Showing posts with label Thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thoughts. Show all posts

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Break

So it turns out that I am incapable of leading a busy summer and blogging, huh?  I'm very sorry to have left you hanging.  A couple weeks back, I entered an extremely busy point that corresponded with a bout of writers' block that left me lacking in the blogging department.
My blog isn't the only thing that's been neglected.  My poor camera.
But I did get a couple of pictures the other day.  My flowers are
looking so lovely this year!

Aaanyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth.  The rest of my July will be pretty busy, so expect sporadic (who are we kidding?  Basically nonexistent) posting for the next couple of weeks.  My August is looking gloriously calm and I'm looking forward to coming back to this space.  I'm starting to get quite a few blog post ideas, so I'm filling up my drafts folder.

I've been reading up a storm.  Everywhere I go, I take a book with me and that's added up to quite a few books finished up.  I read (and loved!) How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster and then started in on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.  I've been filling the margins with piles of notes and observations inspired by Foster's book.  I'll be reviewing both, hopefully before the end of July, but we'll see.

In the meantime, enjoy my archive and talk amongst yourselves.  I look forward to being back to consistent posting in August!

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 2

daThis morning I got to read two lovely short stories that I really enjoyed by two early American female authors.  I had heard of neither-a sad example of the general state of literary equality.  Both were so well written that I am definitely going to do some research on these authors and see what else they wrote.

Caroline M.S. Kirkland

The Schoolmaster's Progress by Caroline M.S. Kirkland

This story is set in the early 1800s in the "New Country" (meaning the West/Midwest of United States) and revolves around the mishaps and romantic entanglements of the new, local schoolmaster.  After finally gaining respect from the community, he begins to fall in love with a young woman who always wins the spelling bees.  When a woman with all kinds of airs and graces (and year-old French fashions, our author notes disdainfully) comes condescendingly to a spelling bee, she sees that it would be easy to trick the schoolmaster.  In a series of tricky ruses, she begins to write him letters, pretending to be the woman he admires, Ellen.  Of course, Ellen finds out about this and the the whole thing literally comes crashing down during the school's reenacting of David and Goliath.  That description of the fake letters falling down on David's head made me laugh out loud.  The two-Ellen and the Schoolmaster-live happily ever after, while the scheming city woman returns to the city.  

I wouldn't call this laugh out loud hilarious-it's better.  Kirkland's humor is the American west version of Austen.  It is nothing but sly, funny jabs and commentary.  The section on the bumbling, incompetent exam writers made me laugh out loud (apparently the ridiculous bureaucracy surrounding exams is older than I thought).

The other thing that impressed me about this story was the universality of it.  I was not alive in the American west in the 1800s, but I could perfectly understand, nay, recognize, those situations.  Yet Kirkland so perfectly wrote about these dramatic events that a reader today can still understand and empathize with the story.  That is a sign of excellent writing.  I also thought it was interesting how group dynamics and the kinds of people described here, the challenges and dramas they face, really haven't changed that much in the past 200 years.  
Eliza Leslie is most well-known as a cookbook writer.

The Watkinson Evening by Eliza Leslie

Another very funny story.  This one is about a snobbish widow and her son and daughter, who go to New York with letters of introduction (an interesting phenomenon I had not read about before) in the hopes of meeting all sorts of distinguished people.  They are first invited by a Mrs. Watkinson, who tells them that they must respond at once.  Of course they respond in the affirmative, feeling that they are very wise to go to so influential and wealthy a lady.  Minutes later, a woman whom they all instinctively like, invites them to her grand ball, full of famous people, including an ex-president.  With regret, they stick with their first invitation and come to the Watkinson's house to find it all dark and the family sitting dully in the cold drawing room.  The evening is disastrous and our main characters leave feeling very sorry for themselves.

This short story is of the type of humor that recounts a series of disastrous events to great effect.  I laughed and laughed (and cringed a bit, too) at the silly protagonists and their even more ridiculous hosts.

Both of these stories were fantastic.  I hope that you can find copies of them somewhere, because they are definitely worth a read.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

What They Don't Tell New Bloggers

I feel that I now have permission to write this post, since I've been blogging for over a year now.  However, I'd love hear what more veteran bloggers think, as well.  

I've been going through a blogging dry patch and, through it, I've had lots of thoughts about writing, particularly blogging.  This has corresponded with my reading this fabulous book, which I really loved.  The more I read and thought, the more I realized that this needed to be a blog post.  So, if you are starting out on this blogging journey, or have been blogging for far longer than I, here are my thoughts on what they don't tell bloggers just starting out.
The dining room!  The painting is done and, if I do say so myself, it
looks lovely.  Now all I have to do is put in a light fixture and
new light switch covers and clean up all the paint
that managed to avoid the drop cloth.  

1.) When you first start out, you will have about 8,000 post ideas a day.  You may have to work very hard to refrain from posting twice (or thrice) daily and you will dreamily imagine spending every morning in a coffee shop with your elegant, non-dented laptop, writing about the stack of beautiful books (all advance copies of course) sitting by your side.  Your loving readers will eagerly flock to hear your witty, sage advice and opinions on every topic under the sun.  
Note the mess on the table.  These pictures were taken 5 days ago and it's still not
cleaned up.  Sigh.

