Indie Artist Spotlight: Julie Schronk of Just Folks

https://jamarattigan.com/2016/09/27/indie-artist-spotlight-julie-schronk-of-just-folks/

http://jamarattigan.com/?p=19556

“Our Big Family” © 2016 Julie Schronk

🌺

Each of Julie Schronk’s whimsical folk art paintings feels like a big-hearted welcome, a friendly invitation to step right into the scene to join all the fun.

Fancy an old fashioned church picnic, quilt show or yard sale? Maybe you’d prefer a lazy afternoon at your favorite fishing hole, a stroll down main street, or a quick bite at the local diner. Julie’s cheery, engaging slices of old-timey Americana, rendered in vibrant colors and bustling with activity, brim with just the kind of quirky details that beg a closer look.

“By the Sea”

Originally from Dallas, Julie now lives in Hillsboro, Texas, where she paints traditional, Black, Bayou and bohemian folk art. She calls herself a memory and storyteller painter who kindles memories of bygone days and inspires people to imagine their own stories in her pictures.

Julie’s now in her 16th year of creating and selling her acrylic originals, which have been shipped to almost every state in the union and to countries such as France, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand.

I love the warmth and convivial vitality in Julie’s pieces, which are like mini cultural history lessons with their depictions of cotton gins, juke joints, country stores, Amish barns, farmyards, and city skylines.

“Night Fishin’ on the Bayou”
“Trolleys” is Julie’s favorite painting.

I’m so happy to welcome Julie to Alphabet Soup today to tell us more about her joyous paintings and a bit about her children’s books. I know you’ll enjoy stepping back in time and hearing how this talented artist works.

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🎨 MEET JULIE SCHRONK 🎨

Name of shop or business: Just Folks (Because my paintings are about just folks, farming, going to church, frequenting old country stores, etc. It seemed to fit nicely).

Year established: 2000

Items you make: One of a kind original folk art paintings

Studio Location: Hillsboro, Texas

Three words that best describe your art: Nostalgia, Memories, History

Self taught or formal training? Completely self taught

Tools of the Trade: Acrylic paints, brushes, canvases. The most essential tool I use each day I paint is a Cotman 222 liner brush. I use it for all my tiny details. The brushes last a long, long time.

Inspirations and influences: the Great Mattie Lou O’Kelley, who was a self taught folk artist, Grandma Moses, Clementine Hunter (Black folk artist)

Three significant milestones in your career: College degree, deciding to teach myself how to paint folk art, and having my paintings auctioned in the prestigious Slotin Folk Art Auction (by invitation only)

“The Peeping Tom”

Food that inspires your best work: Fruit, old recipes like Grandma made . . . banana pudding, pies, cobblers

What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?

Junior High School when the school was putting on a Christmas Pageant and they needed a huge painting of Santa and his sleigh, and the teacher asked me to create it (I was so honored that they believed I was that talented).

Third grade we made papier-mâché planets as a school project; it was so fun.

How and when did you develop a passion for American folk art/primitive painting?

In 2000 when I began selling cat paintings on Ebay, then realizing my real passion was for folk art, then I stumbled across the great folk art of Theresa Prokop on Ebay, began studying her work and the work of others. I love primitive painting because it tells a rich cultural story with lots of memories.

“The Lady and Her Cats”

Most of your paintings are populated with lots of happy, busy people working, eating, and playing together in rural settings. Do you come from a big family?

No, I grew up an only child in Dallas, Texas, but had many relatives who would sit around and tell tall stories about farm life and politics and my mother told me stories about playing with Black children on the farm when she grew up there in Holland, Texas.

What kinds of life experiences have informed your creative vision?

 Loving nostalgia, old signs, taking photos of old barns, and traveling.

“Night ‘N Chickens”

Are there any particular references you’ve found to be especially helpful for creating your scenes of nostalgic Americana, or do most of the details (buildings, clothing, interior objects, signage, etc.) come from your imagination?

