Friday, November 28, 2008

The Home-Maker

Dorothy Canfield wrote The Home-Maker in the early part of the twentieth century. It's the story of two people in roles that don't suit either one and what happens when the roles are switched.

Lester and Evangeline are married with three young children: Helen, Henry, and Stephen. Evangeline is dedicated to homemaking. Her home is always spotless, meals are always wholesome, tasty, and served on time, and her children always look well-dressed in the clothes she sews for them. But Evangeline is a slave to her idea of what a homemaker should be. And she is angry, bitter, and sharp-tongued. She organizes and controls her home and family to the point of misery.

Her daughter, Helen, is thin and nervous. Her older son, Henry, and her husband, Lester, suffer from digestive problems. Her youngest son, Stephen, is an angry, mean, pre-school-aged tyrant. Evangeline herself suffers from an extreme case of eczema, with oozing sores on her arms and back that have to be kept bandaged.

Lester, an accountant, is not really cut out for the world of business. He is gentle and his head is filled with poetry. Nevertheless, he works hard each day for his small salary. Everything changes when a tragic accident leaves Lester paralyzed and unable to work.

Evangeline goes to look for work and is hired as a stock-girl in department store where her husband used to work as accountant. Her skills, intelligence, and good business sense bring her to the attention of the store owner and his wife and Evangeline is quickly promoted. Lester stays home in his wheelchair caring for the children and with their help keeping the household running.

Evangeline blooms in the business world and finally has a better place to direct all her energy. Lester thrives at home loving and instructing the children. Everyone is happy and cheerful and healthy.

When I was a child, I read Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, but this is the only adult fiction of hers I've read. (I'm reading a biography of Emily Post now, and she knew - or at least knew of - Dorothy Canfield. Emily Post's life and those of her contemporaries in New York high society in the late 19th century and early 20th century seem to have been like Evangeline's.)

It's an unusual book, probably more so when it was first published, and it left me with a lot to think about.


A Spoonful of Poison

Before I read another mystery by M. C. Beaton, whether it features Agatha Raisin or Hamish MacBeth, I promise myself to read a review of it (by someone other than the publisher) first.

In this latest Agatha Raisin mystery, Agatha decides to help a nearby village raise money for their church. Naturally, her reason for doing so involves a man she finds attractive. The fete is successful monetarily, but someone laces with LSD one or two jams in the tasting contest. Several people become ill and one dies as a result. Unfortunately, Agatha doesn't really seem to have matured much as a character, though I had hoped she'd be a teensy bit more sensible after reading the last mystery featuring her.

Agatha Raisin fans might want to borrow rather than buy this mystery - at least for the first read. It has a lovely sparkly cover, but a very thin story.


One Fifth Avenue

I had not read anything by Candace Bushnell before reading One Fifth Avenue and I seriously doubt that I'll ever read anything else by her. However, I found her view of Manhattan and its population very interesting, if somewhat depressing. Still, I can't think of any current writers, with the exception of Tom Wolfe, who have so accurately depicted the emptiness of a life spent merely acquiring things and spending wealth.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blocks 5 and 6

I had plenty of yarn for block 5 of the Moderne Log Cabin blanket. I even have an entire skein left over! Block 6 is coming along well, and it looks as though I'll finish it with yarn to spare also. In the meantime I'm waiting for a shipment of yarn intended for one of the larger later blocks. There are only 10 blocks in all so I feel like I'm halfway done, even though the blocks are getting larger and I will have to do some kind of edging around the blanket.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's a girl kitten

The vet said we have a girl. After much discussion (and some arguing) the children have settled on "Shadow" as her name. The vet also told us to hold her and pet her as much as possible to comfort her and get her used to people.

We held her a lot before we put her to bed, but Steve said he heard her cry all night alone in the laundry room. So we've been holding her all during the day when she's not eating, drinking, or visiting her sandbox. And Marley is sleeping with her in the laundry room.


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been called the "feel-good" book of the year. At first I had no interest in the book, but every week I'd read another review praising it, so I finally asked our librarian if she'd get it for me.

This is a very comfortable book to read. Set in the year 1946, after World War II is over and rebuilding has begun, the story is told in the form of letters. I found it very similar to Helene Hanff's book, 84, Charing Cross Road, and I liked that.

Literature is discussed, lonely people find love and families, and questions are answered. What more could you ask for in a book?


Like Water for Chocolate

After reading Garden Spells I wanted to read several books other reviewers said were similar to it. One of those books was Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. While I did not think it was as sweet as Sarah Allen's book, it did have an interesting plot, and was centered around food. Tita's life as the youngest daughter of her domineering mother, Elena, was hard. Her mother married off her older sister to the boy who loved Tita. Elena was determined to keep Tita single so she could always take care of her mother. Elena found fault with all Tita did, yet Tita still tried to love her mother, her sisters, and to serve them. She poured her energy into the food she prepared, and her food had magical qualities.

I liked the recipes.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can we keep it?

Sarah works at the library. Today a woman brought in a kitten she'd found outside, and asked if someone could keep it, as she was not allowed to have pets in her house. "Someone" took the kitten, buttoned it up in her sweater, and walked over to the museum where I was working to ask if she could keep it. I am not the authority on pet matters and I referred "Someone" to talk to her father instead. So she walked home, made a bed for the feline and got it some food, then went back to work. (Dad was on the phone and could not talk at the time.) After work she talked to her father and we now have a new kitten. (Honestly, I think every member of this family, myself included, has "sucker" written on his or her forehead.)

Kitten goes to the vet this afternoon to be checked over for parasites, illness, and to find out whether it is male or female.

