Monday, June 30, 2014

The Katniss Dress

You all remember this post about my reservations (and thoughts) about the Hunger Games?  Well, the thing I didn't mention then was my love of some of the gorgeous clothes.  I think the movie writers were going for Depression-era clothes and styles and colors.  All of the kids really do look like little 30s kids during the dust bowls.

And this is what the houses look like:
But anyway, during the reaping, when two children from District 12 are taken, Katniss is wearing this gorgeous blue dress that looks like it was made from something drapey and soft, like rayon or wool.  I fell in love with the dress and it's gorgeous 40s-esque details.  

I loved everything from the ruching at the shoulders to the tie belt to the pretty little glass buttons.  After lengthy google searches, I discovered that no pattern company can design this dress because of copyright laws.  Somebody on Etsy is making them for $300.  Well, no thank you (although, to be fair, if I were making dresses for people, I'd probably charge $300, too).  So I set out to find fabric and a similar pattern to make a dress like this.  I found several patterns, but none of them were really that close to this.  Later, I was up in the sewing room and what should my eye fall on, but some gorgeous blue rayon that was just slightly darker than this fabric.  A bit later, I was searching through my patterns, looking for something that would be similar to the dress and what should I find, but a pattern that was very similar.  I nearly passed out, I was so excited!  

I'm just going to use the bodice from this pattern.  I'll use a shorter, slightly less full skirt pattern and sleeves from a 40s blouse.  I'll also take off the collar and turn the dress into a v-neck. I'll make a wearable muslin first-a dress made in cheap fabric to test run something-before I cut out the real thing.  I couldn't be more thrilled!

Here's the pattern.  I couldn't get a good picture of the fabric, so you'll just have to wait until the dress is done.  I can't wait to show you all!

(Imagine this dress with the neck in a v and with a shorter skirt.  Doesn't it look
remarkably like the real dress?)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yes Sister, No Sister

Recently, I've been reading the memoir Yes Sister, No Sister.  I've mentioned it several times on this blog.  It ended up being a really fun story of a young woman in the 50s who leaves her military parents in India to go to study nursing in Yorkshire.  She starts work with her school friends at Leeds General Infirmary and proceeds to have all kinds of fun and challenges in her path to nursing.

Jennifer Ross (the author's real name is Jennifer Craig) tells the partly gripping, partly humorous, partly moving story of nursing in a warm, affectionate voice.  It is obvious that her early years as a nurse spent in Yorkshire were very good years, in spite of the long hours and sometimes cranky head sisters who ran the hospital.  There is also a whole host of likable characters, from kind Sister Busby who fixes the young surgeons' mistakes to Jennifer's best friends, Jess and Sandy.

I won't lie, there are definitely gory parts and Jennifer Craig does not gloss over the nasty hours of cleaning out bedpans and the man whose leg she felt pull off of his body.  This doesn't repulse me like it does some people, so I wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone because of that.  But to counteract the sometimes dark parts of nursing, such as seeing a dead body for the first time, there are things like the old man with the funny Yorkshire accent and the hours spent laughing with fellow nurses over funny incidents.

Jennifer Craig, along with being a good nurse (or so it appears from the stories), is also a good writer.  She doesn't bog the reader down with piles of technical writing and parts of medical procedures that are mentioned are explain in layperson's language.  Her writing style is breezy and funny and there is nothing pedantic or solemn about the way she presents this life story.  I think that it's kind of the nurse's version of the James Herriot stories.   I've always loved Herriot's writing style, so it's great to find somebody else who has the gift of being good at their profession and at telling a story.

If you are completely put off by the occasional mention of blood and guts, then please do not pick up this book.  But if that doesn't faze you, then go ahead and read this.  The stories are fantastic.  I had a heck of a time finding this book.  It appears to be only sold with Amazon UK and I couldn't find it at the library.  I finally found some place in North Carolina that had the book used.  So if you have this book at your library or close to you somewhere, you're very lucky!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vintage Magazines

I have a deep and abiding love of vintage women's magazines.  They're such a fascinating look into another time period, and they're fun to read to boot.  I've been reading vintage magazines for years and I thought that I should pass on the vintage magazine reading love.  They can be sort of difficult to find, but they're well worth the hunt.  These days, thanks to more accessible vintage stores and the online world, they can be found for prices that are not outrageous.  So here are my reasons for loving vintage magazines.

