Two Years Of Blogging

My blog is two years old today. I have written 192 posts, taken hundreds and hundreds of photos and bought way too many books. I have sat down countless times convinced that I have nothing to say and frequently found that somehow the words keep coming. I have planned excursions solely to have something to write about. I have written blog posts in my head in the middle of the night and woken the next day mourning the words that I should have written down.

I post less frequently than I did at first. Every new toy loses its novelty after a while and I don't have quite as much time to myself lately. But somehow, I keep coming back. I like having a place to put my thoughts. I like having a record of things we have done and places we have been. I love having a place where it is always perfectly acceptable to talk about books. It has introduced me to books I had never heard of and made me think about what I am reading.

There are a few things I have learned about my blog and my readers over the last two years. I've learned that posts about being a parent rarely do well but I keep writing them anyway because well, I am a parent and if I can't vent about it on my blog then where can I? Neither do straight up book reviews, surprisingly enough, but that is fine because I am not good at straight book reviews.  However, a post with a list is pretty much a sure success. I've learned that people like to know a bit about the person behind the blog. I've discovered that sometimes it will be the post that breaks all the rules of what you think people like to read that will be the most read and commented on.  I've learned that I need to write what makes me happy whether people read it or not.

I've watched blogs come and go and readers come and go. Someone will comment on a few posts and then I will never hear from them again. Some posts will be popular, some won't. At first, I worried (because that is my default setting) thinking that it was my fault, that I was doing something wrong. But, in time, I realized that the online world is ephemeral.  That sometimes you catch an eye for a moment, a day, a week. Then people move on, intentionally or unintentionally, and that is okay. But for all of you who come back post after post and week after week, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for preventing me from speaking into a void.

A few of my favorite posts from the last year.

Books As Our Identity

On Writing

This Is For The Quiet Ones

In Defense Of Fluff

Book Review--The Home-Maker By Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Book Review--The Home-Maker By Dorothy Canfield Fisher


The Home-Maker is the story of the Knapp family. Evangeline Knapp is determined to do right by her family; to keep a clean house, feed the family well, and carefully care for her children. She is admired in the neighborhood and held up as an example of a perfect homemaker. The problem is she hates it.

What was her life? A hateful round of housework, which, hurry as she might, was never done. How she loathed housework! The sight of a dishpan full of dishes made her feel like screamng out. And what else did she have? Loneliness; never-ending monotony; blank, gray days, one after another, full of drudgery. No rest from the constant friction over the children's carelessness and forgetfulness and childishness! How she hated childishness! And she must try to endure it patiently or at least with the appearance of patience.

Her husband, Lester, is just as unsuited to his life. He is a dreamer who frequently gets lost in his thoughts to the detriment of his job. He is also painfully sensitive to the feelings and emotions of his children.

All the swelling fabric of his thoughts fell in a sodden heap, amounting to nothing at all, as usual. He hung up his coat and hat and sat down on the same old stool. He was no good; that was the matter with him-the whole matter. He was just no good at all-for anything. What right had he to criticize anybody at all when anybody at all amounted to more than he! He was a man who couldn't get on in business, who couldn't even get to his work on time. He must have been standing on the sidewalk outside, not knowing where he was, lost in that hot sympathy with childhoood. But nine o'clock is not the time to feel sympathy with anything. Nine o'clock is sacred to the manipulation of a card catalogue of customer's bills.

One day, Lester has a near-fatal accident and is no longer able to work. He becomes the home-maker and Evangeline goes out to work. Their lives completely change for the better. Finally, each is doing the work for which they are best suited and all the family benefits. The changes in the roles are tolerated by society because they are so obviously necessary. Even then, many are bothered by the idea of Lester doing a "woman's work." When a neighbor sees Lester darning stockings she protests, shocked at the sight, saying, "Oh, Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It's dreadful enough your having to do the housework!" Lester replies;

Eva darned them a good many years...and did the housework. Why shouldn't I?" He looked at her hard and went on, "Do you know what you are saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor mean, cheap job beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else."

Eventually, the peace and contentment are threatened when there is the possibility of a cure for Lester. What will they do? Will they go back to their old, unhappy roles? What will society think if they don't?