I sometimes take photos of old barns, towns, buildings, houses, but most of my paintings come from “Memories” and my rich imagination as a writer. I sometimes look at a blank canvas and see a painting just begging to be painted.

Sometimes movies inspire me of old towns, places, like “Bonnie and Clyde,” which was filmed here very near where we live (the old Dallas Highway), is still here in Hillsboro.

“Amish Country”

How long does it typically take you to complete a painting? What is your favorite part of the process?

A 12×16 in an afternoon session

A 16×20 2 afternoon sessions

Putting in all the tiny little details of the buildings, the people, etc.

“Christmas House”

Which type of paintings are the most popular with your buyers? Any plans to sell prints in addition to originals?

Quilt paintings, snow paintings, and Black folk art, which they love.

We have looked into it, but it is too expensive, but I would love to offer prints someday.

“The Funk Brothers at Mama’s Juke Joint”

Since your folk art paintings tell wonderful stories, it’s no surprise to hear you’re also a writer who’s published several e-books. Could you please tell us more about them?

I tried to become a children’s book writer for years, wrote many children’s books and had lots of agents and editors, including Arthur Levine, who published Harry Potter.

I turned my best children’s books into Kindle books some years back; they are very funny and I did a whole series of humorous books based on classic horror stories, the titles of which are The Werewoof (based on The Werewolf), Catula (based on Dracula), The Bantam of the Opera (based on The Phantom of the Opera), and Dr. Frankenswine (based on Frankenstein).

Who are some of your literary heroes? What are some of your favorite children’s books?

Roald Dahl, whom I learned much from, Neil Gaiman, who wrote The Graveyard Book, Anne Rice (have read all her books and all the books about her, once visited her famous St. Elizabeth’s Church in New Orleans where her personal library is).

My favorite children’s books: BFG, Matilda, The Twits, Esio Trot, Lemony Snicket series

Describe your studio or workspace. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?

It’s just a large desk in the corner of my bedroom, surrounded by my favorite paintings of Frida Kahlo, the Virgin of Guadalupe, images I am crazy about.

If I listen to music as I paint I like to hear Don Mclean – “American Pie” and “Vincent,” and Joni Mitchell’s Blue album to inspire me, also Simon & Garfunkel, especially “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Billy Joel and Elton John.

What’s the most interesting piece of commissioned work you’ve done so far?

I did a church picnic scene for a lady who grew up in Kentucky; it was an old wooden church and she wanted herself pictured in the painting along with the Preacher saying the blessing at the table (16×20). I also did a painting for the famous folk art gallery Around Back at Rocky’s for their big anniversary celebration – they took the painting and had t-shirts and postcards made from the painting (I was so honored).

Do you have a dream job?

Becoming a successful full-time writer, which was my dream for years and years.

“In the City”

Any new projects you’re especially excited about?

A new 16×20 painting I am finishing depicting the sinking of the Titanic, very whimsical.

“The Sinking of the Titanic”

How can we purchase your work?

It’s posted each week to Ebay at auction, I list all new paintings to Facebook each week, I have a shop on Etsy (the Gypsy Peddler) with my paintings on it, though I haven’t done much with the shop. Ebay mostly is how you can purchase my paintings. I also have a website for my art: http://www.juliesfolkart.com.

“Are You Going to San Francisco”

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Julie Schronk Online

Official Website

Ebay

Etsy Shop

Facebook Page

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heart tree edit
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* All images copyright © 2016 Julie Schronk. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


[book review + giveaway] Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta and Alfonso Ru

https://jamarattigan.com/2016/09/23/book-review-giveaway-somos-como-las-nubeswe-are-like-the-clouds-by-jorge-argueta-and-alfonso-ruano/

http://jamarattigan.com/?p=19970

“Like the clouds, like dreams, our children come and go. Nothing and no one can stop them.” ~ Jorge Argueta

Immigration is certainly one of the most contentious issues and complex humanitarian challenges facing our country today.