1.  That lovely smell.  There is nothing like musty paper.  It's so intoxicating!  It's interesting, because the smell is completely different from the scent of old books, but both are among my favorite smells in the world.

2.  The often-hilarious ads.  My favorite is one of a worried 50s mother trying to get her little boy to take his daily laxative.  It's only when one of her friends explains that little Timmy needs a children's laxative, not a big old adult one.  It's no wonder he hates the taste!  There are all kinds of ads from toilet paper to laundry detergent to hand cream.  Ads are another way to get a clear picture of what people were thinking about at another time.

3.  The illustrations and photographs in the stories.  There is something so cheerful and charming about the drawings and photographs that accompany the stories.

4.   The fashion pages.  You all know how much I love vintage fashion.  Most vintage women's magazines have a fashion section, much like today's women's magazines.  However, instead of "5 belts for under $75"(you know that just means that each belt costs $74.99), it's "This fall's coat patterns" or "Make a new apron in an afternoon."

5.  The (sometimes garishly colored) food.  The food almost never looks appetizing, but I still have fun looking at the pictures and laughing at the nasty-looking jelled recipes (chicken with tomatoes jelled in lime jello, anyone?)

6.  The stories.  The stories often have a soap-opera-ey bent to them, but occasionally you'll find something well written by a now-famous author.  The stories are usually divided throughout the magazine, so you'll turn from page 56 to page 75, where the next segment of the story is.  These magazines are worth hunting out just for the fun stories.  It's too bad that women's magazines have lost this charming feature.  Where else could you get 7 different short fictional stories for 25 cents then?

The only complaint I have about vintage magazines is their unwieldy nature.  They tend to be a lot bigger than magazines today (almost newspaper height) and it takes some upper body strength to keep the magazine upright while reading an article.  I've found that the best way to read them is to spread the magazine on the floor and flop down on the floor on your stomach and read, with your chin propped up on your elbows.

So if you should happen to stumble upon a vintage magazine (or, lucky you, magazines), snap it up.  You're in for a treat.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Her Royal Spyness: A Royal Pain

This is a review that I've been saving in my drafts for about a week now because I knew it would be such an easy review to write.  As summer comes upon us for real, I'm feeling the urge to pull out light, breezy reads to satisfy my bookish cravings in the little bits of time that I have available.  These mysteries fulfill that perfectly.  Her Royal Spyness is by no means a masterpiece of writing, yet the characters are well-drawn (I can't abide one dimensional characters) and there is a real, interesting plot.

In this, the second book in the Her Royal Spyness series, Georgie (short for Georgiana), is summoned by the queen.  Filled with the fear that the queen is sending her off to remote Scotland to wind wool for a dotty aunt until a suitable husband is found, Georgie sets off.  However, the queen only wants her to host a visiting German princess.  Georgie is in no position to host a young princess.  Her own allowance has been cut off by her stingy brother and she is living in a drafty London townhouse with no hired help at all.  However, how can she refuse the queen?  So the wild Hanni comes into her life.  Soon after Hanni arrives, a string of deaths occur that at first do not appear to be linked.   And so Georgie starts sleuthing around the bumbling police to find who is behind all the deaths.

Georgie's friends are all back including, surprisingly, the love interest who I was sure was going to get cut out.  There may be hope yet for Georgie and Darcy, although I'm still going to be pretty surprised.  Rhys Bowen has still managed to write a unique book.  With series like this, I'm always worried that the books are going to run together in my head in one indiscernible mush so I can't remember what happened in one book.  But, so far, both stories were different enough to be enjoyable, yet familiar enough that it was easy to come back into Georgie's world.
The next book

This book really isn't for everybody.  However, if you've ever loved a British mystery, a funny novel, a light-yet-still-well-written book, and a group of lovable characters, then this would be a great choice for you.  I loved it and can't wait to read the third one!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Dessert Cookbook

As I sit writing this, I am eating the most delectable thing.  It is a pink, creamy, quivering mass, gently perfumed with the scent of garden strawberries-a strawberry yogurt panna cotta.  I made the recipe two days ago and, like a bad blogger, completely forgot to take any pictures.  But this book still deserves a glowing review from me.  It's called Bakeless Sweets and it's by Faith Durand who is the editor of the wonderful cooking blog, The Kitchn. The cookbook is composed of desserts that are bakeless, most of them things like pudding and panna cotta, but also icebox cakes and no-bake bars.  

