On My Bookshelf: The Night Gardener

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night gardener

Although this isn’t a Halloween-themed book, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is a devilishly creepy, engrossing tale for the spooky season. Irish immigrants Molly and Kip have taken jobs as the help at the Windsor estate in England. Orphaned and without resources, they are counting on the job to sustain them and keep a solid roof over their heads. When they arrive, though, they find that the estate is not all that they had hoped it would be: Something is deeply troubling about the house, which has a huge gnarled tree embedded in its side and roots weaving through the foundation. The locals call the estate the “sourwoods.”

Something is not right with the Windsor family, either. They are ill-looking, ill-tempered, and secretive. Molly and Kip do their best to improve the house’s halls and gardens and befriend young Penny Windsor, but it’s not long before a ghastly apparition reveals the Windsor’s desperate secret and the horrifying truth about the sourwoods. When Molly and Kip arrived at the estate they thought their biggest challenge would be keeping their jobs; soon they realize that staying alive will be even more difficult.

Scary and riveting, The Night Gardener is a spine-chilling story for ages 10 and up. Auxier’s characters are plucky and likable but its his unique fiend that will haunt you long after you’ve put the book down.

Notes on The Kindergarten Quilt Project

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The K-Quilt Project page is live! Some of you may remember the community quilt I made with my son’s kindergarten class, teachers, and room parents last school year. It was a rewarding endeavor for everyone involved and I’m thrilled to share the who-what-how of the experience. The page is full of notes on how to go about putting together your own school quilt. Just click on the link above or use the navigation bar at the top of this blog.

As always, feel free to drop me a note or post in the comments if you have questions or want to share your own project.

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On My Bookshelf: The Fourth Stall

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~A back-to-school read~

Fourth StallThe Godfather font on the cover of this book made me chuckle and turned out to be a good predictor of the amusing twist this tale takes on the godfather role, as embodied by a good-hearted but capitalistic sixth-grader named Mac. Mac is the school problem-solver, running a booming business with his friend Vince out of the fourth stall in the East Wing bathroom. The trouble is, sometimes problem-solvers have their own problems.

A strong plot, likable hero, and despicable bullies and make this a solid reality-based adventure-and-friendship read for boys, particularly those sick of the vampire/werewolf trend.

Apple Season!

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Cortland apples

Cortland apples

It’s really Fall here now: 60-degree days, an earthy scent in the air, the first red and orange leaves showing up against bright blue skies. Just in case I haven’t mentioned it before (ha!), this is my favorite season. I love sweaters and leaf piles and apples and all things that herald the changing season.

A recent road trip sent Mr. K and me through the apple valleys of Massachusetts and green mountains of Vermont. I came home with maple syrup and cider donuts and a beautiful peck of Cortland apples. I’m undecided about which apple I prefer for pies: Cortland or Macintosh. Cortlands are more tart and break down as they cook, making for a sweet-tart pie with a soft filling. Macintosh are a little sweeter and hold their shape more, so less sugar is needed and individual apple slices layer the pie. Mr. K seems to prefer the Cortlands. I may lean towards Macintosh, although I have yet to meet an apple pie not worth having for breakfast the next morning.

This time of year I revisit apple books and look for new ones. I pull Wine of Angels and Ida B off the shelf. I read recipes and history and contemplate back yards roomy enough for a few apple trees. These two books are on their way:

Apples of Uncommon CharacterApple Picking Time

While I polish off the last slice of pie and wait for my new apple reads to arrive, I thought it would be fun to share my classic apple pie recipe. Enjoy!

Classic Apple Pie

While I enjoy the occasional fancy pie with cranberries or brandy or cheddar cheese, I’m a basic pie girl at heart. Apples, sugar, a few spices, homemade crust. In my house we serve apple pie with coffee ice cream, not vanilla. It’s delicious, I promise.

Filling:

  • 8 Macintosh, Cortland, or other baking apples
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c sugar, or to taste (tart apples may need more sugar)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Crust:

  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 8 tbsp ice water

For the filling: Peel, core, and slice the apples. In a large bowl, combine apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla. Toss to combine and set aside.

For the crust: Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the flour, sugar, and butter on low until the butter is cut into pea-sized chunks. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, mixing between additions. When the dough just holds together, stop adding water and turn off the mixer. (You may not need all 8 tablespoons of water to get to this point.) Remove the dough, form it into two balls, and flatten into 1/2″ thick disks. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly dust your kitchen counter or rolling surface with flour. Place one piece of dough on the counter, dust lightly with more flour, and use a rolling pin to create an approximate 16″ circle. Flip the dough over every 5-6 rolls so it doesn’t stick tightly to the counter. I keep a plastic spatula handy to gently loosen the dough if it sticks. Place the rolled dough into a pie pan, pressing lightly into place. Fill with the sliced apples, including the juices in the bottom of the bowl.

Roll the second piece of dough, again aiming for an approximate 16″ circle. Place the dough over the apples. Trim the excess dough and pinch the top and bottom crust edges together to seal. Using a fork, prick a few holes in the top of the pie so steam can escape. If you like, sprinkle a little sugar on top for decoration and added crunch.

Bake for approximately one hour, or until the pie top is golden and the apples are tender. Let cool 20 minutes before serving so the apples can set.

Tip: I place a baking sheet on the next rack down in the oven to catch the occasional juice overflow.

Sweet Dreams

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Back in June I found these soft blue, green, yellow, and gray fabrics on a fat quarter shelf and Heath Hen on Martha’s Vineyard. They were soft to the touch and just said “sleepy baby” to me. I played around with them and this pattern emerged. The soft colors counter the movement of the rotated half-square triangles, and the result is gentle but playful.

