Friday, February 26, 2010

A Country Parson: James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802

After twenty years of searching and waiting, I finally got a copy of an edited version of James Woodforde's diary - the diary that Miss Read of Fairacre fame reads in the series by Dora Jessie Saint, a.k.a. "Miss Read."

This particular edition (and there are quite a few out there) is titled A Country Parson: James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802 and contains a foreword by John Julius Norwich and an introduction by Ronald Blythe. It is also beautifully illustrated with watercolors from the contemporaneous Norwich School of painting.

In his foreword, John Julius Norwich writes:

"Parson James Woodforde is, as a diarist, unlike any other I know. He has none of the driving ambition of Pepys, none of the self-conscious turgidity of Evelyn, none of the literary snobbery of William Allingham..., none of the suave sophistication of Harold Nicolson."

"Woodforde is the eighteenth century through and through. He strives for no effects, he pretends to no elevated sentiments, he doesn't care a row of beans whether anybody reads him or not. He is no great intellectual, nor would he ever claim to be; but there is an earthy, no-nonsense quality that his parishioners must surely have appreciated. To them, as to us, he is superbly approachable. He was, I suspect, a first-rate parson."

Ronald Blythe gives a bit of the history of the diary and the many aspects of 18th century life that Woodforde daily records: food, health, medical treatment, prices, travel, domestic arrangements, etc.

Each day's entry is short, ordinary, yet satisfying in its revelation of the life of one man at one time in one place.

November 12, 1787 - ...Soon after breakfast I walked out a Coursing and took Ben and the Boy with me, did not return till near three, afternoon, we had tolerable Sport, coursed one Hare and a couple of Rabbitts, all of whom we killed, it was a very large Hare. I think I never knew so pleasant a day so far in November, it was more like Summer than Autumn. I was very indifferent the whole Day, could eat but very little for Dinner being over fatigued and likewise my Spirits but very bad.


We the Living

Ayn Rand's We the Living was on my reading list for 2010. It's the first novel Ayn Rand wrote, and I think people presumed it was autobiographical, because she said about it:

"It is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. The plot is invented, the background is not... The specific events of Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values, were and are."

The background is heartbreaking. Post-revolution Petrograd (and doesn't the very name conjure dreariness, famine, fear, and hatred?), later renamed Leningrad after Lenin's death, does not appear as the cultural and political center of Russia, as it was when it was Saint Petersburg. Life there for Kira and her family, labeled Bourgeosie because her father had been a factory owner, is nearly impossible. Those in power don't allow those who were previously in power to work, to buy things, to live. It's a scary portrait of a totalitarian state, and one that gave me much consternation as I imagined that it would be terribly easy for similar events to happen again - here.

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead remain my favorite novels by Ayn Rand, but We the Living is a good, shorter novel to read and ponder.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Having seen several reviews of Muriel Barbery's book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog I thought it sounded interesting and I put it on my PaperBackSwap wish list. Then a friend recently read it and urged me to get a copy. Finally, several weeks ago our local book club chose it as the March selection to read and discuss.

While it was not an "unputdownable" book for me, it still was one I enjoyed reading. There are not many books with a middle-aged woman character who seems real, and is not doing something silly or sensational. I thought it was a very philosophical novel, but not in a self-conscious or obvious way (as I think Sophie's World could be characterized).

I was surprised by the book's ending, but not displeased with it.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the ladies of the book club think of it.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Last week I ordered three books from the Persephone Classics list. Because I had part of an afternoon free, I decided to read Julia Strachey's book, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding first.

The back cover describes it as "sardonic." That's just about the perfect adjective. Acerbic, darkly humorous, Oscar-Wilde-like-with-a-bitter-twist are what I thought as I read it. It really reads visually - I could see it as a play or a movie.

To sum up the plot: On a cold and sunny March day Dolly marries a man her mother has chosen for her, while a former admirer lurks about her house hoping to get a few minutes alone with her before she marries and moves to South America.