Yesterday, I made my first recipe out of the cookbook, a strawberry panna cotta, and it turned out perfectly.  Faith Durand perfectly broke down the steps without going overboard in her instructions and after a night in the fridge in a vintage jello mold, the panna cotta came out perfectly and I ate some for breakfast (yes, breakfast *blush*).  Panna cotta is made by mixing gelatin with something cold, be it a fruit puree, juice, or water.  Then, you simmer cream or milk or coconut milk or something with sugar and stir in the juice and gelatin until the gelatin is completely dissolved.  The final step is to pour it into a jello mold or little ramekins and stick in the fridge until it sets up.
The recipe I made-photograph from the book.

Walnut, Fig, and Barley Pudding, Coffee and Cream Jelly Cups, Deepest Chocolate Mousse, Vietnamese Coconut Tapioca Pudding, No-Bake Meyer Lemon Bars...the list goes on and on in this gorgeous cookbook and I am determined to make them all.  The title makes me think of a slapdash cooking 80s cookbook title (you know the type-"Why the heck would you go to any work in the kitchen when you can throw something together that, you know, kind of tastes like food?!"), but that is not at all how the cookbook comes across.  The pictures are gorgeous and the book is well written.  Each recipe in this cookbook makes me hungry.
Vietnamese Tapioca Pudding-the next recipe I want to try,
also a photograph from the book.

I have a special soft spot in my heart for the old fashioned comfort of jelled things and puddings, but even if you don't, this cookbook is sure to win you over.  Really, you must read it and make a least 5 things out of this wonderful cookbook.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Letter E

Claire of The Captive Reader told us all about a fun new meme that was being done on the blog Stuck in a Book.  All you do ask for a letter in the comments section and you are assigned one. Then, you have to come up with your favorite book, author, song, film, and object, all starting with that letter.  I got rather unlucky and ended up with E, so here goes:

Favorite Book:  Emma by Jane Austen
This is Emily Kimbrough

Favorite Author: Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner-This one is a bit of a stretch, but these two friends wrote one of the worlds most hilarious memoirs about traveling in Europe as teenagers.

Favorite Song: El Matador by the Kingston Trio.  I am very fond of the Kingston Trio and I was so glad they had a song that starts with E!  Eavesdrop by the Civil Wars is another one.  With both these songs, it's more that I like the group than the individual song.

Favorite Movie: Enchanted made me laugh and it was a light watch, but, ultimately, Emma the movie won.

Favorite Object: This one drove me crazy.  I mean, it's not like there aren't objects that start with E-energy drinks, ethanol, earwax, eggs...but I don't like any of those things.  I decided to go with evergreen tea.  Yes, that is such a thing.  I forget where I found it, but we had a box of it and used it up very quickly.  That pine-y scent is delicious in tea.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday-Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike On A Book Cover

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup hosted by The Broke and Bookish.)

The topic for this Top Ten Tuesday is very close to my heart because I am so fond of book covers and they so often sway what I'm going to think about a book (I know, I know, how shallow is that?)

So first of all, the 5 things I don't like:

1.  Those little caption thingeys on a title.   I don't mean a subtitle, but those things that you often see on romance book covers.  "She was looking for a good friend, but he was looking for more..."  or something like that.  Those things make me gag.

2. When the cover of a book is just the movie cover.  That's why I never read the edition of a book that was republished after a movie came out.  Argh.

3.  Most 80s covers.  I know, how's that for a sweeping statement?  But they mostly drive me insane.

4.  All Amish Romance covers.  Now I have to preface this by assuring you that I have never, ever picked up an Amish romance in my whole life.  But those things are knee deep in the library and I've had plenty of chances to form opinions about them.  The people on the covers are always just people that look like models with a bonnet (or a straw hat as the case may be) smacked on top.

5.  Gorgeous vintage book covers that got "modernized" at some point and are now hideous.

So now that I've gotten my book cover hate out, here are the things I love in a book:

1.  Beautiful illustrations on a book- That's a big category, but illustrations that manage to enhance the book while still being unobtrusive enough to not take away from the book itself.  And I always prefer illustrations over pictures.