I found this book to be fascinating. It was written years and years ago and yet, it still has so much to say about our attitudes towards the roles men and women play in the world and whether or not we really respect the work they do. I appreciated that both of the main characters were presented as good, loving people who were stuck in lives that did not suit them. It would have been easy to present Evangeline as a bad mother since she did not enjoy being home with her children but this wasn't done. Instead, Evangeline is shown to be a loving mother who is torn between her love for her children and the fact that her life with them is not fulfilling her emotional and mental needs.

Her children! She must live for her children. And she loved them, she did live for them! What were those little passing moments of exasperation! Nothing, compared to the passion for them which shook her like a great wind, whenever they were sick, whenever she felt how greatly they needed her. And how they did need her! 

Lester is unsuccessful in business but is a loving and understanding father. And he is happy staying home and being that father. Dorothy Canfield Fisher said a lot about letting people do what they are suited for and what suits them as a family and not worrying about the expectations of society around them. She wrote an introduction to this book in which she said;

We could let them alone; we could let them, without comment or blame, construct the sort of marriage which fits their particular case, rather than the sort which fits our ideas. We could leave them to struggle with a problem which, under the best circumstances, requires all their intelligence to solve, without crushing them under the weight of half-baked certainties and misquotations, such as: "No woman can be self-respecting if she is not a wage-earner." ... "A woman's place is the home or there is no home." ... "No one can take the mother's place with children."... "The care and education of children should be in the hands of experts, not of untrained girls who happen to be mothers."

The thing I found so interesting is that society today still has very strong opinions about how families should be managed. There are opinions about paternity leave and maternity leave and working after children and when you should go back to work. There are opinions about the value of staying home with children and the legitimacy of the work involved. All of this made me think of a post I wrote months ago and never published. I am posting it here since, to me, there is a clear connection between the post I wrote and the book I just read.

I was a stay-at-home mom for years.

I was a stay-at-home mom of school-aged children for a lot of those years.

In the USA often the first question you are asked after you meet someone is about what you do for work.  If you tell them you stay home but your kids are in school you immediately see a judgmental reaction.  There is a strangely common belief that if you do not work outside the home then you do not work at all. Most people understand staying home with small children but once they are in school you are expected to get a real job. When did this viewpoint come into being?  Imagine telling your mother or grandmother that they never worked and watch them laugh at you.

My husband and I chose to have me stay home.  I am well aware that this is not a choice available to all.  We are not wealthy, we made financial sacrifices at times to make it work. I could go into detail about why we made that choice but I am not going to.  I am not going to because it doesn't matter and because I do not want to sound as if I am judging people who make other choices or who don't have a choice.

What I find ironic is that women have fought for equal rights.  They have fought for the ability to work where they want, to earn the same amount as men, to be on equal footing.  But somehow, in the midst of that fight, the traditional role of women has been denigrated.  Isn't that wrong?  Equality does not mean equality only in the workforce, it means being allowed to make a choice in the first place and that choice being respected and valued.

The implication from many people is that a housewife is lazy, that she sits on the couch eating candy and watching soap operas all day.  A side point here, my own kids used to think I spent the day sitting on the couch.  When they left in the morning I would be sitting there drinking tea and when they came home I would be in the same spot still drinking tea.  What they did not realize was that I was sitting there waiting for their bus and that in the hours between I had been busy doing other things.  Kids, you just can't win.  Anyway, yes, sometimes I  would sit on the couch and sometimes my life would probably be easier than yours.  What of it?  Sometimes your life is probably easier than mine.  Do we decide a job is only real if it is miserable all the time?  If you have a friend who loves and enjoys her job does that mean she doesn't really work?  I didn't think so. That is really the problem.  Why should I have to justify what I do?  Why would my life not be viewed as adequate or real if  I do not sit in an office all day?  Some women work outside the home, some women don't.  Some days are easy, some days are hard.  In the process of valuing the opportunities women now have, we do not want to forget to value the things women have done through the centuries.

I also find it interesting that many of the things I do as a mom and housewife are careers in and of themselves.  Nanny, cook, housekeeper, accountant, the list goes on.  If I do these things for another family I have a job, because I do them for my own family I am lazy.

