Book Review, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a beautifully-written, detail-rich, atmospheric historical novel. Though the story’s setting in 1617 Finnmark couldn’t be more different than that of the 21st century, grief, worry, family, religion, curiosity, power, accusations, betrayal, and love are timeless. I wanted to delve deeper into characters’ motivations and personalities as well as find out the thing that makes us turn the pages–what happens next? I only have one critique. The portion of the book which describes historical events might have been placed before the first chapter. Knowing the research done ahead of time would give this novel even more gravitas.

Hon, have you read this book? What did you think of it?

The Mercies Book Review

After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves. 

Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil. 

As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence. 

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.

Goodreads

Quotes from The Mercies

“I remember once when runes gave you comfort, when sailors came to my father to cast bones and tell them of their time to come. They are a language, Maren. Just because you do not speak it doesn’t make it devilry.”

“But now she knows she was foolish to believe that evil existed only out there. It was here, among them, walking on two legs, passing judgement with a human tongue.” 

“This story is about people, and how they lived; before why and how they died became what defined them.” 

Goodreads
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Kids Kindness Project + Picture Book

I had the opportunity to meet art director and author/illustrator Ann Koffsky when I attended Highlights Foundation “Jewish Symposium 2022: An In-Community Experience for Jewish Creatives” in October. She wrote the adorable picture book What’s In Tuli’s Box? When I read it, I knew just how I wanted to tie it in with a preschool class project.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, our theme was Kindness. Our project? Tzedakah boxes! Prevalent in Jewish homes, Tzedakah boxes collect extra coins to be donated to those in need. What an important lesson, in addition to a hands-on, tactile activity, for preschoolers.

The children painted glue on containers, chose colors of tissue paper, and stuck the tissue paper to the gluey containers. They practiced dropping coins in the coin slots, listened it jingle, and discussed the kind acts that they–even as young as they are–can do.

Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for philanthropy and charity. It is a form of social justice in which donors benefit from giving as much or more than the recipients. So much more than a financial transaction, tzedakah builds trusting relationships and includes contributions of time, effort, and insight.

Learning to Give

Review of What’s In Tuli’s Box

In this charm­ing pic­ture book for young chil­dren, Ann D. Koff­sky presents the con­cept of tzedakah through the char­ac­ters of a kit­ten and her moth­er. With kinet­ic images and bright col­ors, chil­dren learn that a sim­ple box pro­vides not only an oppor­tu­ni­ty to climb and play, but is also a means to con­tribute to char­i­ty. The book’s sim­ple text mim­ics the way a child learns from her par­ents about an impor­tant mitzvah.

For par­ents and care­givers con­sid­er­ing the most effec­tive way to intro­duce the con­cept, Tuli the kit­ten pro­vides one answer: con­crete expe­ri­ences and few abstrac­tions. Tuli is as active as a tod­dler, and just as focused on explor­ing her world. Koff­sky begins with Tuli becom­ing inter­est­ed in a box labeled tzedakah. Nei­ther this nor its slit for deposit­ing a coin means any­thing to her. Through touch­ing, push­ing, and lis­ten­ing, she dis­cov­ers the box’s phys­i­cal qual­i­ties, while her moth­er offers more infor­ma­tion. The box is not a toy, she comes to find, although the clink­ing sound of a coin drop­ping would seem to sug­gest that it is.

Koff­sky com­bines feline and human char­ac­ter­is­tics with sub­tle humor. While the char­ac­ters look like real cats, their facial expres­sions of curios­i­ty and affec­tion, cou­pled with the mother’s pur­ple pock­et­book, add a dif­fer­ent visu­al ele­ment to the sto­ry. Gen­tle expla­na­tions from Tuli’s moth­er con­firm what the kit­ten has learned, but also extend the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Tuli is final­ly ready to hear that the coins are meant to help those in need. As moth­er and child rest their heads against one anoth­er, young read­ers fin­ish the book with a sense of sat­is­fac­tion. Tuli’s ener­getic activ­i­ty has become a path to empa­thy, and to the reward of her mother’s pride and love.

Emily Schneider for The Jewish Book Council

Show-n-Tell, Ceramics and Needlepoint

Working with my hands is my meditation.

I purchased this floral and geometrics needlepoint canvas at Wool & Grace and decided to switch the original colors from pinks and oranges to blues, yellows, green and grey. I finally had it made into a pillow and really like how bright and cheerful it is.

When it comes to Ceramics, it seems I work in sets. Maybe that’s my way of improving upon a technique or maybe it’s because I get into a creative zone and keep going. The past year, I spent a lot of time hand-building different size jewelry/catchall dishes: some made free-form and some using GR Pottery Forms. I re-visited pressing real leaves into clay, but when I used a dark stain called iron oxide to define stems and veins, it bled and smeared. More practice needed.

Carving into clay that’s been brushed with slip is a technique called Sgraffito. Slip is thin colored clay that’s painted on a piece before it’s put into the kiln to be bisque fired. The slip and clay are set aside to dry. “Once the piece is firm enough and the surface is not tacky, a design or pattern can be carved through the slip and into the clay body beneath. Once the design is pulled away by incising, there is a beautiful contrast between the slip and the clay. This contrast is stronger after firing and glazing.” (source: Cindy Couling)

A new semester of Ceramics classes started and I’m trying to get back to the pottery wheel.

