Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Day Out

Always on the lookout for a cultural event, R and I planned a trip to Toronto to see the King Tut exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. With timed tickets in hand, we set out yesterday and what a day we had. The obligatory first stop was Nicholas Hoare, where I picked up a copy of Nancy Mitford's, Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love along with Elizabeth Bowen's, The Heat of the Day. Thereby making Three Men in a Boat NOT my last book purchase of 2009 (you just really never know do you?). Then we strolled through St Lawrence Market to liven our senses with all the delicious aromas and displays. Can you believe that I bought two large gingerbread men? How many times does one have to say 'I will NOT eat too many cookies this Christmas' before she means it? I digress. Winding our way through the art gallery we came upon the most beautiful photography by Edward Steichen. The exhibit was called In High Fashion: The Conde Nast Years 1923 - 1937 and was such an unexpected pleasure in that we had no idea it was showing. There were so many things to admire in his photographs such as the lighting, the pose, the clothes (tailored and dreamy) and the art deco jewelry. I have officially become an admirer of this man's work. Our tickets were for 5 pm and my blood sugar was dropping. Being much too practical to pay $16 for two cello-wrapped sandwiches we stepped outside and found a small pizzeria. I found heaven in the best slice of primavera pizza ever...and I mean ever, it was to die for! The tiny establishment was decorated with personal photographs of the owner's family on various outings which was an exhibit in itself. Oh yes, and a Scarface movie poster...this place was the real deal, no franchise here. R and I walked back to the gallery and were amazed by the Tut exhibit, there was such reverence from the crowd. The ornate gold jewelry, the intricate carving on statues, the sandals he wore, all the things you've only ever seen in books or on television. It didn't seem real to be standing a foot away from artifacts dating back to over 1,000 years before Christ. I do confess to hearing Steve Martin sing 'King Tut, funky Tut...' ever so quietly in my head for just a moment though. We drove the long way home, admiring the festive lights decorating so many homes. Part way, R stopped at a Tim Horton's and bought me a tea, I pulled a gingerbread man out of the bag and munched away. It was a lovely day and such a nice way to see out the year. And now on to new beginnings...Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Meret

The Heiress has a lovely friend and flatmate, they met on moving in day at the university residence and have been like sisters ever since. The lovely Miss S had planned a visit over the holidays so there was only one thing to do, get out the needles and knit her a Meret of her own. I managed to finish it last night before heading out to an open house with friends, leaving the damp project to block over a dinner plate. Once I got back from walking Deacon this morning, the girls were awake and being ever so accommodating, Miss S modelled her new chapeau. It suits her red-tinted hair perfectly and looks gorgeous with her coat, I love this pattern!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Persephone Meret

It's called a Meret because it was a mystery knit on Ravelry, blend 'mystery' and 'beret', you get Meret. Once it was blocked it was going to be wrapped and put under the tree as a surprise for The Heiress. But there were doubts, would it be too big, too slouchy...I had knitter's anxiety and there was only one thing to do. Creeping into The Inner Sanctum that is a young adults room, I whispered 'are you awake?'. She loves it and it's perfect!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman

There are more than a handful of books to be found about Elizabeth I but Borman has offered up some interesting and fresh details (for me anyway) about this ruler. The fragility of relationships is a thread that runs through Elizabeth's life. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded and four step-mothers followed, although only one other left the marriage in the same manner. Jane Seymour favoured her half-sister Mary, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard favoured Elizabeth, Katherine Parr treated both equally. Imagine being a child and trying to find your place in yet another woman's heart. As an adult, is it any wonder that Elizabeth was reluctant to be joined to a man in holy wedlock. The Queen had many of her family, ladies-in-waiting, members of council and friends held by puppet strings and quite often stamped around and yelled in fury if they didn't live their lives according to her plan. Marriages within the royal circle and court had to be sanctioned by Elizabeth as there was fear that a strong alliance could jeopardize her position as Queen of England. On more than one occasion she had newlywed couples sentenced to the Tower for treason, simply for marrying without her permission. When women would become pregnant and give birth to sons due to the blind-eye of a guard, Elizabeth would be incandescent with rage. Fearful for her position or jealous? You cannot help but be in awe of the power, bravery and intelligence of the woman herself. At a time when women had very little in the way of entitlement or rights, Elizabeth had a long and fairly successful reign of 44 years. Towards the end of her life, people were ready for change and welcomed their new King, James I, but the fascination with Elizabeth never really subsided. Most of us are quite familiar with her parentage, the love of her life, Robert Dudley, and the turmoil of having her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed, the thorn in her side that was Arbella Stuart. In Elizabeth's Woman, Tracy Borman paints a slightly clearer picture of a remarkable ruler and I think, a lonely woman who paid a great price for crown and country. Although, with dynastic Tudor blood coursing through her veins, something tells me that Queen Elizabeth I wouldn't have had it any other way. If you love historical non-fiction, this is one to look forward to and I thank Fiona, from Random House, for sending me such a great read!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Name by Wilkie Collins

