Fir Real

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Coffee, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Spirits, Sweets, Tea

Loyal Swooners know that Kirsti and I are Fleur Crazy, but they might not be aware that I am also fir-crazy. Scent is the sense most closely connected to memory, and the smell of evergreen instantly conjures up happy childhood memories of decorating the Christmas tree and sitting beneath its boughs while tearing into presents with unbridled avarice. The scent always became sweeter as the tree dried out, and I used to gather the fallen needles into a muslin sachet, wanting to hold on to that adored aroma even after the last holiday decoration had been wrapped in tissue paper and put away.

When Starbucks introduced its erstwhile Juniper Latte a few years ago, it was a revelation to realize I could actually taste, as well as smell, this sylvan scent. Ever since, I’ve been searching for new ways to enjoy the flavors of the forest. I began this “noble” pursuit at Aftelier, the aromatic atelier of perfumer Mandy Aftel, which offers a range of Chef’s Essence® Flavor Drops for use in cooking and cocktails. Among them are Fir Needle, Juniper Berry, and Pine Needle. I was torn about which to try first when Kirsti went ahead and bought all three for me as a gift (BFF!*).

Fir Needle and Juniper Berry are both essential oils with strong scents in the bottle, but surprisingly smooth flavors when added to foods and beverages. I’ve used them to “spruce” up my morning coffee and to bring the bright, fresh essence of evergreen to snowy scoops of vanilla ice cream and seasonal sips of Christmas-y cocktails. An unexpected delight is the deep forest green of the thick Pine Needle Absolute, which has a wonderfully woodsy aroma and a sweet, smoky flavor that transports me to a mountaintop timberland every time I taste it. (For links to recipes, click on individual Chef’s Essence®s in Aftelier’s online shop).

If Christmas is your cup of tea, you’ll love the Douglas Fir Spring Tips Botanical Tea from Juniper Ridge. A recent fortuitous find, this company makes sustainably harvested and wildcrafted products using organic ingredients sourced from the slopes of Northern California. Their caffeine-free Douglas Fir tea allows you to literally drink in the quintessential scent of the season with its fresh, light flavor, while the authentic aroma of their Christmas Fir Room Spray will instantly relocate you to the redolent rows of a tree lot. In combination with their full line of bath, body, and home fragrance offerings, it’s like dropping a Tannen-bomb.

Finally, I don’t know if the Balsam & Cedar fragrance from Brayer Ridge Soap in Maine is “fir real” or not, but the company deserves honorable mention, because their Handcrafted Goat Milk Lotion is the most swoon-worthy moisturizing cream I’ve ever used. Last fall, on a visit to Eagle Island, I stumbled upon a tube of this luscious lotion with the sweet scent of my beloved balsam and cedar. As a natural product without artificial preservatives, it had an expiration date less than six months away, but I kept it in the fridge and managed to ration it all the way through summer. Lisa at Brayer Ridge only makes this lotion during the colder months of the year and, unfortunately, she’s already out for the season(!), but I’m consoling myself with her equally swoon-worthy Balsam & Cedar Whipped Body Butter and Goat Milk Soap, which bathe my bathroom in an alpine aroma.

If you’re looking for last-minute holiday gifts and know someone with a firry fetish, there’s still time to stockpile these fragrant and flavorful finds—or to branch out and try them for yourself. You might discover, as I have, that seasons change, but tree love lasts firever.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Aftelier Fir Needle, Juniper Berry, and Pine Needle Chef’s Essence® Flavor Drops
Juniper Ridge Douglas Fir Tea and Christmas Fir Room Spray
Brayer Ridge Soap Balsam & Cedar Bath and Body Products

 

*Best Firry Friend!

 

Phantom Thread

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Entertainment, History, Literature, Nostalgia, Theatre

On this day in 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London’s West End, beginning its theatrical journey around the world and into the record books as the longest running show in Broadway history,* but it wasn’t until years later that I first fell under the Phantom’s spell. I heard The Music of the Night while watching Brian Boitano skate his signature routine on a frozen pond in some long-forgotten television special, but I could not forget the song.

