Thank Heaven Fasting by E.M. Delafield

Hydrangea and pumpkins

I love the Provincial Lady series by E. M. Delafield.  They are witty and clever and laugh out loud funny.  Lately I have been trying some of her other novels.  I read Consequences a while ago.  I found it so depressing I had trouble judging whether it was good or not. (I know it was good, the internet tells me so, it was just so sad.)  Last week I read Thank Heaven Fasting.

Little Things #3


This was the view out my kitchen window the other evening.  Isn't it gorgeous? It is hard to let life get you down when you have that in front of you.  The photo is angled so you can't see the house right behind mine.  We will pretend it is all just open fields behind me.

We went apple picking today.  My daughter was thrilled.  She is still young enough that she is easy to please.  My son came along and pretended he didn't belong with us but I think he kind of liked it.  With a teenager that is all I ask for.  I remember going places with my parents and pretending I wasn't related to them.  As if people believed the 14-year-old was totally grown up and independent.

apple orchard

Apparently it has been a bumper crop this year.  The trees were just loaded with apples.  I would reach up and pull one off and three more would just tumble down on their own.

When life hands you lemons...

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

 But sometimes life keeps throwing lemons at you at high velocity and you don't have any sugar and your pitcher is broken and the water is contaminated.

It has been that kind of week.  That is another reason my husband gave me my anniversary gift early. He was trying to improve the week. I am not going to go into detail about what made the week bad, some of it is other people's personal business.  However, this week has gotten me thinking about comfort books because when life stinks the best thing to do is curl up on the sofa under a big afghan with a hot cup of tea and read something that makes you happy.  Thank goodness it has cooled off in the last couple of days so the cup of tea and the afghan are possible. So without further ado here are the books that make me happy even on the worst days.

Happy Things


In November my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  I know, that is a long time.  I'll wait while some of you figure out how old I must be.  Just so you know, I was very young when I got married...

Anyway, this past weekend my husband gave me my anniversary gift early.  We are going to London for a week in April.  Without the kids, they are going to spend the week with my parents.  Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for them, they have done this before and they are convinced they are getting the better part of the deal.  They are spoiled rotten by my parents, eat all their favorite foods, visit relatives they don't get to see too often, and basically get to call the shots for the whole week. I don't think they miss us at all.

Momma Told You

Momma told you it would get better.  She said that as you sat in the rocking chair holding your baby and crying.  Both of you, crying.  You were wearing the same sweatpants you had put on three days ago, your hair was unwashed, and the house looked like a bomb had gone off.  You were convinced the baby would never sleep with the soul deep conviction of a new mother.  You just knew this was your life. This.  Forever.  A baby in your arms, spit up down the front of your shirt, and no sleep.  Ever.  Because every time you would start to drift off you would hear that little snuffle,  the one that came right before the wail of a starving baby.  Of course he was starving.  You knew that gut deep too, because he had only eaten an hour ago and if he was hungry again it must be because you didn't have enough milk and he was starving and you were a bad mother.  You loved him, of course you loved him.  You knew that deep down too.  But how could you spend the rest of your life like this?

Vanity Fair


I finished reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray a week ago and I have been mulling it over ever since.  That says something about the book right there.

Vanity Fair is Thackeray's comment on society of the day and frailties of human nature in general.  It is known as the novel without a hero and I would say without a heroine as well.  The book follows the lives of two women. First, Amelia, who is sweet, innocent, gullible, and as dull as ditch water, and then Becky, who is cunning, clever, out for what she can get and in possession of no morals at all.   I have read some reviews where people loved Becky.  I have to say I just don't understand.  She is selfish, uncaring, a bad mother, deceitful, dishonest, the list just goes on and on.

I understand Thackeray's point.  He was satirizing society and illustrating the weaknesses of people in general.  However, I found the dark portrayal of all the characters and of human nature exhausting.  In the beginning, I thought some of them had potential.  When Becky threw the dictionary out of the window after leaving the school I was cheering for her. I wanted her to be the determined underdog who made something of herself. Amelia seemed sweet and kind, but she never developed after that.  Her constant devotion to her dead and idealized husband drove me crazy.  Dobbin seemed like a loyal friend but then he was just a doormat who let Amelia walk all over him.  I didn't want them to be perfect and live happily ever after, I just wanted them to be more balanced. In pointing out the vanity of the human condition I feel like Thackeray concentrated totally on human weaknesses and left out the strengths.