A very short book, but one that stayed in my mind long after finishing it.


Trip Around the World Blanket

Here are 36 knitted squares. All are 8X8 and knit on the diagonal. I have to knit 4 more blue squares, then I will begin knitting green squares, and after that, black and gray squares. I have to have 81 squares , so I'm not quite to the half-way point.

When I have finished knitting all the squares, I will seam them together to look something like this beautiful crocheted blanket. Then I'll have to knit or crochet some kind of border - probably in black - then Tom will have his warm woolen blanket.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gansey socks

The Gansey Socks are finished and on my feet. The pattern was delightful, but my choice of yarn was not the right fit for it. If I make them again, I'll definitely use the DK yarn suggested by the designer!

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reading through the Bible for Lent

Several years ago I started reading my Bible from Genesis to Revelation during Lent. This Lenten Bible reading was done in addition to my daily Bible reading plan that allows me to read through the Bible in a year.

Reading straight through the Bible in 40 days has been an educational and exciting experience and I'm looking forward to doing it again.

Lenten Bible Reading Plan
Day 1: Genesis
Day 2: Exodus
Day 3: Leviticus, Numbers
Day 4: Deuteronomy
Day 5: Joshua
Day 6: Judges, Ruth
Day 7: I Samuel
Day 8: II Samuel
Day 9: I Kings
Day 10: II Kings
Day 11: I Chronicles
Day 12: II Chronicles
Day 13: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
Day 14: Job
Day 15: Psalms, chapters 1 - 75
Day 16: Psalms, chapters 76 - 150
Day 17: Proverbs
Day 18: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
Day 19: Isaiah, chapters 1 - 33
Day 20: Isaiah, chapters 34 - 66
Day 21: Jeremiah, chapters 1 - 26
Day 22: Jeremiah, chapters 27 - 52
Day 23: Lamentations
Day 24: Ezekiel, chapters 1 - 24
Day 25: Ezekiel, chapters 25 - 48
Day 26: Daniel
Day 27: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah
Day 28: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Day 29: Matthew
Day 30: Mark
Day 31: Luke
Day 32: John
Day 33: Acts
Day 34: Romans
Day 35: I Corinthians
Day 36: II Corinthians
Day 37: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
Day 38: I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, Philemon
Day 39: Hebrews, James, I Peter, II Peter, I John, II John, III John
Day 40: Jude, Revelation

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Dick Francis, R.I.P.

His obituary is very detailed and interesting - almost as good as his books. And I'm happy to learn that another book by Dick Francis and his son, Felix Francis, will be published in the fall.

Books by Dick Francis

The Sport of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis (1957, memoir)
Dead Cert (1962, novel)
Nerve (1964, novel)
For Kicks (1965, novel)
Odds Against (1965, novel)
Flying Finish (1966, novel)
Blood Sport (1967, novel)
Forfeit (1968, novel)
Enquiry (1969, novel)
Rat Race (1970, novel)
Bonecrack (1971, novel)
Smokescreen (1972, novel)
Slayride (1973, novel)
Knockdown (1974, novel)
High Stakes (1975, novel)
In the Frame (1976, novel)
Risk (1977, novel)
Trial Run (1978, novel)
Whip Hand (1979, novel)
Reflex (1980, novel)
Twice Shy (1981, novel)
Banker (1982, novel)
The Danger (1983, novel)
Proof (1984, novel)
Break In (1985, novel)
Bolt (1986, novel)
Hot Money (1987, novel)
The Edge (1988, novel)
Straight (1989, novel)
Longshot (1990, novel)
Comeback (1991, novel)
Driving Force (1992, novel)
Decider (1993, novel)
Wild Horses (1994, novel)
Come to Grief (1995, novel)
To the Hilt (1996, novel)
10 lb. Penalty (1997, novel)
Field of Thirteen (1998, short stories)
Second Wind (1999, novel)
Shattered (2000, novel)
Under Orders (2006, novel)
Dead Heat‎ (2007, novel, with Felix Francis)
Silks (2008, novel, with Felix Francis)
Even Money (2009, novel, with Felix Francis)
Crossfire (2010, novel, with Felix Francis)