I understand that a working woman (aren't we all working women, but you know what I mean) juggles a lot of responsibilities.  She might feel that she works at her place of employment and then comes home and does all the same things the stay-at-home mom does.  That is a bit naive.  She doesn't have the time or energy to do all the same things.  That doesn't make her better or worse, just in different circumstances.  I am sure she sometimes wishes she could stay home with her kids just as much as the mom spooning and re-spooning applesauce into her baby's mouth sometimes wishes she could get dressed up and go to a nice quiet office.

My point is a job is a job and a life is a life.  Maybe I have kids at home, maybe I don't.  Maybe I work in an office, maybe I don't.  Maybe my life is hard, maybe it is sometimes easy.  But my life and my choices have just as much worth as any other woman's choices.

I spent years as a stay-at-home mom.

I spent years as a stay-at-home mom of school-aged children.

And that deserves respect.

Local Discoveries--Pulaski State Park in Rhode Island

pulaski state park

Celia has been feeling a bit neglected this summer. My schedule is much busier than it has been in previous years so I have not had the freedom to go off on fun adventures whenever she wants.  All in all, she needed a fun day so last week that is what we did. Well, we had a fun afternoon but that seemed to fit the bill. We went to the library and checked out stacks of books. Then we went to the local dog pound and looked at the dogs. Celia is on a years-long quest to convince us that she needs a dog and part of that quest involves regularly checking the pound for a dog that fits her perception of what would work for us. Only time will tell if her quest is successful. She does seem to be wearing her father down. After that, we went to Pulaski State Park in Rhode Island. The town we live in borders Rhode Island so it is much closer than it might sound, only about 20 minutes from our house.

pulaski state park

We have lived in this part of the state for eight years and have never been able to find a swimming spot that works for us. This looks like it has possibilities. It is close to home and not horribly crowded. That being said, Celia took one look at the kids playing in the water and promptly headed in the opposite direction. She said there were too many kids and it was too noisy and that if we wanted to swim we should go back in the evening when everyone would have gone home. I didn't know whether to laugh because she is so much like her parents or cry for the same reason. We ended up going for a walk around the pond. This did give her the perfect opportunity to lecture me on how much better the walk would be if we were accompanied by a dog. Celia is never one to miss an opportunity.

pulaski state park

lily pads

The water by the little swimming beach was clear but the rest of the pond was covered with lily pads. They were so pretty but most of the blooms were too far out to photograph properly.

pulaski state park

pulaski state park

pulaski state park

The little pond above was interesting. I am not sure what it was. A cistern, maybe? I don't think you can really tell from the photo but it is encircled with stones, just like a typical New England stone wall but around this little pond instead. There are a lot of stone walls going through the woods so I know at one point this was all cleared and settled land. It would be so interesting to see what it looked like back then.

pulaski state park

pulaski state park

The little stream was Celia's favorite part of our walk. She loved the bridge and all the rocks and ferns. She has decided we need to go back with books, Nancy Drew is her choice, and snacks and then we can spend the day there. I think that sounds like a good idea though we probably should bring bug spray too. The mosquitos were out in force.

pulaski state park

We ended our day by heading home with our stacks of library books and curling up on the couch. I am sure it won't surprise you to hear that most of Celia's books feature dogs.

A Serendipitous Find

Book--Merry Hall

My local library has a small shelf of free books in the lobby. Usually, this shelf is full of Harlequin romances and out-dated children's nonfiction books. However, since I live in a constant state of hope, I always check the shelf. Yesterday, my optimism paid off. There was a lovely hardback copy of Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols. In my pre-blogging days, this would have meant absolutely nothing to me. I had never heard of Beverley Nichols. However, several bloggers I follow are very fond of Nichols' books and I have been wanting to try one. He was best known for his gardening books which, apparently, are charming and gently humorous. Merry Hall is the first in a trilogy about his renovating of a Georgian manor house. I was very pleased to stumble across it and it brightened a rainy day. Look at the lovely endpapers. Don't you want to dive right in and live there? Though the more I look at it the more unsure I am about the faces on the vase. They are a bit disturbing, aren't they?

Merry Hall--endpapers

There was also a copy of Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford on the shelf. I already own that so I left it for someone else. It was hard though. What if it languishes there while all the Harlequin romances are chosen? That would be so sad. If it is still there the next time I visit the library you know I am going to have to bring it home. Some people feel impelled to provide a good home to all the stray animals they encounter. I house all the stray books.