From that moment, The Phantom of the Opera began to weave a ghostly thread through my life. I promptly purchased the Original London Cast Recording of the musical and—as Kirsti can attest—learned every word and every note. That year, I dressed as the Phantom for Halloween (when I couldn’t find his trademark half-mask, I made my own) and held out the vain hope of traveling to New York City to see the show on Broadway, but when the touring production finally came to Los Angeles, tickets were so in-demand and expensive that I couldn’t afford one!

I was in school at the time and supplemented my meager income by babysitting. When I was asked to watch the children of a couple who were going to the theater, I was both excited and envious to discover that they were seeing The Phantom of the Opera. I was also secretly resentful: as season ticket holders, they were merely going to see the latest show, whereas I—a TRUE “phan”—was stuck watching the kids. But they brought me back one of the free programs, which I read cover-to-cover and still have to this day.

I eventually saw the show for the first time with my family, and it was both phantastic and anti-climactic, as such long-awaited moments tend to be, but it rekindled my childhood love of musicals and gave me a new appreciation for live theater—another thread that continues to twine its way through my life.

During The Phantom of the Opera’s historic 4½-year run in Los Angeles, the theater began to offer upper balcony (aka “nosebleed”) seats to students for just $15, so I went there every few months to see the show, taking a different friend or co-worker with me each time and delighting in their reactions to the phanfare. Serendipitously, I happened to be there on the night of Davis Gaines’s 100th performance as the Phantom, as well as the time he surpassed Michael Crawford as the longest-running Phantom. In addition to various touring productions and Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular, I’ve seen the show almost 20 times, which is a modest number, considering the 100+ times that some phanatics have seen it.

As most people are aware, the stage production is based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, but it was largely the musical that inspired a wave of phanfic in the ensuing years, the first—and, arguably, the best—of which is Phantom by Susan Kay. This year marks both the 110th anniversary of the publication of Leroux’s classic novel and the 30th anniversary of  the release of Susan Kay’s reimagining of the tale, which follows the disfigured genius Erik from his birth all the way through the dramatic events at the Paris Opera.

There are other threads in my life that have spun off from the original—books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, music I’ve played, friends I’ve made, and places I’ve traveled as a result of my introduction to the Phantom. When I started piano lessons as an adult, the first song I learned to play was The Music of the Night. I’ve studied both voice and French, the latter culminating in a trip to Paris, where I visited the Palais Garnier and stood outside Box 5, a favorite haunt of the O.G.

The Phantom of the Opera unspooled more of its own thread to produce both a film version and a sequel to the original stage production called Love Never Dies, which—despite its lush sets and some truly beautiful music—was not well received by either critics or audiences (much the way an unseen monster is more frightening when conjured in the mind’s eye, an unfulfilled love story is more intriguing when left to the imagination).

Some threads become worn with time and need to be stored away to protect them, but every once in a while I like to pull gently at the Phantom thread, revisiting the musical and hearing those haunting melodies again, allowing them to weave their spectral spell once more.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Phantom of the Opera

 

*The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show in Broadway history to date, but another blockbuster may come along someday to push the Phantom off its pedestal.

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux was serialized in the French newspaper Le Gaulois beginning in 1909, but was officially published in volume form in March of 1910.

The Phantom signs his letters O.G. for “Opera Ghost.”

 

Committed to Memory

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Holidays, Literature, Nostalgia

One December afternoon many years ago, my high school English teacher, Miss Weakland, announced that she would be reading a story aloud for the entire class period. Miss Weakland was my favorite teacher, in part because she liked to intersperse drilling grammar and parsing Faulkner with days like these where the class could relax and enjoy some literary entertainment. That same year, she caused a minor stir when she decided to screen Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. There’s some brief nudity in the film, so the administration of our private Catholic school required that students bring a signed permission slip from their parents in order to watch. This created an awkward anticipation during the screening, which grew in intensity until one student let out a loud wolf whistle when Leonard Whiting’s ass-ets finally made an appearance, breaking the tension amid gales of laughter.