2.  Vintage book covers-You all know how much I love vintage books and the covers are one of my favorite parts

3.  When the title is based on some quote within the book.  A lot of authors do this, and I always like it.

4.  A clean, non-swirley, yet still interesting font.

5.  A title that makes me laugh.  I love those and those books almost always get put higher on my TBR list.

So those that's my Top Ten for the week!  Don't forget to stop by Broke and Bookish and share your
Top Ten.

Monday, June 23, 2014

After the Vacation

The day after vacation, I always feel the pull to do two different things.  1. To fly around getting everything unpacked and in the laundry and 2. To flop down on the couch with a book and take a nap.  I've combined the two and after throwing a load of laundry in the wash, I'm curled up in the armchair with a huge stack of reading material that includes a nursing memoir, Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart, a couple vintage magazines (must blog about that) and a section of the newspaper.  While I was hanging out the laundry, my eye was caught by how gorgeous the front flower beds are looking.  In just a little over a weekend, the wildflower mix that we spread liberally has started to really bloom.  I am so pleased by how the beds turned out, so I grabbed the camera and snapped a few pictures.  Isn't it pretty?

...And a lovely rose that I snapped a picture of as I was coming inside.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Vacation

Good morning, dear readers.
I'm going to be on vacation from Thursday to Sunday.  So in the meantime, enjoy whatever you're reading.  As always, the archives are on the sidebar to the right, so if you get a hankering to read some old posts, go ahead!
Happy Reading to you all!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up from the blog The Broke and Bookish.)

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking about the top ten books on your summer TBR (to be read) list.  I had a really hard time with this question, not because I don't have a huuuuge TBR list, but because I have so many to choose from!

1.  The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyzewski- I already read this, but it was most definitely on my to-read list!

2.  The Mary Stewart books-I had a goal of reading all of them this summer, but now I'm second-guessing my abilities to read about 10 of her books along with everything else.

3. Gone With the Wind-After this was mentioned on the blog Girl With Her Head in a Book, I decided that I needed to get over my aversion to this book and read it this summer

4.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-My dad read this recently and told me that it was fantastic, so I'm going to hunt this out and read it.

5. Evelina by France Burney-This was something that was on my Library Loot post about 4 weeks ago and I checked it out of the library, then forgot it, then considered checking it out again, and then forgot.

6. The Baker Street Letters- A book that the library annoyingly refused to put on hold because it was on the new book shelf.  I requested it again and I'm getting it soon

7. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman-A book that, apparently, inspired some kind of controversy (must read up on it).  I saw the movie when it came out and really loved it, so of course, I must read the books.

And then I've discovered a new genre: memoirs that I actually like!  Remember how a couple of weeks ago I had about 3 memoirs on my Library Loot pile?  Well, one of them went missing on the hold shelf and the other just wasn't available, even though it was on the library website (grrr).

So, 8, 9, and 10 are all memoirs that I want to read.  I can't remember all of the titles.  The one I just got in the mail (you know that happy feeling you get when you see that brown, book-sized box?) is called Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire.  It's a fabulous, pretty light book and I'm really excited to read it!

I have to mention as a side note, this is my 100th post!  Yippee!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Pretty Cookbook

I heard the Kinfolk Cookbook mentioned briefly on a blog and was fascinated.  Wonder of wonders, our public library actually had it on the new book shelf, so I snapped it up and read it aloud on the way home from the library.  I am familiar with Kinfolk and I think we even got a few issues of the magazine.  It is, essentially, a hipster lifestyle magazine.  Actually, I think it's food and entertaining specifically, but really, it's pictures of pretty stuff and then short essays and recipes, most of which are about food.  The pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to find a rough wooden table and mismatched, chipped china (it sounds weird, I just need to see these pictures).  The magazine fascinates me because it's so different from the 90s ideal.  It's still very much this idyllic perfection just like Martha Stewart's magazines, but what you're supposed to be trying to attain is radically different.

So when I found out about this, I was looking forward to a good cookbook read.  Like I said earlier, some of the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to spend hours with my camera.  However, the writing is...meh.  I think that the writers could do with a little lesson on sparse use of adjectives and avoiding flowery language.  The run-on sentences abound, filled with an adverb or an adjective every 5th word.  It makes for funny, but slightly tiring reading.

