Wednesday, April 26, 2017
It is just possible that spring has finally arrived in Connecticut. It is a bit hard to tell right now because we are in the midst of a torrential downpour and the world is grey and gloomy but there is a faint haze of green on the trees and things are starting to sprout and bloom. I have been trying to hurry things on by indulging in my annual rereading of The Enchanted April and The Secret Garden. Please don't bring me back to reality by telling me that my reading of those books has nothing to do with the arrival of spring. I prefer to believe my book choices guide the world's seasons.
Before the endless rain began we did manage to go for a walk on the bike trail. It was gorgeously warm that day and I found all kinds of things blooming and bursting out.
I have no idea what that pretty yellow flower is. Does anyone know? It was blooming all over under the trees. I don't think I have ever noticed it before.
As you can see from these photos, we really don't have leaves on the trees yet. Spring is very late. However, my forsythia is blooming wildly and that is always a good sign. If it would ever stop raining I could go out and clear up my gardens and pretend I had a green thumb. The Secret Garden always convinces me that I will be a success at gardening this year. Obviously, my only problem is that I don't have a wonderful, walled garden to bring back to life.
What season is it where you live? Do you manage to keep plants alive? Tell me your secret.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
So many people smoke. You walk through the streets and there is a near-constant smell of cigarette smoke. My son noticed this particularly because he says that among his generation, smoking cigarettes is viewed as disgusting and he doesn't really know anyone who smokes. He was surprised by the number of younger people who were smoking.
There is so much green space and people treat it like it is their own backyard. The kids were amazed at the huge parks right in the middle of the city and they were impressed with how busy they were. People were picnicking ( and boy, do the British know how to picnic--hampers and wine glasses and fancy finger foods) and playing ball and sunbathing and walking their dogs.
Which leads me to the next point, the dogs. Both of the kids commented on how well-behaved the dogs are. We walk on the bike trails near our house and the dogs are always leashed but they still bark and want to jump on us. In the parks, the dogs were running free but they never once jumped on anyone or caused a problem. Maybe American dogs are just, in general, poorly trained. I am not really a dog person and I wanted some of the dogs I saw. My daughter wanted them all.
The kids were amazed by the history. They know that the U.S. is a relatively recently created country and that a building here is considered very old if it was built a couple of hundred years ago. However, it is something else entirely to see for yourself the truly ancient buildings in England. We toured Arundel Castle (above) which was built in the 11th century and they were enthralled. It was one of the highlights of the trip. My son said it might be the coolest thing he has ever done. That is high praise from a sixteen-year-old.
They loved the food. I took my daughter out for afternoon tea and she thought it was wonderful. She wanted to go every day. We didn't eat in fancy restaurants, we aren't fancy restaurant people, but they thought the food was typically better than what they get at restaurants at home. They also thought the food available at cafes and restaurants in the attractions we visited was far superior. They couldn't believe that the zoo didn't just have chicken nuggets, limp french fries, and dry hamburgers. It isn't that the food at the zoo was amazing, it was just that it was decent and zoo food here is basically disgusting. The restaurant at Arundel Castle flabbergasted them. There was hot food that tasted home cooked, things like sausage and bacon casserole, mackerel salad, and quiche. Plus, big slabs of cake and scones with cream and jam. Again, it isn't that it was the best food we ate, it is just that we are so used to food at museums being unpleasant. They did love Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I think we ate there three times.
They had questions about so many things. Do London kids take the Underground to school and, if so, do they get a discount on their fare? We toured the castle and my son had questions about the Civil War. My daughter had questions about the money and why the terms she has read in old books aren't used anymore. She also wanted to know the names of all the flowers and some were not familiar to me. They just were interested in everything and we loved that.
My daughter has decided she wants to move to London. Both of them spent a lot of time discussing what they would do on another trip. They debated the merits of staying in London again or staying in the countryside and they decided that next time we need to rent an apartment or cottage instead of staying in a hotel. It was wonderful to see them so enthusiastic even though we did have to break it to them that another trip is not going to happen anytime soon.
They loved London. We loved watching them fall in love with London. I just wish we had a bit more time but then, isn't every vacation too short?
I did manage to sneak in a bit of book shopping but that is a post for another day.
*I realize my daughter is the only one featured in these photographs. That is because, in general, my son and my husband would rather not appear on my blog. And I am always behind the camera. I think there are four photos of me from the whole week.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
We will start with Mark Twain. He seems to have been eminently quotable. I have been thinking that I should go tour his house again. Last time I went I was in high school and we won't think about how many years ago that was. He lived in Hartford, CT which is only about an hour from where I live. Besides, it would make a great blog post.
Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
This suggestion fascinates me. First of all, he is right. Of course. After all, he is Mark Twain. Second of all, imagine living in a world were your editor deletes the word 'damn.' I think I want to go back to that world. Twain also said;
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
This is true. I live in a small town and many people don't go very far from it. I don't necessarily think that is a healthy way to live. I want badly for my kids to know there is a whole world out there with other ways of doing things and other ways of thinking. That 'other' is not a bad word. That differences can be what make people interesting. That we don't need to fear differences even if we don't agree with them.
I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.
Me too, Mr. Twain. Me too.
A book is made from a tree It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millenia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time--proof that humans can work magic.
Carl Sagan said that. Isn't it wonderful? I keep reading it over and over because it is such a perfect description of the wonders to be had from books.
And then Dorothy Parker said
Of course I talk to myself. I like a good speaker, and I appreciate an intelligent audience.
She also said,
It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate.
And we will end with a few from P. G. Wodehouse because he makes me laugh out loud. I'll try to restrain myself and only give you a few quotes.