Sweet Dreams Quilt

Sweet Dreams Quilt detail

I used a text print from my stash for the binding. Then, because I couldn’t bear to toss the extra little strips left from creating the border, I made a doll quilt. The patchwork stripes were fun and I threw in some of the text print, too! Both quilts are for sale in my Etsy shop.

Sweet Dreams DOLL quilt Sweet Dreams DOLL quilt detail

 

On My Bookshelf: Rooftoppers

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This is the view from my roof. Inspired by a recent read, I pulled out the ladder and propped open the hatch. From here I can see the entire neighborhood, and if you stand in the right place, the city skyline appears like a toy model through a dip in the trees.

Rooftoppers coverI thought this might be a good place to write about Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. I was charmed by this magical middle-grade novel set primarily on the rooftops of Paris.

Sophie was found floating in a cello case on her first birthday by Charles, a rather singular and gentle academic. Twelve years later, the very Victorian Child Services decides that Charles is an unsuitable guardian for Sophie and the two take the opportunity to flee to Paris to find Sophie’s mother. Despite the fact that no female survivors were found in the shipwreck that cast Sophie into the English Channel, Sophie knows in her heart that her mother is still alive.

Using the shop label in the cello case as their first clue, Sophie and Charles search Paris, Charles on the ground and Sophie, unexpectedly, on the rooftops. With the help of Matteo, a orphan boy who lives high above street level, and his sky-dwelling friends, Sophie chases cello music across the city in search of her mother.

Rundell’s language is evocative, funny, and slightly dreamy. While she doesn’t avoid the grime of the roofs, the dangers the Rooftoppers face, or disarray of Sophie’s home, they are part and parcel of the magic of Sophie’s world. She just sees things a little differently. Dirt isn’t important; self-respect is. Housekeeping comes second to beautifully bound books. Combs are optional; tea and cookies are not. And you never ignore a possibility.

Sophie is sweet and curious and persistent. She loves trousers and playing the cello. Her hair is the “color of lightning”  and tends to go into knots, and she has no idea why anyone would care what she wears. When evaluating the color of the lining of the cello case, she decides that the color is a good omen because “It was the green that emeralds and dragons usually come in….”

Her guardian, Charles, is quietly thoughtful and thoroughly disinterested in convention for convention’s sake. He is devoted to Sophie, to the point that he sews trousers for her himself when he is unable to find them in stores. He teaches Sophie with Shakespeare, speaks French to cats, and uses toast as a bookmark. Rundell describes him, as he finds the floating baby Sophie, this way: “Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.”

The ending comes suddenly but seems right for this musical book, a swelling crescendo that drops to a soft, twinkling Fine.

 

 

 

Ray of Sunshine Quilt

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Ray of Sunshinehand quilting detail 2

This quilt was a while in the making. The right yellow had to be found, and then the right pattern had to be drafted. Once pieced, it sat for several weeks while I hemmed and hawed about how to quilt it. It’s the first quilt I’ve made just for me and I’m glad I took my time with it.

 Blowing quiltsunshine quilt back

The top and back are entirely made up of linen/cotton blends: The prints are from the Sunshine Cotton Linen line by Dena Fishbein and the white is Robert Kaufman Essex Linen. I used Aurifil 50 weight to do the piecing (my first Aurifil project!) and was happy with how smoothly the piecing went.

I hand quilted this project using a double petal-shaped design of my own musing. Jan at Heath Hen provided much needed encouragement and steered me towards some excellent hand quilting needles by Roxanne. (Thanks, Jan!) I made a few discoveries along the way, too: 1) Thimbles and I don’t like each other, despite the fact that I find them so appealing to look at. I had some luck with sticky dot leather pads but ultimately the best thing for me was to just develop a callous on my finger tip. 2) Hoops are useful. I tried working with and without a hoop; I prefer the hoop. 3) Hand quilting thread pulls nicely through quilt layers but comes in a limited range of colors. The perfect pale yellow only came in embroidery thread, so that’s what I used. It still came out just fine.

hand quilting detail

The binding took exactly one episode of Endeavour to finish. I love doing bindings. It’s the home stretch, and there’s something peaceful about hand-finishing the back.

So there it is, my Ray of Sunshine quilt. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

On My Bookshelf: Modern Fairy Tales, Part 3

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And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For, in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime.

-CS Lewis

 

Back to the realm of fairy tales….I enjoyed these retellings for their clever twists on classic plots and characters.

castlethornsThe Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

In this variation on Sleeping Beauty the princess is a corpse and the prince is a 13-year-old peasant who is unwittingly transported to ruined castle by magic. Sand does not know how or why he is there, but as he realizes that he is trapped by the vicious thorn hedge outside he begins repairing things he needs for survival. His repairs and kindness work their own magic, reviving the tween princess and answering a decades-old question: What happened to the castle?

breadcrumbsBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Hazel and Jack. Jack and Hazel. Best friends since age 6, it takes the magical equivalent of a poison dart to separate the two. When Jack grows distant and then disappears into the woods with a mysterious snow queen, Hazel takes it upon herself to save him, despite warnings that he might not wish to come home. Using the powerful imagination that is the bane of her fifth-grade teachers, Hazel confronts warped bits and pieces of fairy tales and children’s stories as she makes her way to her best friend. In the end, it’s Hazel’s new-found willingness to confront reality for Jack’s sake that saves them both. A haunting and at times cruelly beautiful book about growing up, loss, friendship, and change.

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