2.) But, somewhere along your blogging journey, you will encounter writers' block.  But this isn't the ordinary case of writers' block.  Oh no.  See, now you have people that are expecting blog posts.  You know because, you're expecting their blog posts in return.  You will frantically wrack your brains for post ideas and may resort to posting old pictures of winter scenery in spring (because you've also abandoned your camera).  This is also okay.  Everybody recovers from even the most virulent case of writers' block.  

3.) There will be months when you have only written 3 posts.  And that's okay.  It doesn't make you a bad writer (or person).  It happens to most of us.  

4.)  There really is unbloggable material.  Like that time I read a total of 15 cookbooks in a week, cover to cover (yes, I have a cookbook reading problem, frequently documented on this blog).  I knew nobody wanted to hear about 15 cookbooks over 5 days, so I let it go and had nothing to show for it.
The first of my roses is blooming!  Strangely enough, when it got exposed
to the ashes, part of it reverted back to its parent plant (it was a hybrid),
so now half is red and half is yellow.  They both smell lovely!

5.) (This piece of advice is strictly for book bloggers.)  Sometimes, you may not be reading very much. Gasp!  Maybe you have a good stack of magazines.  Or you're gone every night.  Or everybody in your house got stomach flu so bad you couldn't even imagine reading.  Or (double gasp) maybe you're just in the mood to watch Netflix. 

6.) Blogger is great.  It's a wonderful writing platform; it's free, and it has some amazing settings.  But don't for a second be surprised when it freezes up and loses a post for the 10,000 time in a week.

7.) Every time you click "publish" on a post, you are going to feel an incredible sense of satisfaction and pleasure knowing that you just created something entirely your own and shared it with an (albeit small) percentage of the world.  And when you read comments of kind strangers whom you have never spoken a word to, all the writers block and and computer glitches in the world seem worth it.

So, weigh in-What advice/tips would you give to a new (book or non-book) blogger?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Reading Stack

I know, I know, my posting has been severely lacking.  Of course, I have all kinds of excellent excuses (don't we all?), but the best is various mouth procedures, namely, a complicated capping.  This, of course, left me quite crabby and in need of some bookish refreshment.  Luckily, before I let for my appointment in the morning, I put out a stack of books that I wanted to read.  The following is my list:

1. Mary Lou: A Story of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin-A charming, old-smelling book.  According to GoodReads, it's the third in a series and I know absolutely nothing about it.  Google searches keep coming up empty.  You know you're reading an obscure book when the internet is incapable of turning up anything.  So I'm very curious to see what this book ends up being about-and if it's any good.

2. Pat of Silver Bush by L.M. Montgomery-I know this one is going to be a treat!  It's an L.M. Montgomery book I've never read.  So I'm guaranteed that it's going to be good.

3. Four-Party Line by Dorothy Gilman Butters-I got this book from a pile of old books at a church library sale. It's titled, "A Junior Novel", so I think this must be the precursor to YA fiction.  It's about four teenaged girls who get jobs working as operators for a telephone company.  The story covers the four girls' struggles and triumphs as they navigate their life both at work and at home.  I started this book and it is a really fun read.

So that's what's on my book stack!  Tell me, what shall I read first?


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book

It's been stickily hot all day today, so, after a morning spent painting trim (I'm about halfway through with the dining room!), I retreated to the couch with a sweating glass of iced tea and a fascinating book I found in my collection.  I have no recollection of where it came from, but it's a very fascinating read!

Published in 1947, this book really should be used as a historical primary source.  It's such a glimpse into the world of post-war American homemakers.  With more clothes and re-modeled/new houses and that fancy new washing machine comes a lot more housekeeping.  And so the editors of Good Housekeeping decided to put together a definitive book full of advice on keeping a house spic-and-span.

There's a chapter on moving day made easier, removal of household pests (we're entering the era of liberally poisoning every living creature in sight...there actually is a section on obtaining the right kind of DDT), how to care for books properly, doing laundry, must-have cleaning utensils for the new housewife, and how to thoroughly clean every room in a house (let me just say that the editors of Good Housekeeping would have a heart attack if they walked into my house).

The house cleaning chapter particularly fascinated me and, after much musing, I've decided to follow their housekeeping calendar for a week and see if it's actually feasible today or whether I will end up rolling my eyes over the amount of time those women spent making sure that their houses were immaculate.  I suspect that I will find the latter true (really, who cleans their kitchens three times a day?), but maybe I will surprise myself.

As I write this, I realize this isn't so much a book review as a reflection on an era.  I find this book so fascinating because, with the vantage point that I have, I can see how these new standards are going to lead insane standards of domestic perfection and, ultimately, boredom for women everywhere.  Because this kind of housecleaning is not true homemaking, but just keeping a house clean.  The kind of homemaking that people like the editors of Good Housekeeping were rejecting-doing good, creative, challenging work in the home-got shuffled aside in favor of shiny houses and ridiculous levels of perfection.

