Day Trips

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

We need not travel far to get a small respite from the day-to-day routines and stresses of life. I believe that this is one of the great benefits of where we live here in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut. There are so many exciting, and relatively close, places to visit for the day or a weekend. Especially at this time of year, I find myself desiring to drive to different places to gaze at the trees ablaze with color, step out into crisp air scented with wood smoke, and stop at a new eatery. My husband and I particularly love the Great Barrington and Stockbridge area of Massachusetts, and often make day trips there. The area is loaded with wonderful hiking and biking trails, and lots of scenery in each town’s center. There are some quaint cafes in Great Barrington, and two of our favorite restaurants: a Mexican grill (the food tastes very authentic) and a brewery in an old barn. We also enjoy visiting the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, set way up high on a hill and surrounded by meadows. Even if you are not a religious person, the area is quite lovely to walk around and quiet your thoughts. Located just down the hill from the Shrine, is Naumkeag, the Choat family home. Joseph Choat, a prominent lawyer with McKim, Mead and White  in the 19th century, built this Gilded Age “cottage” for himself and his family. His daughter, Mabel Choat, lived at the home in her later years and eventually turned it over to the preservation society in 1958. The home is gorgeous inside, but not over the top like some Gilded Age mansions. When touring it, I felt at home and comfortable in the house, and could imagine myself coming down the dark wood stairs into the foyer with the large pane glass windows overlooking the Berkshire Mountains. I highly recommend a visit there in the fall, or during the summer months when flowers in the garden are blooming.

Another great day trip is Hyde Park, New York. It takes about an hour and a half to get there, but driving through Duchess County New York is well-worth the time spent on the road. I love driving past the open fields and farmlands. Tucked away in this little town are two major attractions. If you weren’t looking for them, you might just miss them. One of the Vanderbilt’s many homes is tucked away here right on the Hudson. All you can see is the gated entrance way which you enter through to get to the house. It is of course stunning, sitting right on the banks of the great river, and surrounded by an expanse of meadows and gardens. There are some really nice hiking trails in the back of the property, which border the railroad. You can still hear the train going by at certain times, but catching a glimpse of it is difficult with all the tree growth. Down the road from the Vanderbilt’s is Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home, also tucked away down a long-tree lined driveway. They have a museum, gift shop, rose gardens, and gorgeous hiking trails. I’ve never actually been inside the home, but from the outside it is relatively modest in size and ornamentation.

Also located in Hyde Park down from the Vanderbilt’s is the Staatsburg mansion. Edith Wharton’s Bellomont in The House of Mirth was claimed to have been based on this house, as Wharton was a friend of the Staatsburgs and often visited the home on the Hudson. It is a stunning home with dark wood paneling and rose colored drapes and carpeting, augmented by the rolling hills leading to views of the Hudson River.

No trip to Hyde Park is complete without a trip to Eveready Diner! I love diners, and this one in particular because of its fab fifties deco and ambiance. Not to mention, the food is great and you can get just about anything, including my favorite: the classic Root Beer Float. It’s a real treat, and the perfect way to end your day trip in Hyde Park.

Lee and Lenox Massachusetts are two great spots. The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton, is located in Lenox. You might remember another blog I devoted to Wharton’s tranquil location tucked in the woods. Don’t forget to visit her pet cemetery, devoted to her dogs, nestled amongst the trees. Route 7 through Stockbridge and up to Lee and Lenox is a lovely drive, and you might want to explore a side road or two. Their town centers each offer some nice browsing in quaint stores and cafes. If hiking is your thing, there are many trails to choose for your walk. Right before the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge is a “rail trail” of sorts, right down the road from the old Stockbridge Train Station. The Mary Flynn Trail brings you parallel to the tracks and is a nice, easy walk. Cross the footbridge and you can do the Ice Glen trail or Laura’s Tower Trail. At the summit of Laura’s Tower trail at 1, 465 ft you can climb up the tower (steep, but worth it) and gaze at the amazing views of the Catskills, Mt. Greylock and Monument Mountain. Check out the Massachusetts Trail Guide for more information and more trails, like Bash Bish Falls and Bartholomew’s Cobble, two of my favorites for their scenery!

If you have a whole day and a sense of adventure, you can make it up to Manchester Vermont. I usually spend a weekend when I go, but I have done it in a day if I leave early in the morning. It is a beautiful drive, and Manchester is just so picturesque with Mt. Equinox rising to the west. In addition to lots of cute shops to explore and many hiking trails, my favorite spots include  Hildene, The Vermont Country Store and Emerald Lake. At Hildene,  the former home of Todd Lincoln, part of the property is a farm now and you can hike there and explore the museum or the beautiful home. The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vermont  has hard to find “old time” products and goodies.  Be sure to visit Emerald Lake or Equinox Hiking Trails to take in some clean, Vermont air and relax in the beauty of the land.

Here are some books to get you started on your day trip:

Rail-Trails New England– Your guide to the beautiful rail-trails in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. This book includes maps, photos and descriptions of each trail.

Short Bike Rides in the Berkshires is a go-to travel size book that gives you some great rides ranging in length from short to long. Get those bikes loaded on the car and make our way to one of these trails.

AMC’s Catskills and Hudson Valley and Off the Beaten Path Upstate New York offer you hiking advice and unique places to visit, like the Walkway over the Hudson, the longest and highest walkway bridge in the world. I have been on this and the views are breathtaking. Head over to Amenia New York for a truly unique and gorgeous rail-trail.

New England’s Best-Loved Driving Tours from Frommer’s has beautiful photographs and easy-to-read maps of some fabulous mini road trips. Included is one of my other  favorite day-trip destinations, Newport Rhode Island. Although it seems more of a summer destination, being close to the ocean and all, this is a great time of year to see the mansions with the colored leaves surrounding them. While summer is often crowded, take advantage of the cooler weather and more peaceful setting to walk around the town, cliff-walk, or the mansion properties.