Have you read anything by Beverley Nichols?

Life Currently

Currently, I am sitting in bed in a mediocre motel room. I am over-tired, slightly stressed, and determined to stop Googling all my ridiculous worries that rise to the surface when life gets to be a bit too much. Really, life was more peaceful when I didn't have the answer to things right at my fingertips. Does anyone else occasionally feel nostalgic for the days when you had to go to the library to look something up? By the time you got there you frequently forgot what you were worried about and ended up researching some random bit of fascination like the weather in the Himalayas or the possibilities of a cross-Europe train journey. Now we have answers so quickly we don't have time to stop being worried, we just cascade into the next worry. And no, I have nothing really to worry about. But try telling that to my over-tired brain.

Currently, I am reading The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I can tell already that I am going to have a lot of thoughts about this book. I actually set it aside for tonight because I want to really concentrate on it and did I mention the over-tired thing I have going on? So for the rest of this evening, I am reading 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I haven't read it in ages and there are few things as soothing as reading about someone who loves books. I bought this copy online and I am a little annoyed that someone wrote their name right across the top and that the seller stuck a sticker right on top of the author's name but for the price I paid I guess I can't complain too much.

Currently, (well, not right this moment. I am in a motel but you know what I mean.) I am eating endless slices of toast and countless biscuits. I can't eat American wheat without getting migraines and digestive issues but I can eat wheat in the UK. I have no idea why. So the obvious thing to do was find a way to have UK wheat products delivered to me. Through the wonders of the internet, I now have five loaves of bread, sixteen packages of biscuits, more scones than any sane person needs, and bag after bag of flour. Not to mention the tea, chocolate, and Elderflower cordial I added to the order just because I could. You should have seen me when my very large parcel arrived. Now I just have to decide what to bake when I get back home. Victoria Sponge Cake maybe? It seems only appropriate to bake a quintessentially British cake with my British flour.

Currently, I am very happy to have a new phone. My old one was getting a bit glitchy. I was content to put up with it until last week when the camera stopped working. That I am not willing to put up with. While I have a very nice fancy camera, I depend quite a bit on my phone for quick snaps while I am out and about. It was messing with my world not to have a camera on my phone. The kind man at the store took my old phone in trade, and I was able to get a new phone for me and a phone for my daughter without having to sell either of my children. Plus, I am now my daughter's favorite parent since she was convinced she was the only almost-twelve-year-old on earth who still didn't have a phone.

Currently, I am feeling grateful that almost-twelve-year-olds seem to be basically indestructible. Celia was at a friend's house and didn't know that the bike she was using had faulty brakes. She lost control going down a hill, crossed a road, and went over the handlebars face first into a tree. She is banged up a bit and looks like she has been in a fight but is otherwise fine. It could have been much worse. The hysterical phone call I received, however, probably aged me ten years.

Currently, I am wondering why everyone who walks through the corridor of this motel has to speak at the top of their voice. Didn't their mothers' ever teach them about indoor voices?

Currently, I am thinking I might be slightly grumpy and that it is time to read 84, Charing Cross Road and dream of having my own Marks & Co. to fulfill all my bookish desires.

So what is currently happening in your life?

Wildflowers and Walks

Right now it is pouring down with rain. There are flash flood warnings and it is steamy and sticky outside. It is the kind of weather where all you want to do is to stay inside with the air conditioning blasting away and a good book on your lap. Of course, I think that is a good way to spend most of the summer. However, over the weekend we had gorgeous weather and we went for a walk down by the river. The wildflowers are out in force and look absolutely beautiful.

I wish my flower beds looked half so bright and colorful. Maybe I should just fill them with weeds and call it a day? So many weeds really are beautiful if you look at them closely.

The trees are filling out nicely for the second time this year.  We had an absolutely awful infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars in our section of the country. They ate every leaf on many of the trees. They seem to particularly like oaks. The one in our front yard didn't have a leaf left on it. It looked like winter. The front of our house was black with caterpillars and the grass was literally moving with them.  It was disgusting. But you can see in the next few photos that the trees are making a comeback.

We meandered on home with our daughter riding her bike in circles around us. It was a peaceful and relaxing way to end the day. If the rain lets up we will have to do it all over again. In the meantime, the air conditioning and my book are calling to me.