When I look at this book, I get chills thinking of the women that, in just a short ten years will finally start speaking up about the intense loneliness and meaninglessness that was a part of their lives as they followed the strict rules of the likes of Good Housekeeping.  I want to go back to these editors and shriek, "No!  No!  Stop right this instant.  These standards and rules are going to take you nowhere good."

No history textbook can paint a picture quite as well as a book written at that period of history can.  And that is how, on a hot Monday afternoon, I found myself taking a history lesson.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Favorites This Week: Week 1

Here is a new segment that I hope to do every week.  I could call it Friday Favorites, but I scoff at alliteration for the most part, so I will rebel and just call it My Favorites This Week.   In it, I'll list a couple of things that I have been enjoying over the week.  I'm expecting that the majority will be book-related, but who knows.  So here goes!

1. Chocolate Buckwheat Granola-This comes first because I'm eating a bowl of this as I write this post.  This recipe comes from the beautiful food blog, My New Roots.  It's been my go-to granola recipe for a couple of weeks now.  It is just decadent enough to be a little bit out of the ordinary, while still a responsible breakfast item.

2. This beautiful album, from Spotify (actually, I've just generally been enjoying Spotify).  This link is a preview from amazon.


3. Don Quixote-I'm just about finished!  It was slow at parts, but, overall, a very enjoyable book.  And, speaking of Don Quixote, here's a fascinating article about woven tapestries with images from Don Quixote.

4. Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food has been my cookbook of the week.  I've pored over it and drooled and so I'm planning on spending a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen with this cookbook.  It is interesting what Jamie thinks of as comfort food.  A lot of it isn't my comfort food, but it still looks delicious!

5.  On my interlibrary hold list (because I always have far too many books on the hold list):

  • Shakespeare:The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson
  • The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield
  • The Diary of Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
  • The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (yes, the author of Sophie's World.  He's written a lot of books!)

6. Goodreads has introduced me to so much!  My TBR list has grown exponentially and all I can think about is the books that I want to read, particularly over the summer.  Tell me, do you have any books that I should have on my Goodreads TBR right now?



Monday, April 6, 2015

Where I've Been and My Reading List

Goodness, I left you in the lurch, didn't I, readers?  First, my family generously shared a head cold with me that left me sneezing and feverish for several days and then on Good Friday I was stricken with a nasty stomach bug, also generously shared by my family members.  So, basically, I've been lying on the couch whining all week.  That's where I've been.  Easter Sunday, I skipped church in favor of sleeping in, then, feeling 100% recovered, I went to the family Easter Dinner and had a lovely time.  On the way home, I started to feel myself crashing.  I came home and relapsed back into my stomach bug.  So here I am, the Monday after Easter feeling weak and still pretty whiney, but I'm at that stage where I have a very strange list of food I'm hungry for, including:
1. Pizza
2. Sushi, but the pickled ginger is what I'm really after
3. Vanilla Custard
4. Chocolate Ice Cream
5. White Rice with Soy Sauce

None of these are probably a good idea, but I did end up caving and eating White Rice and Soy Sauce for breakfast and, oh, did that taste delicious!

But enough about my aggravating viruses.  Because with all that sickness comes a lovely stack of books:
1. Great Quantities of Little Women
2. A bit of Don Quixote
3. Do Butlers Burgle Banks by P.G. Wodehouse
4. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
This book was the very best medicine.

While the rest of the books were all very enjoyable, can we just focus a moment on that last title?  Do you know what that is??  It's the latest Flavia de Luce!  Squee!  This is the book that kept me alive through these last couple of days.  Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that I dearly adore Flavia de Luce.  In general, I don't love mysteries.  They can be formulaic, gory, boring, unbelievable (what on earth is wrong with your supposedly charming small town that there's a crime every 2 weeks?), and/or drone-y.  But Flavia is the exception.  Everything about these books exudes charm and brilliant writing with just enough thrills to keep the books exciting.

I'm not going to give a full review today because I doubt I'd be coherent, but let me just say that it was everything I expected it to be and more.

And that is where I have been, plus what I read.  Tell me, dear readers, how were your Easters?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How I'm Writing These Days

Recently, I've undergone a bit of a blogging shift.  It all started when I read this article.  I instantly went back to the hours spent on handwriting books, my crooked 3rd grader cursive, the blister on my third finger from writing too much.
The handwriting method I learned.  I can't
believe how many memories it brings up looking at that book!

My handwriting through the years has become a pretty illegible scrawl.  It's kinda cursive-kinda print and to the point where it's almost a code that only I can read.  But somewhere in the back of my brain is the memory of how to write that neat, swirly cursive, mixed with some calligraphy that I learned years ago.  And so I've been writing in cursive like crazy.  All of my blog posts are written out by hand on a nice notepad now and I take satisfaction in the pages of posts and post ideas which are on paper.

The other reason that I really wanted to get back into remembering those early cursive days is that I've been reading that people have lost their ability to read the letters and other primary documents of generations earlier.  It makes me sad to think that we might lose that ability and so I'm more eager than ever to spend time honing that skill.  Because the best way to learn to read cursive, or so I've read, is to keep writing it.
Unrelated, but pretty.  A picture from a misty morning this week.

