ll find you!

Children’s Books for Budding Bakers

Been bakin’

Been readin’, too

This book put a smile on my face last week when the wind was making all of us wacky and grumpy and altogether very weird. I found it in the new book stack at the library, where I take my four year old each Tuesday. Easy as Pie by Cary Best, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a newish release about a little baker in the making. His name is Jacob and he makes a peach pie while you’re reading the story. Really! He even makes the pie crust from scratch. And he’s a happy little tot. His enthusiasm is contagious, and, wow, this book would make a great pairing as a birthday gift wrapped alongside an Easy Bake Oven!

And Easy as Pie reminds me of another favorite, favorite that has to do with baking. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman is one of my all time super picks! I’ve purchased many copies of that book for adventurous munchkins.

Priceman zooms you around the world to pick up the ingredients she needs in order to make the apple pie. In fact, one of my favorite and quite handy facts from that book is that cinnamon comes from the Sri Lankin “native kurundu tree”. Good to know stuff! Oh, and the little girl makes her own sea salt. Maybe that’s where I first got the idea.

What about you, do you have favorite books on baking for kids? I’d love to know about them if you do…

Fifth Century–Saved by the Monks

Two loaves of molassas bread

Two loaves of no-knead sour, plus spent barley

Gave one to the Brunners and the other to a grieving family

During this month of January I’ve been reading through this well presented book on Irish history written by Thomas Cahill. The man must be Irish himself–the book is filled with the lively humor and playfulness so typical of the Irish. I’ve enjoyed every page, and though I am familiar with much of the story, it was passages like this one, about the early monks of Ireland, that kept me reading:

…And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

Cahill brilliantly distills the important forces of history, focusing on the people who have made an important contribution to their cultures and times, and tells their stories. In this book we travel from Ausonius, to Augustine, to Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. We find Saint Brigid entering the story on page 172 and she stays with us until the end. There are other characters who pop in to visit: Cicero, Medb, Cuchulainn and Noisiu–so many of them impossible to pronounce, which is why I thumbed to the the pronunciation guide at the end more than once. (Thank you, Mr. Cahill!)

There weren’t any explanations of how bread was baked in the fifth century. I’ll have to write the author a personal letter about that, even though I’m not entirely sure that Irish bread baking helped save civilization in any way at all, but perhaps he has some notes he could share with me. He presented so clearly his thesis of the simultaneous breakdown of the Roman world with the intellectual and literary build up of the Irish one, that I didn’t much mind. In short–it was Saint Patrick who paved the way for hundreds of peaceful monasteries to be built around and about that grassy, green land. The monasteries housed eager Irish monks who not only enjoyed their work of creatively copying out texts, but who also savored the ancient classical texts, spending their days, and nights copying and illuminating, learning, discussing, and writing little verses of their own in the margins and on scraps of vellum. While most of the lands under Roman rule were deep into the middle ages, losing their educations by way of poverty and serfdom and the burning of libraries… the Irish were enjoying a time of peace–a time of light and discovery–and they gave these treasures back to the Western world, once the dark ages began to wane.

If you don’t know the basic story of Saint Patrick–please go get yourself a copy of Zachary Lynch’s The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish. Though it’s just a children’s picture book, the story comes with all the dramatic and important details that highlight his story; it is taken straight from St. Patrick’s own Confessions.

I’ve been gushing about Mr Cahill’s writing all month. No wonder it sat on the bestseller list for almost two years in the mid 1990’s. If you’re at all interested in learning more about Saint Patrick and his influence on Western civilization, or if you’re just looking for a an inspiring read that dips you back in history, have fun with this one.

And now, back to my oven. There’s bread in there, and I need to figure out who to give it to!

Any takers?

(…And, if you’re out there, Mr. Cahill, the bread is hot, and you’ve done your share of inspiring me to deserve a loaf–or three…)


Disclosure of Material Connection: Believe me, I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Wouldn’t that be nice if I had? 🙂 I have no material connection to Mr. Cahill, and though I do know Mr. Lynch, he doesn’t know that I’m mentioning his book here… nor will I get any sous, or Euros, or even a cracker for pointing you to either of the two books above. I know these disclosures are supremely silly, and take away from the sweet nature of this blog post, but I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Fifth Century–Weaving a Saint Brigid’s Cross

No baking today

At the end of my picture book, The Life of Saint Brigid I tell the story of how a certain chieftain was dying…

On one of her journeys she comforted an old pagan chieftain as he lay dying. She found the chieftain in a desperate state, raving so that even the servants feared him. As Brigid sat by his bed, silently braiding the rushes that covered the floor, he became calm and asked, “What are you making?”

“This is a cross,” the abbess said, “which I make in honor of the Virgin’s Son, who died for us upon a cross of wood.”

The sick man listened to Brigid’s words of faith, of how Christ gave His life to save mankind, to save both the rich and the poor, the old and the new. And on that day the chief was baptized and died, one more saint added to heaven because of the work and faith of Saint Brigid, the Abbess of Kildare.