However, in spite of the writing, the overall tone of the book is inspiring in that they're encouraging people to get back into the home and cook and entertain.  All of the recipes look delicious.  The format of the book is a short bio about one of the Kinfolk editor's friends, and then recipes that the friends shared.  I wanted to warn you about the writing, but the overall message of the book, the photography, and the recipes make up for it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Father's Day Poem

I had the worst time finding a suitable Fathers' Day Poem.   It couldn't be smarmy (you know the poems…the father portrayed as this strong, silent, perfect person), it couldn't be funeral (that's a surprisingly large amount of poems about Fathers) and it couldn't be grim and dark.  It's not like you can't find plenty of that when looking for Mothers' Day Poems, but there are still the occasional poems that are beautiful without being saccharine.  I was so pleased when I found this poem.  It's by no means perfect, but there are no bitter undertones, and no smarmity.

Only a Dad

Only a dad, with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
Bringing little of gold or fame,
To show how well he has played the game,
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come, and to hear his voice.

Only a dad, with a brood of four,
One of ten million men or more.
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
Merely one of the surging crowd
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever may come his way,
Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.

Only a dad, but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing, with courage stern and grim,
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen,
Only a dad, but the best of men.

I thought I would also quote this poem because it makes me laugh so much.

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head --
Do you think, at your age, it is right?

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And you have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door --
Pray, what is the reason for that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment -- one shilling a box --
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak --
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose --
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father, "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs.

I'm thinking that maybe I need to sit down and write a really good Fathers' Day Poem.  I have my dad to thank for a lot of my love of reading.  He has never liked fiction, but he read lots of wonderful children's books to my brother and me.  I can still remember listening to him read and sobbing over Aslan's death in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It was my first experience of enjoying a sad part of a good book.  Anyway, happy Fathers' Day to all of you whatever you're doing and whoever your fathers/father figures are.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Cats- An Explanation and an Introduction

As I was heading out to feed the chickens, I watched the cat sociology and made up a story as I watched. Then, a brilliant blog post sprang into my head and took hold.  I arranged and rearranged sentences as I lugged buckets and shook mud out of my boot, then came running inside to quickly get the post down on paper.  So here it is.

As you may know from my frequent kitty pictures, we have a host of barn cats.  These are not cosseted little darlings, mind you (not that I have any problem with cosseted kitties).  They get their first vaccinations, get fixed, then live pretty rough and tumble lives.  Yet we all have soft spots in our hearts for these kitties and they have all come to have personalities, both real and made up.  Now you're probably wondering what on earth I mean.  My family has an odd tradition (and it's generations deep) of making up a character for beloved pets.  It's usually kind of based on the animal's real personality, but it's definitely very much rooted in the imaginary.  I was thinking about why we do this and I think that it's because we all read and grew up reading.  We are so used to fictional characters that turning our animals into fictional characters themselves is no problem!

So, I thought I would properly introduce you to the cats, both their real and pretend personalities.  I did want to make a little clarification: these cat personalities are in no way related to people that we know.  Most of them are quite stereotypical characters that nobody is really like.

Tiger-I'm not sure if he's ever been in a blog post.  He's a huge cat and he kind of feels like the patriarch, probably because he and his sister Midnight were the first cats to come on this farm.
The Pretend Tiger is the CEO of the cats.  He puts together power point presentations of how many mice have been killed, how we can "grow the business" and how the rates of mouse killing have "impacted" our growth (can you tell how much business incorrect grammar lingo bothers me?).  He's a slick businessman in a suit and he's an affectionate adoptive uncle to his nixy little niece and nephew, Tom and Shadow.
                                  (Couldn't find a picture of Midnight)
Midnight-I'm sure I've never posted about her.  She is almost never around because she takes long hunting trips and keeps to herself and kills lots and lots of mice.  She also hates other cats.  However, she loves people and is always up for a good snuggle, as long as she doesn't smell like the latest skunk she got in a fight with.
The Pretend Midnight is a bit of a recluse.  She is a spinster who lives in a little cottage in the woods by herself.  She's fiercely protective of her bachelor brother and she's convinced he can't survive in the world without her.
Sadly, this is the only picture I could find of Patsy Cline.
But you get an idea of what she looks like.