Now, all of that probably sounds like I hated the book and really, I didn't.  It was easy to read, it pulled you in to the story and it was witty and clever at times.  I wasn't a fan of the omniscient author who chimed in with his opinion frequently but that is just me.  And honestly, a book that has me still thinking about the characters days later has something going for it.

I feel a bit as if I should be cowering in a corner with my arms over my head while people beat me with their copies of Vanity Fair and tell me that you don't have to like the characters for a book to be good.  From my meanderings through the internet it seems that Vanity Fair and Becky Sharp are beloved by many.  That is fine.  This review is not (obviously) a synopsis of the book or an analysis of its message.  This review is more my visceral reaction to the book.

So, my final verdict?  I'm glad I read it but I don't think I will ever read it again.  No matter how well done a novel is, I have to feel drawn to the characters for it to go on my list of favorites.  I did not feel drawn to a single one of these characters.  In fact, at various times I wanted to push  them off a cliff, one after another.

Little Things #2

Sometimes it really does not take much to brighten my day.  Here are a few things that have made me happy lately.

We went to the bookstore.  I do enjoy a good wander through a bookstore and thankfully the rest of my family does as well.  I only bought two things.

The first was this book.  Has anyone read it?  It sounds like just the type of thing I like.  I am fascinated by social history.  I love reading about how people lived and what their everyday lives were like.  At first I was afraid it was just a fluff book capitalizing on the Downton Abbey craze but it doesn't seem to be.  It appears to be well researched and interesting.

The other thing I bought was this:

Seriously, how could anyone resist this?  I loved Nancy Drew.  My best friend and I used to buy the books and trade them back and forth.  That picture on the bag is just fantastic.  Don't you want to go solve a mystery while wearing a dress and with perfectly done hair?  Well, maybe not.   I am sure she drove there in her blue convertible.  And Ned Nickerson is waiting nearby to save the day.  But Nancy doesn't need him.  She does it all on her own without ever getting a smudge on her dress or a hair out of place.

I stopped at a little state park on the way home.  It was almost empty.  The kids are back in school so the swimming pond was deserted.  The only people I saw were some grandparents taking their grandchildren for a walk. I don't think they were going to get very far.  The little girl just wanted to run back and forth across a little bridge.  The park was so peaceful.  It is a good place to clear your head. I usually like sitting by the brook and listening to the sound of the water.  However, we have had so little rain that the brook has almost completely dried up.

Well, I think there is one clear lesson to be learned here.  If I am going to take this blogging malarkey (there is a word I have always wanted to work into a sentence) seriously I am going to have to learn to be a photographer.  In the meantime, you get some not so great pictures taken on my phone. But eve if they are not so great, they do show some things that have made me happy recently.

Are there any little things that have brightened your day recently?

The Olden Days

My daughter and I were eating lunch together the other day when she looked at me and asked, "Wouldn't you like to know what a typewriter sounds like, Mom?  I would."

I'll let that sink in for a minute.

Yes, the current generation has never heard the sound of typewriter keys.  Maybe that shouldn't surprise me, but it does.

I told her I knew exactly what a typewriter sounds like, I used to use one.  And that is when she told me that it wasn't possible for me to know that because typewriters are from the olden days.  I told her that the obvious conclusion is that I am from the olden days as well.  She didn't disagree.

I started thinking though.  What things were a part of my childhood but are things my children will never be familiar with?