If your going to go all the way and do Vermont, you’ve got to take Vermont: An Explorer’s Guide. I love this little travel companion because it is so detailed, but well-organized. I’ve used it many a time on my travels to Vermont. Reading through the book is going to make you want to stay longer than one day…so go ahead, make it a weekend :-)

Happy Travels~

Sarai is the Library Assistant and is currently looking forward to a full moon, pumpkin bread, and day trips of her own.

Block Party Summer

After a day of playing in the sun as a child, my family and I enjoyed sharing classic TV together before bedtime. The classic TV line-up included The Munsters, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Leave it to Beaver, and Happy Days.

I believe these shows were, and still are, appealing on several levels. To a child, they were funny, full of adventure, and in some cases, fantasy and magic! Adults find them entertaining for similar reasons, and enjoy the fact that the shows are downright wholesome and appropriate for even young children. There was always some underlying lesson to be learned at the end of  all the shenanigans. The playful “drama” that occurred in these shows was never violent or over-the-top as most shows are today. The situations were real enough for adults to believe and enjoy watching, and yet still appeal to younger children because of their humor and special effects.

The Munsters: I remember being slightly scared at times of Herman Munster, but then his big, goofy self would make me laugh. Despite the fact that they were by no means an “ordinary” family, they had real family values and generous hearts, even little Eddie. The crazy contraptions in their house, and Grandpa’s strange concoctions always made for an interesting episode. The best ones of course were when their paths crashed with the outside, normal world, and people were stopped in their tracks at the sight of them.

I Love Lucy: My grandma and I would laugh through classic episodes like when Lucy and Ethel go to work at the candy factory and end up stuffing their mouths with chocolate kisses because the conveyor belt is going so fast. Another favorite was the time that Lucy does a commercial for “Vegevitavegamin,” which contains a small amount of alcohol. With each take, Lucy finds it harder and harder to get the words to the jingle correct.

Bewitched: I still remember being fascinated by Samantha’s ability to twitch her nose and have a complete dinner ready in minutes. Her husband Darrin, originally played by Dick York and later by Dick Sargent, had the best facial expressions when something went astray, resulting from Sam’s magic and usually at the office with his boss Larry. Aunt Clara was another favorite character of mine. In “There’s No Witch Like an Old Witch” Aunt Clara becomes a huge hit when baby-sitting for a neighbor’s children. She makes toys come alive and tells the children she can do all this because she is a witch. When the kids tell their parents, they become enraged and Aunt Clara ends up on trial.  My favorite part is when the judge asks her if she is resentful towards children, and Clara, in her bumbling way, says “Oh, my, no! I think we like to look back, remember when we were young, at a time free of care, you know, full of happiness, and, uh, music and bright colors.”  I think this hits a chord with anyone, young or old.  Children have that magical power to unlock the inner-child in us all, and make us feel young again, filled with wonder and awe.

I Dream of Jeannie: I’ll never forget Jeannie’s  beautiful pink ensemble and the way she would fold her arms, nod her head and blink, disappearing in a cloud of pink smoke.  And let’s not forget the handsome Major Nelson, played by Larry Hagman, whom I had (and still do) a crush on.

Leave it to Beaver presented to us a picture “perfect” family. Yes, they had problems, but at the end of the day someone always learned a lesson and everything was okay. One word that I feel really describes the show is “comforting.” I’m always comforted by June’s motherly tasks, always preparing a meal or snack for the boys, and Ward’s ability to fix any problem with a little whit and experience. Wally and Beaver were perhaps the epitome of what it meant to be brothers. They got upset with one another, but they never really fought and always helped each other out with kindness.

Happy Days was great for those teenage years of first loves and trying to look cool, and nobody was cooler than “The Fonz.” I loved watching their lives unfold at Arnold’s diner, or Inspiration Point (a.k.a make-out mountain). Episodes include both heartwarming family moments and unforgettable innocent humor.

Classic TV is something I think that the whole family can sit-down and enjoy without worrying about inappropriate material. You too might find yourself drawn back to your youth while watching these episodes.

So gather together some friends and family, have a BBQ and maybe even a campfire as you watch the last sunsets of summer graze the night skies, and then head inside for a classic Block-Party-Summer TV Marathon, straight from OWL’s collection. Enjoy!

Sarai is the Library Assistant who is currently honing her nose twitching skills…

Observations on Bird Behavior


My husband and I recently moved, and outside our bedroom window is a beautiful tree which bloomed delicate pink at the start of spring. But that wasn’t the best part.  I noticed a plump, red-breasted robin who was frequently visiting the upper-most branches of the tree. There were often small twigs and pieces of straw clenched in her beak, and I realized she was building a nest. Once the nest was almost complete, she would sit inside and  wiggle her body and shimmy her tail as she worked to form the inside of the home. I was astonished at the way the nest was constructed having never seen it done up close before. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she would lay her eggs, and I kept a close watch each day with child-like anticipation.

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At my childhood home there was more glorious bird action at the bluebird house I had bought for my family to enjoy.  The bluebird house is in the backyard in between gardens and meadows. Although deemed the perfect spot according to most books on bluebird habitat, the bluebirds hadn’t been convinced of its perfection until one glorious day this spring when I noticed a flurry of blue feathers by the birdhouse. I sat for hours with binoculars in hand watching these incredibly beautiful birds finally make a home in the house we set up for them.