When you hear the word “immigrant,” what kind of mental image pops into your head? Do you picture a destitute Syrian refugee, an adult male attempting to smuggle drugs across the border, or maybe a stereotypical Spanish speaking person in a service-oriented job?

Often when I drive to the library I see a group of young Hispanic males waiting by the side of the road hoping to be picked up for a day’s labor paid for in cash. I wonder about where they came from, how they’re coping, whether their families are intact.

Though I often hear a lot about “undocumented immigrants,” the plight of “unaccompanied immigrant children” wasn’t something I seriously considered until I read Jorge Argueta’s new bilingual poetry book, Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, 2016).

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vacas, cuches,
flores,
ballenas,
pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

Pupusas,
tamales,
alboroto,
dulce de algodón.

Somos como las nubes.

Milpa en flor,
ayotes y sandías,
loros y piscuchas,
y el gran volcán de San Salvador.

*

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs
flowers,
whales,
parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Pupusas,
tamales,
popcorn balls,
cotton candy.

We are like the clouds.

Cornfields in bloom,
pumpkins and watermelons,
parrots and kites,
and the huge San Salvador volcano.

I knew that migrant families are often separated, but in my ignorance I kind of assumed that the children always traveled with at least one adult family member. I didn’t realize there are thousands of Central American children who leave their countries to walk hundreds of miles on their own hoping to find a safe haven in the United States.

These young people abandon everything and endure untold hardships to escape extreme poverty and the constant threat of violence. Through Jorge’s heart-wrenching poems, we hear them describe the fear of being recruited by gangs or falling into the hands of traffickers, the sorrow of leaving loved ones and familiar neighborhoods behind, the torturous uncertainty of whether to go or to stay.

But we also learn about their extraordinary resilience and dreams for the future, and we hear poignant echos of the childhood innocence that was stripped away far too soon.

Cantamos

Desde que salimos de casa
no dejamos de cantar.
Dice mi papi
que si cantamos,
espantamos el cansancio
y el miedo
y nos volvemos canción.

*

We Sing

Since we left home
we haven’t stopped singing.
My father says
if we keep singing,
we’ll scare away all the tiredness
and the fear
and become a song.

Jorge himself fled his home country of El Salvador during the 80’s war, and has worked with some of these young refugees in both the U.S. and El Salvador. It is easy to understand why as a Salvadoran man he felt compelled to give these children a voice:

In 2014, when thousands of children began to arrive from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, I visited a shelter in San Diego, California, where young refugees were anxiously awaiting their fate. Some had the hope that a family member would take charge of them so they could remain in the United States. Others wanted to go back home. Others wanted to do both. Sad choices for such young hearts.

Paired with Alfonso Ruano’s beautiful acrylic paintings, these 20 powerful free verse poems give young readers who might take their personal safety for granted a chance to consider what it’s like to be displaced — to set out into the unknown all the while fearing apprehension or other physical calamity, not knowing whether you’ll reach your destination, and if so, who will determine your fate. All you take with you on this journey is hope and faith.

El Santo Toribio

Santo Toribio,
santo de los immigrantes,
muéstranos el camino.
No nos dejes caer en manos de la migra,
ni de los traficantes,
y mucho menos de los “minutemen”.
Tú que eres el buen coyote,
protégenos, llévanos,
y líbranos de todo mal. Amen.

*

Santo Toribio

Santo Toribio,
saint of the immigrants,
show us the way.
Don’t let us fall
into the hands of the migra,*
and never in the hands of the traffickers,
or worse, the minutemen.**
You who are the good coyote,
protect us, lead us.
Deliver us from all evil. Amen.

*short for Immigration Services
**armed patrols of civilians

There’s a moving picture of a boy waving goodbye to his friend “iPod,” who sold his iPod for a bus ticket, a startling picture of tattooed gang members (surreally depicted as having one menacing eye in the middle of their faces), pictures of refugees with backpacks and water jugs trekking alongside a river bank, piling onto a migrant train, crossing the desert, meeting young people from other countries.