  • Obviously, the typewriter.  They live in a world of computers but I remember using a typewriter.  Remember when if you made a mistake you had to white it out and then try to line everything up again?  I do love the sound a typewriter makes.  That is probably because I associate it with my dad and remember lying in bed and hearing him clacking away on the typewriter in his office.
  • How about house phones?  Phones that are connected to a wall by a cord and that you have to answer to find out who is calling.  No caller id, no call waiting, just staying home and keeping everyone off the phone if an important call was coming in.  And then when the call comes in you stretch the cord up the stairs, down the hall, into your room, and then shut the door and sit on the floor so you can talk in private while everyone ducks and dodges around the cord stretched through half the house. 
  • Do you remember the library cards with the little metal strip that had numbers on it?  And the sound that was made as a due date was stamped on a card?
  • Riding a bike without a helmet.  I understand all the safety concerns but the freedom of flying down a hill with the wind in your hair is childhood in a nutshell.
  • Cursive practice.  When did the world decide handwriting was no longer necessary?
  • Records, tapes, cds.  Having to wait by the radio with your finger on the record button so you wouldn't miss your favorite song when you were making a mix tape.
  • The playgrounds that I am sure by modern standards, were deathtraps. Remember sliding down the metal slide and burning the backs of your legs because it was so hot?  Now they are all plastic and safe, which I know is a good thing but I still think fondly of the hugely tall metal slide at my school.  You reached the top of the ladder and felt like you owned the world, until the kid behind you pushed you down the slide.
  • Having to go to the library to do research.  Now if you have a question Google can give you 5 million answers in seconds.  We live in a world of immediate gratification, even for knowledge.   
  • Metal lunch boxes, my first one was Charlie Brown.  And the thermos was glass on the inside.  I broke my thermoses regularly.  
  • Twin popsicles.  Why are they all single now?
  • The joy of a new Sears catalogue.  We would spend hours debating the merits of a battery operated pottery wheel or deciding which swing set had the best combination of swings and slides.  
  • Film cameras. Only being able to take a certain number of pictures and having to wait to see how they turned out.  
So there you have it.  All the things that, according to my daughter, make me old.  I am sure I have missed a few.  What do you remember?  

Kindred Spirits

Did you read Anne of Green Gables when you were young?  I did, over and over.  I spent a long time wishing I had red hair, freckles, and just half of Anne's spunk.  I also spent a long time hoping to find a friend who would be a kindred spirit.  Now, don't get me wrong, I had friends, and they were good friends.  However, I was convinced there was something more out there.  I just knew that somewhere there was another girl who thought the way I did and reacted to things the way I did and when we met we would just click.  There would be none of this getting to know each other nonsense.  We would just be friends forever.  Kindred spirits.

But life doesn't always work that way, does it?  Frequently, the people we are friends with are the people that are there.  They are the people we work with, go to school with, share beliefs with. They are the people who have kids the same ages as ours, people who have little bits of their lives in common with little bits of ours.  They are good people and good friends.  Many times they add amazing things to our lives because they are different than we are.

But sometimes we still want the kindred spirit.

Because, honestly, there is nothing like talking to someone who just gets you.  Someone who follows the twist and turns of your mind and doesn't keep asking you what you mean.  Someone you can be yourself with.

I have been thinking a lot about friendships lately because of some drama going on among people I know.  Does everyone want the same thing out of friendships?  I am sure they don't.  And I am sure we don't all define a good friend in the same way.  I wonder sometimes if continuing to look for kindred spirits sets us up for loneliness because friends like that are few and far between.  But then I think of that almost magical feeling when you connect with someone and you know you have found a friend.  It is almost like falling in love.

 I have also been thinking about friendships because my daughter has been rereading Anne of Green Gables. By the way, did anyone else have this copy?

Book--Anne of Green Gables

Can we just agree that this is not what Anne looked like?  Please.  It does not fit the image in my head at all.

In a weird sort of way I think Anne taught me to look below the surface of friendships.  I learned that friendships themselves could be deeper and that there was nothing wrong with wanting more.  But at the same time, value the everyday friendships.  After all, Diana didn't always follow Anne's flights of fancy but they still loved each other dearly.

So anyway, my point is (if you are willing to believe I have one, I am not so sure anymore.) that I still believe in kindred spirits.

And I still sometimes wish I had red hair and freckles and half of Anne's spunk.

The Best Years of Your Life

Old Furnace State Park

People say it all the time.  They look at the high-school kid and shake their heads and say "You had better enjoy it. These are the best years of your life."

Who do they think they are kidding?

Would any of us really want to go back to high school?  Oh, I know, we had no bills, no real job, no mortgage. Maybe when people look back they are only remembering the halcyon days of summer where all they did was hang out with their friends and where finding out that the cute boy liked you  was enough to send you into giddy orbit.  I am sure many people (though not me) have happy memories of their high school years.  But really, would you want to be a teenager again?

Just think, you could go back to the uncertainty, the feeling like you have to fit in.  You could worry again about whether that cute boy likes you and then be devastated when he doesn't.  You could go back to thinking that it all really matters, back to not knowing that in the grand scheme of things, none of it is really important.  Because really, that is what is wrong with being a teenager.  Maybe as adults we still worry about some of the same things.  We are still upset when someone doesn't like us.  We still have a nagging feeling that maybe we should try harder to fit in.  We still want to hang out with our friends.  We still want friends.  However, now we have perspective and that makes all the difference.  Teenagers tend to have an all or nothing mindset whereas, we as adults, are able (hopefully) to shrug our shoulders and move on.

As an adult, I am happy to me be.  I like me.  If someone thinks I am too quiet, read too many books, or am strange because I don't like alcohol, I don't really care.  As a teenager, all those things made me boring.  Really, I think if I could be any age I wanted, I would be about 27.  That was a great age.  I felt confident and reasonably sure of myself. Plus, I hadn't had kids yet, so, no stretch marks.

So tell teenagers it gets better.  Tell them high school is hard.  Tell them it is okay to be themselves and that people like them the way they are.  Don't tell them these are the best years of their lives.  It is not true.

And don't tell them about the stretch marks.  Some things are better left to the future.

The Classics Club

In my wanders around the internet I came across The Classics Club.  I was enthralled.  When you join you agree to read a certain number of classic books in a certain number of years.  The books are chosen by you and the time period is chosen by you. Fifty books in five years seems to be the typical challenge. You agree to post a review on your blog after every book you read.  This is just the kind of challenge I like. So without further ado, here is my list of 50 books to be read in the next five years.  It might change as time goes on.  That is the beauty of this challenge, nothing is written in stone. But here is what I am starting with. Some I have read before but the majority are new to me.

Austen, Jane, Emma
Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park--Finished 4/30/16 review
Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey
Austen, Jane, Persuasion
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
Bennett, Arnold, These Twain
Bowen, Elizabeth, A View of the Harbour
Bowen, Elizabeth, The Heat of the Day
Bronte, Anne, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Buchan, John, The Thirty-nine Steps
Cather, Willa, The Song of the Lark
Collins, Wilkie, Armadale
Crompton, Richmal, Family Roundabout--Finished 2/22/16 review
Delderfield, R.F., God is an Englishman
Dickens, Charles, Bleak House--Finished 1/2/16 review
Dickens, Charles, The Pickwick Papers
Eden, Emily, The Semi-attached Couple
Eden, Emily, The Semi-detached House
Elliott, George, Middlemarch
Falkner, John Meade, The Nebuly Coat
Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, The Home-Maker
Forster, E.M., A Passage to India
Gaskell, Elizabeth, North and South
Gaskell, Elizabeth, Ruth
Hardy, Thomas, Far From the Madding Crowd
Hilton, James, Goodbye, Mr Chips-- Finished 10/12/15 review
Hocking, Mary, Letters to Constance
Holtby, Winifred, The Land of Green Ginger
Jerome, Jerome K., Three Men in a Boat
Keane, Molly, Full House
Lewis, Sinclair, Main Street
Llewellyn, Richard, How Green was my Valley
Mitford, Nancy, Love in a Cold Climate
Pym, Barbara, Less than Angels
Rathbone, Irene, We That Were Young
Spark, Muriel, The Hothouse by the East River
Stevenson, Robert Louis, The Black Arrow
Streatfeild, Noel, Saplings
Steinbeck, John, East of Eden--Finished 11/16/16 review
Thackeray, William Makepiece, Vanity Fair-- Finished 9/10/15 review
Trollope, Anthony, The Three Clerks
Trollope, Anthony, The Way We Live Now
Tutton, Diana, Guard Your Daughters
Undsett, Sigrid, The Wreath
Undsett, Sigrid, The Wife
Undestt, Sigrid, The Cross
West, Rebecca, The Judge
West, Rebecca, The Fountain Overflows
Whipple, Dorothy, Because of the Lockwoods
Whipple, Dorothy, They Knew Mr Knight

Never Enough

Sometimes you can feel like you are doing it all and it is still never enough.  Maybe it is just a side affect of having kids.  They take you for granted.  Mom always does it.  Mom takes care of it.  Mom is just silly when she worries about that.  Maybe that last one is the one that bothers you right now. You feel like you can never get the balance quite right.  You know you are a worrier and you know sometimes it can get to be a bit much.  But that does not mean that your worrying is never justified.  This world is crazy and life is crazy and kids are crazy and sometimes a little research and a little worrying can be a preemptive strike against the crazy.

It is a fine line and a hard thing to explain to kids.  That kid who always has the stomach aches?  Your worry and research might have found a solution and might make his life a bit better.  And no it is not ridiculous and no it is not silly and no you are not just trying to take all his good food away.  But it is never enough.  Because this time you may be right, but then you worry that all the times of unnecessary worry have inured your kids to the good advice you are now giving.  (And yes, you see the irony of worrying about having worried too much.)

girl in the woods

So it is never enough. Never enough for you, that is.  Because the kids, the kids are fine.  You are their stability so they feel free to say that something is silly, that you are silly, because they are not constantly learning a new job.  But you are.  Because being the mom of an almost 15-year-old is a completely different thing from being the mom of a ten-year-old.  And being the mom of a ten-year-old is completely different from being the mom of a one-year-old.  Your job changes from day to day and so do the people you care for.  So every day is a bit of a worry.  Is this how you handle a teenager?  Is this how you explain puberty to a girl?  Are they old enough to do this?  Are they responsible enough to do that?

boy in the woods

So you worry.  And at the end of the day you set it aside.  Because really, what else can you do?  You have never held this job before.  You are new at it, even at almost 15 years in.  And you always will be new because they are always changing.  So you set aside the idea of it being never enough.  Because to them you are enough.  You are Mom.  You know stuff, you worry about stuff, you nag about stuff, but in the end, they depend on you for stuff.

They love you and you love them.  And that is always enough.

Getting to know me

book shelf

I really don't remember a time when I didn't love books.  I have clear memories of my mom reading to me before I could read myself. I found a copy of Alice in Wonderland when I was about four and begged her to read it.  She was a bit doubtful, she thought I was too young for the story, but I was enthralled with Alice.  Maybe that was the first time I realized that books can take you to another world. Our house was always full of books.  We had a enclosed front porch with a shelf all around the perimeter.  I would push my way past the bikes stored on the porch and browse through all the books stacked there.  Some were children's books but some were not.  I remember Shakespeare, and Austen, and Wodehouse, all jumbled in next to The Cat in the Hat and Jemima Puddleduck.  No one told me what I could and couldn't read so I dipped in and out of all of it.

We would walk to the library once a week.  Our arms would ache from lugging the stacks of books we all checked out.  I still love the smell of that library, a wonderful aroma of old books and old building.  Oh, the excitement of being allowed to check books out of the adult section for the first time.  I can't remember how old you had to be, maybe 6th grade, but I do remember feeling like I would never be old enough.  I thought it was a crazy rule and I still do.  Yes, some books can be inappropriate for small children but guide them in their reading instead of hedging them in by rules.  There is nothing more guaranteed to kill a love of reading than having a child excited about a book and then taking it away from them because you feel they aren't ready for it.  Let them try.  Maybe there will be words they don't understand and maybe they will miss nuances of the story but let them keep that excitement and eagerness.  They can read the book again when they are older and then they will get something different out of it.

When I was in second grade, my classroom had a copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I can still remember picking it up off the book table.  It was big and fat and so appealing.  My teacher walked over and told me it was too hard for me (see my problems with this mindset?) but I begged and she finally let me take it home.  I loved it.  I wanted to be Jo March. I don't think I noticed that it was an old book or that it could be slightly preachy at times.  All I knew was that it was a great story, and I read it over and over and over.  I cried when Beth died, I was devastated when Jo didn't marry Laurie, and I yearned to eat pickled limes even though I wasn't quite sure what they were.

The next author I remember falling in love with was Jane Austen.  She was my mother's favorite author so her books were all over the house.  I was always curious about Pride and Prejudice since my mom read it so much and one day she handed it to me and told me she thought I would like it. I did.  Elizabeth Bennett was another character I wanted to become. Jane Austen is still my comfort author.  If I am having a bad day I read something of hers. She is witty and insightful and her stories are as true today as they were when they were written. In April my husband and I went to England for a week and visiting Chawton was top of my list.

Jane Austen's house

So, what do I read now?  I have a Kindle for the convenience and I enjoy reading Victorian novelists.  But I also like authors such as  Elizabeth Taylor, E.M. Delafield, and Mollie Panter-Downes. For pure escapism, nothing beats a binge reading of Georgette Heyer.  I discovered Persephone Books and that has widened my reading horizons.  I have been to their bookshop a couple of times when we have been in London.  It is charming and fun and so hard to pick which books to buy.  I highly recommend it.  I also am fascinated by England during WWII.  Not the war itself, but the way people reacted to the war.  I have read a lot of books about the home front and many of the compilations of Mass Observation diaries.

So why do I love to read?  Pinterest is full of quotes about the joy of reading and I actually agree with them.  Reading is an escape.  Reading helps create empathy.  Reading is an education and takes you to worlds and peoples beyond your own.  Reading is fun.