How far would you go to regain something that had been taken from you and your family? Mr Vanstone was married at a young age but it wasn't an ideal situation so the couple parted ways...still bound in legal matrimony. When he falls in love with another woman later on, he confesses that he is married but she chooses to live with him, against social mores. Something which would have been rather shocking in the Victorian era. They present themselves as a married couple and raise two daughters, Norah and Magdalen, in style, luxury and society. With the sudden death of Mr Vanstone followed closely by that of Mrs Vanstone, it's revealed that the young ladies are now considered illegitimate in the eyes of the law. The family fortune is lost to them in favour of an estranged and miserly Uncle who has no conscience about selling the house and turning the girls out. Norah Vanstone, while upset at their situation, accepts that life will be different and finds work as a governess to provide her with essentials. Her younger sister, Magdalen, will find no peace until the fortune that is theirs but for the absurdity of law, is returned to them. The characters in No Name are absolutely fantastic, in particular Captain Wragge and his wife. The Captain's brain is always on fast-forward when it comes to scheming which in turn means that the plot travels at such a pace, you never feel as though this book is over 700 pages! I wouldn't dream of saying anything more about this story as I hope anyone reading this is tempted to pick up a copy and find out the rest for themselves. In reading a bit about Collins life I was excited to learn that he studied law at Lincoln's Inn, a place which I visited on my trip to London last May. Having a visual of the setting and picturing him walking from building to building along the paths has added an extra layer to my memories. It saddened me though that because he suffered from 'rheumatic gout' he became an opium addict, taking it in the form of laudanum. At a later point in his writing the storylines were confusing and disjointed. Collins had no problem writing about his vices as this drug is written about in this book and others. There is some other reading on my horizon but I'm really looking forward, in fact I'm excited, to get back into another book by Wilkie Collins. My only question is why did it take me so long to discover him?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boots and Books

Sunday was an absolutely stunning day with people out jogging in shorts and T-shirts. I wasn't one of them but it was definitely a day to venture outside and enjoy the sunshine. R and I went to Toronto for the afternoon and browsed in an area we'd never been to before, there were quaint shops and lots of dogs milling about with their owners. We found a shop that carried Hunter boots so now I can throw my leaky wellies out in the bin. The forecast is calling for a chance of rain for the rest of the week and I couldn't be happier! I'm so enjoying No Name by Wilkie Collins that I've gone on a bit of a spree to add more of his work to my library. Don't you think it sounds nicer to say 'building a library' than 'adding it to the pile'? So I've ordered The Law and the Lady and Armadale from TBD and found a lovely copy of The Woman in White while out and about on Sunday. Everyman's has this charming edition of A Christmas Carol with a few other stories by Dickens that I didn't have and couldn't resist so I've added it to 'my library' as well. The introduction is by Margaret Atwood, I'm curious to read what she has to say about Dickens and his work. I'm not feeling terribly motivated to do anything about Christmas just yet...but I'm more than happy to read about it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Day at the Vet's Office

Well this has been a day that I'm glad to see the sun set on. Deacon was neutered this morning and is now resting comfortably in his bed, otherwise known as his Little House of Horrors. Usually, he only uses it to house items that have been thieved from somewhere else in the house. There were seminars to attend at the library today, it's just as well I suppose. It helped to alleviate the obligatory hand-wringing, pacing and mental anguish of waiting for the phone to ring, closely followed by clutching my chest when it did. The house is oddly quiet and I managed to pour a cup of tea without my boy running up to me with a ball in his mouth. If Mum is going to sit for ten minutes then Deacon feels it's a terrific time for a game of catch. Now, he's just gazing at me in a pain-killer induced haze, his chin propped up on the edge of his bed. He's with it enough to know that a whimper would have me giving him some tea from my mug though. The worst is behind us now, we just have to keep Deacon fairly calm for one week...should be interesting.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Little Boy Lost