She looked like she had been poured into her clothes and forgotten to say 'when.'
A melanchly-looking man, he had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life's gas-pipe with a lighted candle.
She was definitely the sort of girl who puts her hands over a husband's eyes, as he is crawling into breakfast with a morning head, and says "Guess who!"
He manages to create a complete mental image of a character with just a few words. Incredible. If you haven't read him, do so. He is a master of comedic language.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Thursday, April 6, 2017
If I am totally honest, it hasn't felt like there have been a lot of golden moments in my life lately. The rain has been non-stop and everything is still dingy and brown. My schedule has been crazy busy. I have had a constantly ill child. People have been annoying. I have wanted to throw up my hands, shout "forget it" at the sky, and curl up on the couch for the foreseeable future. But I haven't. I have kept trudging on through and, if I look back, there have been some bright spots. That is why I like writing these posts. It forces me to appreciate the little moments, cheesy as that sounds.
- My daughter and I went to get our hair cut. We both felt fabulous and well-groomed so we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Because there is no better way to show off a new look than by sitting on a stool at a counter and licking an ice cream cone. Salted caramel crunch, if you were wondering.
- I bought a totally unnecessary silky, black, bomber jacket simply because I fell in love with it. I spent the month buying totally necessary clothes for the kids and I rebelled. I regret nothing.
- I saw the first daffodils and crocuses of spring the other day. They were pretty and cheerful and brightened my whole day.
- My husband and I went out to breakfast. By ourselves. The kids went to school and we ignored our responsibilities and went out to eat. It is amazing how much I can talk when there are no kids listening and commenting on every word I say.
- I went to a library book sale where I bought eleven books for $2.75. I know. That is just crazy. They might as well give them away. And yes, those are the books in the photo at the top of this post. I am currently rereading Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell. I needed something light and relaxing for the evenings when I am too tired to keep track of all the characters in my other book, King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett.
- I've been planning our itinerary for our trip to London next week. NEXT WEEK! That will be a whole week of golden moments right there. I can deal with all manner of stresses and annoyance if London is in my future.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
I read a blog post recently debating whether or not personal posts should be included on book blogs. People seemed to come down strongly on one side or the other. Either they wanted book posts and nothing but book posts or they enjoyed the posts that let them get a glimpse into the personality behind the blog. I am firmly in the personality behind the blog club. I like to read about books but I am also insatiably curious about people. I like to know a little about their lives, their interests beyond books, where they live, their favorite dessert. You can call it nosy, I call it...well, if I am honest, I guess I would have to call it nosy too.
In the unlikely event that some of you are just as curious about me as I am about you, I am going to provide a random collection of harmless facts about me and my life. I think I did something like this when I first started blogging but since I had about two readers at the time I feel pretty safe in doing it again. So, here goes.
- If I absolutely had to pick a favorite author it would be Jane Austen. That is an agonizing decision though and even writing that makes me feel as if I am being disloyal to all my other favorites.
- I firmly believe that organized sports are an invention of the devil.
- So is squash.
- I have never dyed my hair. The grey hair that is starting to appear might change that, especially if my kids continue to point out how it is increasing.
- Blue is my favorite color.
- I can't sing.
- Or dance. I have no sense of rhythm at all.
- I am also totally incapable of identifying the artist responsible for a piece of music. I can love it and have listened to it for years but don't ask me who sings it. I can guarantee I won't know.
- I have an ongoing obsession with Myers-Briggs personality tests. (INFJ if you are curious.)
- Tea over coffee.
- Chocolate is the nectar of the gods.
- I hate confrontation. But I am getting better about speaking up when necessary.
- I am not really a crier. Except when I am angry, which is really frustrating.
- I don't completely trust people who don't like to read.
- I make really good pizza.
- And cookies.
- Fudge ripple is my favorite ice cream. Add some caramel sauce and you have perfection in a bowl.
- I am convinced that somewhere out there is the perfect purse that will work for all occasions. I am still searching for it. In the meantime, I own way too many not-quite-perfect purses.
- England is my favorite place to go on vacation.
- I love the beach and find it very relaxing but I am frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of people on beaches.
- Actually, I am frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in life.
- I dislike small talk. But I also hate those fake intense conversations some people have. Just converse, people. Let the conversation take you where it will.
- I worry too much.
- I don't have the brain for chess. My husband doesn't have the brain for Scrabble. We have settled on cribbage.
- My daughter has been taking horseback riding lessons and now I think I would like to learn too. That is a dream for the future, though.
- I am not a huge TV watcher. I drive my husband crazy because I keep recording shows and then I never get around to watching them.
- I really don't like alcohol.
- I can't whistle.
- I love the sound of water--streams, rivers, the ocean. So relaxing and peaceful.
- Autumn is my favorite time of year. Crisp, cool air, blue skies, colorful leaves. I love it all.
- I really, really dislike being hot. Summer and I don't get along.
- I have a phobia of mice. I once made my husband come home from work to set a trap because I saw a mouse in my closet. He is a very kind man.
- My first memory is from when I was 9 months old. No one believes me when I tell them that but my mom can verify it. I provided details of the event that she had never told me.
- My first job was in a newspaper office. I was in high school. My dad was my boss.
- I got married two weeks after I turned twenty. Yes, I know that is very young but yes, I would do it again.
- We were married ten years before we had our son.
- Physical books over ebooks. But I love my Kindle for vacation. No more weighing down my suitcase with five million books and still worrying about running out of reading material.
- Patience is not a virtue I possess.
- I am a good listener.
- I love the smell of lilacs in the spring.
Now, satisfy my curiosity. Provide a few interesting, or not so interesting, facts about you.