So here's how it works. I sit down most mornings, coffee cup in one hand, and a note pad and a nice ball point pen in the other, and think of post ideas and then write them out.  It might be something that flashed through my head and I thought would make a nice post, or it might be a review of the latest book I've been reading.  Then I outline general thoughts and ideas.  What is amazing me is the sheer number of ideas and observations I'm having that I really didn't notice before when I was just looking at the computer musing on what to say next.  I started doing it with the Little Women posts and I haven't looked back since.

It's also appeared to make my blog writing frequency better.  It's a lovely little early-morning ritual before work starts to sit down and just write and write.  I have such a pile of posts now, written so neatly that anybody who wants can easily read them.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Anniversary Post

Readers, it has been a year.  A whole year since I started blogging.  I kind of can't believe it.  I thought I would tell you the story of why I started blogging.
Just some chicken pictures.

I have been a voracious reader my whole life.  Books stick in my mind years after I read them and I have lived the majority of my life with many of them.  Funny books, sad books (but only occasionally), scary books, exciting books, how-to books, they all have a special place in my heart.  When a friend started blogging and told me how much fun it was, I was eager to start, but didn't really think that I had much to write about.  I have a pretty normal, quiet life.  Still, I had always noticed the minutiae around me and I thought it might be kind of fun to see if I could make an interesting blog out of it.  And then I thought about books.  I can still clearly remember-I was sitting on the couch, having just finished The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, with my head in a whirl of thoughts and things to discuss about the book.  And I had a sudden revelation-I could write about books!  I certainly spent enough time reading and thinking about books to write a blog.

And so I started-with a basic blogger template and a bunch of ideas.  I wrote my first post and clicked "Publish" for the first time.  For the first couple of weeks, I carefully watched the statistics as people read the blog.  I found other book bloggers, far more experienced than I, who had been in the blogging business for years.

It turns out that blogging doesn't just involve words (although it does involve a lot of those), but also numbers.  So here are just a few of the numbers I've collected:
Number of posts written: 208
Number of comments made: 390
Number of times this blog was viewed: 12,645
Number of times I have said, "Wow, I love blogging!":1,000,000+


Finally, I want to thank all of my readers, the commenters and the non-commenters.  This blogging journey would not have been nearly as fun if all of you had not read my blog.  I especially want to thank all the family and friend readers, who gave me advice and opinions and shared the blog among each other (Grammy, chiefly, among them).  But also, my fellow bloggers who have participated with me in so many things, from book clubs to book tags to everything in between.

I'm looking forward to another year of blogging!  I'm sure there will be more of the same and maybe some new things, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bits and Bobs

I decided to write a rambling post today.  While I'm enjoying the Little Women read-along so much, I decided to take a day off and write about happenings.  Early March seems to make me ramble.

The kitchen has been filled with activity all week.  With chilly weather and blizzard-like conditions pretty much all the time, we've been keeping the kitchen going to keep the house warm, since the kitchen is the draftiest, coldest room of the house.  There is always something on the stove or in the oven these days-sourdough bread, lime and sea salt brownies, hot and sour soup, pots of stock, baguettes, and much more.  While the table was a mess, the sun came streaming in a window and I snapped a couple of pictures.  It's amazing how pretty a baking mess can look.
The baguettes.  Delicious, but not pretty.
Lime and Sea-Salt Brownies from Kitchn.  Delicious!
Just a pretty mess.  A tea towel, dusts of flour, and the lime zest for the brownies.

Homemade Hot and Sour Soup, also from Kitchn.

I started a book called To the Wild Sky by Ivan Southall who is, apparently a fairly well-known Australian children's author from the 50s and 60s who wrote about children having adventures.  To the Wild Sky is about six children who are on a plane to a birthday party in New South Wales.  Their plans are immediately thrown to the wind when the pilot dies, leaving them in a rapidly falling plane.  One of the boys steers the plane to safety on a deserted island, where the children have to learn to fend for themselves.  It's very exciting and I'm really enjoying having such a gripping book.


While spring is lovely and I absolutely can't wait to see ground again (even muddy ground!) I saw struck by the absolute gorgeousness of winter as I looked out the window at this.



Today is World Book Day!  What are you reading today?  I have To the Wild Sky, Little Women, a few inspiration cookbooks, and November Knits, a knitting book.


It's the Easter Dress time of year again!  I have my dress about half done and waiting by my sewing machine.  I found some fairly cheap organic cotton voile that looks like watercolors.  I'm making it up in a 50s party dress pattern, which I think is going to work perfectly as an Easter dress.

I'm doing the view with sleeves


I am so proud of those neat little pin tucks all down the front.  I still have buttons, a skirt,
and sleeves to put on, but it's starting to feel like a real dress now!




Friday, February 13, 2015

3 Quick Book Reviews and an Update

Hello, dear readers.  I am still here, lest you thought I was frozen into the side a snowbank, never to appear again.

In spite of my lack of blog activity, I have been up to a lot of things, some reading related.  I have 3 books on the reading pile, two of which I have finished.

1. Don Quixote-
My latest Classics Club read.  It's funny and enjoyable and the translation done by Edith Grossman is great.  I've been enjoying just a few chapters every evening by the fire with hot Earl Grey tea, my new favorite.  I usually make the tea into a London Fog-with lots of steamy hot milk.
But back to the book, there is something so eerily amazing about reading a book that is so old.  I'm quite enjoying it and there will be a full-fledged review, once I've finished it.