But this day’s presentation was free from controversy. Miss Weakland would be reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. I’d heard, of course, about the famous author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but hadn’t read this short story about a memorable holiday from his youth or seen the 1966 film starring Geraldine Page. “Imagine a morning in late November,” it begins. Just two paragraphs later, I was already drawn in by the time the author’s elderly, childlike cousin and best friend exclaimed that “it’s fruitcake weather!”

I was so charmed and deeply moved by this tale of innocent pleasures, selfless giving, true friendship, and pure love that I went on and on about it when I got home from school. That year, my mother gifted me with a special edition of the book for Christmas. I’d also told my own older (though not elderly) cousin and friend—a bibliophile who later became a librarian—about the joy and wonder of first hearing this story read aloud, so she enthusiastically suggested we hold a reading at our family’s Christmas celebration the following year, but it didn’t go over as well as we’d hoped. She’d read the story, but we hadn’t read the room—a captive audience of AP English students it was not.

Since then, I’ve pulled the slim volume from its slipcase each Christmas to reread on my own, marveling that it still has the power to bring tears of joy and sadness to my eyes, even though, after all this time, it is practically committed to memory.

I recently learned that Miss Weakland passed away exactly one month before Christmas…on a late November day that, perhaps, signaled the start of fruitcake weather. She will forever remain a special part of my Christmas memories.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

A Christmas Memory

 

Incredibly, an audio version of A Christmas Memory is not available from Audible, but Barnes & Noble carries an edition of the book that includes a companion CD featuring the story read by Celeste Holm. Or, start a new tradition this year by downloading the ebook and reading it aloud at your own holiday celebration. Just make sure to read the room first.

 

Royal Tea

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Tea

I remember when Princess Diana married Prince Charles. I got up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding on TV. It was the most spectacular wedding I had ever seen. That giant dress, the huge church filled with people, Diana’s perfectly feathered hair…I swooned and wondered what it would be like to be a princess.

Years later, I watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, also so lovely, with William in his red splendor, Kate in her modest, yet elegant, dress, and Pippa minding the train. The wedding was like a tasty British fairytale.

In 2011, master tea blenders Harney & Sons were commissioned to create a bespoke tea for the wedding of William and Kate. Now, with the impending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19th, the tea is back!

Royal Wedding Tea is a white tea blended with pink rosebuds, cornflowers, marigold petals, and coconut and vanilla flavors. It is as beautiful as it is delicious. Flecks of pink rose petals are offset by the blue of the cornflowers and specks of marigold. The mild taste of the white tea is enhanced by the floral notes, and the addition of the vanilla and coconut give it a unique flavor that is fit for a princess, a duchess (Meghan Markle will be given the title Duchess of Sussex after the wedding), or even a girl from the Valley (me!).*

Come May 19th, I look forward to getting up in the middle of the night wearing my most regal pajamas, brewing a pot of Royal Wedding Tea, and shoving my face with scones, jam, and clotted cream. I might never be a princess or a duchess, but now I can drink tea like one, and that’s good enough for me.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Harney & Sons Royal Wedding Tea

 

The tin of sachets featured in this post is currently out of stock on the Harney & Sons website, but the loose tea is still available for purchase, so grab your share and a spare, or you may have to abdicate your chance to try this tea until the next royal wedding.

 

*I just found out that the future Duchess of Sussex is also a Valley girl, having grown up in Kirsten’s and my hometown of Woodland Hills. Like, OMG!

 

Three Is a Magic Number

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti K., Nostalgia, Pop Culture

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♪ ♫ Three is a magic number.
Yes it is, it’s a magic number.
On this day it’s our third anniversary.
We turn three—it’s a magic number.

The posts and the comments and the pictures
That form The Swoon Society,
The art and the puns and the stories
Give you three as a magic number. ♩ ♬


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Happy Swooniversary from

 

 

Three Is a Magic Number from the Schoolhouse Rock! series was written and sung by Bob Dorough.