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tea cosy

I finished my tea cosy yesterday and last night I made some felted flowers and leaves to attach to the top, instead of pompoms or crocheted loops. Marley and Sam went through one of the button tins and found two pearly buttons I used as the flower centers.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

The Byzantines

Although Thomas Caldecot Chubb's book, The Byzantines, is out of print, it would be a good book for any homeschooling family to buy or borrow.

Mr. Chubb asks, "Why should you and I care about Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire?" Then, in only 116 pages, he proceeds to answer that question. The answer in a nutshell is this: "For more than a thousand years, it... carried the torch of Western civilization, a torch that had been given to it by the Greeks and Romans."

Of course, along the way we learn the history of Byzantium, about the people, about life there, and how and why the empire ended.

Included are a chronological chart of the Byzantine Empire and world events and a list of recommended books for additional reading. Reading level is probably 6th to 8th grades.

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Spider Sparrow

After reading Dick King-Smith's novel, Spider Sparrow, I am mystified as to how I should classify it.

I suppose it is a children's book. Amazon describes it as being for children ages 9 to 12. Dick King-Smith writes books for children.

However, as with any well-written book with a really good story (like The Book Thief, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, etc.) this book is great reading for any age person.

The story takes place in an English farming community before and during World War II. Spider Sparrow was abandoned as an infant and left outside a shepherd's hut one night during lambing season. The shepherd, Tom Sparrow, and his wife had no children, though they very much wished for them. The Sparrows fail to find the mother of the abandoned infant, and end up adopting him. As the baby grows, it becomes obvious that he's mentally slower than other children. He is nicknamed "Spider" for the odd way in which he walks. Some of the locals make fun of him, some ignore him, and some treat him kindly, but he is loved unconditionally by his adoptive parents.

As he gets older, he exhibits a talent for mimicking animal sounds, although he cannot say much or understand well. The kindly owner of the farm on which the Sparrows work finds jobs for Spider to do. Spider's love for animals and their trust in him helps ease several difficult situations on the farm.

The ending is bittersweet, and I won't reveal it. But the entire story was so charming and sweet that I wish it was a more popular book.

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Snow, finally

My children have waited and hoped for snow since December. Finally, at 9:45 a.m. it started snowing. It's still coming down (at 3:15 p.m.), but the flakes are smaller.

Sam made a small snowman in the front yard. The dogs and cats are perplexed by the wet stuff that doesn't act like rain, but makes them damp anyway. I'm already getting tired of the mud tracked into the house and am looking forward to drier days.

But it is pretty for now.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Ruled by impulses

All last weekend I could not stop thinking about knitting a tea cosy. I'd pick up my sock knitting, or blanket squares, knit for few minutes, maybe read a chapter or two in a book, then stop to look up tea cosy patterns.

Finally on Sunday night I decided I'd better do something about this obsession that was distracting me. I gave in to the nagging knitting idea, pulled out some lavender wool and some amethyst wool, found a tea cosy pattern with lots of explanations, and started knitting.

I feel much better now.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Chewing the Cud

Chewing the Cud is Dick King-Smith's delightful autobiography, perfectly illustrated with drawings by Harry Horse. Although this book can easily be enjoyed by children (clean, wholesome content) and may well have been written for an audience of younger readers, I found it perfectly engaging and enjoyed it immensely. His tone throughout the book is as though he's talking directly to a friend.

First of all, Dick King-Smith is not his real name. His real name is Ronald Gordon King-Smith, after his father and a South African friend of his father. As a small child he acquired the nickname "Dick" and that's what he stuck with.