2. Small Victories by Anne Lamott-
I love Anne Lamott's writing and this is her latest book.  I have about 5 pages in the book and I can't wait to get a review up about it.  Lamott has had a strange, at times pretty rackety life, but the thing that strikes me reading her books is her incredible grace and wisdom through all kinds of scenarios that I am not entirely sure how I would handle.  If you haven't read anything by Lamott, this is definitely a must-read.

3. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp-
This is a re-read, but I do love Sharp's incredible sly wit.  The Nutmeg Tree is about a young, irrepressible widow who is left in the early days of WWI with a baby.  After a dreadfully boring stint as a respectable young widow, she leaves the baby with her kindly in-laws and heads to the city. Susan, the baby, grows up dull and respectable, until she falls in love with an unscrupulous man and Julia has to help her get out of the mess.  It's really funny and was a very quick read.

In addition to all of this reading, I'm working and doing as little outside as I possibly can (which usually means just the once-a-day trudge to do the animal chores and then scurrying inside as quickly as possible).  I'm also dreaming of summer through a big stack of summer clothes that I have waiting at the sewing machine.  So see?  I haven't turned into a frozen brick of ice.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Tag: I Mustache You Some Questions

Lory, from Emerald City Book Review (isn't that the best blog name?) just tagged me in a tag called I Mustache You Some Questions.  Since I have a bit of a penchant for silly puns and I enjoy book tags, I was more than happy to play along.   Here are the questions, most of them original, with one left out because I'm pretty (probably too) cautious about information on the internet and one added :

Four Jobs I've Had:
1. Multiple childcare/babysitting/etc. jobs throughout high school
2. Farming
3. Writing
4. Various musical-related things…some paid some not so much

Four Of My Favorite Songs/Artists/Composers
1. L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole-It's such a cliched, over-used song, but I still love it.
2. Doris Day-This is my cooking music
3. Chopin-When I was taking piano lessons, this was always the composer I most loved.
Even today, I will still listen to Chopin for fun.
4. Simon and Garfunkle-Actually, I love all this 60s music as a genre.


Four Movies I've Watched More Than Once

1. Mary Poppins-I think maybe 3 times?
2. The Parent Trap- Why are all my rematches children's movies?
3. Sense and Sensibility
4. Pride and Prejudice-This one wins for most-watched movie.

Four Books I'd Recommend
1. Absolutely anything by Jane Austen.  If you haven't read Jane Austen, your life is Incomplete (and that does get capital letters).
2. Something by C. S. Lewis; also because your life will be Incomplete.
3. She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith-I just read this and it's laugh out loud funny.
4. The Melendys-A wonderful children's series that needs to be read by everybody.

Four Place I'd Rather Be Right Now
1-4. Places that don't have several feet of snow on the ground

Four Things I Don't Eat
I am not a picky eater whatsoever, so I had to think for quite awhile about this one.
1. Eggs-Eggs are pretty much the only thing I don't like.  There is something that just makes
me shudder about eggs, particularly fried and dippy.  Blech.
2-4.  I absolutely can't think of anything else.  I'm not being pious.  I really can't think of anything.

Four of My Favorite Foods
1. Coconut (milk, flaked, fresh, anything)
2. Grapefruit
3. Really good curry
4. Bagels with lox, cream cheese, capers, tomato, and red onion

Four TV Shows I Watch
Well, I don't have a TV, but I do have Netflix.
1. Parks and Recreation-I've started with Season 2, because my friends told me that Season 1 wasn't any good and that the show only got funny with Season 2, and now I'm on Season 4….3 more seasons to go and I'm already feeling slightly sad about the end.  But really, if you like comedy, this is the best show.
2. Sherlock
3. PBS Miniseries, just as a class
4. Gilmore Girls-Except then it got stupid after about 5 episodes.

Four Things I'm Looking Forward To This Year
1. More reading, but of course
2. Spring
3. Some interesting job opportunities
4. Summer

Four Things I'm Always Saying
1. Have you read this book?  I can't remember the title or the author, but here's the basic plot line.
2. So I saw this thing on Pinterest…
3. That reminds me of this one book….
4. Can you find my (fill in the blank)?  (I am quite absentminded, which leads to misplacing things all the time.  For instance, the other day I stuck my scissors in the fridge and then spent a good 20 minutes looking for them.)


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Narnia

(Girl With Her Head in a Book did a lovely post on Top Ten Irritating Book Characters.  One of the characters she listed was Susan, the responsible big sister in Chronicles of Narnia.  And that is how this train of thought started.)

Narnia is a series that I remember so fondly.  Throughout my elementary school years, my dad was primarily the evening read-aloud parent and we plowed through so many classic children's books together-Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins, Matilda, and so many more.  And, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia made it onto the list.  I remember loving them.  I wept bitterly through Aslan's death and resurrection and laughed at dear Mr. Tumnus and all of the other wonderful characters.  Narnia is one of those books that will live on in my memory probably forever.  Then I picked up the books again at some point recently (maybe 2 years ago?) and I began to notice new elements.