In Which I Profess My Love For British Library Crime Classics

I never cared about what my books looked like. As long as they held together so I could read them I was happy. Of course, there were some covers that irritated me. My childhood copy of Anne of Green Gables has the most abysmal picture of Anne on the front. It is so bad that I am convinced that whoever picked it never read the book since it bears absolutely no resemblance to the Anne in my head. But the thing is, I never bothered to replace it even though I didn't like it. It was a serviceable copy so, why bother? There were prettier copies out there but I had the story I loved and that was what mattered.

Then I entered the world of blogging and Bookstagram and I encountered a world where your book had to look good as well as be a good story. I had very mixed feelings about that. So many of my beloved books just are not pretty. They are secondhand copies I have picked up over the years. I didn't want to replace them for shiny, new editions with beautiful covers because it felt a bit like discarding old friends. So I didn't. A lot of my books are not particularly photogenic but they are well loved. (I feel like there is a lesson in there somewhere.)  However, that does not prevent me from noticing all the beautiful editions I see on various blogs I read. And yes, sometimes I get sucked into buying them.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that I love the covers of the British Library Crime Classics.

Aren't they gorgeous? Now, I have to say, I really enjoy the stories too. I love books from the golden age of crime writing and so many of these are books that would just be impossible to find otherwise. But, for just about the first time in my life, I find myself wanting to buy all the books because they are so pretty. I would happily decorate my house in posters made from these prints. Or amass a collection of tote bags with these prints decorating them. Or maybe mugs....

Because I do enjoy the stories as well as the covers I have been thrilled to be able to read a few of the British Library Crime Classics through NetGalley. Now, I am not as thrilled as I would be to read them in physical form instead of on my Kindle but I will take what I can get.

 I recently read The Cheltenham Square Murder* by John Bude. The peace and tranquility of the square are disturbed when one of the residents is murdered with an arrow. There are plenty of suspects, plenty of motives, and even plenty of archers. Thank goodness, there is also Superintendent Meredith to work his way through all the extraneous clues and arrive at the proper solution. I enjoyed this. The characters were quirky and interesting, there was a bit of humor woven in, and I learned a bit about archery. Did you know that arrows were measured in shillings?

Bryan laughed:  "Here! We're talking at cross purposes.  Four and ninepence is the weight of the arrow.You see, they're weighed up against shillings. An ordinary shilling being the unit of measurement. Some people prefer a lighter arrow--say a four-shilling. This fellow, on the other hand, seems to have used the same weight arrow as I do myself. If you want to make sure about that point, I suggest you borrow a balance and weight the arrow against four shillings and ninepence. In silver, of course!

Isn't that a fascinating fact to have come across? It is one reason I so enjoy these old mysteries. You never know what you will learn. Not that I ever expect to be able to make use of these facts--unless, of course, someone conveniently gets murdered with an arrow in my neighborhood.

I also read Death of a Busybody* by George Bellairs. Miss Tither is very unpopular in her village because of her propensity for discovering everyone's secret sins, confronting them with the error of their ways, and exhorting them to repent. Obviously, she is going to end up dead. She meets her end in the Vicar's cesspool. It is up to Inspector Littlejohn to track down her murderer. This was a predictable but enjoyable book. I knew who did it from pretty much the moment the character was introduced but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the book. Bellairs also had some very nice descriptions of the British countryside.

I enjoyed both these books but I wish they were on my bookshelves instead of on my Kindle. I can't quite justify buying them for the covers since I already have read them but I am sure I will buy many others of the British Library Crime Classics. This will be partly for the beautiful covers and partly for the enjoyable stories they contain.

*I received this book through NetGalley but my opinions of covers and stories are all my own.

Bookshop Visit--Trident Booksellers & Cafe

There are not a lot of bookshops near my home. Actually, there are not any bookshops near my home. The nearest Barnes & Noble is about 45 minutes away and that is about as good as it gets. So, when I realized that I would be in Boston a few times a month I started compiling a list of bookshops I absolutely had to visit. I am making unbelievably slow progress in conquering this list because my time is not my own when I am in Boston but last week I managed to check one more bookshop off my list.