Mr. King-Smith actually was a farmer from 1947 to 1967 (though, he admits, not a very good one - "good" meaning "making a profit"), and it's this period of his life that gave him so much insight into animals. He and his wife, whom he met when they were children, both loved animals and tried to raise just about every domestic animal one can imagine on a farm.

At 49, no longer able to farm (the farm had been sold by its owner), and having tried and failed to make it as salesman of fire-fighting suits, and as a work-study engineer, Mr. King-Smith enrolled in Bristol University. Four years later he graduated with a degree in education. He began teaching at an elementary school - first eight-year-olds, then 6-year-olds. (The description of his school sounds like the village school in Miss Read's books.) It was at this time that he began to write. He taught at the school for seven years, then was able to move to writing full-time.

His description of how he works amused me:

"I write in all the wrong ways. I don't plan a story out as I should, I just get an idea and blast off into the wild blue yonder, hoping that things will turn out okay and that it will eventually have what all successful stories must have, whether they be for children or adults, namely a Good Beginning, a Good Middle, and a Good End. Usually it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it suits me....

"In the evening, if I've written enough, a chapter, say, I read it to my wife. If she says, 'Super,' or 'Great, ' or some such, that's grand. If she says, 'Yes, well, I think it's time I put the Brussels sprouts on' and appears less than impressed by what I've read, I have to begin thinking very seriously. Is this story going wrong? How is it going wrong? Is it just a load of rubbish? Sometimes it is."

And about his famous book, Babe (originally titled The Sheep Pig), and the movie made from that book, he says:

"One particular thing about the film that delighted me was that as soon as I set eyes on the actor who played Farmer Hogget, I saw to my amazement that he was the spitting image of the imaginary figure I'd had in my head when I wrote the book all those years before.

"I've seen Babe six times now and every time I've laughed and I've cried...

"If you were to ask me to choose a favorite from among the dozens and dozens of books I've produced, I would probably say I think it may be the best."

He seems to be a genuinely modest man, content and grateful for the life he's had. Summing up his life (at the time - this book was published in 2001) he writes:

"I wasn't a particularly good soldier or farmer or salesman or factory worker or teacher, but at last I've found something I can do reasonably well. I'm a lucky man, in my three children, in all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and most especially of course in my wife, who's always backed me up and seen us through bad patches. Without Myrle, I could never have been what I now am.

"Looking back at my life so far, there's only one thing to be said, in just the same quiet tones of satisfaction that Farmer Hogget used, at the end of the Grand Challenge Sheep-dog Trials: 'That'll do.' "


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Three Cheers, Secret Seven

Several months ago I got Jane Brocket's book, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, and loved it. In the book she listed the books and authors to which she referred, and I had a good time looking for some of the children's books I'd never read.

One of the authors mentioned was Enid Blyton. While we do have several books by Enid Blyton (and she was a prolific writer) that belonged to my uncle when he was a child, we had none of the books in the Secret Seven series.

PaperBackSwap had a few Secret Seven titles listed so I chose a couple and requested them. Then I read Three Cheers, Secret Seven. The seven are a group of three girls and four boys who meet regularly to discuss (and enjoy) mysteries and adventures - a sort of detective/adventurer club - and to eat. (That's why Ms. Brocket featured them in her book.) One feast in this adventure included "...biscuits, of course, some rock buns, pieces of gingerbread, an enormous bar of nut chocolate, jam-tarts, two bottles of lemonade, and a bag of toffees." (Recipes for many of these are included in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.)

In this particular adventure, the Secret Seven launch a model airplane given as a gift to the sister of one of the members. The airplane lands on the grounds of an empty, closed up house - one behind walls and locked gates. Of course, the children have to retrieve the plane, but while doing so, one sees something that makes him believe that the house is occupied.

The children sleuth, and finally - sensibly - call in one child's father to help them out. They are able to solve the mystery and be of great help to someone in need.

I enjoyed the story, and I think my children will, too.