Of course, by the time I read the books again recently,  I was well acquainted with C.S. Lewis and had enjoyed The Great Divorce and the Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity and all of those books.  And I really do admire Lewis as a thinker and a Christian.  However, I also came to realize that he was very much a man of his time and his opinions come through loud and clear.

Of course, it's a pretty much universally known piece of information that Narnia is one great biblical analogy.  The books are about the Christian story, starting with the new worlds created when Edmund and Lucy jump into the pools in The Magician's Nephew and ending with the Book of Revelation-filled The Last Battle.  Aslan is, of course, Jesus and the four children are everyman/everywoman/other biblical characters as needed.  The evil white witch is, I suppose, Satan.  You could go into a whole analysis of why the representation of evil is a human female and I know that many people have.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The thing that drove me wild while reading these books recently was that C.S. Lewis was sexist as all get out.  I think it's interesting that this came out most in a children's book.  It didn't cross my mind when I was reading, say Mere Christianity, but the message is loud and clear throughout most of the book.  I think that we can say very mildly that Lewis did not, ahem, have a very contemporary view of gender and race.

Susan, in particular, bothered me.  She goes from being the personality-less big sister whose sole purpose in life is being the stable Martha-like (as in the Mary and Martha story) character to being cast out of Narnia because she has become interested in makeup and parties.  This struck me as so strange and I will confess to be annoyed to no end on behalf of all big sisters everywhere. And then there's the white witch and her other evil counterpart who appears in The Silver Chair, The Lady of the Green Kirtle, or the Emerald Witch.  There were some weird comparisons to Eve in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of The Magician's Nephew.  Those are just a few off the top of my head.

The other thing I cringed over was the racism in the Horse and His Boy.  I mean, it was bad enough that I was cringing while reading.  Sheesh, did he really just say that?  And that does make a book uncomfortable to read.  The portrayal of the Calormens is hard to take at best; they are every Middle Eastern stereotype you've ever heard.  And the way that they are constantly contrasted with the fair people of Narnia made me gag.

It gives me a bit of a pang to admit all of this.  See, I still absolutely adore Narnia.  The imagery is some of the best out there, the characters are all lovable and the plot is perfectly crafted.  I would be loath to tell any parent not to read these books to their children.  On the contrary, if I were running the world, I would insist on every parent reading these books to all of their children, simply for the beautiful storytelling.  There are some pretty wonderful truths throughout the books that I think everybody should hear, like sibling loyalty and the importance of a culture and, oh, a thousand things.  I could write a whole series of posts on things that Narnia taught me.

So I wonder, am I overreacting?  Should I treat Narnia like I would any old book-appreciating the good stories and the wonderful things they have to offer, while also acknowledging that we have moved on in some ways in our modern world?  And the thing is, all authors are human and, therefore, all authors are flawed and products of their times and places.  Can any book ever be perfect?

I'm not sure why this book struck me particularly.  Perhaps because it was such a crucial book in my childhood, or maybe just because it's such good writing.  Maybe if the writing were less that perfect, I would be willing to write off the author's flaws more easily.  Is it because C. S. Lewis is such a good, good writer that it is harder to acknowledge his personal flaws?

So those are my Narnia musings, all set off by a simple comment and having read the books recently.  Now, tell me, what are your thoughts on Narnia?  Should it get a free pass on any kind of scrutiny because it is such beloved and wonderful writing?  Should we just throw it out and stop romanticizing over the writing?  Or should we strike some kind of happy medium of acknowledging it's problems while also accepting that this is some of the loveliest children's fiction out there?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snow Day

We're in for a blizzard around here, which means that I'm battening down the hatches, but also making sure that I'm stocked up on entertainment and things to do.  There's a dirty house to get tidy and all the animals to tuck up first, though.  And a blog post to write, because it's been on my list for so long.  Be warned-this is a multi-part post.  So sit down with a cup of tea and prepare to listen to me ramble.
A little wooly worm that I found creeping across the icy snow.
Of course, I tucked him up into the hay in the barn.

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Part 1-Snow Ice Cream
Yesterday, the snow hadn't started for real, but we had about 5 inches, so I went outside and filled a metal bowl and prepared to make snow ice cream.  Have you heard of this?  I first read of this in the Melendys books when I was elementary school aged.  The idea enchanted me and I remember making a batch and ending up with sweet, watery milk.  After that, I abandoned the idea.  The memory of that flashed through my head and so I ran to get the ingredients and hurried outside to try snow ice cream again.  And it was delicious!  It's not like regular ice cream, but the trick is to keep everything thoroughly frozen in the snow and to eat the ice cream outside, exclaiming about how cold it is all the while.  I love making this recipe because it's pretty ridiculous to sit outside making ice cream in the middle of winter and, oh is it delicious.  I firmly shut my brain off that is reciting the litany of nasty stuff in that precipitation and pretend that I've never heard of acid rain, er, snow, and heaven knows what else and make this ice cream.  It's lovely.  Here's my recipe:
This is a terrible picture, but white ice cream against white snow is extremely hard to photograph.