Timing is everything. There were three pages left to read in my book and I wanted to be alone when I read them. R was leaving for work so I said my good-byes and prepared for the ending. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski is the story of a man who sets out to find his son, lost to him during World War II. Hilary had fled the Germans after seeing his newborn son only briefly, his wife Lisa too weak to follow. He later learns that his wife was murdered by the Gestapo but not before she handed over their son to another woman. Through further tragedy there is now a trail to follow which may or may not lead Hilary to this boy who is now almost five years old. The sweetest boy with the skinniest legs and huge brown eyes is presented to Hilary. Is this urchin his son? Does he even want this child to be his son, forcing him to open his heart again? As a woman reading this book I was screaming at Hilary to take the boy and run. The term 'dolt' came to mind more than a few times! The last three pages had me holding my breath and I had absolutely steeled myself to an ending, the ending I had become convinced would play out. The last sentence read, I took a breath and felt the sting in my eyes. There was a review written by a blogger which started 'Marghanita Laski, F__ you!' and I certainly understand where that emotion was coming from. My feelings are 'Marghanita Laski, thank you'. My next read arrived right on schedule in today's mail. I may have to mull over Little Boy Lost for the evening and a friend is stopping by for a visit but Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger will be on my nightstand waiting.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Miss Hargreaves

Now this was something completely different to anything I've ever read before. Norman Huntley and his friend, Henry invent Miss Hargreaves during a short session of lies referred to as 'spur of the moment'. Norman has a history of telling these sorts of tales but never quite like this. These two young men take things a step further by mailing off a letter to their made up character. They're in for the shock of their lives when Norman receives a letter BACK from Miss Hargreaves saying that she's arriving soon for a visit - and she shows up! I must say, Norman is the most chivalrous of young men for putting up with the antics of Miss Hargreaves, her pets and accoutrement including a hip bath that travels with her everywhere. Poor Norman's circle of friends quickly dwindle, including a girlfriend as suspicion clouds his relationships. Just what on earth could Norman be thinking spending so much time with an 83 year-old woman! Meanwhile, he is being driven mad by this woman's antics and wonders how he can undo the mess he's created. His father, Cornelius is a sympathetic listener but quite the oddball in his own right, lets just say he's rather hilarious! This book sparkled with nostalgia and an innocence that I found charming and refreshing. It was magical, in more ways than one. I loved it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

84 Charing Cross Road

Blogger doesn't seem to want to upload photos today so I'll just carry on and hope things work themselves out. Let's just start by saying "Where have I been?". Near the top of my list of favourite things are books and London and this book is about both. I'm sure that just about everyone knows this is the story of a woman, Helene Hanff, sending letters regarding her book requests from New York to a bookshop in London. But it's so much more than that isn't it. The parcels of meat and eggs that Helene sends to the shop when rationing is still in place after WWII makes it feel like Christmas over and over again. Then there's the times when Helene encloses paper money in her letters to pay for books, how different from the way we order our books today. Helene is rather forward in her comments but as I found out later, Frank Doel, quite enjoyed her sense of humour. WHAT KIND OF A PEPYS' DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? this is not a pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot. I could just spit. where is jan. 12, 1668, where his wife chased him out of bed and round the bedroom with a red-hot poker? As staff and their family members begin their own correspondence with Helene, the invites to visit are frequent. I kept thinking "what are you waiting for you silly woman!". But one day has a habit of leading into the next and a trip to London was always "perhaps next year". The letters end abruptly and I couldn't believe it, I could have happily read volumes of this stuff. So imagine my surprise when I turn the next page and the sequel to this story is included in my book! The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street begins in June 1971 when Helene finally crosses the pond to conduct interviews and book signings for 84 Charing Cross Road. The absolute cherry on the cake for me is that she stays in a hotel in Bloomsbury. The descriptions of walking around The British Museum, Bedford Square and Russell Square are sheer literary travel candy for me. Although, can you imagine Lamb's Conduit Street without Persephone? I do find myself cringing a bit when Ms Hanff refers to herself as a celebrity and writes about people staring at her but her descriptions of various locations makes up for all that. I'm not quite finished the book yet so I'm off to put on the kettle, I'll be reading in between loads of laundry and other domestic duties this morning. I've come to this book about twenty years later than I should have but better late than never.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Deacon