Hon, you know what I’m meditating on when I work with my hands? Stories, characters, plots, and words. My mind doesn’t rest!

I pressed real leaves into the clay and tried defining stems and veins with iron oxide.
I used a technique called Sgraffito, which is carving into clay that’s been brushed with slip.

Easy DIY Kids Activity in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Image source: thespruce.com

Last year, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my preschool class created Cheerios Birdfeeders. The kids enjoyed stringing Cheerios on pipe cleaners, hanging them up outside of our classroom, and watching for birds, but guess what? The birds didn’t eat them! (Maybe we should have used Honeynut Cheerios?–lol)

Instead, this week with Kindness as our theme, we’re going to create a different DIY Kids Activity–Pine Cone Birdfeeders.

Texture, scent, math, and fine motor skills were explored with the pinecones I collected in the Fall. You know what’s fun? Making pinecone prints by covering them in paint and then rolling them on paper. You never know what patterns will emerge.

Steps to Make Pinecone Birdfeeders:

1) Tie yarn or twine around pinecones.

2) Spread Sunbutter over pinecones (no peanut butter allowed in school, although pb, almond butter, or similar will do).

3) Roll sticky pinecones in pumpkin seeds (birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. can be used).

4) Hang in bushes and trees.

5) Wash hands!

Tips on creating Pinecone Birdfeeders from The Spruce:

  • Work seeds in between the rows of scales.
  • Hang in cool, shaded area so peanut butter (or whichever butter is used–sun, almond, etc) doesn’t melt.
  • “If you want to make multiple pine cone bird feeders at once but don’t want to hang them out simultaneously, they can easily be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging, and freezing them first can help them stay firm in warmer temperatures.”

I’ll let you know what the birds think of them!

Pinecone birdfeeder made by a preschooler.
Image source, BBSMI

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful.

Missing My Guardian Angel, Sweet Lucy

Today is the sad anniversary of the passing of our sweet Lucy. We recently considered adopting another dog but realized we’re not ready.

Lucy was our best friend, cuddle-buddy, pizza-crust-catcher, foot warmer and so much more. She made us laugh, brought our family closer, knew when someone needed extra companionship, and always reached out to rest her paws on our arms and legs. Her big, brown, “people eyes” spoke to us and we listened. I called her my guardian angel.

I wise woman told me “we die as we live.” Lucy died surrounded by her family and covered in kisses. I miss her so much my heart aches thinking about it.

Times Square Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve

Guess what’s now crossed off my bucket list?!

Watching the Times Square Ball Drop live on New Year’s Eve!

Watching the Ball Drop in person wasn’t actually on my list. The thought of being squished in a giant crowd is not my cup of tea. Every year as I watch the Ball Drop on t.v, I wonder why anyone would want to wait for hours on end to be in Times Square whether it’s clear, raining or snowing. To confirm that this was not something I ever wanted to do, I found myself in Times Square a bunch of year ago at the end of December. Cousins and our daughters got together to see a matinee and, though I’m not claustrophobic, I couldn’t get out of the packed-with-people streets fast enough. Hubby and I agreed that the only way we’d go to Manhattan on New Year’s Eve was if we had reservations at a restaurant near the festivities. This year, an opportunity came up.

Hubby found a promotion through United Airlines Mileage Plus and Visa Lifestyle Events–heavy hors d’oeuvres, open bar, dancing, and more at Charlie Palmer Steak. We stayed overnight at the beautifully appointed Conrad hotel. United Airlines threw in an Uber credit. We booked it!

On December 31, 2022, we drove into the city and passed thousands of people waiting in line. Security in the area was intense, so we had to show our hotel confirmation and restaurant reservations to be allowed through metal barriers.

We finally joined the New Year’s Eve party at Charlie Palmer’s where the restaurant was decked out in a 1920’s themes, flappers danced along with the guests, a woman performed acrobatics on an aerial ring, blackjack tables were bustling (people played for fun, not real winnings), a line formed to take photos at the photo booth, friendly people were ready to welcome in a new year, and there were even swag bags.

About 11:40 pm, the entire restaurant–patrons and the event and kitchen and staff–emptied into the closed-off street. There was the ball! We counted down from 10 to 1. Fireworks erupted immediately after. It was very exciting!

Hon, wishing you unexpected opportunities and happy surprises in 2023!

Craft Cocktails & Mocktails, Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, December 2022

Craft Cocktails & Mocktails

For my second article in Elegant Lifestyle Magazine’s Winter 2022 issue, I was tasked with finding fun drinks for a variety of holidays. I admit it, hon, I didn’t know what making a craft cocktail entailed, and researched ingredients and instructions on how to create simple syrups before deciding which drinks to include. Craft Cocktails & Mocktails features recipes for: Cranberry Old Fashioned, Apple Cider Fake-Tini, The First Fruits Cocktail, Bread & Oil, and Cotton Candy Mocktails. Guess which drink sounds the best to me? Hands down…Bread & Oil. Why? It includes jelly doughnut holes!