Fill a smallish bowl with cleanish snow.  Sprinkle sugar liberally into the snow.  Now that I think of it, maple syrup would be delicious as well.  Actually, maybe more delicious.  Pour about a capful of vanilla into the snow.  Splash full-fat, maybe even raw (if you're a rebel) milk into that sugary snow and then lightly toss together, kind of like you stir egg whites into batter.  Your goal is to keep the snow intact so you have a kind of ice cream-ish texture.  While you're doing this, keep your bowl sitting firmly in the snow so it's staying as cold as possible.  Enjoy!
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Part 2-Winter Activities
I have the hugest pile of mending to do.  And, you know what?  I'm actually looking forward to tackling it in front of the fire during these blizzard-y evenings.  I've got a bag filled with yarn and thread and needles and a thimble and I'm ready to go.  I'm also planning to entertain myself with my camera.  I'm in the process of going through the pictures I just took off of my camera and sorting them and, I'm sure, throwing great quantities away.
The cute sweater-wearing (trust me, it's necessary) dog, but also
this perfectly illustrates wood stove season.  There is always ash.  Always.


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Part 3-The Buzzards in the Tree
I can't believe it, but these buzzards haven't made it into a blog post.  I apologize to them and now will post several pictures.  We have this very old tree that is dead, but provides great shelter to so many animals.  It is a spectral sight to look out and see that stark, old, dead tree filled with buzzards with their wings spread (we think they're drying their wings, but who knows).  I do wonder what they're watching for.  The chickens?  There are no carcasses that I know of.   I have become peculiarly fond of those old birds.

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Part 4-My Book List
I do have a book list, readers.  Of course I do.  Here it is:
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, because it seems extremely fitting
Essays of E. B. White
The Edwardian Lady: The Story of Edith Holden
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
A new vintage magazine that I plan to read
I plan to keep busy with these titles.  I'm sure there will be more reading.  I'll keep you updated.
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Whew!  I'm finished rambling.  If you've reached the end, thank you for listening.  Now I'm off to stuff the cracks of the chicken coop with straw.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Family Circle's Complete Book of Beauty and Charm

Yep.  That's the title.  Wanna guess the publish date? 1951.  Knowing my inordinate love of all things vintage, my dear mother got me this book for Christmas.  I saved it for my Sunday afternoon reading and I just finished it this past Sunday afternoon.  And now I'm going to show it to you.

First of all, I took pictures of the inside of the book, so you get an idea of what it's like:


See?  The book tells you comfortingly that glasses can, too, be attractive, if you carefully
read their chart.

This caption says, "Even housewives need to take care of their hands!"

Properly applying foundation.
Necklines depending on your face shape.

I love books like these-books that are simply for the purpose of providing a window into another time, the purpose of inspiration.  This kind of reading is what I call Sunday Afternoon Reading, also known as inspiration reading.  Sunday Afternoon Reading is generally nonfiction, usually filled with pictures, always chock full of inspiration for the coming week.  I don't normally read for the sole purpose of getting good ideas or just for enjoying something for its prettiness.  Books normally have to hold something more for me, but not on Sunday afternoons.  That is when I pick up books just because they're pretty and inspiring and fun.  And while I wouldn't love to read like that all the time, it's actually very lovely to have that one day a week set aside where I do read like that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Best Hot Chocolate

We've been in the middle of a pretty bitter cold snap and that means that I've been spending huge amounts of time inside.  Sure, it leads to cabin fever and absolutely must be relieved by (very) short daily runs outside, followed by standing by the fire whining about not being able to feel my legs.  However, my book load is lightening at such a rapid pace; I can't remember reading this much in a month before.
Can you see the little flash of red from the cardinal?

But, I absolutely require that there is a steady stream of hot beverages while I'm sitting by the fire of an evening.  I've narrowed it down to, truly, the best hot chocolate.  It's also the speediest.  It was (very roughly) copied off of this blogger's recipe, but I've gotten more loosey-goosey with the method in order to spend the minimum amount of time in my freezing kitchen.

When I was young, my mom used to make stove top hot chocolate when we came in from sledding-stirring cocoa and sugar and water until it boiled, then adding milk and heating for what seemed an interminable amount of time.  Then on the other end of the spectrum is the tepid watery sludge made by mixing powdered milk (blech), cocoa powder, and heaven knows what else into water that, for some reason, is never quite hot.  I'm grossed out just thinking about it.  This hot cocoa is the happy medium.  It's got the full-body flavor of the stovetop method with the quickness of the awful hot cocoa mix method.

This is like no hot chocolate mix you have ever had before.  In fact, it doesn't even deserve to have the same name as that sludge-in-a-package.  I think you'll agree with me after you've made a mug.

Here's the recipe and, oh, is it a lovely to have that hot chocolate ready and waiting in the pantry.

Get out a pint jar and into it put:
1/2 c. cocoa powder (don't bother using some cheap, Dutch-processed, alkalized baking cocoa…use a very dark cocoa powder instead-the flavor is far better)
1/2 c. white sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch (This is to make a smooth hot chocolate mix…don't leave this out!)
Now, this part is pretty optional and I haven't actually seen a huge difference when I omitted it.  However, you can add about 1/4 c. very, very finely chopped dark chocolate (I stuck mine in the food processor)
Then, when you go to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, just dump, oh, about a tablespoon into a mug full of milk and heat.