A kind person on Instagram suggested I visit Trident Booksellers & Cafe. When, through the vagaries of Boston traffic, I ended up arriving at my destination an hour early I knew this was the time. I mapped the location and started power walking in the heat to the store on Newbury Street. After one small detour, when Google maps thought it was a good idea to walk me through a back alley, I finally arrived.

The cafe looked very nice. There was seating outside as well as upstairs and on the main floor. With only one hour to get there, look around, and get back to where I needed to be I wasn't able to try it but hopefully, I will be back. My Instagram source speaks highly of the granola.

The store seemed to have a little bit of everything. There was a small children's section, a gift section, and all the usual categories. They had spinning racks of Dover Thrift Classics scattered throughout the store. I was tempted by a number of things, including these mugs which I am deeply regretting leaving behind now that I am home.

I was determined to buy something. I have decided it is my moral obligation to make a purchase from any independent bookstore I enter. (How is that for book buying justification?) I didn't have time for my usual dithering which might have been a good thing. This is what I bought.

I have been meaning to read Harman's biography of Bronte for a while now. Also, I think I need a shirt, or maybe a tote bag, that says "Eat, Sleep, Read." All the essentials of life covered right there. After my purchase, it was time to hurry through the heat back to my destination. I arrived slightly breathless and overheated but very happy with my latest bookshop excursion. Now to decide which bookshop is next on my list....

Book Purchases

book Norman Collins

I started pulling books off my shelves in order to write this post, (or more accurately, pulling books off the piles in front of my shelves) and  I realized that I have been on a bit of a non-fiction book buying binge. Of the eight books I am mentioning here only two are fiction. One is pictured above, Bond Street Story by Norman Collins. I read London Belongs To Me by the same author last year and greatly enjoyed it.  Here is my review. I have been meaning to read something else by him so I am happy with this purchase, especially since the book arrived with such an awesome dust jacket. When you buy books online you are never quite sure what they will look like when they arrive so it is a pleasant surprise when they are pretty as well as readable.


The next two books were recommended by a kind reader. The Grand Tours of Katherine Wilmot is just what it sounds like, the journals of travels through Russia and France in the very early 1800s. The blurb on the front describes Katherine as "clever, witty, and curious" so it should be fascinating. The other recommendation was The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. Macaulay is an author who is familiar to me but I have never read this. It "tells the story of an eccentric party of English who set off for Turkey to explore the possibility of establishing a religious mission there." As one does.

books Nella Last

I have been meaning to buy Nella Last in the 1950s for a while. I have read the other two books in the series and loved them. I don't know why I never bought this but I have remedied that problem. I am hoping to get to it soon. Hopefully, before my book stacks overwhelm my house and I  completely forget what I own. I also bought A Life in Secrets-The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. I think I just stumbled across this in a list of WWII non-fiction. It is the account of Atkins' "search through the chaos of Allied-occupied Germany to establish the fate of the agents." It sounds fascinating even if a bit harrowing.

books London history

I enjoy reading books that tell me all about how people lived in a different time period. I want to know how they dressed, what they ate, what their everyday life was like. If those books are about life in England, then all the better. I bought Dr. Johnson's London by Liza Picard. It is subtitled "coffee-houses and climbing boys, medicine, toothpaste and gin, poverty and press-gangs, freakshows and female education." I am hoping it lives up to my expectations especially since I bought a second book by Picard, Victorian London--The Life of a City 1840-1870. 

books diarists

My last book purchase is The Assassin's Cloak--An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists. I love reading diaries, they are such a perfect glimpse into a world and thoughts of the past. This is taken day by day through the course of a year. Each day has a few short entries from different people and different time periods. I am considering trying to read it a day at a time starting with the new year. Does anyone think I can be that organized?  I have my doubts.

Baggu backpack

And last of all, and not a book though it will be used for carrying books, I bought a new backpack and I love it. I wanted something to carry my camera and books on my excursions over the summer. I had a crossbody bag but it would swing forward and get in my way every time I would crouch down to take a photo. I think this will work much better and, besides, it just makes me happy so I am showing it to you. It does make a change from my many, many tote bags.

Do you enjoy non-fiction? Do you have any recommendations for me? Since, obviously, I am not buying enough books and I need to fix that.