A few weeks later at my apartment, I noticed the robin hardly left the nest during the day, and when she did, she came back quickly and settled into the nest carefully, once again wiggling. She had laid her eggs! Right after she laid them the weather turned cool and rainy. I felt sorry for the robin as she kept vigil over her eggs night and day with the rain and breeze pelting her. The male robin would come a few times a day to relieve her. He would not get in the nest on top of the eggs, but I watched as he cocked his head from side to side as if examining them. While these precious eggs were relatively safe, I cannot say the same for the bluebirds. I was observing the birdhouse one day  and saw a bird going in and out, and something dropped from the nest to the ground. Curious, I had a closer look with binoculars and was alarmed to see that it was not a bluebird inside. I remembered reading in The Backyard Birdhouse Book that I checked out of OWL that certain birds try to take over bluebird houses. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I ran down to the birdhouse. On the ground lay the beautiful blue eggs, cracked with their yellow yolks dripping out onto the green grass. So much hard work and hope lay there ruined on the ground. Feeling angry, I went to OWL and checked out more books on bluebirds, and birdhouses and habitats to see what I could learn. In that same book I discovered that House Sparrows and Wrens are the biggest problems for bluebirds. Sparrows and Wrens compete with bluebirds for habitat and will actually go into their homes and throw out the eggs. Sparrows have been known to even kill adult bluebirds. The book advises close monitoring and establishing another birdhouse close to the other so that the birds won’t compete.

After this tragedy, it was a pleasure to see the robin’s newborn hatchlings one sunny day after the rain. At first, my husband and I couldn’t  see much of them; just the robin feeding them and we could hear their little chirping noises. They grew fairly quickly, and pretty soon we saw “large” open mouths when mom came back with delicious worms. A few weeks later there was a happy ending for the bluebirds too. On Memorial Day weekend during a family picnic, we spotted the bluebirds once again at the house. They were starting over :-)

We can learn so much from observing nature and wildlife. Animals, like humans, work hard and often face tragedy and hardship. I believe that they also feel pain and in their own way mourn. I felt this as I watched the mother bluebird return to find her eggs destroyed. There was one egg inside the nest that was damaged.She flew with it in her beak to a tree in the backyard. She held onto the egg for a few minutes, looking around, and finally I watched as she let it drop to the ground. Then she sat for a long time in the tree, preening herself. I could feel her sense of loss. Animals know all too well that life must go on, you must start over and begin anew, and with that, the sense of hope prevails.

To learn more about birds and how you can help set up a bird friendly habitat and home for them in your own backyard, check out these finds at OWL:

I love the Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America 2010 color edition. It comes with a CD of more than 600 bird sounds which can be downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player, making identifying bird calls even easier! The CD also features a PDF booklet with photographs and song/call descriptions. This book is a great resource.

The Backhouse Birdhouse Book: Building Nestboxes and Creating Natural Habitats is a resource I’ve used many times when I needed to know something about the bluebird house, or bird behavior. I like the color photos and organization of the book, which lists each type of birds habitat needs, description of the bird, and problems the birds may encounter.

If you are feeling crafty, you might check out Building Birdhouses and Bird Feeders which has some fancy constructions. The birds may end up living in a more stylish home than you! My personal favorite is The Old Outhouse Feeder…check it out on page 78.

Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volume I and II will help you learn more about bird behavior, such as courtship, nest-building, plumage, breeding, territory and even bird call.

Birds of Eastern North American is a photographic guide to birds in our area. The color photos are stunning, and the descriptions of the birds are very detailed.

The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds is a collection of thirty-five essays about birds that you probably see every day, but know very little about. Author John Yow offers keen observations and anecdotes that are highly enjoyable to read.

The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong is a fascinating look at all that can be revealed in each bird’s unique song. How many of us relish waking up to the sounds of birds singing, greeting the sun as it rises? Readers can learn about how bird’s acquire their songs, how song varies from bird to bird, why some birds do not sing, and much more! There is a CD accompiment that will help you identify different birds and their unique chords.

Winged Migration is an extraordinary documentary that takes us up close and personal with birds during their migration. Cinematographers and pilots used planes, helicopters, balloons and gliders from all different angles to get a truly awe-inspiring look at one of nature’s greatest spectacles. You must see it.

I recently fell in love with A Home for Bird, a new children’s book by Philip C. Stead. It is an adorable, and funny story about a little frog who meets a bird. As frog introduces bird to his friends and things he likes, bird says nothing. Frog thinks bird must be lost so he is determined to help him find his home.

Sarai is the Library Assistant who is very excited that it is “berry” season!

Inside the World of Downton Abbey

“My dear fellow, we all have chapters we’d rather keep unpublished.”

So speaks Lord Grantham, one of my favorite characters on the wildly popular PBS Masterpiece show Downton Abbey. The show seems to be on the lips and minds of everyone these days, including me. An avid viewer of Masterpiece Classic, which gets me through the long part of winter each year, I became enticed from the very first episode of Downton Season One last year. There is something about the characters and the world that one enters while watching the show that captivated me. I felt as if I was living during the Edwardian period, a part of the Crawley family.  It was pure torture waiting a whole year for Season Two, but once again it was well worth it (anyone else having withdrawl symptoms yet?).

If, by chance, you haven’t been introduced to Downton Abbey yet, let me give you a basic lowdown on the premise of the show. Season One begins in April 1912 with the Titanic disaster. Lord Grantham (Richard Crawley) who is Earl of Downton Abbey, is married to American-born Cora, and together they have three daughters: Mary, Edith and Sybil. The major issue in this period drama is Lord Grantham’s estate and money cannot be left to his daughters, and one of Lord Grantham’s heirs has just died on the Titanic. Thus, another (third) cousin and potential heir, Matthew Crawley, enters the picture.  Of course, the family wishes Mary will betroth Matthew and remain at Downton Abbey as Countess, however, this proves to be a more difficult match than expected.  The in-and-out ways of life are played out amongst not only the Crawley family, but the many servants as well. Life below stairs proves to be just as interesting, if not more so at times, than upstairs. There is bickering, scheming, everyday drama and even romance among the servants. Perhaps this is what I love most about the show: the intertwined storylines between the lives of the servants and the lives of the rich. We see what happens below stairs and upstairs in a politically accurate look at the time period the show portrays.

“No, I couldn’t have electricity in the house. I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapours seeping about”-Violet, Dowager Countess.

I love that most of the show is filmed on location at Highclere Castle, the real “Downton Abbey.” We drift from room to gorgeous room with the others as they go about their day, and it is a fun peek into this real life estate! While Downton Abbey was traditional in every sense, the time period was one of great change, including the suffrage movement and the onset of electricity in homes. Downton was no stranger to these changes, and in fact Lord Grantham embraces them, saying that changes come to us all. They acquire a telephone and electric lights, of which Lord Grantham’s mother Violet (played by an ingenius Maggie Smith) has much to say against it. The show explores these changes, as well as those brought about by World War II in Season Two, while still keeping us intimately acquainted with the family and the people who serve them.

The show has something appealing for everyone: the historical aspects, the drama and romance, the action of the war and changing political tide, the costumes and fashion of the period, and a look at life in service. I hope that if you haven’t given the show a chance, you’ll reconsider. And if you are an adoring fan like me, please check out some of OWL’s Downton goodies to hold you over until Season Three.

Downton Abbey Season One: This is where is all begins!

Downton Abbey Season Two: The season that just ended on PBS is full of action and many changes during World War II. Downton becomes home to soldiers wounded during the war, and nobody is left unscathed. A very memorable journey.

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes: This spectacular book is a companion edition to the show. It is full of rich, colorful photos of the actors and Highclere Castle. The book is broken into sections, covering everything from Family Life and Society, to Life in Service and War. It contains memorable quotations from the show throughout, but what I like best is that it blends fact with fiction. It takes aspects of the show and explains them in there historical context, so you learn more about the time period and the show.

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maids Story that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell: If you want to learn more about the “downstairs” characters in Downton Abbey, look no further than this revealing memoir of life in service by someone who truly lived it. Powell started out as a kitchen maid, which was the lowest of the low, before progressing to cook.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons: A lovely story about a Viennese Jewish girl, Elise, who during the Second World War escapes the cruelties of Austria by finding work in service at Tyneford House in England. She struggles with leaving her family behind (her parents hope to get a Visa to America and then send for her), but is warmly welcomed by owner of Tyneford Mr. Rivers. When Mr. Rivers son Kit returns home, a special relationship forms between him and Elise and her whole world is changed forever. I liked some of the similarities between this story and Downton Abbey, and author Natasha Solomons has a very poetic voice.

The Edwardians is the classic novel by Victoria Sackville-West depicting life during this ever-changing time period. It follows the lives and thoughts of Sebastian and Viola, two children of English aristocracy. Both children feel apart from the society they grow up in, but are introduced to another world when they meet Lady Rochampton and explorer Leonard Anquetil. This book was made into a film series as well.

You may want to check out Upstairs, Downstairs–this PBS series is often linked to Downton Abbey and indeed has a similar plot; the life of the rich Bellamy family upstairs in Eaton place, and the servants’ lives below stairs.

Sarai is the Library Assistant and is currently humming tunes off of Bruce Springsteen’s new (awesome) album Wrecking Ball.

Slow Cooker and “Real” Fast Food

For Christmas this year, my family wanted to know what to get my husband as a gift.  My husband, Carlos, likes things that are useful. I knew right away what my gift to him would be: a long fishing pole to use in the ocean. After last summer’s exciting catch (with a not-so-big fishing pole), my husband wanted to move on to the bigger guys. However, besides the fishing pole I couldn’t think of anything else he really needed. Then, one night at dinner, we were discussing different meals and Carlos said he wished he had a pressure cooker. With this item, he enthusiastically told me, he could make seafood soup, and homemade black beans, mashed potatoes and many other things in the pressure cooker. I told my mom, who didn’t quite believe that was what he really wanted. “He won’t get excited over that,” she said with somewhat of a grin on her face.

In awe of the pressure cooker

Fast forward, Christmas morning at my family’s house. Carlos couldn’t guess what was in the big boxes from my family, and when he unwrapped them…well, let’s just say his face lit up like that of a little boy! All that morning, my grandmother and Carlos explored the pressure cooker–the recipe booklet it came with, and all its features. They even tested out a potato in it. My mom took me aside and thanked me for the gift suggestion, pleased that he enjoyed it so much. The standing joke now is that the pressure cooker won out over the fishing pole.

Fishing Master

I myself was excited to have received a cookbook with recipes for slow cookers, and was finally able to try it out on my own. With our new kitchen tools, we have dined on many a gourmet meal and no longer need to go out to eat “fancy.” Both the slow cooker and pressure cooker are fabulous kitchen tools to have, because with the slow cooker you can prepare ahead and let it cook all day while you are at work. With the pressure cooker you can make a delicious, healthy meal or side in just minutes.

While the days are still short and chilly, take some time to explore these recipe books from OWL and try out some new ones in your own slow cooker or pressure cooker.

The name says it all in How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food. This huge cookbook covers all the major food groups, and recipes from appetizers to desserts and everything in between.  Check out page 506 for a section on “The Basics of Pressure Cookers” and a few pressure cooker recipes, including a few for beans. We eat a lot of black and red beans at my house since Carlos is an expert at cooking them and adding special, tasty ingredients. With the pressure cooker, we can cut the cooking time in half!

Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with your Slow Cooker has a great selection of easy and quick recipes for your slow cooker.  There are sections on appetizers, breakfast, breads, soups and stews, main dishes, and (most surprising to me) desserts. I never thought you could do desserts, or breads for that matter, in a slow cooker!

Cover and Bake: Casseroles, Pot Roasts, Skillet Dinners, and Slow-Cooker Favorites contains such delicious slow cooker recipes as Curried Chicken Thighs with Peas and Potatoes, Moroccan Spiced Chicken and Apricot Stew, and some other great recipes in the skillet like Thai Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Tofu.

