Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Delightful Book

Last week, while working on the circulation desk at the library, a girl signed out a book that caught my eye.  I asked her if she would mind if I had a peek, she smiled in such a proud way. She knew that I knew she had found something special.
My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright is written for children but will delight adults like me! It's absolutely chock full of wonderful journal writing, fold-out letters and cards and drawings. I placed a hold so that I could enjoy every entry and ended up placing an order through the library for my own copy.
Marcia Williams is the author and illustrator of this work, I'll be on the lookout for more of her children's books as I really like her style. I'm going to save further exploring of this title until my own copy arrives but I thought that I would share this with others that may also enjoy books in this format and of this era.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Treats

We're getting ready to head out to our friend's house for the pumpkin carving party but I wanted to share my tray of goodies with you.
I'm not sure how the kids will like a pumpkin cupcake as their tastes usually run to all things chocolate. But then again, kids will surprise you. Time I wasn't here...bye!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pumpkin Carving Party

We have a circle of friends that will use any excuse to get together. Remember the great BBQ Steak-Off? Every October there's a pumpkin carving party and I'm not sure who has the most fun, the kids or the adults. There's nothing like scooping out the flesh of a pumpkin with your bare hands in cool weather to make that cup of tea taste all the more welcome. Or in R's case, clutching a pint of Guinness. It will be interesting to see how many kids turn up this year as some are away at school and some have part-time jobs. I know one young man who won't miss the chance to spend time with his 'Uncle R'. Who else would buy the wildly adventurous Master K a slingshot upon successfully completing his last school year, much to his parent's chagrin? Actually, as the hosts of this seasons festive gathering, I'm surprised they're letting us come over. Their aluminum shed now looks like its borne the brunt of a major hail storm as the result of Master K's slingshot practice. I digress. I'll be putting on my pinny tomorrow morning to bake some pumpkin cupcakes. I've purchased festive liners and icing sugar pumpkin faces to adorn the cream cheese icing. If things go to plan then I'll share a photo of the result. Do you have any autumnal rituals?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Non-Fiction Feast

Reading terrific historical non-fiction is a keen interest of mine. As a young girl, I would wake up early on weekends to grab a volume of the encyclopedia and get busy browsing. Afterwards, my Hot Wheels would come out, I really wasn't a lover of dolls. Then to round things off I was the only eight year-old I knew that carried around a ball of yarn and knitting needles. But I turned out to be normal enough, really I did! A couple of weeks ago, while listening to a podcast on The Woman's Hour, I heard Tracy Borman talk about her latest book. Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen is the story of Elizabeth I and her relationships with the women in her life, rather than of the men. I look forward to learning more about her life with governesses, female relatives and her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth was famously known for her jealousy of certain women at court. It couldn't have been an easy life for a complex woman given the social mores, the expectations of her gender and that she was a female monarch surrounded by male advisers. Jonathan Cape was kind enough to send me a copy, upon my request, to review on my blog. I must check my supply of Post-It notes, this is serious stuff not to be taken lightly! Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England is another non-fiction title which intrigued me straight away upon hearing about it. Author, Amanda Vickery, comes with an impressive CV but writes in an extremely readable manner, no dry reading to be found here. Chapters include topics such as Men Alone, Thresholds and Boundries at Home, Setting up Home, His and Hers and Wallpaper and Taste. History books that delve into people's daily lives and thoughts interest me to no end. The products they used to deodorize themselves, how they prevented pregnancies and their superstitions are fascinating to me, I'll leave the politics of the day to someone else. Reviews on both of these books will be forthcoming. Kristina and I are reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie together and I haven't cracked the cover yet so patience on my part will be required.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Honeysuckle Cottage by P G Wodehouse