 

Good Earth Day

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Tea

Recently, I mentioned Good Earth tea to a friend and received a blank stare in response. It suddenly occurred to me that she was born and raised in New York and might not have heard of The Good Earth, a chain of health food restaurants that was locally popular in the 1970s and ’80s. It played an important role in my young life, but it’s funny how we can take for granted that others share many of our formative experiences, only to be brought up short when we’re reminded that the world is vast and varied.

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mother went on a health kick and overhauled our kitchen: white bread was swapped out for whole wheat, butter was replaced with margarine (believed at the time to be a healthy substitute), and sodas, potato chips, candy, cookies, and ice cream were suddenly verboten. The most decadent thing in our pantry was a box of plain graham crackers, so when my mother took me to The Good Earth for the first time and I realized I was permitted to get one of their large chocolate chip cookies (because it was “healthy”), it instantly became my favorite restaurant.

Aside from the tempting baked goods displayed in a glass case by the register, The Good Earth had a full menu of satisfying selections, my favorites being The Earth Burger (a vegetarian patty made from “nuts, grains, adzuki beans, mushrooms, and exotic spices from around the world”), the Garden Patch Vegetable Salad, and Eggs Lorraine with a side of Ten Grain Pancakes and homemade syrup. But whatever I ordered, it was always accompanied by endless cups of their famous Privately Blended Spice Tea.

Naturally sweet and spicy, the restaurant brewed its tea strong and dark. When I had a view of the servers station, I would see coffee pots filled with fresh water and stuffed with seven or more bags of tea, then left to sit until the liquid had turned a deep brown. By the time I left the restaurant, I’d have had at least four cups of it.

Good Earth tea was so delicious that I would often meet friends at the restaurant for nothing more than tea and a chat. On Saturday nights during high school, when other (i.e. “normal”) kids were at a dance, seeing a movie, or trying to sneak into a club, my friends and I would go to The Good Earth to discuss books and philosophy over cups of spiced tea and goblets of soft-serve Tofutti.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult that most Good Earth restaurants were located in California and might be unfamiliar to those from out of state. There were several locations in the San Fernando Valley, where Kirsti and I grew up and currently reside, but they began disappearing one by one in the 1990s, until the last holdout in Studio City finally closed its doors in 2014. (Apparently, there are two restaurants still open in Minnesota, but that’s quite a distance to travel for a taste of nostalgia.)

Fortunately, Good Earth tea lives on! Their online store sells a variety of black, green, white, and herbal teas, but it’s the classic Sweet & Spicy blend that still makes me swoon. I always give it a good, long steep to bring out its natural sweetness.

Today, as we focus on the good of the Earth, I’ll be brewing up this nostalgic blend and having a Good Earth Day.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Good Earth Sweet & Spicy Tea

 

Good Earth tea has gone through a number of different package designs over the years. The latest version features a white background with vibrant splashes of color, but I’m partial to the previous purple packaging that appears in these pictures.

 

Killer Shrimp – A Love Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Recipes, Savories

Original Killer Shrimp menu.

Shrimp and bread, shrimp and rice, shrimp and pasta. Along with sweet potato pecan pie, those were the only items on the menu at Killer Shrimp, a restaurant that opened over 20 years ago in Marina del Rey, CA. The shrimp was thrown, to order, into a spicy sauce that the restaurant says is simmered for 10 hours, and comes with fresh French bread to dip into the magical elixir. To say this dish is thrilling is no exaggeration.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley and would often make the hour-long drive to eat at this punk rock homage to shrimp. The restaurant in the Marina was on the 2nd floor of an ugly 1980’s mini mall, but inside it was dark and cool and they played rad music—the kind you played in your room on vinyl after riffing through the import section at Moby Disc. No one played music like this in restaurants back in those days. Then again, no restaurant had only three things on the menu either. Killer Shrimp was more like a club than a restaurant. We even waited in line to get in. It felt a little dangerous, but exciting. Kind of like the way it felt to go to Melrose Ave. in the early ’80s when it really WAS wild to see someone with pink hair and a nose ring.

The original Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey, CA.

Then, as if my dreams became real, they opened a Killer Shrimp in the Valley. The Valley restaurant was also very dark, but much bigger, and all the servers could have been in fashion spreads for The Face. They all wore black and, according to my friend Christy who worked there, the girls were required to wear Viva Glam red lipstick from MAC (the very first Viva Glam). It was a microcosm of cool in the Valley that hadn’t existed before or since. What all self-consciously cool restaurants these days aspire to be, Killer Shrimp simply was.

Even though there were three items on the menu, the ONLY acceptable order was shrimp and bread. Seeing the oversized bowl before you—hot, scented with rosemary and cayenne, and swimming with colossal-sized shrimp—was, in a word, exquisite. The bread that accompanied the shrimp was fresh and chewy and perfectly soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, but we have to talk about this sauce for a minute.

The flavor was so complex, with layers of richness and spiciness and herbiness…you would have to resist the bowl-licking urge with all of your might. There are many ingredients in the sauce, including butter (a lot of butter—just deal with it), Worcestershire, lemon juice, and beer, but even though the restaurant simmers their sauce for 10 hours, you can whip this recipe up in about 15 minutes with the same glorious results. I truly cannot overstate the majesty of this dish. It makes every annoyance in life tolerable. It makes me believe in a Higher Power. It proves, without a doubt, that food is more than fuel. It is the meaning of life in a bowl.

Killer Shrimp eventually closed all of its restaurants. There was a hole in my heart the size of a giant crustacean. I searched many times online for the recipe to no avail. Several years ago, they opened a new Killer Shrimp back in Marina Del Rey, but it is not the same. It’s more of a sports bar with a huge menu and no MAC red lipstick in sight. I can’t go there. Then, one day, my sister-in-law Stacey invited my husband and me over for dinner. She had found a recipe online claiming to be as good as Killer Shrimp and was going to make it for us. I was excited, but I didn’t have much hope that it would come close to the singular deliciousness of the original. Luckily, I was wrong. It tasted, well, KILLER.

And now, for those of you that have missed Killer Shrimp for all of these years, the recipe is now yours. And for those who have never tried it, I wish I could be with each and every one of you as you taste your first bite. Maybe when your mouth explodes with fireworks of pure umami and your brain recognizes the profoundness of the moment, you will think of me.

I may just have a tube of the original Viva Glam lipstick still in my makeup bag. I’m going to turn off all the lights, blast The Clash (on import vinyl) and and serve my husband some shrimp—dressed all in black, of course—and pretend that all is right with the world.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

KILLER SHRIMP

Adapted from a recipe found on the Internet many years ago
Serves 2 (can be doubled)

¼ lb. plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (can be doubled if you like it really spicy)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 lb. colossal shrimp in the shell (known as Original), or peeled and deveined
½ cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable stock
¼ cup beer at room temperature
French baguette

Combine ¼ lb. butter, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and dried herbs in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes to soften garlic, but be very careful not to brown or burn garlic and butter. Add shrimp and cook about two minutes (it is important not to overcook the shrimp in this dish). Add the last 2 Tbsp. butter and stock. Shake pan back and forth for two minutes. DO NOT STIR, only shake skillet, which breaks down the butter and liquid and emulsifies the sauce. Add beer and cook for one minute more, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Pour into two large bowls and serve sliced baguette on the side.

Cue The Clash and shove your face in that bowl.

You’re welcome.

 

Pétillant Child

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Spirits, Wine

kirsten-in-3rd-gradekirsti-in-3rd-gradeToday is a special day at The Swoon Society, because it marks the anniversary of the day Kirsti and I first met. I won’t say how many years ago that was…but it’s a lot! Although it took us four years from that first meeting to become close friends, this is a milestone anniversary, so we wanted to toast it properly. We got together this past weekend and decided to celebrate early by popping open the bottle of pétillant naturel that I gave Kirsti for her birthday.

A French classification meaning “naturally sparkling,” pétillant naturel wines (pét-nats, for short) originated in the Loire Valley from a fermentation technique that pre-dates the méthode champenoise. The process involves bottling and capping unfinished wine so that it can complete fermentation in the bottle and develop a mild effervescence. It is actually illegal to add sugar or yeast during production of a pétillant naturel, resulting in a wine that is completely natural, unrefined, and occasionally cloudy. For this reason, pét-nats have become trendy in recent years among hipsters and those seeking a more handcrafted, authentic wine.

les-pions-petillant-naturel-1Kirsti and I read about pét-nat wine for the first time last year, but didn’t take the plunge until I decided to purchase a bottle for her as a gift. Her house is built into the side of a hill and has a secret storage area that looks like a wine cave, both because you can see the exposed hillside and because it’s filled with bottles of wine. But despite having an enviable collection, she did not have a bottle of pétillant naturel, so it was “naturel” that I should remedy the situation. There was only one selection at our local wine shop, so the choice was easy: Ludovic Chanson Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant Naturel Les Pions 2011. (Let’s just call it Les Pions, shall we?)

The tasting notes* included with my purchase cited a bouquet “wafting from the glass in a mix of apple, quince, bee pollen, bread dough, chalky soil tones and a bit of citrus peel in the upper register” and referred to the wine twice as “snappy.” I’m no connoisseur and am generally of the opinion that, to quote writer Nick Tosches, the tasting of wine falls into one of three categories: “‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘just shut up and drink.’” However, I felt immediately that this wine was different, with its earthy flavor and lively bubbles. A Monet-like image sprung to mind of French peasants resting against haystacks to enjoy a simple lunch of crusty bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of rustic wine.

les-pions-petillant-naturel-2I was somewhat disappointed that this pét-nat wasn’t cloudy, but rather than sulk like a petulant child, I’ve decided to embrace my pétillant child and seek out other varieties. While Les Pions is 100% Chenin Blanc, pét-nat wines can be made from both white and red grapes. The unpredictable nature of the fermentation process means you’re never sure what you’re going to get, but the low price point (generally under $30) means that it’s a risk worth taking.

As with Kirsti and me, it’s best to make the acquaintance of a pét-nat when it’s young, so don’t wait for a special anniversary to enjoy it. Get to know your new “pét” immediately, and who knows? It might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Ludovic Chanson Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant Naturel Les Pions 2011

 

*By John Gillman in View from the Cellar.

 

Flying Under the Radar

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

No Flying in the HouseKirsti and I met in third grade, which is notable for both the beginning of our friendship and our introduction to the book No Flying in the House. Our teacher, Mrs. Jansen, would read a few pages from the book each day after the lunch recess, and students impatiently lined up at the classroom door to hear the next part of the story. Today is the birthday of the book’s author, Betty Brock, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 80, but will live forever in our childhood memories and in our hearts.

No Flying in the House tells the story of Annabel Tippens, a young girl who mysteriously appears one day on the terrace of wealthy Mrs. Vancourt accompanied by her guardian, Gloria—a talking dog just three inches high and three inches long. Although the formidable lady has no interest in children, she is an admirer of small things and wants Gloria for herself, so she accepts them both into her home. But when a talking cat named Belinda causes Annabel to question her origins and abilities, will Gloria be able to protect her secret?

The ShadesI have reread the book a number of times as an adult and it is still as captivating as it was in third grade. First published in 1970, No Flying in the House delighted a generation of children, but seems to be flying under the radar today. Kirsti and I marvel that it hasn’t been made into a movie yet. Betty Brock wrote only one other book, The Shades, which is equally fantastical and worthy of its own adaptation. The books are both suspenseful and even mildly frightening at times, which is what kept me on pins and needles as a child, but it was No Flying in the House that first inspired my imagination to take flight.

On this special anniversary, I want to honor all of the teachers and authors who shaped my childhood and introduced me to the infinite wonders that can be found within the pages of a book. You wove your own special brand of magic and created swoon-worthy memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

No Flying in the House

 

No Flying in the House and The Shades can both be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

Aptitude Adjustment

Author: Kirsten K., Nostalgia, Self-Improvement

First Day of School

The first of many first days of school.