Earlier this month, on the 3rd, Tom and Karins' cat, Delilah - which we all considered to be the family cat - was run over by a car and died. Delilah was a stray kitten that took up with us in July of 2007. She was the best cat. We're hoping this kitty will be as good a pet as she was.


Salvation on Sand Mountain

Our book club decided to read Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington and discuss it in November.

This is definitely one of the oddest non-fiction books I've read this year. At times I thought I was reading a story by Flannery O'Connor, but this was real. Dennis Covington wrote of his experiences with snake-handling churches, especially the Church of Jesus with Signs Following. (Doesn't that church name sound like something straight out of a Flannery O'Connor novel or short story?) He visited churches in Alabama on Sand Mountain and others in Tennessee, Georgia, and West Virginia. His own fascination with these congregations carried the book for me, because otherwise I don't think I could have finished reading it.

While Covington investigated the churches and the people as a journalist, he allowed himself to be drawn in deeper as a believer. He actually preached and handled venomous snakes in services and brought along his wife and young daughters to participate and observe. He developed friendships with many of the people in these churches, although the relationships did not last after he finished gathering his information.

I was vaguely dissatisfied at the end of the book because I wanted to know what motivated these men and women to continue to drink strychnine and handle venomous snakes after being bitten (some of them numerous times) and after seeing close friends and family members die from poison or snake-bites. I did not see a credible answer.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mario Batali's Lasagne Bolognese al Forno

Steve had this lasagna at a colleague's house a few weeks ago and came home anxious to make it himself.

Steve shopped for all the ingredients, then he and Marley prepared the meal. They started at 4:00 p.m.

First they diced and chopped vegetables. Then they minced the meat. Then they cooked the meat and the vegetables and made the pasta and the bechamel sauce. Steve assembled the lasagna, baked it, and finally (at 9:00 p.m.) we sat down to eat. We were so hungry, but it was worth the wait.

The next day he made it again, but with ground beef, and he left the nutmeg out of the bechamel sauce. When asked by Steve how they liked the second version, Sarah and Joan replied, "It's really good, Daddy. It tastes like Hamburger Helper." NOT the response Steve was looking for!

But he made it again the right way and we were all very pleased. And yes, it really does take 4 to 5 hours to prepare.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

America's British Culture

I chose to read America's British Culture by Russell Kirk as my November reading list choice.

This is probably one of the shortest books written by Russell Kirk, but it may be one of the best books on history and civilization that I've read. Excluding the appendix, this book is under 100 pages long and it is one I'll have my children read. I'll also be recommending it to other readers, especially those who home school their children.

Mr. Kirk wrote:

"When poetry is replaced by 'communication skills' and narrative history by vague sociological generalizations, the intricate patrimony of general culture is threatened. There exist professors of education who argue that no young person ought to read any book more than half a century old. The imaginative and rational disciplines, so painfully cultivated over centuries, can be permanently injured by a generation or two of neglect and contempt.
"Modern men and women live in an age in which the expectation of change often seems greater than the expectation of continuity. In any order worthy of the name, men and women must be something better than the flies of a summer; generation must link with generation. Some people, in this closing decade of the twentieth century, are doing what is in their power to preserve a common heritage. This is not a work that can be accomplished through fresh positive laws or through the creation of new international commissions. Yet if a people forget the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods, the consequences soon will be felt in the laws and in international affairs. Cultural continuity lacking, there remains small point in political tinkering with a body social that has become exhausted spiritually and intellectually."

Written in 1992, but applicable today, don't you think?

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Pear Cranberry Crisp

Dad gave us a bag full of pears he'd picked and after we'd eaten a lot of them in hand, we still had enough left over to make a dessert. With this recipe for pear cranberry crisp Sarah made a dessert that was so good, it was gone as soon as it came out of the oven. There's no picture of the finished product. We ate it.

But I think we might make another one or two for Thanksgiving.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Block 4

Block 4 of the Moderne Log Cabin blanket is done. I saved all four scraps of yarn from the four skeins and had to tie three of them on in order to complete the block. Thus far the colors have had food-related names, except for the first block, which is "Firecracker Heather." Block 2 is "Blueberry." Block 3 is "Asparagus." Block 4 is "Pumpkin." Block 5 is "Cranberry."

Right now it looks as though I'll easily have enough yarn to complete block 5, but I'm still saving all leftover yarn, just in case... .

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Block 3 - finished

I did run out of yarn before finishing the block. Knit Picks no longer sells the color "Asparagus" and my third skein ran out about 1/4 of the way through the bind-off row. But I remembered throwing away about 16 inches of yarn from the end of the 2nd skein, and for once I was happy David had slacked off on his trash duty - I found the piece of yarn in the trash can! I tied it to the working yarn with a square knot and finished binding off. It's not beautiful, but as it's on the back of the blanket it doesn't show, and functionality is what I'm after anyway.

Now I'm praying and hoping that 4 skeins of yarn is enough for Block 4, or I'll be running out of yarn again... .

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Block 3

I'm working on Block 3 of the Moderne Log Cabin Blanket from Mason-Dixon Knitting. I fear I will not have enough yarn to finish the block. Why did I not do the math before buying the yarn a year ago? Now the color I'm using is no longer sold by Knit Picks. This could be bad.

My computer is ill and Steve says he will have to completely strip it and re-format it. Perhaps I will make a lot of progress on the blanket with no computer to use for the next several weeks.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Baby bibs

I had to put aside the Moderne Log Cabin Blanket to knit a few baby bibs for a friend whose baby shower is next week. I used Peaches n' Creme cotton, US size 6 needles, and the "Baby Bib o' Love" pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting.