Sketches from Concord

I’ve been cruising through on my lunch breaks lately.  Talk to people and interact? Nah. It’s easier to put my nose back into a book (or screen in this case) then try to suppress my sarcasm/dark humor for another hour.

I came across this book, Sketches from Concord and Appledore, and my initial reaction was pure joy; it’s difficult to find older books that included Lousia May Alcott among her contemporaries. Then I started reading it…Frank Stearns  created these vignettes to shed a personal understanding to the writers that stemmed from Concord. He’s honest in his preface that his main focus was two male authors and filled the remaining chapters with writers that he and the public were familiar with.  I should have read the preface/introduction before jumping straight to his chapter on Louisa though so my red hot rage would have tempered. Instead I read through about 6 pages describing Bronson Alcott before Stearns’ ever got to Louisa. Who after about three lines was tossed over again but this time for her sister May. Then back to Mr. Alcott, her mother and finally circling back to Louisa.

So after a cooling off period post preface reading what does this tell me about Louisa’s literary reputation around 1895?  She would have written Moods, Little Women and Jo’s Boys by this time and  have been immensely popular in pop culture. And these would have been the writings that her public knew about, her branded image late in life.  Not the dark and serialized stories she supported her family on earlier.  “Alcott grew up in an extraordinary political atmosphere, thanks to her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a forward-thinking educator. He was friends with some of the most influential thinkers of his time — and yet he never managed to earn a living or take care of his family” Harriet Reisen reflected in her NPR Morning Edition interview. Stearns honored a man in those first 6 pages that had connections and influence but his disinterest in earning a living starved his family for years. Was it Bronson’s connections to great writers such as Emerson and Hawthorne that intrigued Stearns more in Bronson then Louisa’s actual career success? In Stearns’ mind were the Alcotts a package deal within the Concord community and he couldn’t separate her from her family and community?

Setting her specific chapter aside the book succeeds in providing a glimpse into Concord, Massachusetts during this time period. “The Emerson farm lies between two interesting roads, one going straight over the hills of Boston, and the other to Walden Lake and Thoreau’s hermitage”.  It would be a  fantastic source for descriptions of the community if you were researching any of these writers.  And perhaps that’s Stearns contribution. While individual biographies paint narrow pictures of their authors Stearns’ chapters show a period of connectivity. In the end he succeeds in sketching Concord just not perhaps his subjects.

Stearns, Frank Preston. Sketches from Concord and Appledore. Concord Thirty Years Ago; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Louisa M. Alcott; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Matthew Arnold; David A. Wasson; Wendell Phillips; Appledore and Its Visitors; John Greenleaf Whittier. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. Print.


Share-Post: Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts

If you aren’t already following the sitesandstories blog, I’m going to need you to click on the below link and get lost in Kathleen Ernst’s amazing writing. You can thank me (or hate me) in the comments sections when an hour or two of your day has suddenly disappeared.

Kathleen has two posts which feature Linda Halpin’s amazing Little House quilts. Linda wrote in 1991 the book  Quilting with Laura:  Patterns Inspired by the “Little House On The Prairie” . Which most fans of Laura are familiar with when they began that slow descent into purchasing EVERY book surrounding Laura.Or maybe that was just me? A bottle of wine and Amazon has never been great for my wallet.

Reading these posts coincided with me recently making my own resolution to progress my quilt skills and begin to work on more complex pieces. Tomorrow I head out to purchase the Andover’s “Little House” fabrics, I already have the book, and set aside time each week to meticulously work out these blocks. Enjoy the the posts on the sitesandstories blog!

I’m delighted to welcome my talented friend Linda Halpin to the blog! Linda is a quilt instructor and historian—and a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. * * * Like many, my adventure with Laura started in grade school when I was captivated by her stories. This was long before television brought her to life. She lived […]

via Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 1 —

Heritage Theft on the Macneill Property


I was told this story by Jennie at the Macneill farm bookstore. If you haven’t been able to visit Green Gables think of your experience as broken into two parts. The Green Gables house is on a beautiful property with vegetable gardens and a barn similar to a farm found on Prince Edward Island in the late 1800’s.  What surprised me was the walking paths that allowed you to explore the ‘haunted woods’, the old school property, the local cemetery and across the road you’ll find the Macneill farm. It’s on this farm property that Maud spent half her life. The farm is still in the Macneill family to this day and they operate the bookstore and showcase the foundations of the original house. on the edge of their property. Jennie Macneill was at the bookstore the day I was visiting and it was such a surprise and special experience that I didn’t expect and could never have predicted. It was while she was showcasing some of the historic pieces in the bookstore that I found out about the theft.

I studied art history in University and looting of historic or artistic pieces happens for various reasons but the end result is usually the same. We will most likely never see this seal in the thief’s’ lifetime. It will probably remain hidden from the world until the thief or the collector, the thief sold it to, dies. Typically these pieces don’t come back from the black market until the next generation finds them and either returns them after immediately discovering the theft or sells them to a new owner. Sometimes this can take generations. There are still stories that emerge of paintings in museums that are found to be have been looted from European families during World War II.  These paintings could have been legitimately donated or purchased at auction but after years of displaying a historian or family member will stumble across the piece and a long legal battle ensues between the original owner and the museum. Its a very messy business with few victories. We however can help with sharing the story so when the piece does emerge on the legitimate stage again we can all be quick to point out it origin. The piece was stolen on May 31, 2013 and special attention is to be payed at auctions and antique shops in the Greater Toronto Area and Mississauga, Ontario or Winter Garden, Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando, Florida area according to  LM Montgomery Literary Society. Below is the print version of the CBC story and remember to click on the link to view the video.

“A piece of history from Anne of Green Gables’ author Lucy Maud Montgomery has gone missing from a P.E.I. museum.

A postal cancellation seal — which is a stamp that was used to seal letters and cancel postage — that Montgomery used during her lifetime has gone missing from her former home in Cavendish, P.E.I.

After holding a few teaching positions on P.E.I. following a brief stint at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Montgomery moved to Cavendish in 1898 to help her grandmother at the local post office. She worked there for 13 years.

The missing stamp was used in the community’s post office for nearly 200 years.

The item was kept in a bookshop at the Site of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home, which is now a museum and designated a Canadian National Historic Site.

Montgomery’s descendants, who now live and maintain the property where the author lived for more than 30 years, say they discovered the artifact was missing on Friday.

The family is waiting to make contact with the RCMP to provide them with further details.

Montgomery introduced readers to one of Canada’s most enduring fictional characters, Anne . The heartwarming story of the red-headed orphan with a penchant for trouble has gone on to sell hundreds of millions of copies and became the basis for numerous television, film and stage adaptations.”

photo from Night Owl City

MAUD by Melanie J. Fishbane

51a8xh5j0glI was very excited to see a new book surrounding L.M. Montgomery coming out this spring. I had just started following Melanie Fishbane on Twitter which is how I originally found out her book, Maud, was being published. After reading the book  last week, I’m sorry I was unable to follow her  journey from the beginning as she shifted through research, interviewing historians and any 140 character insights into her writing process. It would have been interesting to see the choices she made as  her academic research was molded into novel form; what concessions Ms. Fishbane felt she needed to make, plot lines she dropped and liberties she took with her character’s intent.

The novel follows a young Lucy Maud Montgomery’s development from lonely childhood into her teens as she moves between caregivers, unravels her parents’ past and discovers her priorities in love.  Ms. Montgomery was extremely controlling with her public image even going so far as to rewrite her journals for her son to publish posthumously; which has always made an study of her difficult. Using the novel form allowed Ms. Fishbane to take license with her materiel and make natural leaps regarding Ms. Montgomery’s thoughts during these years of intense transition between her grandparents’ and father’s homes.  I appreciated the structure that Ms. Fishbane gave her novel breaking her writing into three parts based on location as well as introducing her characters at the beginning of book one similar to following a script.

Maud is clearly a labor of love. The structure is clear and the plot moves at a brisk pace keeping the reader’s attention; it’s the Montgomery research and provincial history that stands out in Maud though. Tackling this beloved author, with a diverse fan base, would be herculean as each reader brings their own experiences into one of Ms. Montgomery’s series. To pull the author back from her fans and separate her from Emily of New Moon or Anne of Green Gables is daunting. Ms. Fishbane attempts to illuminate her subject’s  lonely and emotionally isolated personal history against the later fictional orphans Ms. Montgomery would create.  While Ms. Montgomery was constantly reminded of the burden she placed on the family, Anne would be cherished at Green Gables and within the Avonlea community. While Ms. Montgomery was rejected by her stepmother and her weak father, Anne would be loved by her natural parents as well as Marilla and Mathew.  Ms. Fishbane says at the end of her novel directly to her readers, “My hope is that you will find something in my Maud to inspire you to ask questions, read her fiction and discover your own ideas, your own truth, about who you think she is.”

I believe Ms. Fishbane succeeded in creating a study of Ms. Montgomery’s background and character. She deftly created chapters around elusive moments in her subject’s biography. For example, Ms. Montgomery records that she burned her childhood journals during her adolescence but never states a reason. Ms. Fishbane constructs a family environment where you begin to understand the uncertainty of living off the kindness of relations and how this could inform your sense of privacy and public persona. This era of raising children  to be seen and not heard and limited female roles could have been emotionally stifling for someone of Ms. Montgomery’s artistic temperament in which Maud demonstrates through relationships between her grandparents and later her stepmother.