Our sweet boy is two years old today! He keeps us busy with his antics and makes us laugh every single day. Even when he's sleeping, on his back with his paws up in the air, he's irresistable. The boys across the street have a bin with over 70 baseballs in it, collected by the birthday boy himself from the long grass behind the baseball diamond in the park. And that's just since spring! You have to keep a close eye on Deacon if you're anywhere near batting or pitching practice as he will attempt to pilfer any balls lying around. As exhausted as we are trying to keep up with you, we're so glad to have you around. Happy Birthday Deacon!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Poor Girl by Elizabeth Taylor

 'Miss Chasty's first pupil was a flirtatious little boy'. Florence Chasty is a young governess, employed by Mr and Mrs Wilson to instruct their seven year-old son, Hilary. She is pleased at how easily he learns but is uneasy with his precociousness. He makes bold statements and will lean towards Miss Chasty, close enough that his breath moves tendrils of her hair about her face. One late afternoon, Miss Chasty enters the schoolroom to discover Hilary sitting at the window-seat, staring out over the park. There is a heavy fragrance floating in the air and no explanation as to where it came from. Tea is poured as Mrs Wilson comes into the schoolroom to observe lessons. The governess is startled by the sudden appearance of a red stain on her teacup where her lips had been and in shame, Miss Chasty turns the cup so it is hidden. The scene has not gone unnoticed by the lady of the house. In disgust, Mrs Wilson seeks out her husband. But how to explain her unease with this woman without arousing her husband's interest in the governess? There has been indiscretions with female staff in the past. A discussion takes place and it's decided that Mr Wilson will observe the situation for himself and most assuredly it will all come to nothing. Hilary is not at all pleased at having to share his dear girl, Florence as the impertinent lad calls her. You know where this is heading... 'She felt in herself a sense of burning impatience and anticipation and watching the door opening found herself thinking: 'If it is not he, I cannot bear it.' Now this is where I found things to get a bit icky... 'When he kissed her, she felt an enormous sense of disappointment, almost as if he were the wrong person embracing her in the dark. His arch masterfulness merely bored her. 'A long wait for so little, ' she thought. When Florence Chasty is alone in her room, she is mystified and anguished by her own behaviour. Lately, when she is in the schoolroom it's like she becomes another person. After an unsettling event, the governess is sent packing but as she passes the schoolroom in the hallway she experiences a ghostly glimpse into the future. Miss Chasty slowly comes to a realization that there are things beyond her power at work in this house. She can now feel at peace.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Village by Marghanita Laski

I've spent the past few days reading this wonderful book by Marghanita Laski at every opportunity. It exceeded all of my expectations and I suggest that if you have a copy languishing on your bookshelf that you get it down. To set the tone... Then they parted, Mrs Trevor going up the road to Wood View on Priory Hill where the gentry lived and Mrs Wilson going downhill on the other side, down Station Road among the working-classes. Picking up on the the last night of WWII, Laski takes us through the conflicts that arise when the classes mix. Much to the dismay of the Trevor family, their daughter, Margaret, falls in love with Roy Wilson. Despite the fact that Roy has served his country and learned a trade which earns him more money than Margaret's father, he will never be worthy of the Trevor's hospitality - much less their daughter. The ways in which class distinction are observed in this story made for a fascinating study. Mrs Trevor knots her scarf under her chin, Mrs Wilson knots hers on top of her head in turban-style. Wendy Trevor chides her daughter for using the term 'Auntie', blaming her association with Roy for her lapse of proper English, the correct term would be 'Aunt'. The romance between Roy and Margaret is so sweet, they go to the cinema, ride their bicycles and have a picnic while they plan their life together. I had to laugh when Roy, being ever so chivalrous, lets Margaret know that she won't be working once they're wed. Which suits her just fine as all she's ever wanted for herself was to be a homemaker and raise a family. Roy, tired of romancing his intended under a veil of secrecy, marches to the Trevor's front door to speak with the man of the house. Gerald and Wendy are perplexed as to why someone from Station Road would use their front door. You can imagine the explosive scene when Roy announces that he and their daughter are engaged. "And how do you think we're going to feel with a son-in-law we're ashamed to introduce to our friends?" rages Mr Trevor. You will have to read this book for yourself to discover whether true love prevails over class distinction. I don't know what made me grab this book at the last minute for this reading challenge but I'm awfully glad that I did.