Friday, March 24, 2017
I still remember the copy of Alice in Wonderland. It was a paperback, red, with a torn cover. The cover had a pebbled effect which I thought felt interesting. I was very small, maybe three or four, and these things mattered. I had paged through the book often because I liked the pictures and I desperately wanted to know the story that went with them. I begged and begged my mom to read it aloud but she was a bit reluctant. She thought, understandably, that it was a little over my head and that I wouldn't have the patience to listen to it. Finally, I wore her down and she agreed it could be our next read-aloud book. To be honest, I don't remember much after that. Did I like Alice and her adventures? Did it live up to my expectations? I don't remember. What I do remember is the wanting, the desperate desire to know the story, the feeling that inside that book was something important.
I think that is what all readers feel. That books hold secrets, they hold knowledge, they hold stories, and stories matter. Through our lives as readers, there are books that have an impact. That impact is not always because they are our favorite books or because they are meaningful books that teach us something but because they develop our reading life in some way. Little Women was another such book for me. It did become a great favorite but when I stumbled across it on my second-grade teacher's book table all I knew was here was a familiar story. I was horrified to realize that the copy I owned was a condensed version and I immediately knew that I had to read the whole thing. I had to argue with my teacher in order to convince her I could read it. This was totally out of character since I was a very shy, quiet child but it was necessary. I needed that book. It was the start of a life-long hatred of condensed books and a similarly life-long belief that children should be allowed to read what they want to read. Little Women also taught me that old books are full of great stories and that big books are worth the trouble.
Sometimes it is not the story that pulls us in but the words. When I was just a bit older, maybe nine or ten, I pulled a copy of one of Shakespeare's plays off the bookshelf. I think it was The Taming of the Shrew. I didn't really intend to read it, I was just bored and convinced my mom was never going to get off the phone so I could ask her whatever absolutely necessary question I thought I had. So I picked up a book. I knew I wasn't following it all. I knew parts of the story were going over my head. But I also knew I liked the rhythm and flow of the language. I liked the sound of it even though I wasn't completely sure what it meant. I plowed through the whole thing feeling slightly confused but as if I was on the edge of something amazing. To be honest, that is still the feeling Shakespeare gives me. He taught me that words are not simply the vehicle for a story but also a source of beauty in their own right.
Not all of my reading epiphanies occurred in my childhood. Just a few years ago, I discovered book blogs and, as a result, discovered One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes. I love that book. It is lyrical in its writing, the story is quiet but enthralling, and it is set in England. What more could I ask for? That one book led me to Persephone Books which led to an expansion of my reading to British authors of the mid-twentieth century. Authors like Dorothy Whipple, Monica Dickens, Elizabeth Bowen, and Elizabeth Taylor. Wonderful writers, all of them, but I probably would not have discovered them if I hadn't discovered Mollie Panter-Downes first.
That is the amazing thing about books. They change us. And that never ends. Twenty or thirty years from now I will be able to look back and pinpoint more books that matter to me. More books that changed who I am as a reader. More books that I love.
What books have developed you into the reader you are today?
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Last month I wrote a post about food in books. Several people commented and suggested I read Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. I immediately went online and ordered a copy, then I completely forgot I had done so. Yes, I do that a lot. No, I don't really mind. It leads to surprise books in my mailbox and I am sure we will all agree that there are few things better than that. When the book arrived I meant to only flip through it for a few minutes. However, I immediately got pulled in and spent a good portion of the rest of the evening driving my family a little crazy with my enthusiastic comments about favorite books and recipes that are included.
I now know how to make pickled limes. This is important information. I first read Little Women when I was about seven years old and I have wondered ever since exactly what Amy March's favorite school treat tastes like. Pickled limes sound like such a strange thing. But, should I be so inclined, I now have a recipe and I can make them myself.
I also have recipes for Marilla's raspberry cordial, Paddington's marmalade buns, and sugar on snow from the Little House books. Can you imagine how happy this makes me? There are also recipes taken from many children's books that I am not as familiar with. I have recently come across several references to the Chalet School books. I haven't read them but if I want to make an apple cake mentioned in them I can. Milly-Molly-Mandy also seems to inspire a lot of nostalgia in people. A recipe for her Little Patty-Pan Sultana Cakes is included. There are also a lot of recipes from the Famous Five books which makes my daughter very happy. She is a huge fan and already has plans to search out more from the series when we are in London in a few weeks.
Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is wonderful. I dare you to read through it without immediately wanting to go into your kitchen and cook. I also dare you to read it without pulling books from your shelves and rereading favorite excerpts. We won't even talk about how it has added to my reading list. I feel a definite need to fill in some gaps in my childhood reading.
I also loved her "Recipe For Hunger" pictured below. Doesn't it make you happy just to read that?
So, go, buy this book. Just be prepared to gain a few pounds, to spend a lot of hours in your kitchen, and to find it necessary to purchase a few books. I don't see a problem with any of that, do you?
And, did I mention there is a recipe for the molasses candy featured in Daddy-Long-Legs? I have alway wanted to have a taffy pull....
Monday, March 13, 2017
Well-written literature is a wonderful gift. There is nothing like closing the cover of a book and knowing you have read something truly great. Whether, for you, that is a Dickens novel or a modern classic that feeling is unmistakeable.
But sometimes you just want to read fluff. A cozy mystery, a Regency romance, a detective novel, chick lit, whatever your fluff of choice is, we all need it sometimes. But all too often, we feel like we need to apologize for it. "Well, I wouldn't usually read this but...." or "It was fun for what it is but...." There is always that "but", that implication that the fluff isn't good enough.
I am writing this in defense of fluff.