But there’s also a picture of a child peacefully sleeping, dreaming of being safe in his mother’s arms, an echo of Argueta’s extended cloud metaphor, which appears in several poems like a lyrical chorus drifting in and out of our consciousness.

The final poem, about buying paletas from a Señor Celsio in Los Angeles, circles back to the second poem in the book, where a child describes a rooster in his old neighborhood who eats coconut popsicles sold by a Mr. Silverio. This sense of continuity, a flash of the familiar, offers a ray of hope for a new beginning in a strange land. When “we are like the clouds” becomes “we are the clouds” near the end of the book, Argueta offers a strong affirmation for these brave nomads: “You are a champion.”

Hopefully, the child immigrant’s point of view will speak to our common humanity and promote a little more understanding and empathy for those we sometimes too hastily disdain or mistrust.

Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds has been receiving very positive reviews, including two well deserved *starred reviews* from Kirkus  and Booklist. 

Don’t miss this important, timely collection. These poems are great for facilitating meaningful discussion about an issue that affects us all.

First, touch the heart with a poem, then spark the mind with awareness and knowledge.

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SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS
written by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
published by Groundwood Books, October 2016
Bilingual Poetry Picture Book in Spanish and English for ages 7-12, 36 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note
**Starred Reviews from Kirkus and Booklist
***On shelves October 1, 2016

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 ⛅SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! ☁

The publisher has generously donated a copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, September 28, 2016. You may also enter by sending an email with “CLOUDS” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!

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Check out this NY Times Documentary for more info and insight. It primarily focuses on three Honduran teens hoping to make it to the U.S. Warning to sensitive viewers: the video contains a graphic image of a murdered female + mention of drugs and sex trafficking.

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poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Catherine Flynn is hosting the Roundup at Reading to the Core. Click through to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week.


 

*These excerpts are taken from Somo como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds, text copyright © 2016 by Jorge Argueta, illustrations copyright © 2016 by Alfonso Ruano, English translation copyright © 2016 by Elisa Amado. Reproduced with permission from Groundwood Books, Toronto. www.groundwoodbooks.com

* Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


Celebrating Susan Branch’s Latest Books with Tasty Words, Pics, and Potato Chip Cookies

https://jamarattigan.com/2016/09/20/celebrating-susan-branchs-latest-books-with-tasty-words-pics-and-potato-chip-cookies/

http://jamarattigan.com/?p=19404

“Never let anyone tell you magic doesn’t exist or that fairies aren’t real. It isn’t cynicism that will change the world. Do your best to believe in yourself, and even if you don’t, keep trying to and never give up. If all else fails, use your imagination and pretend.” ~ Susan Branch (Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams)

Though I’ve been a Susan Branch fan for decades, until I read her 3-part illustrated memoir I knew only a little about her personal life or how she started painting, writing, and publishing.

It was love at first sight when I discovered her greeting cards, calendars and illustrated cookbooks back in the late 80’s — I just couldn’t get enough of her beautiful handwritten recipes and inspirational quotes, the cozy, quaint watercolors of old fashioned baskets, bowls, and quilts, those scrumptious fruits, veggies, cakes and pies. Oh, the checkered floors! The Laura Ashley hats and exquisite floral borders! That iconic vintage stove! I wanted to inhabit the world of her homemade books; they were charming, unique, and most important, personal.

You may remember how much I adored A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (review here). It convinced me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Susan was even more of a kindred spirit with her love of Beatrix Potter, the Yorkshire Dales, afternoon tea, the Cotswolds, Emma Bridgewater, and the Queen!

But it wasn’t until I read the prequels to A Fine RomanceThe Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams  (both based on her diaries) — that I gained a true appreciation for how this self-taught artist built her career from scratch, how the first seeds were actually planted in childhood, and how she’s been able to effectively elevate the various facets of homemaking (cooking, sewing, gardening, interior decorating) to a fine art.