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker offers many new, and innovative recipes outside of the “standard” slow cooker ones. You may not think of making jams and chutney in the slow cooker, but it is possible and there is a nice section on this in the back. I also enjoyed reading a little about the history of the slow cooker and its origins in the beginning of this cookbook.

Slow Cooker Revolution, like the previous book, takes a modern look at the “crock pot.” A full range of recipes, including a section on enchiladas and tacos, and also brunch, gives you a wide selection of uses for the slow cooker. There are helpful hints in the beginning of the book on “getting to know your slow cooker,” and for each recipe there is a little “why it works” section, explaining why certain ingredients are added etc. A very handy cookbook!

Once you get the hang of using the slow cooker or pressure cooker, you can begin to create your own recipes or variations on ones in the books. I know for my husband and I, it gives us something to look forward to during the week and is fun to prepare and experiment with together.
Sarai is the Library Assistant who is currently enjoying her own slow cooker meals and episodes of Downton Abbey.


With the approach of Thanksgiving this year, it is a great opportunity to remind ourselves how much we have to be thankful for. It seems the older I get the more I appreciate the little things around me. It can be hard to stay positive with all the chaos in the world around us: turn on the news and there is always something new to worry about. Nevertheless, I believe, each of us can find something every day to give thanks about. For me, it is first and foremost, my family: my husband, my parents, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and my precious cat Colby. My family and I recently celebrated my grandpa’s 92nd birthday! I cherish both of my grandparents, and I give thanks, not only on a daily basis, but for each year that we get to spend another holiday with all of us together and in good health. I realize that many people don’t have a close family or support system, people they can go to when in need. Without the love and support of my family around me I don’t know where I would be.

Being thankful and taking time to stop and look around you in your daily life helps give you a positive outlook. Despite my busy schedule, I try to make time to go for a walk each day. During these walks, it often surprises me when I suddenly hear the silence around me. Yes, I do mean hear the silence. When I first start out my head is often clogged with thoughts from my day reminding me of what I still need to get done. But, as my walk progresses, there comes a certain point that I don’t hear thoughts in my head anymore but can hear my own breathing, the birds singing around me, or the quiet of the day descending into night. Sometimes I will stop and take a deep breath and close my eyes and give thanks for the beauty that surrounds me. It is not everyone that can live in such a lovely town surrounded by natural landscapes and beautiful open meadows.

When it comes down to it, I am thankful for a lot: the house I live in, the warm clothes I have, my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, limbs, delicious food at every meal, music, a library (OWL!) where I have at my fingertips any book I want to read, or movie to watch or CD to listen to for free, walking trails and areas to ride my bike, forests, a car to use, the sun on my face, colorful leaves, clean air, the seasons, and so much more. My list could go on and on!  The holidays are often commercialized and the true meaning overlooked, but if we each take a moment to think about the importance of them we’ll find much more significance than imagined. I encourage all of you readers to take a few moments out of your day to think about what you are thankful for: maybe you will want to share that with your family and friends this Thanksgiving!

Below are some of my favorite cookbooks and entertaining books to help you create a memorable and special day, as well as some of children’s books about Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving 101 has it all! This nifty little book has a ton of recipes for traditional style thanksgiving recipes, and some new ones as well that will add flare and excitement to your entrees. There are even various suggestions for different ways of cooking a turkey: Bayou Deep-Friend Turkey, Smoke Grilled Cider-Basted Turkey, Herb-Brined Roast Turkey and the Oven-Blasted Turkey. I like the little story about “The Great Blakened Turkey (Almost) Diasaster.”  It reminds me of the story of when my mother and aunt tried to cook their first turkey many years ago. Although my cousins and I were not born yet, every year we hear the story of that “first” turkey, which was in-fact pre-cooked and only needed to be heated, yet my mother and aunt cooked it like a fresh turkey. My uncle says it looked like the size of a football when they opened the oven! I must say, my mother is now a fabulous cook but she will never outlive that one.

Holidays: Recipes, Gifts and Decoration Ideas is especially helpful if you are hosting your first Thanksgiving. Although Carlos and I will not be hosting this year, I will be making something to bring to my family’s house. I love to try new recipes especially anything that involves sweet potatoes (I have a mild obsession with this healthful starch). I also enjoy looking at all the creative ways to decorate the house and table for guests.

The Thanksgiving Cookbook contains an abundance of delicious recipes to try. Why not make something new to impress your family and friends? Try New England Style Butternut Squash, which has apple cider, fresh cranberries, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and pearl barley or Green Beans with Shiitake Mushrooms. Or add a twist to any traditional recipe, like sweet potato casserole with apples.  I always enjoy browsing through cookbooks and reading new recipes, there is something calming about it, no?

The Squirrels Thanksgiving is a delightful children’s book about our pesky friends, the squirrels. Here, they celebrate their won thanksgiving  inside their home. I love the illustrations of the squirrel family as they prepare their meal and interact.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving is the sweetest story about a moose couple who want a turkey for thanksgiving. Mr. Moose heads out in search for one, and other animal friends join in on the search. When they find the turkey, they bring him unwillingly back to the house. Much to the turkey’s surprise, they supply him with a chair near the head of the table. They did not want to eat him, they wanted to be surrounded by friends at thanksgiving.

Turkeys, Pilgrims and Indian Corn: The Story of the Thanksgiving Symbols  We shouldn’t forget how thanksgiving first started and the beautiful traditions that the Native American Indians carried out. They had a great reverence for nature and were in constant thanks for the bounty of food, supplies and beauty that surrounded them.

Enduring Harvest: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season is a nice collection of the different festivals and days of thanks that Native Americans had. “It is important to remember that many of our ancestors celebrated Thanksgiving all year long, in many ways, with many different foods, prayers, songs, and ideas.” I love this idea of there not being just one day where we give thanks, but that it is a continual thanksgiving for all that we are blessed with on a daily basis or yearly one at that. Try the recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Raisin Bread for a little kick on an old favorite.