I am a firm believer that a bit of chocolate contributes to a well-balanced diet and that a bit of fluff is essential for the well-balanced reader. We all need to escape sometimes. We all are tired sometimes. We all occasionally want to retreat to our childhoods and read old favorites. We need to shut off our brains and read the story and not analyze the writing. Why do we apologize for that? If cozy mysteries set in an English village full of doddering spinsters and handsome vicars are your thing then read them and preach their wonders from the rooftops. And please, send them on to me when you are done. No, they may not be great literature but did the book engage your interest? Did it pull you into the story? Most important of all, did you enjoy it? If you answered yes, then it was worth reading.
There is a difference between poorly written books and fluff. I have less and less tolerance for poorly written books. If the writing is too pedestrian and I find myself editing the book as I go I am unlikely to read it. But that is not fluff. Fluff is just what it sounds like, light and fun and not too demanding. And there is a lot of well-written fluff out there.
Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite writers of fluff. Actually, she is what inspired this post. I read a review of one of her books--I can't remember where--and the whole thing was a disclaimer. "I don't read romances" Yet, the blogger enjoyed it. And in the comments, everyone else was saying "I don't read romances" yet they were going on to recommend other Heyer novels. So they do read romances. They feel it is something to be apologized for. Just don't. Don't apologize for reading Heyer and don't ever apologize for reading something you enjoyed.
Because that is why we read. We enjoy it. Of course, there are a lot of other benefits. We broaden our horizons, we develop empathy, we learn, but the main reason we read is because we love it. We love books. We love stories.
Sometimes, the stories we love are fluff and that is perfectly okay.
Preach its wonders from the rooftops.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
I love my family, I really do. My kids are great (when they aren't driving me crazy) and my husband is wonderful. We have been married for twenty-six years and I would marry him all over again. But sometimes, just sometimes, when they all walk out of the house in the morning I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Because I love that hour when I am all by myself in the house, the hour before I have to run around like a mad person and get ready to leave myself.
I love being alone.
I love the silence-no one talking, no one stomping through the house, no one...breathing? Is that going too far? There is a different quality to the silence when the house is empty. Even if everyone is quietly busy there is still the potential for noise and somehow that makes it less quiet.
I love being able to do exactly what I want for a few minutes even if exactly what I want is just to sit on the couch and stare out the window while drinking a cup of tea. There is no one to complain because they ate all the groceries in twenty-four hours. There is no one asking all the "mom" questions. "Where are my gym clothes? What's for dinner?" There is no one for me to nag. "Clean your room. Take out the trash. Do your homework. Eat your vegetables."
There is just me and the thoughts in my head which sometimes are overwhelming but frequently are just things that get lost in the everyday chaos of life. It is good to let them bubble to the surface again and feel like I am connecting with me and not just the mom who usually inhabits my body.
I like being alone.
But I also like it when everyone comes home again. I like when my house is full of noise and conversation and laughter--I am not such a fan of the bickering but you have to take the complete package. The thing is, there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is good. Alone is enjoying your own company and relishing the peace and quiet. Lonely is having no one to talk to and feeling overwhelmed by the peace and quiet.
We live in a world where we are seldom alone but we are frequently lonely. Many of us don't have the communities, the nearby families, and the life-long friendships of past generations. We can struggle to make connections with people who don't quite "get" us. We try desperately to align schedules with friends from our past in a frantic bid to not lose complete touch. We can spend our lives surrounded by people but somehow still feel slightly lonely; not in any soul-destroying, cry-into-your-pillow way. Just in a quiet "something is missing but I'm okay" type way.
If we are fortunate, we have a family we love, a family that makes us happy.
But sometimes, just sometimes, it is nice when they all go away and it is possible to enjoy being alone. Because that kind of alone, the few stolen minutes out of a busy life, is not lonely.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts*
I enjoy the British Library Crime Classics. The golden age of detective fiction has produced a lot of great mystery novels that have gotten lost over the years. It is wonderful to see them being reissued. And the absolutely gorgeous covers don't hurt. The Mystery in the Channel is a classic locked room mystery with a yacht in place of the locked room. A steamer comes across a drifting yacht with two bodies on board. No one else is there. Who committed the murder and where did they go? Inspector French is just the man to solve the crime. This is more puzzle driven than character driven but it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Who Pays the Piper? by Patricia Wentworth*
I have read several of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries and was curious to see what she would do with different characters. Lucas Dale is the new owner of King's Bourne. He is rich, arrogant, and determined to marry Susan even though she is engaged to someone else. There are stolen pearls, a bit of blackmail, and then Dale is found murdered in his study. Susan's fiance threatened to kill him just minutes before. Is he guilty? Inspector Lamb and Sergeant Abbott fit all the pieces together. I liked this quite a bit and will be looking for more books featuring this detecting duo.
Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton
This is a Persephone novel which pretty much guarantees it will be good. I have yet to read one I haven't enjoyed. This is one of the domestic novels for which they are so well known. It follows the lives and fortunes of one family from the 1890s through the next forty years or so. Martin Lovell is an architect and a theme of building runs through the entire book. This is a quiet book, much more about character development than about plot. I loved this and will be happy to reread it.
Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse
Sometimes life just requires a Wodehouse novel and this has so many great Wodehouse elements; overbearing women, an obnoxious small boy, a convoluted plot that involves the hero impersonating himself, bungling kidnappers, a butler or two. Really, what more can you ask for? Go read it right away and enjoy the Wodehouse wit. I dare you to not laugh out loud.
The Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny
This is a Trixie Belden mystery. Did anyone else read the Trixie Belden series when they were young? I loved them. I found this on the library free book rack and grabbed it for my daughter. Of course, I had to read it first just for nostalgia's sake. It was exactly what I remembered. If unsupervised groups of young people going off on adventures and solving mysteries that baffle the adults around them are your jam, then this is the book for you. Now that I think about it, so many books I loved as a child involved kids going off on their own and being involved in hair-raising adventures. Where were the parents when this was going on? I remember Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, The Famous Five, The Happy Hollisters. Oh please, someone tell me you read The Happy Hollisters too. Pete, Pam, Holly, Ricky, and Sue were always risking life and limb to catch the bad guy and all Mrs Hollister ever did was smile sweetly and tell them to be home in time for dinner. I'm not sure The Mystery on the Mississippi is the best of the Trixie Belden series but I didn't really care. For a short time I was ten again, imagining myself a member of the Bob-whites, complete with secret whistle and endless adventures.
*This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest review.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Do you see that hat up there? The one with teapots on it? Jennifer from Pastry & Purls made it for me. I admired a similar one on her blog-after all, a hat with teapots is just calling out my name. In this case, I mean that literally since the pattern is the Tea Jenny. Jennifer contacted me and offered to knit me my own Tea Jenny hat. I was so touched by her kindness. It came in the mail last week and I love it. It makes me smile every time I see it. Jennifer also sent the book. Obviously, my interests are coming through clearly on my blog. I will shortly be an expert on how to make ratafia cakes and syllabub and beef-steak pudding. It is so interesting to see what actually goes into some of the foods that have been mentioned in the books I read. I am thinking I might need to make a whole dinner based around this cookbook.
I told my dad about my blog. For the longest time, my kids and husband were the only ones in my real life who knew it existed. However, I knew my dad would get a kick out of it and I was right. He was flatteringly enthusiastic and promptly bought me a subscription to this magazine. He said he used to read it years ago. The first issue showed up in the mail recently and I am enjoying looking through it.
This isn't a gift unless you consider it a gift to myself. I've mentioned my fascination with wartime diaries many times before. This book is new to me and I am finding it very interesting. Since the diarist was a shop assistant there is a lot about the rationing scheme and how it worked and impacted shopkeepers. Kathleen Hey lived in an area that wasn't bombed but that did have to deal with evacuees and the day-to-day deprivations of wartime. I am about halfway through the book and would definitely recommend it.
Now, if only this unseasonably warm weather will come to an end so I can wear my new hat.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
February is the month of grey days, too much snow, and endless cabin fever. All we really want is to see the world starting to turn green and the sun staying out a bit longer. Unfortunately, there is not a hint of green to be seen but we have had a few warmer than usual days. My daughter had the day off from school so we went for a quick walk on the bike trails near our house. You can still see the remnants of the eighteen inches of snow we had a couple of weeks ago but thankfully the trail is clear. Celia brought her scooter and ran circles around me, talking the entire way.
We sat on the fence for a long time watching all the birds fluttering around. It sounded so much like spring. There were several varieties of woodpeckers and what Celia insisted was a junco. Maybe we need to bring binoculars and a bird book next time we go. There were also a lot of animal footprints. Some were just from the dogs that had been for walks with their owners but we also saw deer and rabbit prints.
It was only a short walk because we had things to do and places to be but for a little while we were able to enjoy the winter sunshine, blow the cobwebs out of our heads, and remember what it is like to enjoy the outdoors. My kids say I only like the weather for a few weeks out of the year in the spring and the fall because the rest of the time I say it is too hot or too cold. Sadly, that is true. This day, though was a good day. It was a break in the winter misery and a reminder that maybe, just maybe spring is only weeks away.
This is a walk we do regularly throughout the year and it is interesting to see the how it changes with the seasons. The snow clears, the daffodils bloom, the trees fill out, the river is high, then low, then high again. The leaves change and then fall and the skeleton branches are outlined against the sky. The sound of the river is always there, sometimes louder than others, but always a constant chuckle in the background of our walk. We walk the path as a family and in ones and twos and threes. Scooter and bikes are ridden. We walk fast and slow and we think about running but never actually do it. It is close and convenient and slowly, it has become part of our lives, of our family traditions.
Monday, February 13, 2017
All it has done is snow lately. The kids have had three snow days in the last week. No, they are not complaining. Is there any better feeling in the world than being told school is cancelled? A whole day has been gifted to you to waste as you see fit. You can roll over and go back to sleep and then wake up hours later and do absolutely nothing. Every minute is wonderful.
During one of the snow days I taught my daughter how to make cinnamon rolls. She did a good job and they were greatly appreciated by her father and brother. Don't they look yummy?
It is snowing again today (Sunday) as I write this. We have been home all day since everything has been cancelled and the roads are horrible. There is a good chance school will be at least delayed tomorrow. I am starting to think we will never leave the house again. So far I have enjoyed a fire in the fireplace, made pizza, read most of a book, watched the first episode of The Durrells in Corfu (I recorded it ages ago) and spent way too long looking at shoes online. That last one is not as interesting as it sounds. My son needs new sneakers. We went to the store last weekend and found out his feet have grown and he now wears size 14. No, I didn't type the wrong number. Size 14. Which are pretty much impossible to find in stores. Hence the online shoe shopping. It is amazing how little choice there is in that size and how much they cost. I'm praying that his feet stop growing soon. On the plus side, when the snow melts and the house floods we can use his shoes as boats.
Last week my daughter had another horseback riding lesson. She is loving it just as much as ever. This time she was allowed to trot. She was very excited about that. She has one more lesson in the package she purchased. She has so much fun and I enjoy watching her and the others who are in the ring at the same time. This day there were several members of the University of Connecticut equestrian team there and they were practicing dressage. It was gorgeous to watch. I am going to end up wanting to learn to ride too! I'll just have to live vicariously through my daughter.