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THE FAIRY TALE GIRL

In The Fairy Tale Girl, Susan turns the clock back to her 50’s California childhood, 60’s coming of age, and 70’s marriage to prominent entrepreneur Cliff Branch.

As the eldest of eight children, she learned the domestic arts early on and naturally bought into the traditional ideals of womanhood set by her mother’s example as devoted wife, parent, and homemaker.

Susan met Cliff in her early 20’s while working at his record and stereo equipment store in San Luis Obispo. It’s easy to see why she fell for him — he was three years younger, whip smart, enterprising, successful, good looking and rich, and he loved prime real estate and building beautiful homes. Here was her chance to “play house” for real with the fairy tale life and happily ever after she had always dreamed about.

Susan with Cliff (Jeff Bridges look-alike)

But alas, Cliff had a wandering eye, which made for a tumultuous courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce. It was also a time of great social change in our country. With the women’s movement gathering steam, prescribed roles and values were rapidly being redefined.

Still, Susan was blissfully happy most of the time. She was able to hone her cooking skills and indulge her natural flair for entertaining. There was nothing she loved more than cooking for the people she loved and making them happy. She busied herself doing everything she could think of to make a good home, a welcoming and nurturing place that Cliff often called “paradise.”

She also discovered she had a natural talent for art. A gift certificate to an arts supply store sparked an interest in watercolors, and with Cliff’s encouragement and the offer of her own studio adjoining the kitchen, Susan was able to practice her painting and refine her style.

But after 10 years of marriage, everything unraveled with another of Cliff’s infidelities. Devastated, angry and heartbroken, Susan berated herself for not having a contingency plan.

My entire identity was built on the foundation of my husband . . . He was still the be-all and end-all of my life, the embodiment of my childhood dreams, the fairy-tale Prince Charming. They said, ‘Hitch your wagon to a star,’ and I’d certainly gotten that part right. It’s just that real life was a bit more complicated than a child’s dream.

In 1982, she decided to “run away from home” — escape to Martha’s Vineyard for a three month respite. But a few days after she arrived, she “accidentally” bought a tiny one bedroom cottage in the woods.

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MARTHA’S VINEYARD: ISLE OF DREAMS

In Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams, we see how Susan left  her loved ones in California behind, built a new life on the opposite end of the country, and came into her own as an artist and writer.

Though there were many lonely days and nights with only her diary and cats for company and lots of growing pains on her path to self discovery, Susan slowly adapted to her new surroundings, refurbished her cottage (Holly Oak), made new friends, painted, planted a garden, and learned to live in concert with the changing seasons.

Her California friend Jane had long ago suggested that Susan write a cookbook, with recipes illustrated just like the recipe cards Susan had given Jane for a wedding gift. For many years, self doubt overruled action, but with daily meditation, lots of reading and intense introspection, Susan was finally able to forgive herself and articulate her dreams, realizing she had the power to choose what she wanted out of life, and that she was the only one who could make it happen.

And then I learned something else about meditation. The quiet was fertile ground for creative thoughts to grow, and came with the gifts of acceptance, bravery (to a certain extent, everything had its limits), and gratitude (which had no limit) . . .

Trapped indoors without power during a raging winter storm, Susan thought again about the cookbook and took a leap of faith. She sat at her dining room table and by candlelight, created a page of handwritten text and watercolor pictures celebrating Fall apples, and then another page featuring an illustrated recipe for Apple Crisp.

And so it began, one small step at a time, as she began amassing pages until she had 50 — enough of a sample to show a real publisher. Little, Brown in Boston, only the second publisher to see her project, loved it — handwritten text and all. They published Heart of the Home: Notes from a Vineyard Kitchen in October 1986, selling out its first printing of 20,000 copies before Christmas.

A new 30th Anniversary Edition on shelves September 1, 2016 (signed copies available via Susan’s website).

Susan went on to publish twelve more lifestyle books with Little, Brown ( millions sold). For her recent three-part memoir, she decided to self publish, using a hybrid publisher (Vineyard Stories) for A Fine Romance, and then establishing Spring Street Publishing for The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams (a New York Times bestseller).