Patsy Cline-Yes, we have a cat named Patsy Cline and yes, it's after the country singer.  See, she came around singing a song about a man who'd done her wrong (the common theme in Patsy Cline songs, doncher know).  Sure enough, Patsy Cline was pregnant and now we have Shadow and Tom.  The Pretend Patsy had a rough background (she probably did in real life) that involved a string of men and one cat in particular-a greasy longhaired cat who came riding up on his little kitty motorcycle to visit her at the restaurant where she worked.  After Patsy had Shadow and Tom, she moved here (that's obviously real) and has since vowed to stop chasing men around and having kittens.  Except now she's flirting with Tiger, which enrages his protective sister and is causing all kinds of uproar.  The kittens have moved on to live with their uncle Tiger while they go to school in town.  Patsy is glad to have a quiet little cottage to herself.
                                         (No picture for Grouchy Kitty available)
Grouchy Kitty-Grouchy Kitty is even more of a recluse than Midnight.  Actually, she isn't even our cat, she just shows up and occasionally eats our cat food.  She sits in corners of the horse stalls and growls to herself.  The Pretend Grouchy Kitty comes to the monthly meetings that Tiger holds.  She sits in the back of the room and talks to herself in a low, slightly insane voice.
I love Shadow's whiskers!

Shadow-Shadow is quite uncomplicated.  She's not crazy, she doesn't have a sad past, and she doesn't have corporations to manage. She lives with her brother in their rich old adoptive uncle Tiger's house.  I'm picturing the rich old gentleman's house in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I picture Tiger's house.  It's full of rich old Indian rugs and an old fashioned nursery for the kittens, complete with a Mary Poppins-esque nanny.  Perhaps Tiger could hire Grouchy Kitty as nanny….
I love this picture of Tom because you can see
all of his face.  It's really hard to photograph cats, so
I resorted to selfies with Tom to get him to hold still.

Tom- Tom is also a pretty uncomplicated cat.  He's named for the Beatrix Potter character, Tom Kitten.  The Pretend Tom is about 12 years old and he scampers around causing all kinds of trouble and generally being a nuisance.  But everybody loves him all the same.
I actually made myself laugh writing this.  I know, I know, I am so funny.  But I have to thank my family for endlessly discussing this and making up many of the stories mentioned here.  Without them, our cats would not be half such developed characters.  Now aren't you inspired to go out and give your pet an interesting imaginary life?  If you aren't, it's because you're a member of my family and you've already been doing it and this is old hat.  You don't even see what's so weird about talking about a little kitty motorcycle.

*A bit of business-I am cussing like mad because apparently I deleted Thursday's post.  Help me!  How the heck do I get it back?  Or is it lost in the blogger abyss for time eternal?*

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

I'm reading a delightfully academic book about the history of dressing well in America.  Its title is the title of this post (no, I'm not going to write out that whole, long title again).  It's written by Linda Przybyszewski, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several other history books.  In this book, she takes a new subject upon herself: what women wore in the past, the women who inspired and taught them, and what we have to learn from them.  Przybyszewski fondly refers to these teachers of good fashion as "the dress doctors".  Their leader was Mary Brooks Picken, who inspired many women to use home-sewing to their advantage to create beautiful, thrifty wardrobes.

The dress doctors were home-ec teachers, writers, designers, and many more things.  Przybyszewski argues that they have really important advice for us today.  It's not a secret that many American women have lost all interest in dressing for occasion and this author is passionate about bringing practical beauty through clothes back into our daily lives.  The dress doctors taught that beauty was achieved through several simple rules of dress.  The rules for dress, summarized, are:
1. Sensibility- A wardrobe that serves you, rather than you serving your wardrobe.  This means a relatively inexpensive wardrobe as a whole made up of several good-quality expensive pieces that can be used in a variety of settings.
2. Good Design Principles and Overall Beauty- Clothing that has harmony, proportion, balance, and rhythm.  The clothing should be pleasing to the eye, but needs to answer first and foremost to the sensibility rule.  Sure, a mink coat is gorgeous, but how often are you going to wear it?  That said, sensibility isn't everything and if something is strictly sensible without any beauty, there's no joy in wearing it.
3.  Appropriate Setting- The dress doctors (and the author) firmly believed (believe) that there is a time and place for everything.  Out in public, you shouldn't be wearing your plunging necklines.  That should be reserved for your family and closest friends.