Maybe if I read The Enchanted April and The Secret Garden and every other springish book I can think of winter will leave early. That isn't likely though, is it? We probably still have six more weeks of winter stretching out in front of us. I had better stock up on baking ingredients and books.
What season is it where you live?
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
As soon as he got home, he went to the larder; and he stood on a chair, and took down a very large jar of honey from the top shelf. It had HUNNY written on it, but, just to make sure, he took off the paper cover and looked at it, and it looked just like honey. "But you never can tell," said Pooh. "I remember my uncle saying once that he had seen cheese just this colour." So he put his tongue in, and took a large lick. "Yes," he said, "it is. No doubt about that. And honey, I should say, right down to the bottom of the jar. Unless, of course," he said, "somebody put cheese in at the bottom just for a joke. Perhaps I had better go a little further...just in case...because Heffalumps don't like cheese...same as me...Ah!" And he gave a deep sigh. "I was right. It is honey right the way down."
Children's books make me hungry. Winnie-the-Pooh is a perfect example. Read a chapter of two and you will be dreaming of honey too. Maybe some buttermilk biscuits hot from the oven, split open with butter dripping down the sides, and lots and lots of honey. Pooh always thinks it is time for a little something and eventually you find yourself feeling the same.
The Famous Five seem to spend all their time eating and their cooking is frequently done over a campfire which only makes it more appealing.
Let's think about dinner, Anne. What are we going to have? 'Fried sausages and onions, potatoes, a tin of sliced peaches and I'll make a custard,' said Anne, at once. 'I'll fry the sausages,' said Dick. 'I'll light the fire out here and get the frying-pan. Anyone like their sausages split in the cooking?'
Just a few pages over they have a
truly wizard lunch--two hard-boiled eggs each, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and cress, and potatoes baked in the fire in their jackets--followed by what Julian had asked for--slices of tinned pineapple, very sweet and juicy.
And so it goes, ice cream and ginger beer and fizzy lemonade and picnic after picnic. Not only are they gloriously free from all parental supervision but they live a life of one adventure and one meal right after the other.
Sometimes the food in books is just part of the picture but somehow makes the scene. Jo March in Little Women was in the garret,
eating apples and crying over the "Heir of Redcliffe," wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by, and didn't mind her a particle.
And of course, Amy March and her downfall brought about by her love of pickled limes. I still have a burning desire to try a pickled lime. There is also Anne Shirley and her downfall. Brought about, of course, by her confusing currant wine for raspberry cordial and getting Diana Barry drunk. I love her monologue on cake baking that she was in the midst of when she realized Diana was sick.
I should think Marilla's raspberry cordial would prob'ly be much nicer than Mrs Lynde's," said Anne loyally. "Marilla is a famous cook. She is trying to teach me to cook but I assure you, Diana, it is uphill work. There's so little scope for imagination in cookery. You just have to go by the rules. The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. I was thinking the loveliest story about you and me, Diana. I thought you were desperately ill with smallpox and everybody deserted you, but I went boldly to your bedside and nursed you back to life; and then I took the smallpox and died and I was buried under those poplar trees in the graveyard and you planted a rosebush by my grave and watered it with your tears; and you never, never forgot the friend of your youth who sacrificed her life for you. Oh, it was such a pathetic tale, Diana. The tears just rained down over my cheeks while I mixed the cake. But I forgot the flour and the cake was a dismal failure. Flour is so essential to cakes, you know.
Then there is Paddington Bear. We are introduced to him when he has tea with Mr Brown.
Before Mr Brown could answer, he had climbed up and placed his right paw firmly on the bun. It was a very large bun, the biggest and stickiest Mr. Brown had been able to find, and in a matter of moments most of the inside found its way onto Paddington's whiskers. People started to nudge each other and began staring in their direction. Mr. Brown wished he had chosen a plain, ordinary bun, but he wasn't very experienced in the ways of bears. He stirred his tea and looked out the window, pretending he had tea with a bear on Paddington Station every day of his life.
Paddington goes on to eat hot cocoa and chocolate cake and have picnics on the river and, of course, eat countless marmalade sandwiches--many of which are stored in his hat in case of emergency. When I was small and first reading the Paddington books I wasn't completely sure what marmalade was. I decided it was a cross between honey, jam, and toffee. I love the real marmalade now but I still have a yearning to eventually find my imaginary marmalade. I am sure it would be delicious-- and very sticky.
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are some of my childhood favorites and they are full of descriptions of food. The first ones that come to mind are the meals Almanzo Wilder eats in Farmer Boy.
At last he and Father got places at the long table in the dining-room. Everyone was merry, talking and laughing, but Almanzo simply ate. He ate ham and chicken and turkey, and dressing and cranberry jelly; he ate potatoes and gravy, succotash, baked beans and boiled beans and onions, and white bread and rye'n'injun bread, and sweet pickles and jam and preserves. Then he drew a long breath and he ate pie. When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie but he couldn't finish it. He just couldn't do it. There were berry pies and cream pies and vinegar pies and raisin pies, but he could not eat any more.
Don't you want a piece of pie now? And to be able to eat like a growing boy?
I think I need to go bake. Maybe some pie?