The only peril in this story is to read it whilst you're drinking a cup of tea.
'Do you believe in ghosts?' asked Mr Mulliner abruptly.
I weighed the question thoughtfully. I was a little surprised, for nothing in our previous conversation had suggested the topic.
'Well,' I replied, 'I don't like them, if that's what you mean. I was once butted by one as a child.'
'Ghosts. Not goats.'
The narrator tells Mr Mulliner about his distant cousin, James Rodman, who lived for a brief time in a haunted cottage. It was bequeathed to him by his aunt, the author Leila J Pinckney, who writes literature that he describes as 'Squashily Sentimental'. James writes sensational mystery stories with nasty men and weapons. Aunt Leila was keen on having James out of London as she was a great believer in the influence of environment.
She often asked him if he thought it quite nice to harp so much on sudden death and blackmailers with squints.
Coincidence has it that James was in the market for a country property when Aunt Leila dies so he quickly settles in at Honeysuckle Cottage. But when he tries to get back to his writing he keeps having the urge to write a beautiful lady into the story! Sinister landladies in a detective story have their place but what was this? Could James possibly be becoming soft?
A pretty, young girl, carrying a fluffy white dog, shows up at the cottage and there's an accident. The chivalrous James saves Rose Maynard from worse injury and on doctor's orders she is left to recuperate at the cottage. Suddenly, the doctor is describing his patient as 'an elfin child; a tender, fairy creature.' It's all frothy whip whenever anyone has anything to say! This all becomes very worrying to James as he is a confirmed bachelor and doesn't like where this is heading. Even the apple-cheeked housekeeper thinks this recent guest is 'like a blessed angel sitting there with her dear eyes all a-shining.'
But then, dashing Colonel Carteret, shows up looking for Rose. He held her father in his arms while he died during the war, promising to marry the angelic creature. James is off the hook...but wait! He saves Rose's fluffy dog from drowning which is an irresistible act to any woman. Dashing Colonel Carteret '0', James '1'. Unable to control himself, James has hold of Rose's hand as he tells her...
'Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a lonely man who lived in a cottage all by himself...'
He stopped. Was it James Rodman who was talking this bilge?
'Yes?' whispered the girl.
Just then, William, James big lug of a dog jumps all over him breaking the spell! James leaves the cottage, never to return, but it has left an ineradicable mark on him.
His eyes to-day have that unmistakable look which is to be seen only in the eyes of confirmed bachelors whose feet have been dragged to the very brink of the pit and who have gazed at close range into the naked face of matrimony.
As a married woman I could be offended, but I'm not...just very amused. Deacon liked it too! He was whimpering while I was reading so I started to read out loud. Next thing I knew, he laid down and rolled on his side, listening contentedly, good boy. Perhaps for a little while we had Aunt Leila's ghost in our house!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Silas Marner by George Eliot

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...' I know, I know this is Dickens and I'm supposed to be writing about Eliot. But this sums up how I felt whilst reading Silas Marner. My reading would have been greatly enhanced by sharing this with someone with more experience than I in books of this sort. I struggled with the long sentences and descriptions that had me saying "what?" after reading them. Then the clouds would part and, for me anyway, the writing would become so clear and wonderful. The story begins with Silas Marner working in a village as a weaver. He is falsely accused of theft, betrayed by his friend. He leaves the town, his job and his fiancee behind to start life over again, this time in a cottage far from others. With lots of work and not much to spend his money on, he keeps his stash of coins hidden in his cottage. But one day, while Silas leaves his cottage unlocked during a short errand, he is robbed of his fortune. The despair is enough to just about drive him mad. Then, and further into the book than I thought, Silas spies a pool of gold in front of his hearth. Could this be his money returned to him? As he fixes his eyes more closely he discovers it is a small child with blonde curls, wandered in from goodness knows where through the snow. Her mother lies dead nearby. Silas finds new reason to live and the loss of his fortune no longer consumes him. He names the little girl, Eppie, and becomes the best of fathers to her, seeking advice from a neighbour when needed. Watching from afar though, is the man who is Eppie's biological father, unbeknownst to the other villagers. He knows that to reveal his relationship with the dead woman will jeopardize his relationships and standing in the village. The story is a marvelous one and I adored the ending. Perhaps I wasn't patient enough with the long, drawn out bits, isn't that a terrible thing to say about a treasured author? The fault is all mine. The Heiress is going to be reading this for her English class soon if her professor can drag himself away from Northanger Abbey. If you read this child of mine, it's a really lovely story and well worth reading, perhaps not as riveting in some spots as those Twilight books you enjoyed so much, but well worth wading through.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Long Weekend Wrap Up

The past four days have gone by all too fast. I had a birthday, ate with chopsticks...well mostly, enjoyed a Fall Fair, had friends over for dinner and drove through some really gorgeous vistas in full fall colour to visit The Heiress at school. I've barely had time to pour over some recent acquisitions! Finally, They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple has been reprinted and one can never have too much Whipple. In my quest to read more Elizabeth Taylor I pre-ordered A Game of Hide and Seek almost two months ago and look forward to comparing this one with, In a Summer Season. The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith is a book that I read about on Simon's blog awhile ago and has 'stuck' with me ever since. I was walking around Indigo in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, looked up and there it was in all it's witty English, historical social culture glory. I'm not shy about admitting that I smile and scrunch my shoulders in glee when browsing through its pages.