I agree with these rules pretty much.  There is a rather ridiculous emphasis on colors "going" together, which I find unnecessary.  Instead of this rule, I would say, "Colors that I, personally, find pleasing to the eye."  I find the rules about, "Well, I can't wear this color because I'm too light and never wear pink and read together!" to be tiresome and not something that needs to be dredged up from the past.  But aside from that, I really wish that there were some strict dress doctors walking up and down our streets today.

The book was really well written.  It was academic, while managing to be amusing and inspiring.  The perfect kind of book.  Przybyszewski tells of how clothing has evolved from the dress doctors of the 1900s to today and its ups and downs along the way (boy, is she scathing of 70s fashion) in a truly amusing way.  Honestly, I really can't do this book justice in a measly blog post.  However, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday-Top Ten Books Read So Far

Top Ten Tuesday (yes, I realize it's Wednesday, but I did most of the writing for this yesterday) is hosted by the blog Broke and Bookish.  I actually discovered this cool thing from two other bloggers, Girl with Her Head in a Book and The Emerald City Book Review.  So, the topic this week is Top 10 Favorite Books Read So Far This Year.  Here goes (I'm only going to mention books that I've reviewed since I've started blogging in March, because I have absolutely no memory of what I read in February and January).

1.  The Flavia de Luce Series by Alan Bradley- This wins, hands down.

2.  Unpunished by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

3. A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

4.  Please Don't Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr

5.  Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell

6.  A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

7.  The Egg and I by Betty McDonald

8.  Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

9.  The Emma Graham Series by Martha Grimes

10.  The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

I'm a fairly new blogger and reading through my old posts made me extremely satisfied.  I've read a lot of great books in just about 4 months!  I don't think that blogging changed how much I read, it's just that I have a record now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Enemy

Well!  I just read (noticed I didn't say, "finished") the book that wins the Weirdest Book-Read-by-Me of the Year award.  I mentioned it in the library loot post two weeks ago and I had high hopes for it.  It languished for a while at the bottom of the library book crate and other, shinier books were read first.  Yesterday was muggy and rainy,  so I retired with Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.  The book is the story of young Sallie, a friend of Judy, the heroine of Daddy Longlegs-Webster's more famous book.  Tired of living a shallow life in Cambridge, Sallie agrees to become superintendent of the orphanage where Judy grew up.
And the cover was so fantastic, too…

This book is written in letter form and Sallie writes letters to Judy and her husband and the orphanage doctor, telling them about about her adventures in the orphanage.  There are accounts of reforming the unwholesome meals, leaving the windows open in the middle of January (this was the 20s where, apparently, it was fad to have sleeping porches and the like and to get plenty of healthy oxygen).  There is the steady winning over of the curmudgeonly staff and the gentle little romance with the dour Scottish doctor.  Now doesn't that sound like a cozy read for a rainy day?

Ahem.  It was definitely not.  Now before I criticize this book, I'm going to just give a little preamble.  Yes, I do realize that this was a different era and that people had different views than they have today, different things were acceptable, etc, etc.  But I couldn't get behind the general disturbing weirdness throughout the book.  Sallie and the Scottish Doctor are ardent believers in eugenics, of all strange things.  The doctor, an extremely "scientific" sort, we're assured by the author, gives Sallie these weird long lectures on how there are some people who are born "feeble-minded".  There is nothing to do for them, so says the doctor, but to keep them secluded until they die out and then won't we all be happier.

But wait, it only gets more awful.  There is a little girl at the orphanage whom Sallie supposedly feels terrible for who won't respond to any teaching.  Sallie tells the doctor in one of her letters that she just wishes that the doctor could euthanize this little girl to end her misery and put an end to a race that will go nowhere good.  I feel slightly ill just writing that.  I am sorry, but even in a different era, that is just disturbing.  After that particular impassioned letter, I found that I had no more sympathy for Sallie, her romantic Scottish doctor, or any of the other characters.  I'm sorry Jean Webster, you took things entirely too far this time.