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
I always wanted to be a writer. I, obviously, loved to read and the natural progression was that I wanted to write. What I wanted to write varied widely depending on my age and interests at the time. My dad was a newspaper editor so being a journalist sounded fascinating. I loved fiction so wouldn't it be wonderful to create my own stories? For a long time, I wanted to be a travel writer. Imagine being paid to travel and write about it. It sounded like the best job on earth. To be frank, it still does. If anyone wants to send me around the world in return for a series of mediocre ramblings about my experiences I am available. I tried my hand at a few children's stories. The one about the monsters that lived under my bed was my favorite. There were also a few light romances, a few cringe-worthy poems, and an abandoned attempt at a suspense novel. I eventually decided I did not have the makings of a writer and started ignoring the words that continually floated around in my head. Doesn't everyone have to mentally narrate their activities and edit and re-edit the running monologue that accompanies their life? I preferred to believe so.
You know where this is going. Then I started this blog and it revived my interest in words and the things you can do with them.
I enjoy words. I like their precision and their ambiguity. I like playing with them and seeing where it takes me. I love the feeling when they flow and hate the frustration when I am staring at a blank screen and all the words seem locked in my head.
For some reason, a quote from The Wind in the Willows keeps running through my head. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing-absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." Except I keep hearing it as "messing about with words."
The thing is, I still want to be a writer but I want to write well, or at least as well as I can. How do you learn to write? Well, reading obviously. The best training to be a writer is to be a voracious reader. It seems I have been training for writing my whole life. The natural progression is to start reading books on writing. That is what I have been doing. The one I am in the middle of right now is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. It is described as "an informal guide to writing nonfiction" and I think it is so useful that I am now going to quote huge swathes of it at you. I am only on page 77 and the pages are already littered with sticky notes. The first sticky note is on page 7 where he says:
Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon....But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what--these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of the sentence. And they usually occur, ironically, in proportion to education and rank.
I think maybe this can sum up the whole book. Simplify and then simplify again. Excess words muddle your writing. He says this better than I can just a bit further on.
The point is that you have to strip down your writing before you can build it back up. You must know what the essential tools are and what job they are designed to do. If I may labor the metaphor of carpentry, it is first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly and to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finials, if that is your taste. But you can never forget that you are practicing a craft that is based on certain principles. If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart.Zinsser also addresses the question of "Who am I writing for?"
It's a fundamental question and it has a fundamental answer: you are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience--every reader is a different person. Don't try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don't know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they're always looking for something new.
All three of those quotes can be found in the first 26 pages of the book. I told you, it is littered with sticky notes. What I appreciate is that he makes writing so accessible, so doable. It isn't some secret art only practiced by geniuses in the light of the full moon with their muse leaning over their shoulder. It is ordinary, everyday. It is work, not flashes of pure inspiration. This work-a-day approach to writing does not take away the magic. It just makes the magic possible for anyone who wants it.
I still occasionally dream of being a travel writer, crisscrossing the globe and writing up my articles in atmospheric cafes. Sadly, I don't think that dream is ever going to come true. However, Zinsser's book has made me realize that it is still possible to play with words. It is still possible to be a writer.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
I was going to write a post about books for your horse-mad child. The stack of books has been sitting on the floor next to the couch for a week now. It will probably still be there next week. And there we have the perils of January. Good intentions go by the wayside, blog posts never get written, and I continue to attempt to sink the January blues in countless books and too much chocolate. There are worse ways to go.
However, this is not a post in which to moan about winter but instead, one that requires concentrating on the bright spots and there have been a few scattered through the all-too-dark (literally) days. I was in Boston again recently and as usual, the Boston Public Library pulled me in. Last time I was in there it was night time and I have been meaning to go back because I wanted to see the courtyard. I like courtyards. They feel a bit secret gardenish and I have always wanted my own secret garden ever since reading the book as a child. Of course, any courtyard in the middle of the library in a city is not exactly a secret but still, it gives the same feeling. Well, at least it did if you ignored the gaggle of teen-aged girls taking selfies. I resolutely looked the other way and pretended they didn't exist. It's fine, they did the same thing with me.
Isn't that pretty? Imagine what it must look like in the summer. Obviously, I will have to go back and take more photos then. Hopefully, the gaggle of girls will have achieved the perfect selfie by then and moved on.
I bought two books recently. You know any Golden Moments post is going to involve a book or two. Actually, I think it might be three. I am pretty sure there is another one that should show up sometime soon but I can't remember what it is and we will leave that for another pleasant surprise on a cold and wintry day.
I picked up the book about the Duchess of Devonshire on a whim. She is a woman that seems to pop up in books quite a bit but I don't feel that I know much about her. This was on my favorite library book sale rack for 50 cents so hopefully I will shortly be more informed. I also got The Feast by Margaret Kennedy. I know this was because of a review I read on a book blog somewhere but, as usual, I can't remember which blog. The book showed up with a beautiful but absolutely destroyed dust jacket. Plus, the sellers had stuck a sticker smack in the middle. Sacrilege. However, I wasn't expecting a dust jacket at all and the book itself is in good condition so I'll let it go.
My daughter had another riding lesson and she loved it just as much as the first time. She spent the car ride in discoursing on the causes and cures for colic in horses. A close friend of mine came to the lesson. We spent the hour freezing in the dark and cold, admiring Celia at every turn, and talking like mad. A good time was had by all.
My plans were rescheduled on Saturday. Yes, that qualifies as a golden moment. I was tired and just a tad grumpy. Please don't ask my kids about that measurement, I am sure they would put it higher. Anyway, plans were changed (not because of my grumpiness) and I got to stay home with the previously mentioned books and chocolate. It was glorious.
What golden moment have there been in your life lately?
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
I might possibly have mentioned before that I love London. Does that sound familiar? Do you have a vague memory of me rhapsodizing about England and bookstores and gardens?
I thought you might.
We are going to do it all over again. We are going to England again in April and this time we are taking the kids with us.
