Virginia Johnson

Columbus Day: A Day of Discovery

Columbus Day is sometimes called Discoverers' Day. In the spirit of discovery, take some time to learn about the world as it was in the days of the European explorers. You can make a compass, learn about the stars, read about other explorers and discoverers, and find how even our way of eating has changed since the Europeans came to the Americas looking for gold, glory, and, yes, tasty cooking spices.

Pizza Without Tomato Sauce?

The explorers who came to the Americas found the food enjoyed by the native people to be very different from what they knew at home. They had never seen tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), pineapples, chili peppers, or even cocoa. The vegetable dishes from the Europe they knew relied on parsnips, cabbages, peas, carrots, turnips, and onions. After being at sea and living off of a diet of lentil soup, salt beef from a barrel, salted sardines, hardtack, and other delights, the fresh, new foods of the islands would have been an astonishing change.

The Succession: A Novel of Elizabeth and James

She killed his mother and kept him on a cheap allowance for decades, but James VI of Scotland learned to play the political game successfully and survived the Virgin Queen to become the supreme ruler of Britain and her fledgling colonies. Just the years-long strain of their relations would be enough in itself to create a satisfying novel for history fans. But George Garrett took it further in The Succession. He gives us the rulers’ views and often their exact correspondence, but he goes far deeper than most historical novelists in recreating the personalities of the age.

The Queen’s spying messenger riding hell-bent for leather; drunken and fearless border reivers; a condemned noble priest hiding in plain sight; an actor full of bluff and bravado; Elizabeth’s too-young, too-ambitious lover; and her brilliant, crookbacked secretary are all players on this stage of statecraft. This is no romance but rather a swirling journey back to a time when it meant something to be ruler of the realm. What’s at stake for these bit characters? Power, riches, adventure, sometimes freedom as well as their very lives. Some will perish by the Queen’s command on the rack or by the blade. The Succession is too intellectually and emotionally honest to pretend there are no losers when a crown’s at stake.

R.L. Stine: He'll Give You Goosebumps

Get the creepy crawlies with R. L. Stine. He's a master of conjuring things that go bump in the dark. Imagine you've just moved to the town of Dark Falls where you don't know anybody.

It's easy to make friends here-- but they're the wrong kind of friends, in Welcome to Dead House. The campers at Camp Nightmoon are disappearing one by one. Do you dare go on a special hike with strange Uncle Al in Welcome to Camp Nightmare?

Running!

Running is one of the easiest ways for you to stay fit and have fun this summer. If you practice running, you can keep up better in all kinds of sports. You can also run in local races sponsored by the Fredericksburg Area Runners Club.

The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer hailing from Mississippi’s Delta region, authored The Robber Bridegroom, a steamy and chaotic story set during her home state’s antebellum years. Although loosely based on a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, this Robber Bridegroom is no murderous Bluebeard. Jamie Lockhart is, however, a handsome scoundrel with no more compunction against relieving pretty ladies of their virtue than their jewels. He meets his match in beautiful Rosamond Musgrove, who goes on everyday errands wearing her one silk gown while singing love ballads.

The Robber Bridegroom is the kind of yarn that gifted story-spinners can make out of loose threads of myth and folk tale wound together with a peculiar variety of language-rich Southern humor. She somehow binds together a jealous and mildly-murderous stepmother, a band of untrustworthy robbers (imagine that!), true love—with flaws, and raucous Mike Fink, legendary bully and “King of the Keel-boaters.”  The story is larger than life—a fantasy, really—and made it onto the Broadway stage as a musical in the 1970s. It’s still showing on the playbills of colleges and dinner theaters around the country.

Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

My paperback copies of Ray Bradbury's wonderful fantasy collections--The Illustrated Man, October Country, Dandelion Wine, The Machineries of Joy, and The Martian Chronicles--are in sad shape. The pages are brittle, yellowed, and, yes, a bit musty. But I keep them because his lyrical words matchlessly probe humanity at its worst and best. When friends of mine gifted us with 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales one Christmas, I was happy to have many of those beautiful stories collected together in a hardback edition to last for years--and so was the local library for we own several copies of it.

I certainly won't go through every one of the one hundred, but I'll mention several pieces that stuck with me time and again. One of the first stories in the collection is "The Rocket," in which a poor junk man gets hold of a prototype rocketship and dreams of somehow going into space with his family. "The Sailor Home from the Sea" is a tale of loss and love and the imagination to reconcile them. "The Sound of Summer Running" is the opening piece for Dandelion Wine, and it brings back the time of year and the time of life for one young man who feels as if his whole town might capsize, go under, leaving not a trace in the clover and weeds of burgeoning summer.

The Ultimate Slow Cooker Book

Slow cookers make everyday and special event cooking so much easier that they justify their place among your kitchen gadgets.  Plus, slow cookers come in a variety of sizes, from one quart to six quarts. Get the size that suits most of your needs or go ahead and get both.  Two slow cookers can produce a memorable meal for a party. For example, a smaller one is perfect for seafood dip or fondue while a larger one supplies barbeque beef for sandwiches or coq au vin.  Whichever model(s) you choose, it’s good to have the slow-cooker option for less stress and more flavorful food.

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar

“…I know what happened that horrible night the Romanovs were murdered.”

Robert Alexander’s The Kitchen Boy begins in sorrowful searching as young Kate tries to unravel the mysteries lying in her grandparents’ past. Before taking his own life, wealthy Grandfather Misha made a tape recording revealing some of what happened during the Tsar’s last days at The House of Special Purpose. Misha explains that he was the kitchen boy--a lowly yet trusted servant--who experienced the royal family’s many kindnesses during their final time of terror and imprisonment. And, he confesses, he had a part in their downfall.

Puppy Love!

Is there a puppy in your future? A puppy is a cuddly ball of warmth, a flurry of fun with a bounce and a spring when you come through the door after school, and a pal for when you're feeling down. It's true that a dog doesn't care if you're wearing mismatched socks or forgot your homework. In fact, he can give you the classic excuse for not having it. While we can't guarantee that the teacher will believe your story, it's a good bet that you and your new canine friend will have some great times together.

Make Way for Robert McCloskey

If you take a walk in Boston’s Public Garden, you may be greeted by a larger-than-life duck family out for a stroll: Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. These bronze sculptures capture the frolicking illustrations of one of America’s most-beloved children’s books—Make Way for Ducklings.

Prize-winning author/illustrator Robert McCloskey grew up before there were such things as television, computers, and the Internet, but he packed a lot of fun and creativity into those years. He tried to invent all sorts of helpful things, sometimes with disastrous results such as when he worked up a cotton candy machine using molasses and a vacuum cleaner. He was also musical, but it was his artistic talent that landed him a scholarship at Vesper George Art School in Boston. If it weren’t for that scholarship, he said, he probably would never have moved away from his small town.