Today Susan is still living her fairy tale life on Martha’s Vineyard with Joe Hall, the man of her dreams (a 6’2″ doll who can cook!). Having just completed a cross-country book tour, Susan and Joe will once again visit England in September for an entirely new adventure. You can bet she’ll be keeping a diary, blogging about meeting her British girlfriends/fans, and drinking copious amounts of tea.

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MAGIC, MIRACLES, AND SERENDIPITY

I read both The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams on several leisurely summer afternoons, purposely taking my time to savor each and every page. Like A Fine Romance, both books are hand-lettered gems, chock full of old photos, delicious recipes, adorable spot illos, amusing little asides, and great quotes and song lyrics (Susan always finds the best ones to amplify her narratives!). Her intimate, conversational writing style is positively addictive, and her emotional candor, humor, and attention to detail make the books a sheer pleasure, a sweet indulgence that begs repeated readings.

Her story will inspire readers to pursue their passions, believe in themselves, and when in doubt, look within for the answers. The entire memoir trilogy is not only a touching journey of self discovery, but a paean to women’s friendships and an interesting take on feminism (the liberated female’s choice of domestic life and motherhood should never be perceived as a lesser one).

I love how Susan’s ability to create her own distinctly “homemade” life organically evolved into her life’s work. Even when she was at her lowest, she was able to appreciate the beauty in the world and somehow infuse bits of its magic into the practical tasks of domesticity. Celebrate the small pleasures, take the time to observe, internalize it all, then share with a generous heart.

I also appreciated the life lessons on coping with the isolation most creatives experience. It was inspiring to read about how she overcame personal loss and sustained her emotional stamina through years of soul searching before finally achieving a hard-won sense of self identity and purpose.

Over and over again, I was struck by a feeling of familiarity and deja-vu. I nodded knowingly when this fellow baby boomer described her love of handwriting and encounter with the Beatles, quoted from Bob Dylan and Elton John, discovered Julia Child, baked a banana cream pie, curled up with the latest issue of Country Living Magazine.

I had the same hunter green and red color scheme in my first house, the same affinity for red hearts and New England (with a special fascination for Martha’s Vineyard), knew precisely how she felt when experiencing her first autumn and snowfall as an adult, always wanting to experience the four seasons. I love her vivid and lyrical seasonal descriptions of the island:

Because Martha’s Vineyard is an island, no matter which direction the wind comes from, and no matter what season, it has to blow across the ocean before it gets to us.

It filters through the many woods and meadows, not only carrying the fragrance of the sea but gathering perfume from everything that grows wild: goldenrod, clematis, wild apples and pine, blueberries, beach plums, asters and bayberry. It slips in and out of seashells, climbs tree trunks, dives into squirrel holes, slides along old porch rails, stumbles through the bittersweet, skips along picket fences, scoots beneath falling leaves, whistles past ancient graveyards, flits over and under dragonfly wings, and steals all the wishes off the dandelion puffs, flinging them in every direction, wishes for all.

I too, had a basket of red apples and a brownie beanie, and my first book contract with Little, Brown. I also count Anne of Green Gables, Louisa May Alcott, and Anne Frank among my heroes. And yes, I also once roasted a Thanksgiving turkey with the packet of giblets still inside the cavity.🙂

There’s one photo of Susan that actually made me gasp (Fairy Tale Girl, p. 99), where she’s sitting crossed legged on the grass wearing jeans and a capped sleeve shirt. I had the exact same hair style, sandals and top!

But even more Twilight Zone-ish, was the diary excerpt she shared on page 246 (MVIOD). Gasp again. The handwriting looks exactly like mine: “9:22 am, jan. 17, 1978.” Truly, I thought it was my writing, from the days I scribbled in my journal with a fountain pen.

