sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

August 2, 2010

into the stacks: the penderwicks
posted by soe 5:33 pm

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall

From the jacket: “Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings. When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they are in for a surprise. Instead of the cozy, tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves on a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.”

My take: I read the first chapter of this novel last summer whiling away time before meeting a friend and have been meaning to get back to it for a year. When it appeared on the list of 100 children’s books not to miss, it was an early and easy selection for getting caught up.

Written in the same vein as Edward Eager’s and Edith Nesbit’s series, The Penderwicks takes a family of children, plunks them in a foreign situation, and gives them a period of mostly adult-free time in which to sort out the world around them.

The story opens as the girls, their father, and faithful Hound try to locate their summer rental. After several wrong turns, they discover they’ve booked a spacious “cottage” that gives each girl her own room on an old estate’s property. The land is owned by Mrs. Tifton, a stuffy, overprotective woman who objects to children tromping through her prized garden and who certainly does not want her darling son, Jeffrey, interacting with the riff-raff tenants. Jeffrey and the girls, however, have other ideas, which makes for a fun romp of a summer for all of them.

Although this particular book is magic-free (unlike the Nesbit and Eager books mentioned above), the tale hearkens back to a period of time when kids were able to spend time entertaining themselves without parents over-scheduling and overseeing every movement. The story is clearly not written in the here and now, as no cell phones interrupt the peace of a country summer, but laptops exist, so I’d probably place it roughly in roughly the mid-1990s.

I found the book charming and can fully understand why it was awarded the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Pages: 262

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how’d it get to be monday again?
posted by soe 12:00 am

The problem with coming back from a vacation that extends over the period of two workweeks is that you feel very resentful when you’re home and you’re expected to go into the office five days in a row. What do you mean, you want me to work a full week?!

Alas, our two days off, while lovely coming so quickly upon returning to work, were far too short.

We did try to make the most of the nice weather, a respite from the more than 40 days of 90+ degree heat we’ve experienced this summer.

Friday night we decided to picnic, but to forgo the Jazz in the Sculpture Garden madhouse that our usual Friday destination has become this year. Instead, we installed ourselves in the other sculpture garden on the Mall. It was grassy and spacious, allowing us to park ourselves right next to the fountain. We were alone with our picnic and some tourists, some of whom apologized for interrupting our dinner. Silly people! After the security guards shooed us out at dusk (which happens at the other place, too), we moved out onto the Mall and just laid there talking and enjoying the cool summer air.

On Saturday, while Rudi was out on a mountaintop bike ride, I headed down to the garden to reclaim our vegetables from the omnipresent vines. I hauled four buckets of weeds from our small plot, pulling out many things had sprouted in the last month.

Luckily, much of what we planted also seemed to be doing well, although, as I’d feared, the lettuce had all bolted. I pulled off a bunch of the leaves anyway, but they’ll definitely be bitter and will need to be mixed in with sweeter, younger lettuce from the farmers’ market. I wonder if I can just start new lettuce seeds now or if they need to wait for cooler temperatures to take root. Does anyone know?

I also harvested some beans — two yard-long beans and some of the bush beans. I suspect some of what I left on the vine were probably haricots verts, but I could be wrong. They just looked so puny when compared to the blue lakes that I was sure they weren’t done growing!

The rest of the haul was the first cherry tomato of the season, the first pepper of the year, and some cabbage leaves. Both the cabbage and the kale have fallen prey to some orange beetle gang, but we just eat what they leave us. Generally it means our cabbage leaves are very delicate, lacy bits, but they’re still quite tasty in a stir fry. Three of the four kale plants have been decimated, but I’m hopeful they’ll make a comeback now that those bugs have shifted over to the cabbages.

Otherwise, one pepper with white leaves, has grown a fruit, which is white and green striped. We have more cherry tomatoes on two of the three plants. The peanuts have finally developed their orange flowers, which means their critical growth period is coming up. And the squash and/or pumpkins have also developed blossoms.

I finished off the day by hauling out our camping hammock and taking it up to Mitchell Park, where I set it up so I could watch the sun set while reading my book. I also got to converse a lot with folks from the neighborhood, who thought is was an awfully good idea.

Today Rudi and I had set aside for finding ourselves a bed frame. After the farmers’ market, we headed up to College Park to procure the necessary pieces at Ikea.

Can I tell you how stressful that was? Three boxes that were all seven feet long had to fit inside the cabin of my little old car. I was convinced we were going to have to go out and find a rental truck to get them back to D.C., but Rudi had faith … and his faith was rewarded. Not only did they fit in the car, but they fit in all on the passenger side, so I was able to ride home in complete comfort, if from the chauffeured position.

We rewarded ourselves with fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon buns at Ikea and then by stopping at our favorite brewery, which is located along the way home, where we had summer salads and beers (mine was of the root variety) and rolls. The predicted storms had held off, so I asked Rudi if we could stop someplace green for the remaining bit of the evening. He knew of a park nearby and we pulled our Whiffle ball and bat out of the car and spent the rest of the waning daylight playing. It was a good way to close out the weekend, and something we both said we should do more often.

Now that we’re really back, posting should resume again on a regular schedule. The last couple nights I’ve fallen asleep ridiculously early on the couch, which gets in the way of my writing here.

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