Hello, Old Friend

Books are like memories you can hold in your hand. Sometimes picking up a book you have read before, maybe read multiple times, can transport you straight back to the person you once were and to the life you once lived. I realized this once again when I was helping my parents reorganize their bookshelves after they had new carpet installed. I come by my love of books naturally so their house is full of bookshelves, four large ones in the rooms with the new carpet. That is a lot of books and I remember many of them. These are the books of my childhood. Not all of them are children's books though my mom has an impressive collection of classic children's literature. But these are the books that were on the shelves when I was growing up.

There is the fat volume about King Tut that I paged through regularly, fascinated by the photos. There are the volumes of poetry that I dipped in and out of with only a small grasp on what the poems meant but with an endless fascination for the rhythm of the language. There are the old favorites that no house should be without, the Little House books and The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. There is a copy of The Mean Old Mean Hyena and if you didn't read that picture book as a child well, you were missing out. It tells the story of a mean hyena (obviously) who plays endless pranks on the other animals. It has the constant refrain of

"I'm the mean old mean hyena,
there is no hyena meaner.
I'm the meanest mean hyena
that's been ever known to be.
I'm a lowdown low hyena,
such a so-and-so hyena,
Oh! I know of no hyena
nearly half as mean as me."

I loved it. My brothers and sister loved it. My kids loved it. We all can recite huge swathes of it by heart. I remember getting a huge thrill out of the absolute meanness of that hyena. Why do kids like the troublemaker?

So many of the books I could recognize by the feel and the color of the spine even when the lettering had worn off. They were books I hadn't thought of in years but as soon as I saw them I recognized them and remembered the weight of the book and the feel of the story. My Friend Flicka and the endless yearning for a horse of my own. Cheaper by the Dozen and the organized chaos of a family with twelve children. Reading Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber when I was 9 or 10 and finding it odd and fascinating and absolutely enthralling. It felt slightly scandalous, I can't remember why, and very exotic. It was set in New Orleans, after all, and what can be more exotic to a New England child? I brought it home today to reread in the hopes of finding once again that feeling of escaping to another world.

That is what books do for us. They help us escape but they help us find ourselves too. We live many different lives when we read. And whether we are reading about a mean old mean hyena or about King Tut and his tomb we are becoming a more complete person because we have added another story, another fact, another way to understand the world, to who we are.

Book Review--The Thirty-Nine Steps By John Buchan

I told the man that valets me that I was feeling pretty bad, and I got myself up to look like death. That wasn't difficult, for I'm no slouch at disguises. Then I got a corpse-you can always get a body in London if you know where to go for it.

That quote tells you all you need to know about The Thirty-Nine Steps. When reading this book you are entering a world of death, disguises, innumerable chases on car and foot, and corpses available whenever needed. It is a hey-go-mad romp across the countryside of Scotland where the hero no sooner escapes from one dangerous situation before he falls into another. No wonder this book was made into a movie.It is really made up of scenes and reading it is like having a movie unfold in your head.

Richard Hannay, the protagonist and narrator, returns to his London flat one night to encounter a desperate stranger who claims to have uncovered an anarchist plot that will impact all of Europe. Hannay shelters him while the man fakes his own death. This fake death becomes all too real when Hannay returns one day to find the man stabbed through the heart. Hannay is afraid that the murders will come after him next and that the police will suspect him of the crime. Therefore, he flees for Scotland where he intends to hide out until just before the anarchist plot is to be implemented when he will emerge, warn all of what is to come, and save the day. Things don't go according to plan. Of course. The rest of the book is made up of the aforementioned chases, disguises, and dangerous situations.

This book is frankly implausible but that is what makes it so much fun. The reader completely suspends belief and instead goes on the run with Richard Hannay. And oh, what an adventure it is. It reminded me a bit of a James Bond movie with fewer explosions (though there are some) and no beautiful women. I'll probably download and read the sequels at some point and I'll rewatch the movie. I haven't seen it in years and don't really remember it.

All in all, this was pure entertainment. It isn't the best book ever written. It doesn't make you think or teach you a lesson (other than the folly of sheltering men who are faking their own death) and the plot is full of holes. But it is written at a breakneck speed that carries you along with it.  Enjoy the ride.

This was read for my Classics Club list.