Most of Kitchener was shut yesterday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. But after a lovely visit with The Heiress, R spied a bookshop that was open - hooray! The Barbara Pym is one that we don't have at the library so I couldn't say no. Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart was in pretty good shape and rather inexpensive, again, I couldn't resist. Short stories are something I've come to appreciate more and more lately and short stories by Muriel Spark should definitely grace my shelves. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 2 was in...well, not very good shape. The pages are yellow, they even smell a bit stale but I couldn't leave it behind. R may have wished that I had as I was glued to it for the hour's drive back home!
And this is an absolutely gratuitous photo of the beautiful flowers that my lovely husband gave me on Friday. All together now....'Awwww'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Balls Falls Conservation Area

We love taking a drive out to the Balls Falls Fall Fair every Thanksgiving long weekend. You know that you've arrived when you hear music, smell woodsmoke and the delicious aroma of apple fritters being fried on the spot. I'm more than a bit concerned about these teens sitting around a vat of boiling hot oil though, yikes!
This mill has a giant wheel churning away inside, grinding wheat into flour. The lower level is very dark and has that wonderful aroma of being ages old. There's a display of tools used during the last century as well, it's all very historical and fascinating.
The blacksmith's shop is the place to be if you're cold! Just behind him is the bellows to bring the fire to a raging hot glow, I'd love to have one of those for our fireplace.
Here are the falls from which the conservation area gets its name, very serene but quite a drop!
Who wouldn't have wanted a teepee in your backyard as a child? All those sheets thrown over chairs or clotheslines in the backyard were a pretend version of this.
I've spared you the photo of the large order of chips and gravy that I had for lunch. The sun was shining the brass band was playing and the aroma of chip fat was in the air - what a day! Unfortunately, I was too full to enjoy one of those hot apple fritters made by those poor teens putting their lives at risk to make. I was able to manage a cup of freshly pressed hot apple cider for the drive home though. A lovely drive through some small towns, past homes with porches decorated with pumpkins, corn stalks and pots of Mums. A lovely day indeed!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cookies on a Cloudy Day

Today is a perfect baking day, it's grey, drizzly and blowing like mad. These cookies are a favourite in our house, full of pecans, cranberries, chocolate chips and oatmeal. Well, R really doesn't get too excited about the oatmeal part, who am I kidding? This morning I had to go to a service kiosk at the mall to get my licence plate renewal sticker. It costs $74 each year and is to be renewed by your birthday, mine is on Friday. Does anyone else feel that it's a bit of a letdown to give the government money because it's your birthday? To put it all behind me, I drove down the road to Chapters for a browse around and then realized I have all the books I need. Notice I didn't say want. I did spy a copy of The Time Traveler's Wife which I'm curious to read now, there's a whopping 76 holds for that title at the library and over 900 reviews on Amazon, apparently I've been missing out. Last night, I placed an order for Susan Hill's, Howard's End is on the Landing. I'm very curious to read about her experience of reading from her shelves and the who's who of authors mentioned in the book. And if I'm honest...I covet one of the most gorgeous pieces of cover art I've ever seen. For fun, I'm going to see how long it takes me before I crack and buy a book in 2010. Hill's book will be inspirational reading. Deacon and a black squirrel are having a staring contest through the glass doors, time to throw out more peanuts. It's cheap entertainment for Deacon and I'll get some laundry done...time to go!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Julia and Valentina Noblin are twenty year-old twins living in Lake Forest, Illinois and close doesn't begin to describe the bond between the two girls. When their Aunt Elspeth passes away, the twins are left her flat in London, to occupy for at least one year before they can sell it. There are other conditions such as their Mum and Dad cannot enter the flat, which seems odd since Mum is Elspeth's twin, Edie. The flat borders Highgate Cemetery which lends itself perfectly in setting and imagery to the story. Robert lives in the flat below and works as a volunteer guide at the cemetery while writing his dissertation. He was also Elspeth's lover and has been bereft since her death. Julia and Valentina settle into their new flat and life in London with the help of their lawyer, Mr Roche. Julia is the dominant twin who usually decides what the girls will wear and do with their day which Valentina is beginning to find tiresome. But Valentina is the first to discover a presence in the flat and before long it becomes apparent that Elspeth is still in their midst. What will this mean to Robert, who has lately become attracted to Valentina? Julia is not thrilled at the idea of her twin having a relationship, or a life, that doesn't involve her and conflicts arise. Julia is also determined that Martin, who lives in the flat above, should be freed from his life with OCD. Unable to leave his surroundings for years he has put his marriage at risk. These two become a crutch for each other in their times of need. Rachel, from Book Snob wrote that I should get ready to suspend belief when starting this book. It was excellent advice. The events that unfold are written so cleverly by Niffenegger that anything becomes possible and you are left breathless, both eager and afraid of what will happen next. Her Fearful Symmetry could have been twice as long, I didn't want this story to end but the characters will be with me for some time to come. If you're interested in a book that will have you reading while at the stove or brushing your teeth, watching the clock at work so you can get back to your story, then this is for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Keeping Their Place by Pamela Sambrook