Happy coincidences all, but a bit of magic and mystery too — status quo for those of us who believe in fairy tales. Susan was able to effectively convey that in this life, no matter the ups and downs, enchantment is ever present, serendipity right around the corner. There is magic, too, in books that resonate with readers in uncanny ways — giving you the feeling that you intimately know someone you’ve never actually met.

Most will agree that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and at the heart of Susan’s work has always been a sincere desire to spread joy by creating books that are both beautiful and practical.

Susan never had a formal art lesson, is self-effacing and modest about her many talents, and initially didn’t think of herself as a “writer.” Yet here she is, entertaining, nurturing, and inspiring so many with her words, pictures and gentle wisdom. There is much to be said for honoring God-given gifts using heart and passion as your compass, hard work, resourcefulness, and tenacity as daily fare. Reading her books, I think the world is not as big and scary as it sometimes seems. We are all not that much different from one another when we gather around a common table.

Susan and Joe

Aren’t you glad a brownie beanie grew up and fell in love with a black beret?🙂 Here’s to happily ever after!

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NOM, NOM POTATO CHIP COOKIES

Susan calls her mother the original fairy tale girl, and it does sound like a fairy tale growing up with such an upbeat, energetic, endlessly resourceful, constantly singing beautiful soul who loved old movies, old music, and good books.

Good advice from Susan’s mom, Patricia Stewart.

Having to cook 3 meals a day for 10 people meant that there was always something in the oven and the house always “smelled wonderful.”

My mother had an interesting relationship to food: she didn’t refer to it by its actual name, such as potatoes, chicken, and lettuce. She looked at food scientifically, as fuel to build strong bones and teeth; she called it ‘starch, protein & roughage.’ Ice cream was ‘calcium.’

Susan grew up with her mom’s “bowl-licking” potato salad, “fall-off-the-bone” spareribs, ambrosial grilled cheese sandwiches and yummy birthday cakes.

Because of us, she would make any recipe that featured miniature marshmallows, chocolate chips, or Jell-O — or potato chips: — which were mashed into our bologna sandwiches and crushed on top of our tuna casseroles. She even made cookies with potato chips.

Susan included her mom’s recipe for potato chip cookies in The Fairy Tale Girl. Since they kept calling to us, we simply had to make a batch.🙂

Mr Cornelius was excited at the prospect of a little salty with the sweet and enjoyed crushing the potato chips with the rolling pin. He also wanted to share the cookies with Raggedy Ann, our Beatrix Potter friends, and none other than HRH the Queen (who enjoyed her “biscuits” with a cup of Earl Grey).

We had fun with this easy recipe and enjoyed imagining Susan with her brothers and sisters scarfing them down with tall glasses of grape Kool-Aid.🙂

 

MOM'S POTATO CHIP COOKIES

  • Servings: makes 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
</p>

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1-1/2 cups crushed potato chips (with rolling pin)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter and sugar until lemon-colored.

Stir in all other ingredients and combine well.

Roll into small balls and place on lightly buttered cookie sheet.

Flatten balls with bottom of glass (dip in powdered sugar to prevent sticking).

Bake 15 minutes until light brown.

Put in tupperware; take camping. Delicious with grape Kool-Aid.

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Do try these yummy cookies (if they’re good enough for the Queen, they’re good enough for us). Just don’t be surprised if after eating them, you start speaking Arf and Arfy (and if you don’t know what that is, you’d better read the entire memoir trilogy immediately!).🙂🙂🙂

♥ More at Susan Branch’s Website/Blog, Facebook Page and Twitter.

Sing us out, Frankie! *swoons*

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Alphabet Soup Beatrix Potter people say hello to Susan’s Beatrix Potter people.

“Everyone’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen


Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


friday feast: “The Self-Playing Instrument of Water” by Alice Oswald (+ giveaway winner)

https://jamarattigan.com/2016/09/16/friday-feast-the-self-playing-instrument-of-water-by-alice-oswald-giveaway-winner/

http://jamarattigan.com/?p=19674

“If I break my leg I’ll go to a doctor, if I break my heart, or if the world breaks my spirit, I will go to a poet.” (Jeanette Winterson, 2007)

Life-giving, purifying, restorative. Here’s a moment of lyrical beauty to savor, note by note.