Maud should become a stopping point in the canon of discovering Ms. Montgomery’s works. After Anne and before Emily everyone should read Maud. With such happy endings it’s important to realize the author’s experiences and motivations in creating these   worlds of kindred souls.  Young readers will tear through this book and will be richer for understanding the relationship between an author and their works. For older readers, such as myself, Maud will provide the perfect quick read for the nostalgic and a welcomed break from the dryer nonfiction accounts of our favorite author.  Ms. Fishbane strikes that rare balance in a young adult book where older readers find a rich value at a quick pace.  I came away impressed with how much information Ms. Fishbane was able to pack into her novel without it ever lagging between chapters. I selfishly wished she had expanded on a few academic themes within the novel but only because it was clear she had so much knowledge backing each line I knew she would be equal to the task.  Any expansion though would have tipped Maud from one book into a series.  Which selfishly, I am still crossing my fingers that I see another Maud book and the reversal of caregiver between Ms. Montgomery and her grandmother, her late marriage and her career in publishing.

Remember to ask your local bookstores to order this title in for you and the other readers in your community. It would be the perfect gift in 2017 for any fan of the Anne of Green Gables but the book also stands on it’s own merits. Please comment with your thoughts below when you finish the book. I can be reached @decidedlyread on Twitter as well for comments.

DIY for Book Lovers

tinybookBuzzfeed is killing me on the DIY tiny book necklace!!  All the supplies are on Amazon but you could also  hunt them down across your local toy/miniature/jewelry  stores.  You’re going to need a tiny book (think dollhouse), a spacer bar and mod podge. The hardest part will be sizing down a book cover down to your dollhouse book dimensions.  Check out the link below for full instructions.


necklaceIn case DIY scares you but you NEED a book necklace in your life defiantly start checking around Etsy because there are some amazing artists.  I found the shop Tiddy Bits that will be receiving my next paycheck.



paperbooksIf you’re not into DIY jewelry have you thought about making your own book collection?  Ever After Miniatures shop on Etsy has these amazing paper books available via pdf download. You would put together the books and the case!  These pieces would also look amazing in shadow boxes or paired within a larger art exhibit.


bookplateIf you want to create something directly for your book though look no further then to Martha Stewart’s amazing tutorials! (When I have a bad day at work it’s her site I go to unwind and rediscover the happy)  She had some book plate templates that are necessary to my library. These would also make an amazing birthday/shower/Christmas presents.  She provides some beautiful downloadable templates and you can experiment with different papers colors. Just remember to use acid free glue when placing them in your books.

Of course the best part of crafting is experimenting and making it all your own! Don’t be scared and push yourself each time you create!  Contact me via Twitter or Instagram with your results!  @decidedlyread

Laura’s Gingerbread Recipe

gingerbread-recipe I treated myself to the book The World of Little House a few months back while going through another nostalgia Amazon spree and  this ended up in my cart. More juvenile then I originally intended but my thoughts were a bit impaired with wine that night…anyways… I thought I would try to recreate Laura’s recipe tonight.  The biggest debate being adding the chocolate frosting or not she so loved!  “Chocolate frosting adds to the goodness.” -LIW Comment with your results or Tweet/Instagram photos of the gingerbread on your Christmas tables!

1 cup molasses
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon each: ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
shortening to grease a 9×9 baking pan

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease the baking pan.
  2. Blend the sugar and shortening in the small bowl. Mix the molasses.
  3. Measure out a cup of boiling water in the 2-cup measuring cup and add the baking soda. Mix well.
  4. In the large bowl, sift together the flour and the spices. Add all other ingredients, mix well and pour into the greased pan.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or until knife/cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Serve this warm or at room temperature.

Collins, Carolyn Strom., Christina Wyss. Eriksson, Deborah Maze, and Garth Williams. The World of Little House. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1996. 131

Rye n Injun Bread

230b5511e169e93a647d9c31173ade32“Ma was busy all day long [..] she baked salt rising bread and rye’n’Injun bread”-pg 62 Little House in the Big Woods

If anyone is a returning reader they understand my love of carbs based off my salt rising bread post. I decided to celebrate my upcoming birthday with making Rye n Injun bread! Check out my Instagram feed for my results.  As I’m writing this before I take the photos you could see me crying on the floor or stuffing my face.  Birthday gamble if you will. The recipe below comes out of the Little House Cookbook.  The word ‘injun’ I don’t approve of in any way in 2017 which caused me to do a little surface research. Apparently injun bread was originally made with equal parts rye flour, corn meal and wheat flours.  The injun in the title refers to corn meal as Puritans would have needed to get out of their European sole dependency for wheat flours in the New World. Boston Brown Bread is said to have evolved from this earlier version. The Ingalls family origins in New England may have brought the recipe to the Big Woods. The long steaming time would have allowed Ma to bake this bread slowly on the Sabbath as she could do all the prep work the day before allowed to steam/bake during the day. Pair this with some salt pork beans and you have dinner!

1 1/2 c. corn meal
1 1/2 c. rye flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 stp salt
2 eggs
3/4 c. molasses
1 c. buttermilk

In a large bowl, mix flours, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, molasses and buttermilk. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until well mixed. Do not beat. Grease a 9×13″ pan. Put mixture in pan. Fill another 9×13″ pan with water and put on bottom rack of oven. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Bake at 200 degrees for 3-4 hours. Cut into 16 pieces. Serve hot or cold. Great with butter and/or honey. Makes 16 servings.