A Book Chat at Persephone

A treasured memory of my trip to London last May, was the day Kristina and I visited the Persephone shop for a book chat. As luck would have it, the book being discussed was Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple which I had just recently finished. We were shown into the room at the back where we sat on chairs in a tight circle. Tea was promptly poured and offered around, it was loose leaf, of course. Nicola sliced some Devon Seed Cake, so perfect with a cup of tea. Once the conversation began I think the group would have happily sat there for hours discussing the ins and outs of the book. One of the many topics mulled over was the significance of twin beds and married couples. We all had a laugh when one lady in the group said that her mother thought it was unhygienic for a couple to share a bed! It was terrific to have that kind of insight from someone whose mother would have been a grown woman in the 50's. I think of that visit often and wouldn't hesitate to plan my next trip around another book chat at Persephone. For those of you lucky enough to visit whenever you like, do yourself a favour and attend one. I've baked a few Devon Seed Cakes since May to remember a very special afternoon and laugh when I remember asking Nicola if hers was home baked, to which she replied "yes and presumably by someone in Devon". Wonderful!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reading Persephone

This is one of my favourite spots in the house to read. I was just starting A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair but in the end I ran upstairs to grab The Village by Marghanita Laski instead. I'm quite near the end and really enjoying it, I'm so impressed by some of the other participants that are managing a book a day! I'm blaming my shortcomings on Deacon, whose pleading eyes and whimpering have me in the park more than on the couch!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cauliflower Cheese

Grocery shopping takes on more of community feel the closer we get to harvest time. Yesterday, the displays of vegetables were mounded high and there were rows of peaches in baskets, hand picked from area orchards. As we were deciding over a basket of new potatoes, R spied the small bite-size ones that we really love. An obliging fellow shopper passed them to us from across the display so we wouldn't have to walk around. The lower prices had me pondering over the peppers as to what I could make with them. Kristina has posted recently about the vegetables from her allotment and inspired me to bake a cauliflower cheese - several times lately. It was on the menu again last night and was delicious, for dessert we had apple pie. Fall and the glorious smell of woodsmoke will be upon us soon and I for one, can't wait!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nella, Nadel and Knitting

Sometimes you just have to push yourself away from the computer. For a couple of days I focused on other things and spent more down-time reading my book instead of in blogland. But yesterday after work, when I was feeling caught up, I went to log on and discovered that we had no internet service, shock and horror! After an hour on the phone to someone in India and then another hour on the phone to someone in a city closer to home I was told there was a problem in my area and it would last into the evening hours. Never one to waste an opportunity, every time that I was put on hold I managed to get my meatloaf one step closer to being in the oven. So R and I had an evening of visiting the 40's. He's reading Sure and Certain Death by Barbara Nadel, a murder mystery set in 1941 amidst the bombed remains of East London. I brought it home from the library for myself but he snuck off with it first and is really enjoying it. I watched Housewife, 49 whilst trying to make some headway on a pair of socks that I started last May. It tells the story of Nella Last, who wrote a diary as part of a public project to record the effects of war on the general population. It's an award-winning drama so if you're at all interested in that era then do try your library to see if they carry it. Two bits of good news, our internet service is back and my Persephone book, Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes has finally shown up in my mailbox, hooray!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Picking a Persephone

Have you been planning for the Persephone Reading Week Challenge coming up on August 24? Some of you may be waiting to see what sort of mood you'll be in, will it be romantic, nostalgic, domestic, comedic or whimsical. The best news is there's a Persephone book for all of these situations and more. My selection has been narrowed down to A London Child of the 1870's, Mariana, A House in the Country, Miss Buncle's Book and Greenery Street. In somewhat related news, I've submitted a 'Persephone Missing in Action' report with The Book Depository for Minnie's Room, it left their premises on August 3, that much has been confirmed but so far, nothing at my end. Patience is a virtue, right? In the meantime, my Persephone grey T-shirt/reading uniform is clean and ready for service (I have several, no worries). Are you ready? This reading event is being brought to you by Verity and Claire.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie & Julia

Do yourself a favour and see this wonderful film. R came along with me yesterday saying that he'd see anything if I bought him some popcorn. Well, it ended up that he enjoyed more than the popcorn so don't hesitate to take the man in your life along. Meryl Streep is absolutely wonderful as Julia Child and don't be surprised to see an Oscar nomination come her way. I can also see a Fall season of Child's cookbooks flying off of the shelves, you can't help but be tempted to get your saucepans out of the cupboards after watching this movie. There was a funny moment when Julie's friends mention that she should set up a Pay-Pal account on her blog to help defray the cost of cooking so many recipes. R leaned over and asked "Can you get that on your blog?". "For what?" I replied. "All those books that you're buying" was the comeback. Very funny coming from the gentleman who talked me into buying two books from the bookshop only an hour before. That man does like to tease. In conclusion, two very enthusiastic thumbs up for this feast of a film. I'd see it again in the time it takes to say "butter".