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THE SELF-PLAYING INSTRUMENT OF WATER
by Alice Oswald

It is the story of the falling rain
To turn into a leaf and fall again

It is the secret of a summer shower
To steal the light and hide it in a flower

And every flower a tiny tributary
That from the ground flows green and momentary

Is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail

If only I a passerby could pass
As clear as water through a plume of grass

To find the sunlight hidden at the tip
Turning to seed a kind of lifting raindrip

Then I might know like water how to balance
The weight of hope against the light of patience

Water which is so raw so earthy-strong
And lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along

Drawn under gravity towards my tongue
To cool and fill the pipe-work of this song

Which is the story of the falling rain
That rises to the light and falls again

~ Copyright © 2013 Alice Oswald.

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I only just discovered Alice Oswald’s poetry a few months ago. I loved this poem from the opening lines — an astute observation expressed in deceptively simple terms.

In a reading she gave at Boston University two years ago, Oswald likened the water cycle — how water returns and returns — to the roll of a pianola, an instrument she loved as a child.

As water takes the path of least resistance, so her stanzas, with their absence of punctuation, naturally flow one into another, without the impediment of cliché or predictability. Upon first reading, I was so taken with her pristine diction and following her train of thought that I wasn’t aware of the rhyming couplets! I love her skillful use of slant rhyme, too.

A former gardener who read Classics at New College, Oxford, Alice now lives on the Dartington Estate in Devon with her husband and three children. She is the recipient of the TS Eliot Prize, the Ted Hughes Award, and the Foreword Prize.

In an interview with Susannah Herbert at The Guardian, she said:

To be a poet is as serious, long-term and natural as the effort to be the best human you can be. To express something well is not a question of having a top-class education and understanding poetic forms: rather, it’s a question of paying attention.

Today’s poem, retitled “A Short Story of Falling,” appears in Oswald’s 7th poetry collection, Falling Awake (W.W. Norton, 2016).

At a time when the world feels toxic and unbearable, I was grateful for this poetic cleansing.

Here’s Alice reading her poem at BU:

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 🍭HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY GIVEAWAY WINNER! 📘

You’ll forgive me if I’m a little out of breath. Been chasing that rascally Gingerbread Boy all week. Wanted him to pick our giveaway winner. It wasn’t easy catching up with him, let me tell you. I sprinted all over San Francisco (thankfully I was able to have lunch in Chinatown to fortify myself in the process). Though the city was beautiful and I enjoyed seeing all the wonderful landmarks mentioned in the story, to my dismay the Gingerbread Boy was nowhere to be found. Sigh.

Wise Mr Cornelius suggested I contact our dear friend M. Random Integer Generator directly. He is, after all, a robust gastronome who can sniff out gingerbread an ocean away. Some of you may remember that tracking down M. Generator can sometimes be tricky in itself. Double sigh. Thankfully M. Generator answered my telegram right away. Seems the Gingerbread Boy had already devoured the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and half the Arc de Triomphe. Mon Dieu! Quelle Catastrophe!

Mais, as soon as M. Generator told the GBB we needed him to pick a winner, he flew to the Alphabet Soup kitchen in a wink. After a little snack (34 apple pies, 54 Twix bars, 4 gallons of lemonade), our favorite Gingerbread Boy reached into the cookie jar and picked a name.

The winner of a brand new copy of THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY is —

*drum roll, please*

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*trumpet fanfare*

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uh-huh

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katmaz2012!

🎈HOORAY! CONGRATULATIONS!! 🎉

Thanks to everyone for entering the giveaway!

(Best to back away before the Gingerbread Boy eats you.)

Just kidding.

Hey, one of my ears is missing.

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poetry fridayThe clever and talented witty ditty darling Michelle Barnes is hosting the Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty. Be sure to sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week!

 


Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.