What I look forward to most about thanksgiving dinner with my family is the stories and memories shared. And with my family, that usually means an ample amount of laughter and joking. I wish you all a fun-filled, relaxing and joyous thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends.


Sarai is the Library Assistant at the Oliver Wolcott Library.

London’s Sleuth

I’m not a mystery person. That is, I never bought into mystery fiction books; I did a few Sue Grafton novels in high school but nothing kept my interest piqued. Since reading Nancy Drew as a child, no one has ever come close to her place in my heart as the number one sleuth. I mean…come on! Who else could wear heels and a dress and go trudging through the woods or any other impossible situation but Ms. Drew herself?

Recently I came across a detective similar to Nancy Drew: Maisie Dobbs! Needing an escape from my usual “heavy” reading, I investigated some mystery novels using OWL’s Books and Authors search tool which allowed me to browse by genre and “read-alikes.” I stumbled across author Jaquelyn Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and became intrigued. Set in 1930s London, Dobbs is an amateur detective/psychologist who solves mysteries. There is no blood, gore or real menace and I absolutely love historical fiction novels, especially those set in the 1930s. Add in my slight obsession with anything English and “blimey,” you’ve got me hooked!

I picked up a copy of the second book in the series, which won numerous awards, Birds of a Feather. Just like Nancy Drew, Maisie is  self-confident, intuitive and gives attention to detail. Similarly, her mother died when she was young and she has only her father. Maisie works with an assistant named Billy who is very charming, and at times long-winded when it comes to giving Maisie details about an investigation.

Winspear does a fantastic job bringing the past alive and creating a picture of the still war-torn England. Maisie herself helped out as a nurse during the war and is often haunted by memories.  Winspear pays close attention to period details like clothing (Maisie often dresses in wool suits or trousers) as well as English traditions like afternoon tea.

In Birds of a Feather, Maisie must find a young missing heiress, Charlotte.   Three of Charlotte’s old friends from school have recently been murdered and Maisie feels as though Charlotte may be next!  Maisie’s investigations lead her all over London, and she finds some interesting connections between the events during the war and these women who ultimately all have something in common. Close to the end I thought I had the suspect figured out, but I was shocked to find out who the murderer really was and why these women lost their lives.

The crisp air of fall is descending upon us. Those days when the sky is gray, and there is a  fragrant fall breeze are  perfect for a little light mystery reading. Here are the other Maisie Dobbs books we have here at OWL:

Pardonable Lies is next in the series after Birds of a Feather. This adventure takes Maisie to France, where she must confront her own ghosts of the war. Her mission is to find two men, both involved in the war, who were proclaimed missing or dead, but their families have reason to believe they are still alive.

Messenger of Truth finds Maisie helping an old college classmate, Georgiana, by investigating the death of her twin brother who was an artist. Before his masterpiece could be revealed at a Mayfair gallery, he fell to his death from the scaffolding. It was said to be an accident, but Georgiana feels foul play was involved. Maisie’s investigation leads her to discover some unpleasant class divisions and undercurrents of facism at play in 1930s Britain.

An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth novel that OWL owns.  Maisie heads to the  country side to investigate matters concerning a potential land purchase, but something is not right as mysterious fires start to erupt. Maisie must uncover the secrets hidden in the small village.

Among the Mad starts out on Christmas Eve 1931 in London, and Maisie witnesses a man commit suicide. The Home Secretary’s office receives a threatening letter about the potential massive loss of lives in the city and it is a race against time to find out who is at the bottom of the threats.

In The Mapping of Love and Death Maisie must try to unravel a mystery of “love and death” between a young cartographer and nurse during World War I. As you can see, many of the novels revolve around the Great War’s aftermath and the effects it left on all of those involved, directly and indirectly.

A Lesson in Secrets is the latest Maisie Dobbs novel. The British Secret Service hires Maisie to keep tabs on Greville Liddicot, a controversial founder of the College of St. Francis. His mission with the school is to promote peace. Maisie must pose as a philosophy teacher and go undercover. However, there is soon a murder within the school that leaves Maisie questioning what the motive was and what secrets are hidden within the school.

Explore the world of 1930s London and “match wits” with Maisie Dobbs today in one of these “baffling mysteries!”

Sarai is the Library Assistant and is currently sipping hot cider while contemplating Maisie’s next mystery….

Reason for Hope

One of my dreams in life is to be like the wonderful explorers and conservationists that I see on PBS Nature programs, and that I’ve come to know through books. There are so many people out there doing good for our world, helping to save wildlife and protect land from development. One such person who has had an impact on me is Jane Goodall.

A few summers ago I read Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall. I was profoundly moved by Jane’s words about her life and work with the Chimpanzees of Gombe. I’ve always had a love for all wildlife, but never really appreciated apes until reading about Jane’s work with them. What I found was a very unique, intelligent and dynamic animal, who shared many of the same emotions that we ourselves do.

Jane was born and raised in London, and from the time she was little she was fascinationed by animals. When she was one-year old her father gave her a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee, which was created to celebrate the birth of the real Jubilee, the first chimp to be born in the London Zoo. Jubilee became Jane’s favorite childhood companion, and still travels around the world with her today. Jane writes that it was the family she was born into, and the experiences she had as a young girl, like reading in the trees outside her window, that ultimately shaped her life. An invitation from one of her friends to visit Africa set her life’s journey in motion.

What I love most about Jane Goodall is her undying energy for saving not only chimpanzees, but all wild creatures and places. She is well into her seventies now, yet still travels the world lecturing and teaching people about the importance of conservation. She is also a very peaceful person. If you have ever heard her talk she has such a gentle voice, but one that evokes powerful ideas. Although her life, like anyone’s, has been riddled with suffering and pain from the loss of people and animals she has loved, she continues to remain hopeful. I think hope is not something easily maintained in today’s world. Jane always tries to tell herself before something stressful, “By this time tomorrow (or next week, or whenever,) and it will all be over.” She also relies on this spiritual quote: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” She carries with her a peace from the forest. I too, find peace and strength from nature…even if its just sitting outside and closing my eyes, feeling a gentle breeze, the birds singing around me and listening to the “talk” of nature which makes me feel so alive.