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Throwing Down an Oven Mitt

R and I have lovely friends. There's a core group of eight couples and we like to get together at certain times through the year. Last night we got together for a BBQ hosted by Mr and Mrs C at their lovely home with a swimming pool and room for a pony. Lately, it seems as though there must not be a gathering without the men partaking in some sort of competition. Last night the event was Who Can BBQ the Best Steak. There were numbers drawn, a couple of trust-worthy people secreted in the kitchen to cut up samples, sheets handed out with a grading system and a teen with excellent math skills to calculate the submitted points. Toward the end, I felt a little like Geraldine Granger from The Vicar of Dibley trying to eat just one more brussel sprout at Christmas Lunch. All of the steaks were delicious but sadly, I have to report that R's steak did not achieve a top three position. Not to worry though, in September we'll be doing it all over again at our Ribfest. R made a trophy for that one and he's quite determined that it will grace our mantle this year. He took a sterling silver piggy bank and mounted it on an old soccer trophy that he bought at a charity shop, the player on top was done away with. The trophy is affectionately referred to as 'The Porker'. Heaven help me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Victoria Sponge and Friends

This is my first Victoria Sponge! Last night I had the company of the delightful ladies R and M for tea and cake. Ever since Verity from The B Files made her sponge I've been thinking that this is a recipe I'd love to try. Now as pretty as it was I don't think I would have won any prizes at the village fete as it was a tad on the dense side. The recipe calls for cake flour and not having any in the cupboard I reduced the flour a bit and added some corn starch. If you happen to be a practiced baker of sponge cakes perhaps you could pass on some of your wisdom as I'm going to be baking another one to tweak things a bit. The really important thing is that we ladies had such a nice time getting together and the time flew by all too quickly. After taking Deacon for his last walk of the day I came back to discover some tea left in the pot. I opened the fridge door and reached for the milk, casting a glance at the cake. Feeling a bit like Nigella, I was leaning against the counter at 10:30 pm eating Victoria Sponge and drinking a cup of tea by the dim light of the stove. It was lovely having the ladies over, we'll have to do it again - soon!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Day at the Museum

There was more rain in the forecast for Saturday so The Heiress and I decided that a day at the Museum was the perfect way to make the best of things. We loved the European galleries with their examples of rooms through different eras, suits of armour, textiles and costumes. The Heiress is thankful we longer wear corsets and the chamber pots beside the beds brought a frown as well.
The exhibit featuring gems and minerals was so beautiful! It's mystical the way nature can produce such colour and formations in so many different shapes and sizes. The phosphorus minerals were so cool for lack of a better word, showcased in a darkened display case they glowed florescent bright green. Imagine stumbling upon that hundreds of years ago!
This emerald bracelet is from the 1940's and all I can say is "Fabulous Dahling!".
The Biodiversity Gallery is a hit with the kids, they have all kinds of interactive displays for them to experience things that are found in our community and some that aren't. For those of you across the pond, this gives you an idea of just how huge moose are. There are signs all along our northern highways warning that these huge animals are in the area, it's disastrous if you're in a collision with one of these animals, for both man and beast. On a lighter note, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and pet a Hissing Madagascar cockroach! And yes, it was alive. That was the first thing that R asked me this morning when I told him.
There was a new display of Wedgewood china which I absolutely loved. I've talked to women before at the British Isles Show about the making of Wedgewood and it's incredibly labour intensive. It takes a steady hand to lay each piece of clay motif on an item, some as fine as an eyelash. I fell in love with this teapot from the 1700's, it holds enough tea to keep you happy through an afternoon with your book. After several blissful hours of satisfying our curiosity we walked along Bloor Street, home of Prada, Gucci and other temples of merchandise nirvana (if you're into that sort of thing, I just wanted to get to the bookshop). Suddenly, there was a steely grip on my arm, The Heiress had spotted the Coach store. Biodiversity and architecture through the ages was all forgotten by a window display of shiny new handbags. In a moment of mother/daughter togetherness I sprung for a classic Coach wristlet. A little something to hold her lippy, ID, cell phone and some money when she goes clubbing, she was elated. By this time it was pouring buckets and while browsing in the bookshop I heard snorting, looking down I saw a Yorkshire terrier running in circles, drying her face off on the carpet! Too funny. I purchased a copy of In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor after flipping through the pages and seeing the words, Marylebone, vicar and London. So there we were, the two of us, each with a package under our arm and smiles on our faces riding the train home to Burlington. It was a memorable day. The forecast for today is more rain, too bad there wasn't an Ark at the museum, we could use it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trip to Toronto