I know. Just think of all the posts I am going to get out of this trip. Prepare to be inundated with London photos.
It is going to be a very different trip since we will have the kids with us. London has always been our place. We spend the rest of the year being parents and while we love our kids it has always been wonderful to spend one week just being a couple. However, our son is getting older and we can see the writing on the wall. In the not too distant future he will have his own independent life and even if he comes on vacation with us it won't be the same. He will want to do his own thing. He will be an adult. We want to do this one big trip while he is still a kid, while we are still parents doing things with our kids, not adults doing things with other independent adults. We want to take our kids to the zoo and the museums and show them the sights. So that is exactly what we are going to do. We are going to show our children the things we have come to love and we are going to hope they have just a little bit of the feeling we do about England. The kids are very excited and so are we.
When my husband and I go to London we spend a lot of time touring stately homes, wandering through gardens, browsing in bookshops, and sitting in coffee shops. I think we are going to be experiencing a very different London with the kids. Our son has already requested that we tour Emirates Stadium where Arsenal plays. You can be sure that has never been on my list of things to do in London before. Our daughter wants to go to the zoo. It doesn't matter what city we are in, she always wants to go to the zoo. We are going to show them a lot of the major tourist attractions and we are hoping to fit in a train trip out into the countryside. I have been researching castles because our son is fascinated by the medieval time period and I think it would be fun to tour a castle that recreates that time. Please, let me know if you have any suggestions.
You can also be sure that I will be visiting as many bookshops as I can get away with. It isn't a trip to London if I don't go to Persephone Books and Daunt Books and Waterstones and well, the list just goes on and on.
We are going back to London with its noise and commotion, its gardens and its beautiful buildings. We are going to eat fish and chips and tea and cake. We are going to walk until our feet hurt and then be crushed onto the underground with too many people. We will decide everyone's accent sounds cooler than ours. I will drive my family crazy by taking too many photographs. We will show the kids a bigger world. We will marvel at the history. We will spend the week telling our daughter she can't buy every single stuffed animal she sees. I will try to buy every book I see. We will enjoy our time with our kids because they grow up faster than you ever would believe possible.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
I read two books I loved recently. One was a reread. It is Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther. My local library has a bad habit of getting rid of older books so periodically I check out ones I particularly like in the hopes of preventing their culling. The last time I read Mrs. Miniver was before I started blogging so it was definitely time to check it out again. I was tempted to check out Dickens entire ouevre in order to protect them as well. They looked like they hadn't moved from the shelves in years. However, I thought the librarians might have some questions if I staggered up to the desk under a tower of Dickens novels. Maybe I will work my way through his novels one at a time. Why do libraries get rid of old books? I know they have to stay current but there is a real value to older books as well. The library recently took all their Georgette Heyer novels off the shelves. What were they thinking? Probably that no one reads old books, but I do and I miss being able to go into the library and find what I want.
Anyway, back to Mrs. Miniver before this turns into a rant. I am sure most are familiar with this book, especially since it was made into a movie during WWII. The book is a series of charming vignettes about Mrs. Miniver and her family. They live a privileged life in London just before the start of WWII. The vignettes were originally written as a series of newspaper columns for The Times. They are all about small aspects of life; Christmas shopping, a dinner party, getting a new car, a country house visit. Mr.s Miniver does seem to have a way of saying things I didn't know I was thinking. I ended up with a book littered with sticky notes. I won't inflict all of them on you but here are a few of the quotes I marked.
Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber's hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jigsaw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the "Blue Danube" waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.
Don't you just want to be in that room and settle down for tea with Mrs. Miniver? Maybe pick up one of the library books to see what she is reading. And nibble on a ratafia biscuit because I always read about them in books and have no idea what they taste like.
I also liked this quote about marriage.
It seemed to her sometimes that the most important thing about marriage was not a home or children or a remedy against sin, but simply there being always an eye to catch.
And this made me chuckle.
"Ha!" said the Colonel. She noted with delight that he really did say "Ha!" This made a valuable addition to her collection. She had lately acquired a "Humph!" and two "Whews!" but she was still waiting in vain for a "Pshaw!"
If you haven't read Mrs. Miniver, do so. She manages to catch everyday moments and thoughts and make them special. The picture of life is of a time that doesn't seem to exist anymore but every time I read a book like this I yearn to step into the pages and wander the English countryside.
The second book I read is Chatterton Square by E. H. Young. I love Young's novels and have been rationing them because I don't want to run out. This book is set just before the start of WWII during the appeasement era. It is the story of two families living across from each other. One woman is married to a priggish man she does not like or respect and the other's husband has left her and moved to France. This is a quiet book with great emotional depth. It is not full of huge events but instead it contains the gradual development of characters and relationships. Not everyone is likeable, many make mistakes, but Young does a wonderful job of making all of them believable and sympathetic.
I particularly enjoyed one character's description of why she valued books and reading.
I've made hundreds of friends, yes hundreds of them, good and bad and all interesting. They can't possibly die before I do. I'm sure of them for as long as I want them and when. There's somebody for every mood and though they don't go off in tempers.' she said, giving Rosamund one of her meaning looks, 'and leave you in the lurch, you can send them away when you've had enough of them.
And this about the changing role of parents.
When they were babies she had looked forward to the time when they would not need constant care and now she found that keeping them out of the fire, from falling downstairs and eating unsuitable substances was nothing to the inaction she had imposed on herself, the advice she must not offer, the knowledge that they would never consider themselves in need of.
Mrs. Miniver was a light and charming book despite the looming spectre of war. Chatterton Square is a darker, more introspective book. I loved both of them and highly recommend them.