I love this story. This way of telling a story of the heart, through your hands.

I’ve made several St. Brigid’s Crosses this year and last–it’s traditional to do this on the eve of her feast day, the eve being January 31st, her feast day being the 1st of February… I’ve discovered that pipe cleaners are the easiest medium to teach children with–just be careful of the cut, wire ends. Here are some that I’ve made out of sea grass and pine needles, and such…

I’m excited, though, to have finally tried my hand at weaving with wheat. I ordered the wheat specifically for this purpose from Dale Scott a professional wheat weaver in Idaho, who both sells the crosses, and the kits so that you can make your own. It’s a very affordable thing to do, and a great tradition for your home each January 31st.

As you might be able to see in the video, I didn’t realize that the wheat needed to be soaked before weaving. I was all ready, sitting comfortably in the sun, my back to our lovely new stand of raspberries, and as I started folding the wheat in half, each stock snapped in half in my hand. We stopped filming and the only remedy I could think of was to soak the wheat in warm water for a bit. Thankfully it worked! Phew. Though my cross didn’t look nearly as neat and symmetrical as the finished one I purchased from Dale, I liked the homemade outcome of my effort and look forward to putting it up above our door in just a few days.

Here are some online instructions–of a woman in County Sligo, who does it much better than I do: Weaving a St Brigid\’s Cross on YouTube

And here are some written directions online that you might find helpful…

Oh, and one last note. The music accompanying my video is Prayer, sung by Haley Westenra. A favorite artist of ours here at home–a young New Zealand girl, of Irish descent, with a heavenly voice. I know you can’t hear my narration very well in the video; I think Miss Westenra’s song is much more appealing than anything I might ever have to say!!!

Hope you’re enjoying these last few days of January.

Blessings, and cheers…

And the Winner is?…

Been baking up a storm. Scones to school. Bread to Cheryl. Bread to Cara…They all deserve more than what I could ever give…

But forget about the oven for a minute. It’s time to give away a copy of The Woman and the Wheat. Yippee!!! By the way, an awesome review on the book was posted to Ancient Faith Radio yesterday. The review made me cry–which makes me think Katherine Hyde, the reviewer, better keep on writing herself; she’s that persuasive!

Audio review of The Woman and the Wheat

I’m thrilled with this list of favorite children’s books. What a line up! There are several here that are completely new to me–and I have thousands on my shelves. I can’t wait to read each and every new one mentioned…

Favorites

The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M.T. Anderson and Bagram Ibatoulline

Fingal’s Quest by Madeleine A Polland

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Tales of the Kingdom by David R. Mains, Karen Burton Mains and Linda Lee Wells

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola

The Little Red Caboose by Marian Potter and Tibor Gergely

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Olivia by Ian Falconer

If you give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace and Lois Lenski

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and P. J. Lynch

The Abbot & I : as told by Josie the Cat by Sarah Elizabeth Cowie

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

From I-ville to You-ville by Mersine Vigopoulou, Emani Heers, and Fr. Peter Alban Heers

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Make Way for Ducklings (and other books such as Lentil, and Homer Price) by Robert McCloskey

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

The Life of St. Brigid: Abbess of Kildare by Jane G Meyer 🙂 and Zachary Lynch

The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham

Books illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Books illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

The Weaving of a Dream by Marilee Heyer

The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and Michael Wimmer

Go, Dogs, Go!, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

When Mama Comes Home Tonight by Eileen Spinelli and Jane Dyer

The Monk who Grew Prayer by Claire Brandenburg

The Man and the Vine by Jane G Meyer (another :))and Ned Gannon

Beatrix Potter books

Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gillman

Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch and Sheila McGraw

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

The Gruffalo and The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Celebrate the Earth and The Story of Mary by Dorrie Papademetriou

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney and Ann M. Martin

Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman and Ben Hatke

Hippos Go Berzerk by Sandra Boynton

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Herbert and J. Alison James

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills

The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger

Christmas Cookies by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jane Dyer

The Golden Book of Poetry edited by Jane Werner

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

And the winner is…

SAMANTHA STARR!

A high school friend from my Samohi days, whose favorite children’s book pick was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Samantha, how fun!

Okay, off to the post office with the book. I wish you all a blessed and beautiful last Saturday before Christmas!

The Woman and the Wheat–a Gift

Having the time and space and energy to write has been a treasured gift.

One of the results is this children’s book, which I humbly offer back to you….

And speaking of gifts–it’d be fun to give one away! (This idea just popped into my mind and I’m going to go with it!)  Write a comment here on this blog post, listing one of your very favorite children’s books. I’ll gather all your names and do a drawing on the morning of Saturday, December 19th. That way I’ll still have time to mail it to you by Christmas Day–all wrapped so you can put it under your tree.

Sound fun? Giving is always fun. Plus, maybe we’ll end up with a great list of children’s books to share with each other!

Many blessings to you, my friends.