As a small reprieve from my daily routine I took myself off to Toronto by train yesterday. The weather lately has been decidedly unseasonal and rain was in the forecast. A perfect day for the creaky floors, chamber music and lamp light at Nicholas Hoare, bookshop extraordinaire. I must have browsed for over an hour, looking at every single title on offer. I carefully removed a couple of gorgeous coffee table books from their nesting place to have a closer look. One was on the architecture of English homes that should really be sold with a drool protector as it was so decadent. The price tag on that one was $120, ouch. Dovegreyreader recently wrote about Lived in London: Blue Plaques and the Stories Behind Them which I also flipped through, she wasn't kidding when she said it was quite heavy. It must weigh around 8 pounds! There was a couple of Angela Thirkell books on the top shelf so I had to trouble an assistant to climb one of those ladders that slide along the brass rail. I wanted to climb it myself but they might frown on that sort of thing. The books turned out to be part of a series and they weren't the first two so they stayed behind. In the end, I went home with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as I didn't have my own copy and it was my favourite read of 2008. Also, a couple of days ago I purchased Stratton's War by Laura Wilson, her writing lately has been described as very Foyle's War so I'm hoping that's an accurate description. I wrote to Kristina yesterday that going to a bookshop for me was more relaxing than any spa treatment, a spa for the soul I think. Then there was that guy on his cell phone for most of my train ride home...never mind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Teaser Tuesday and Treats

I am embarrassed to say that I have yet to finish Nightingale Wood. There was a moment last night when I fancied myself as an early twentieth-century drama queen saying (most kiddingly), "I should really take a room for a fortnight!". Why can't I just sit and finish this book? The real issue here could be that this book is very charming but there hasn't been a character, or situation, that has me feeling like I need to read whilst at the dinner table as it's just not that riveting. I've been spoiled by Persephone titles that have you crying or seething with hatred, you know, rip your heart out stuff. Having said that, yesterday I read a passage that made me sigh and say to myself (for real this time), "we are kindred spirits". It was this: But Hetty had other plans. They were vague, but they were precious to her. As soon as she was of age she meant to leave Grassmere, or the flat in London, it did not matter which - forever; take an attic in Bloomsbury, fill it with books and settle down to the life of a student. I don't want to teach, to write, to criticize, or review or be a poet. I just want to learn.
It's Teaser Tuesday and that was pushing it a bit at five sentences rather than two but I wanted to share that lovely passage. The treats were in the window of a bakery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, no we didn't purchase any but they were certainly very tempting!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


The usual question was asked this morning, do we hang around the house and get some chores done or do we have fun? Since R worked yesterday and it was sunny we decided to go for a drive to picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake. The houses there are quaint beyond belief. In the past, we've strapped our bikes to the van to ride around the town, that way you can take in the architectural detail and landscaping at a slower pace. I've been known to suddenly find my bike tire scraping the curb because I'm not watching where I'm going! We browsed the shops and bought some freshly ground Snickerdoodle coffee. It's chocolate, hazelnut and caramel flavoured, yum. I found some lovely sock wool in a purple semi-solid shade to save for a later date. As I wittered on about the wool I turned to find that R had left me talking to myself, he was waiting on the sidewalk! I looked at the sales clerk "that happens to me all the time" she said. He did buy me a lovely tea mug with roses on it so he can be forgiven. We came upon a bookshop next door to an Irish pub - perfect! R had a pint while I browsed and we met out front when we were done. The cherry on top, quite literally, was a stop for ice cream. R chose Burgundy cherry and I chose strawberry, although, the almond fudge brownie was a close second. A perfect day!