When we believe in something and feel so passionately for it, we will fight for it. I am grateful to Jane Goodall and the many others like her that continue to fight for our wild places and continue to defend and care for animals. I hope that others too will be inspired to carry on the works of these people, and continue to fight against the war on our environment. I hope that each of us will do our own parts, however small, each day to help protect the places we love that are close to us, or worlds away. I hope that we will always have hope to keep on, like Jane.

“As long as I live I shall continue to spread awareness about the true nature of animals, the extent of their suffering, and our responsibilities toward them.”

Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man is a well researched and in-depth biography of Jane, from her beginnings to her most recent work.  The author begins in the prologue with an image of Jane as she steps onto stage to give a lecture, and offers a “greeting from the chimpanzees: noisy inhalations and hooting exhalations building in volume and climaxing into screams. Only Jane could do this!

I love when we can get a closer look into someone’s life by their correspondence. Some of my most empassioned reading has been through the letters and diaries of such people like Sylvia Plath and Edith Wharton. Africa in my Blood: An Autobiography in Letter, The Early Years gives the reader a look into the mind and life of Jane Goodall through her letters to friends, family, and even her pets, like Pickles the cat.

Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters, The Later Years is the follow up companion to the first set of letters. It includes a chapter and several letters on Jane’s heartbreaking witness and discovery of cruelty among her beloved chimps. She witnessed several attacks among the chimps, including kidnapping of babies and cannibalism. The letters reveal that Jane is deeply disturbed by the behavior.

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe takes a close look at Jane’s experiences in the wildes of Africa. I love how she starts almost all her books with a single image, like in this one when she is waking up at dawn in the jungle: “All around, the trees were still shrouded with the last mysteries of the night’s dreaming. It was very quiet, utterly peaceful…the occasional chirp of a cricket, and the soft murmur where the lake caressed the shingle.”

Hope for Animals and Their World is Jane’s newest book release. I love Jane’s dedication of the book to “the memory of Martha, the last passenger pigeon and to the last Miss Waldron’s colobus and the last Yangtze River dolphin. As we think of their lonley end, may we be inspired to work harder to prevent others suffering a similar fate.” Jane travels all over the world exploring the work that is being done to save animals from the brink of extinction. She meets many incredible people and animals along the way. An inspirational read!

I adore the two new children’s books about Jane that we’ve added to OWL’s children’s collection: Me…Jane, a picture book biography about her life (there’s a note from the Jane in the back too!) and The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, a more detailed biography. Both books have great illustrations.

Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant who believes, like Jane, that even small steps make a big difference.

One Year: Reflections and Celebrations

On July 17, my husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary. A relatively short amount of time in the scheme of life, but significant nonetheless. To celebrate we went to our favorite spot on Cape Cod. As you probably know from my previous postings, the Cape has been my favorite getaway since I could walk. Now it holds both old memories from my many summers spent with family and friends, and recent trips with my husband. The place is also significant because it is where Carlos proposed to me. As I reflect back on this past year, I think about all the changes we made together, while still keeping some old traditions from our dating years.

As is the case when living with someone new, there are many adjustments to be made. One big adjustment was learning how to cook for two. We ate a lot of leftovers the first few months as I juggled with the portion sizes. Luckily, OWL has some great cookbooks about cooking for two. In Cooking for Two: 120 Recipes for Every Day and Those Special Nights, the authors provide some unique recipes ranging from simple pasta dishes to more fancy meats. All are designed specifically for two people. Carlos and I both love Hispanic food, and the Swiss Chard Enchiladas are a unique twist on the standard ones served in restaurants. I especially love the desserts section. I am jealous that Carlos does not have the sweet tooth I often do, so it’s great to have recipes that only yield small batches, like the Black Forest Cake. The Rustic Apple Tart is a perfect dessert for both of us because it’s naturally sweetened with fruit.

Cooking for Two: The Year’s Best Recipes Cut Down to Size offers a nice range of recipes. We don’t eat red meat, so we do a lot of chicken and turkey. The Lighter Chicken Parmesan is delicious with half the calories of regular chicken parm. Many times we don’t even add the sauce, as seasoned panko crumbs have their own delicious flavor. This recipe book also has a little section called “use it up:” giving the reader ideas on how to use up any additional ingredients not used in the original recipe.

At our favorite restaraunt on Cape Cod

While we don’t have the typical “date night” anymore, we still make time to go out together and do special things. In the colder months, that means movie nights. We love going to the cinema in Bantam because of the cozy, intimate atmosphere. Most of the time though we will cook up some dinner at home and pop in a DVD from OWL’s superb collection. Some favorites this winter included: Planes, Train and Automobiles, The Pink Panther with Steve Martin, Seabiscuit, Inception, and Shutter Island. I love older, classic films, but Carlos usually snoozes through them. Once in awhile I’ll sneak one in, and sometimes he’ll get hooked; like with Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn.

In the summer we are out and about: swimming, canoeing, and biking. Most times we’ll just take the bike around town for a nice long ride, but Short Bike Rides in the Berkshires offer some lovely and scenic routes around Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, an area that we love to visit. We took our bikes along with us to the Cape and biked to the beach every day. The Cape offers exquisite biking trails, in particular the Province Lands bike paths. While we know most of the trails in Truro, Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Trail Guide helped us discover some new ones the Beech Forest Trail which leads through fragrant pitch pines, and around a stunning lake full of bird life.

I finally had a chance to read Henry Beston’s The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod while we lounged by the ocean. Carlos and I both found it interesting how much of what Beston writes of and observes in the 1920’s can still be observed today on those ancient shores.