If there had been one brief paragraph, I would have rolled my eyes and kept reading, but this was a repeated theme throughout the whole book.  So I smacked the book shut, started the second Her Royal Spyness book and sat down to write this post.  The End.  Oh, and don't read this unless you are far more tolerant than I and can stomach some really weird social commentary.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Her Royal Spyness

I just finished reading the first in a great new series!  It's called the Royal Spyness series and they are about a young woman who is 34th in line to the throne.  Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is in the uncomfortable position of being a young, unmarried woman in the 1920s with not very many encouraging prospects (romantic or financial).  Georgie, as she is called by her friends, is poverty-stricken because she has no financial support thanks to her half-brother cutting off her allowance, yet she can't respectably get a job thanks to her title.  The Great Depression in the United States is obviously affecting things, which makes it even harder.  However, Georgie has a job thrust upon her when a villainous Frenchman who was trying to get the family estate is found dead in her half-brother's bathtub.  Of course, the brother is accused although he is innocent, so Georgie sets off to find out who the real murderer was.

When I first saw this book at the library, I was slightly skeptical.  There was something slightly cheesy about the cover and, really, pun titles do not impress me.  However, it was a really enjoyable romp of a read.  Sure, it's not the most serious writing and will never compare to, say, Agatha Christie, but it's well-written and an interesting story.  I actually laughed out loud in several places.  It was a perfect book to devour in one sitting Sunday afternoon.

Georgie is a likable character and the characters around her are all very well-drawn too.  From her bumbling half-brother who never does anything right to her pinched, humorless sister-in-law, the characters are all interesting and different.

There were some minor faults I found with the book, but none of them were enough to make me dislike the book.  The whole "upholding the family honor" thing was played so heavily that it felt really overdone.  I'm sure there were expectations of a young, unmarried woman so close to the throne.  But bringing up the brave uncle who stood to face the cannons on the Scotland moor every. single. time. there's a creaking noise in the house felt crazy.  The love interest is of the sort that you know is going to be unsuitable as soon as you meet him.  These crime solving women never, ever end up with the romantic interest (I've never understood why).
The next one in the series.

In spite of it's occasional faults and foibles, the story is well-written and I'm very much looking forward to reading another one of these books.  I'm off to check it out of the library!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, Or, An Old Favorite

After reading this post and thinking about my own experiences with Daphne DuMaurier, I thought I would write a post about Rebecca.  I've had some duds with DuMaurier (remember this post?), but Rebecca is one book that I really enjoyed.  I first came across the book when I was pretty young-10 or 11- and my mother gave it a glowing recommendation.  I eagerly started the book and was instantly drawn into that world so different from my own.  It's the story of a young, nameless woman who lives her life a nobody.  Then, she marries a rich, haunted man and goes to live at his romantic, English estate, only to discover that he has a dead first wife whom everybody still reveres. Rebecca is the title of the story and the name of Mr. Dewinter's first wife.  Her presence surrounds Manderley and haunts all of the people that live there.  For an 11-year-old, this was the epitome of romantic adventure and I was thrilled by the grown-upish-ness of the story.  I think I read it in one or two sittings.

I still love the story, but I have no idea why.  Sure, it's thrilling and an exciting (though extremely improbable) romance.  However, it's not exactly the sort of thing I normally read.  I like cozy, non-tortured, traditionally happy endings.  Rebecca has none of these, yet it continues to stay with me as one of the best books I've ever read.  Why?  Well, after some musings, I think there are several things that make this book so exceptional that even I would love it.

First of all, the mystery is so convincing.  It just pulls and pulls at you until you find yourself having to know what happens, no matter what.
From the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Second, the characters are quite well, and creatively, drawn.  Well, except for the nameless main character, who is so obviously missing from the action.  But that's on purpose, so that doesn't really count.  But other than her, the characters are all interesting, exciting, and quite 3-dimensional.  The most exciting of the characters is the evil Mrs. Danvers, who ends it all (that's all I'm saying and if you've read the book, you know what I mean).

There is just enough redemption to redeem the story (if that makes any sense).  There is an end to the bad characters and the good characters, more or less, end up happily.
The second Mrs. Dewinter and the creepy housekeeper,
Mrs. Danvers.

And finally, Rebecca is such a character unto herself, even though she is quite dead.  This makes the story so irresistible.

So, those are my thoughts about the book Rebecca.  Tonight, I'm considering watching the Alfred Hitchcock movie....