When I was growing up, the school year always started the day after Labor Day, but I know several people (including my sister, a teacher) who have already resumed classes this month. Whether you are a teenager returning to school, the parent of a student, or an adult pursuing a higher education, you may be familiar with aptitude testing. (If the mention of school and testing just took you from swoon to yawn, sit up and pay attention! You might learn something. 😉)

Unlike academic exams, which often make people feel anxious and frustrated, aptitude testing can actually be fun. I remember taking aptitude tests in elementary school and thinking that they were a great way to get out of class. Comprised primarily of multiple choice questions, they took no more than an hour or so to complete. Afterwards, students would add up their answers from the various columns to learn their particular set of skills and which profession(s) they were most suited for…but the playground called (Red Rover was about to send Kirsti right over) and my own results were promptly ignored.

Graduation Day

With a degree, but without a clue.

In college, my major was undeclared until the last possible moment, when I was required to choose one by the university (I’m terrible at making decisions!). Unsure of what I wanted to do, I opted for a subject that could be generally applied and focused solely on obtaining my degree. Without any specific direction for my future, I simply wanted to finish school and get out into the “real” world, but after years of struggling to find my niche, a friend suggested I speak to her neighbor, who’d had a positive experience with aptitude testing through the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.

As an employee of General Electric in the 1920s, Johnson O’Connor sought to increase workers’ efficiency and satisfaction by placing them in positions best suited to their natural abilities. The program he developed was so popular that employees asked to have their children tested, which led to the creation of a Human Engineering Laboratory that officially became the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in 1939. Today, the Foundation has testing centers in major cities throughout the United States.

JOCRF Logo

I made an appointment for two days of testing at the Los Angeles center, where the atmosphere was casual and welcoming. After a brief interview, I was led through a series of tests, beginning with an assessment of my dominant hand, arm, leg, and eye (apparently, I’d have made a good baseball player), and proceeding through evaluations of memory (my highest aptitude), color vision, motor skills, auditory discrimination, clerical speed, and even innate hand strength (which, I was told, mysteriously correlates with certain professions that don’t require hand strength). At the end of the second day of testing, I was given my results.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 2

If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought the administrator was psychic. He began by saying, “You love to walk into chaos, because you immediately begin to sort things and attempt to create order.” Bingo! Then he noted, “You probably play a musical instrument well, but you have trouble following along with the sheet music, so you learn a song and then play it from memory.” Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 1While aptitude testing does not equate to career counseling, there are specific kinds of work suggested by your pattern of aptitudes. It turns out that the first one listed under my summary of test results was the college major I’d so “randomly” and belatedly chosen. Also of interest was the fact that I tested below average on spatial ability. My father was an aeronautical engineer and I’d briefly considered pursuing the same career, but my aptitudes revealed that I was unsuited to that profession. How many children thinking of following in a parent’s footsteps would reconsider after having their aptitudes assessed?

Unlike grades in school, there’s no judgment associated with aptitudes (in terms of one being better than another). Someone with a low IQ or who struggles academically can still have aptitudes that make him or her well-suited for certain vocations. Aptitudes are also stable over time. A person who is tested at 15 will have the same results if tested again at 65, which means that early testing is recommended. Had I been assessed before going to college, I would have structured my education differently and probably had a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose.

Wordbook 1But it’s never too late! My cousin went back to college in her 50s and got her Master’s Degree with honors. One of the stories in the Foundation’s newsletter that convinced me to get tested as an adult involved a successful surgeon who decided to take the tests along with his teenaged son. He discovered he had an aptitude for music and began to take piano lessons in his free time, providing him with creative fulfillment outside of work. Plus, the one ability tested that CAN be improved upon is vocabulary, which allows people of any age to have greater success in expressing their aptitudes.

If you are about to embark on a new phase of your education, are having trouble choosing a direction for your life and work, or want to change professions, but aren’t sure where to focus your energies, aptitude testing might be right for you. The investment of time and money is minimal when compared to the value of understanding and applying your natural abilities. At the very least, consider an “aptitude adjustment” by building your vocabulary using the Foundation’s list of resources, because with the right aptitude, you can go all the way.

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