To learn a bit more about Cape Cod and the Islands, I recommend reading The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by Paul Schneider. The Cape is rich with history; as you probably know the pilgrims landed there, finding corn and a spring with fresh water in Truro. Provincetown, next to Truro at the very tip of the Cape was a large fishing and whaling community.

Our anniversary week at the Cape was fabulous. We enjoyed watching sunsets at the beach (the only spot on the east coast where you can see the sun go down directly over the water), eating at our favorite restaraunts, strolling and biking through town, and relaxing on the beach. Carlos even caught his first, big saltwater fish (a 32 inch blue fish!). It was a great time for reflection on our first year together, and the celebration of many more to come.

~”For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach”~Henry Beston.

Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator and Library Assistant who, like her husband, is already missing the calm, other-worldliness that is Truro, Cape Cod.

Farmer’s Market Season

It’s that time again: the glorious season of the farmer’s markets where I wake up on a Saturday morning, ride my bike down to the Center School parking lot and peruse the piles of garden fresh gems. It is the season of standing barefoot in the kitchen, creating something with fresh ingredients: garlic scapes sautéed in olive oil, garden greens, plump tomatoes, and loaves of bread, crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. One can find locally produced meats, cheese, milk, honey, salsa, baked goods and much more, including handmade clothing, soaps and crafts. What is not to love about the farmer’s market? The Litchfield Farmer’s Market, which opened last Saturday, contains a wide array of vendors and I hear they have expanded this year. I am fond of visiting other farmer’s market as well. This past weekend I visited the Dorset Farmer’s Market in Vermont and was amazed at the many different vendors. There were farm produce stands with an abundance of goodies, but there were also vendors where you could buy homemade foods freshly prepared to-go (like empanadas or gluten-free japanese noodles), sustainably manufactured wooden tables and utensils (I purchased a beautiful apple-wood spoon), hand-made clothing, delicious smelling soaps with fun names by the Filthy Farmgirl company, and other artisanal crafts. I spent at least an hour walking around and taking it all in. It’s fun to see the differences in the farmer’s markets in other towns and states.

Besides the abundance of fresh foods, I love the farmer’s markets for two reasons: 1. I like to support the farmers and small businesses and 2. it makes me feel connected to the past.  By buying local, I help the families and small farmers, and our fragile environment because my food doesn’t have to travel across the ocean and use fuel to get here when I buy local. The farmers love talking about what they do too, and your almost guaranteed to engage in a wonderfully enlightening conversation with them by asking just one question.

My second reason, feeling connected to the past, stems from the fact that buying local, or growing your own food, was the way of life for our ancestors. Just looking back to when my grandma was a child, there was always fresh milk delivered to the doorstep in glass bottles, eggs from the chickens in the yard, homemade breads, jams and baked goods and of course garden vegetables. If you didn’t grow or produce all of your own foods, there was always the neighbors who were willing to share their stock. Past generations truly knew what it was to be “green,” and nobody had to tell them. When you were done with the milk bottle, you put it outside and it got picked up, cleaned, and reused.

I am thoroughly excited for another season at the Litchfield Farmer’s Market, as well as exploring other area markets this summer…I never know what treasures I will happen upon!

Check out these farmers market inspired reads:

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets by Deborah Madison is just the book to get you cooking in the kitchen when you get home with your tote bags brimming with goodies. There are many fabulous recipes, like braised root vegetables with black lentils and red wine sauce or the “big tomato sandwich,” and she even provides some full menu ideas for the seasons. The author has visited thousands of markets throughout the U.S. and parts of the world, and they played a part in her creation of this book.

Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables by Andrea Chesman: Okay, so the last thing we want to be thinking about is winter (at least I don’t want to be) but this is still a great book to browse through for some ideas when the butternut squash, beets, and potatoes start showing up at the market later in the season. The book is neatly organized into different types of dishes. From soups and salads to vegetarian entrees and meats, you will find something to your liking.

Hay Day Country Market Cookbook by Kim Rizk: Hay Day started as a country farm stand in Westport, Connecticut and then grew to a series of stores. This book has a ton of great recipes from breads to main and side dishes and contains some fun facts about foods mixed in. I love their Peasant Bread and Whole Meal Bread which I’ve made a few times.

Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh by Emeril Lagasse is one of my favorites. His recipes are flavorful and generally easy to put together. I love how the book is organized into food groups sections, like the nightshades, cool crops, and roots, shoots, tubers, and bulbs. Lagasse strives to use local ingredients in his restauraunts too. In his intro, Lagasse says it best when he writes: “The way I see it, it’s returning to a way of life that used to be taken for granted. We can have more to say about what we eat.”

Cooking From the Farmers Market  by Jodi Liano has recipes for each ingredient you might pick up at the market. For example, if you come home with sugar snap peas and have no clue what to do with them, there are at least three to four recipes on how to prepare them. The gorgeous photographs will have your stomach growling.

Waiting for Rain: One farmer’s struggle to hold on to a vanishing American dream by Dan Butterworth is a poignant look at the struggles of being a farmer in a land where it is a dying way of life, and the fight to just survive as a farm becomes harder each day. Perhaps if we all spent the day on a farm, and saw that the work is never done, we would pay that extra dollar or two for farm fresh.

Harvest: A Year in the Life of an Organic Farm is a fascinating look at the daily life of one family on their small farm in Vermont. The family grows enough of their own produce to feed themselves, and to sell at markets. They also have their own meat, eggs, fruit and honey. We get a true in-depth look at life on this small farm, the struggles and joyful moments, with exquisite photos to match.

The Backyard Homestead: Guide to Raising Farm Animals is the perfect companion if you are considering getting some guests for your backyard. The book covers everything from breeding to (gulp) slaughter.

 Get out and around this summer and see what you can find to cook up at home from your local farmer’s market!

Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant who is loving her handmade spoon ring which she purchased at the Dorset Farmers Market.