I'll confess straight away that my pinny doesn't come off its hook in the pantry every single day but often enough. Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House by Pamela Sambrook arrived last week and I know this subject is one of interest to several so I'll share a bit of it with you. It's an excellent book for dipping in and out of, although I can see it as being one of those books that has you saying to yourself 'I'll get going after one more page' and you're still sitting there an hour later. There are chapters regarding the recruitment of servants, their accommodation and clothing, food and drink, recreation, relationships with other servants and employers, health, old age and death. Stories are largely told by the servants themselves through letters or journal entries, which are quite rare among this group. Dorothy Fudge at Colonel and Mrs Adam's, Marnhull 'There was only one bathroom, which we staff were not allowed to use, but when our employers were away we had a special treat of a hot bath every night! Otherwise, we maids had a hip bath in our bedrooms, which meant carrying the hot water up to them when we had a bath. We also had a basin, and a jug with cold water. On frosty mornings, the water in the jug had a thin layer of ice on it: it was lovely how warm it made me feel afterwards! But the other maids wouldn't wash until the breakfast was over and they were able to take hot water up to their rooms.' Edwin Lee on servants' food at Glynliven, Caernarvonshire 'Strangely the food for the staff at Glynliven was not good, consisting for the most part of a plain unappetising succession of stew-like meals. When I was first there we were only served one pudding a week, rice on Sundays, tacky stuff. Whether our old gentleman suddenly though that we'd moved into more enlightened times I don't know but after I'd been there a year we were allowed stewed fruit every Wednesday.' Sarah Sedgwick 'I was one of a family of ten. My father was one of the gardeners on a big estate...I was earning by the time I was twelve...Children were staying at the house, and I was engaged to take them for walks. I earned four shillings a week.' 'Although there was a laundress for large things, we did all the small washing, and the nappies, and of course all the children's mending. The clothes to be worn the next morning were always pressed over-night, but it was the ribbons that took the most time.' This book features a range of stories so it is not all frivolity below stairs nor is it misery and despair. You will find a bit of both and more. I laughed when I read of two servants trying to put out candles by spitting over a railing above! Quite gross but youth of a certain age will find fun wherever they can. In flipping through the letters and reminisces I could happily sit with this book, a pot of tea and some toast for the rest of the morning but I have work to do!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Apple Crisp in Autumn

Autumn and apples make a perfect pairing. The temperature here has dipped to single digits in the morning and evening so a warming dish of apple crisp was on the menu last night.
Well, that and the fact that Verity has never heard of apple crisp and I wanted to be able to show her what it's like. The recipe calls for tart apples, brown sugar, oats, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour. I sprinkled some pecans on top this time and loved the added nutty flavour. Served up warm with a scoop of ice cream it makes the perfect dessert on a chilly evening.