Enjoy with your next good book!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wuthering Heights-Book Club Review

Well, here's my Wuthering Heights book review, finally.  Just as I had an influx of books to review, my laptop crashed.  Gah.  So it's in the shop, but that means that I am computer-less, except for the slow, old computer up in the chilly attic that is Strictly For Work.  So I caved and went up to the freezing attic, because I absolutely have to write this post.

A few weeks ago, Girl With Her Head in a Book asked me about participating in a Wuthering Heights book discussion, hosted by Kirsty, from The Literary Sisters.  I readily agreed, even though Wuthering Heights would probably never make it onto my TBR list.  And, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it much more than I ever thought I would.

Wuthering Heights is something that pretty much everybody reads in school at least once and, many times, loathe to the end of their days, or, in other cases, love and remember fondly to the end of their days.  I was one of the former.  I don't like being wrenched and feeling as though I am being emotionally manipulated every second of a book.  I thought the characters were ridiculous and emotional to the point of unbelievability.  But then I picked up this book and my perceptions started to change.

First of all, the narration of this book is fascinating.  It's somebody telling a story about somebody telling a story about somebody else.  So this is 3rd-hand news, in other words.  It reminded me of those pictures you see of somebody taking a picture in a mirror and having it reflected in multiple little mirrors in the picture (did that make any sense?  I have an image in my head).  I was especially struck by the amount of error that could have occurred in the tellings and, indeed, Emily Bronte leads us to believe that all kinds of information is being shifted, nay, lied about.  The narrators are Nelly Dean, who leads us and the other narrator, the foppish and pompous Mr. Lockwood to believe that she is a pious and righteous woman, never prone to any kind of mistake or problem.  In her eyes, she is the warm and kindly housekeeper who can do no wrong.  And yet, brilliantly, Emily shows us how wrong Nelly can be.

The narrators also interested me because both of them are so unlikeable.  It's not a new phenomenon to have plenty of unlikeable characters in a book, but for the most part, the author writes the narrator as a sympathetic character with whom the reader is supposed to identify.  But not Lockwood and Nelly Dean.  The only reason they aren't as despicable as Heathcliff is because they haven't the imagination or the tortured personalities.

Actually, there's nobody to like in the whole book. Heathcliff is purely awful, his wife, Isabella, is spoiled and weak, Cathy is tempestuous and headstrong and decidedly selfish, exactly like her mother, Catherine, Hindley is despicable, a gambler, and slightly insane, the servants are pretty bad, too...Hareton is the closest any of the characters come to being likable.

And then there's the chain of characters that confused me until about halfway through the book.  The inbreeding is ridiculous.  Luckily, in the front of my flimsy little edition was a family tree with notes about who married whom.  Thank goodness for that, because I would have been lost without it.  Here's the family tree, which is very similar to the one that was in my book, linked from this very interesting website.
Photo Credit:
http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/genealogy.php

This time around, I was impressed by how actually reserved this book is.  The writing is surprisingly unflowery and dramatic.  Sure, the plot line is pretty intense (like Cathy being locked into Heathcliff's house until she agrees to marry his wormy little son, Linton), but the writing in and of itself is very withdrawn and calm.

I would love to know what experiences Emily drew from when writing this tortured novel.  The type of secluded life she lived was not exactly conducive to lots of adventure and experience with people.  Was it purely imagination?  Inspiration from other books of the time?  There is an innocence in the way she writes about such characters as Heathcliff.  They are simply bad people, but not bad in complicated ways or for complicated reasons.  And how was Isabella really dashing around the moors, supposedly pregnant by that time with Linton?  Emily doesn't appear to have wondered.  The innocence, yet the incredible understanding of human nature fascinated me in this book and that, in and of itself, was enough of a reason to read this book.

For instance, Catherine and Heathcliff's intense longing and love, mixed with loathing was written so believably.  This is the quote that so many people bring up when talking about Wuthering Heights, but I think that it really does perfectly depict Catherine and Heathcliff's intense, tortured relationship.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” 

The story was really gripping.  Each morning, I'd plow through a couple of chapters over breakfast and then in the evenings I'd tell everybody to stop talking to me so I could read Wuthering Heights.  I was drawn in and spent more time than I thought I would thinking about the characters and wondering what was going to happen next.

Would I recommend reading this book?  Oh, yes!  I recommend keeping a large-ish slip of paper in your book as a bookmark.  I then wrote notes and thoughts on it as I was reading the book.  I think a lot of observations and general notes about the characters would have been forgotten if I hadn't been writing them down.  So I think that, if you were like me, one of the people that scoffed at Wuthering Heights, turn to this book again and give it a second chance.  I think you won't regret it.  I'm certainly glad that I cracked open the pages of Wuthering Heights again.

Other posts about this book:

http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspot.com/2015/01/readalong-review-wuthering-heights.html?showComment=1420820338260#c5963247034216209094

http://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/blogging-book-club-wuthering-heights-by-emily-bronte-classics-club-93/

http://www.emeraldcitybookreview.com/2015/01/back-to-moors-wuthering-heights.html