For My Daughter, Who Isn't Sure She Wants To Grow Up

Eleven-almost-twelve is a hard age to be. You know that. You tell me all the time that you don't want to get bigger, that you wish you could stay little. Sometimes I wish you could stay little too because little was so easy to comfort. You would climb in my lap, I would sing you a song, read you a story, tell you everything was going to be okay. And it would be. That was enough for you. But now you don't fit on my lap, you know I can't carry a tune, and you read your own stories. However, I am still here to tell you that everything will be okay. Because it will. I promise.

Growing up is never easy. At every stage of growth we have to leave something behind and it is okay to mourn the things we are losing. Because growth does mean loss. Sometimes the old us doesn't fit anymore as much as we may desperately want it to. It is like the favorite pair of sneakers you keep trying to shove your feet into long after they are too small. But the thing is, the old sneakers don't fit but there is always a new pair. They may be different, not quite the same style and color, but you will grow to love them just as much.

Change is hard and change is scary.  You wouldn't be our kid if you weren't basically opposed to change. We are a family of traditionalists who love our routine. But the thing is, change can also be good. The more we change the more we have an opportunity to grow, to try new things, to broaden our horizons. And then those things, the new things, become part of our traditions.

You don't have to grow up all at once. It is fine to still love your stuffed animals. You don't have to be interested in boys and makeup. Go outside with your backpack full of snacks and your notebook and pretend to be a spy. We will all pretend not to see you creeping up on us. Enjoy being you at whatever age you are. But I do want to tell you that some things about being a grownup are really not too bad. So here are a few things to look forward to.

Chocolate cake for breakfast. I got your attention there, didn't I?  Once you are grown-up there is no one to tell you to eat a balanced breakfast or that cake for breakfast is unhealthy. (Well, at least there isn't for many, many years. Then doctors will start mentioning such horrors as cholesterol levels but we won't think about that.) Many a horrible day has been improved by an unhealthy breakfast. Hey, what did you think I did after you left for school?

On a similar note, there are no bedtimes. Just think, no more begging for just another half hour. You can stay up as long as you want.

No more school and no more homework. It is starting to sound like paradise, isn't it?

Your friendship circle widens. When you are eleven-almost-twelve your friends are basically all the same age. You are unlikely to be best friends with a five-year-old and an eighteen-year-old is unlikely to be best friends with you. When you are an adult age doesn't matter as much. You are friends with people because of similar lives or similar interests, not just because you are both in sixth grade. It makes it much easier to find people you are comfortable with.

Adults still read children's books and play on playgrounds and collect stuffed animals. It is fine to like all these things and more. Some of the best adults I know have kept a bit of the child in them. That is what makes them fun and quirky. And yes, quirky is good when you are an adult.

Not everything about being a grownup is great. There are bills and jobs and chores and other stresses. But not everything about being a kid is great. There are school and homework and way-too-early bedtimes. But whether you are eleven-almost-twelve or seventy-five-almost-seventy-six there are good things in your life and new things to learn.

For now, just know that I will always have a lap and a story and a slightly out of tune song for you whenever you need them.

And maybe, just maybe, the occasional piece of chocolate cake for breakfast.

London Photos


A few weeks ago we went to the house of some friends for dinner. After we ate they sat us all down around their tablet, which was perched on a table, and they started a 45-minute slide show of their recent trip to Mexico. I felt as if I had fallen into a stereotype of vacation photos complete with thumbs in the corner of the picture and bickering about exactly where they were at any given time. I loved it.

While I don't typically inflict my vacation photos on my friends (relatives are another story) I do inflict them on my blog readers. So without further ado, here are way too many photos from my recent trip to London. I'll include the typical disclaimer that my husband and son do not usually want to appear on my blog and I am behind the camera so the photos of me are few and far between.  My daughter, on the other hand....

London skyline


Greenwich park

photographing tulips

London turned her into a bit of a photography fanatic.  It was nice to have someone else who insisted that we stop every two feet to photograph yet another gorgeous bloom or amazing view.

spring bloom

Regent's park

London Zoo


And of course, the obligatory shot of the Elizabeth Tower. Have you been to London if you don't have multiple photos of this?

Elizabeth Tower

London underground

Paddington statue

London makes me happy. Probably, it is all the books I have read. After all, if London is good enough for Paddington it is good enough for me.