Good things definitely come in small packages when the “gift” is made with fresh ingredients, tailored to the holiday, and presented in a unique and imaginative way. Craft cocktails, poured one glass at a time, usually include four or five ingredients, homemade syrups, freshly squeezed juices, and niche liqueurs. In a hectic season, creating and serving flavorful upscale drinks is a way to slow down and drink in the moment.

Naomi Gruer

Pretty Party Pieces: Your Guide to Fashion for Festive Occasions, Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, December 2022

Pretty Party Pieces: Your Guide to Fashion for Festive Occasions is the first of two articles I wrote for the December issue of Elegant Lifestyles Magazine. Writing this fashion article put me in the mood for holiday get-togethers and, now that’s it the end of December, I’m happy to say I went to a bunch! The directors of the pre-school hosted a Chanukah dinner, my niece and her husband hosted a family Chanukah brunch, we’ve been out to dinner, the owner of The Red Balloon treated us to a holiday dinner, and we’ve had company here. The best? Visiting our dear friends, their children and extended family on Christmas Eve–think trivia games, Left-Right-Center, and tracking Santa on an app–lol!

Usually, New Year’s Eve is mellow as Hubby and I act as chaperones for our youngest daughter’s annual NYE party. She’s having a party, but this year we’re changing it up. Hubby has planned a “night on the town,” and we’ll be dining and dancing at a restaurant overlooking Times Square! We’re staying in Manhattan overnight, so no need to worry about driving back.

Hon, what should I wear? I better check my article!

Chanukah Menorahs, DIY Kids Crafts for Preschoolers

Aren’t these DIY Kids Craft menorahs adorable?

Shout out to my co-teacher Hannah who found inspiration for our Doodlebugs (a little younger than 2 yo’s) and Seedlings (2 yo’s) classes on Pinterest.

The Doodlebugs made Paper Plate Menorahs by painting paper plates gold, painting a big piece of paper blue (which we cut into candles), and scrunching orange tissue paper to make flames. We stapled the flames and candles to the paper plates and added yarn for hanging.

Yarn Wrapped Menorahs required hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The Seedlings wrapped yarn around popsicle sticks to make candles, painted cardboard gold to make menorah bases, brushed glue on flames, and sprinkled glitter on the glue. You know what we found out? Covering glitter with Modge Podge cuts down on glitter shed. Yay!

If you think math is too told for preschoolers, think again! We spent the last few weeks counting candles and flames in addition to going over the calendar and days of the month. When you get to the end of a month, there are a lot of numbers to count. Our little sweethearts are wide-eyed and enthusiastic about the calendar and the songs that go with it.

Preschool is on break for now. When we come back we’ll transition to all-things-winter.

Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah: Potato Pancakes Recipe

Image source–The Spruce Eats.

All Things Chanukah This Week!

I only make potato pancakes–aka potato latkes–once a year because a) they’re so delicious I’ll eat way too many of them, b) they’re a lot of work, and c) they’re messy to make. The other reason for the once-a-year-situation is my philosophy of why make one batch when the recipe can be multiplied?

Last week, I quadrupled my great Aunt Florence Goldberg’s recipe. (Shout out to cousin Claudia for sharing it with me.) Guess how many potato latkes I made? 104! (Yes, I counted.) And guess what my wonderful Hubby did? Cleaned up all of the cooking apparatus. Thanks, Hubby!

The house smell amazing, and now I have enough for several get-togethers. Happy Chanukah!

The best part of Aunt Florence’s recipe is her gem to serve the potato latkes with “sour cream and caviar when the kids aren’t around.” LOL!

Great Aunt Florence’s Potato Pancakes Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 large potatoes (2 Yukon golds, 2 russet), peeled and cut into chunks for food processor
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks for food processor
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • flour (approx. 10-15 Tablespoons)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • for draining after frying–brown paper such as grocery bags cut up, brown butcher or wrapping paper or, alternately, paper towels

Directions:

  1. Process potatoes and onion in food processor fitted with grating attachment.
  2. Place potato and onion mixture in a large sieve, strainer, or colander over a bowl. Apply pressure with paper towels to get as much liquid out as possible. Discard liquid.
  3. Transfer potato and onion mixture to large mixing bowl. Add egg.
  4. Add flour a tablespoon at a time until mixture holds together as a batter, approx. 10-15 tablespoons in all.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Heat a large frying pan with oil to cover bottom of pan, about 1/8 inch.
  7. Drop potato pancake mixture into pan with large tablespoon and flatten with bottom of spoon or a spatula. Pancake size– about 2 inches in diameter.
  8. Cook until golden brown and crispy on both sides.
  9. Drain on brown paper.
  10. Serve immediately with applesauce (or sour cream and caviar when the kids aren’t around.)

Yield: Approx. 2 dozen pancakes.

Tip: Potato pancakes can be frozen in single layers (parchment paper or tin foil in between). Reheat on baking sheets at 400 degrees F.