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After I finished the blanket for Miss April Baby, I realized I was not satisfied with the size. It was fine for a newborn, or to be used as a car seat blanket, but not much more than that. So I found the leftover pink yarn and had enough to add three more rounds of pink to the edge. It still seemed to be lacking something, so I got out the little bit of green yarn I had and there was just enough to add one round of pastel green - the same used for the flower "leaves" in the blanket's center - and now it's a nice usable size and I am done!


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

January sock is finished

There's a lesson here.

I love the pattern (KnitPicks pattern: Gansey Socks). I love the yarn (Trekking Pro Natura).

But the pattern calls for size 4 needles and a DK weight yarn! So I thought I'd just knit a little looser with my fine yarn, and use size 3 needles.

The yarn I used should be knit with size 1 needles. So my sock looks like a billion holes held together with some yarn.

Lesson learned. But I have to commit the same offense over again in order to have a matching pair. However, the next pair I make will be knit scrupulously to gauge, and if the yarn doesn't fit the pattern, then I will either get a different yarn or get another pattern.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

People, Places, and Books

Last week I went to a bookstore that specializes in used books. I had a list of titles and authors I wanted to find, but my search was fruitless.

However, I did find a book and author unfamiliar to me: People, Places, and Books by Gilbert Highet. I opened the book and scanned the table of contents. The first chapter was "Henry Fowler: Modern English Usage." Fowler's book happens to be a favorite of mine, so I continued looking at the chapters to see if anything else sounded interesting. "Dickens as Dramatist," "Oxford and its Press," "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Making of Literature," "Books and Cooks," and "Prison Books" all sounded interesting. I bought the book.

There are thirty chapters, each on a different topic. The chapters I noticed were among those I enjoyed, but I was delighted to discover a chapter on C.S. Lewis's science fiction, a chapter on The Great Books, and one on well-written science books. At the end of each chapter Mr. Highet gives a bibliography so one can find the books to which he refers. Pure bliss for a bibliophile!

After I read the book I went back and read the dust jacket (which, if I'd read in the bookstore I would have had no doubts about the book). Here is the publisher's description:

"Rarely do graceful ease and wisdom blend so happily as in these pages where a man of consummate good taste and charm discourses lightly on important matters--on interesting, worthwhile books and on the men and women who write them. For Gilbert Highet, unlike the exclusive cliques who would make literature the private domain of the few, believes that the best books and authors have a lot to say to all of us, provided, as he puts it, 'we will use our minds.'

"It was with this thought that the distinguished writer and scholar early in 1952 began a series of radio talks on literary subjects which within a short time won him a vast audience of listeners among people of every calling and profession. Requests poured in from all over the country urging him to make his talks available in printed form, and the present book is Gilbert Highet's response to these urgings. It contains some thirty of his talks, but since he is not here tied to the time schedule of a radio station he has been able to add to, revise, and enlarge upon his thoughts on many subjects, and generally suit his book to the needs of the reader as his talks were suited to those of the listener.

"But the warm, human quality of his voice remains the same on the printed page as it was over the air, for this quality is inborn and springs from his genuine love and understanding of the world of books and art and ideas. In this world he reigns supreme and travels with assurance and ready wit from this subject to that, from one place to another. He speaks of the art of writing and the art of reading, of different types of books--novels, biographies, histories, dramas-- and of the stories behind their stories. He tells of why certain books came to be written, and of what their authors were trying, though not always successfully, to say; of some very modern writers who hide their thoughts behind a curtain of incomprehensible language and of some very old writers whose work is as fresh today as they were in their own day; of best sellers and of books that might well be better known.

"And as we follow him on his travels we too come to be a part of this magic world of books and ideas and come to share with him in the delights and joys it has to offer. This is the prize that waits us at the end of our journey with Gilbert Highet--this realization that there is a wealth of pleasure and satisfaction to be gained by all of us from the rich storehouse of our own literature and that of former ages."

And who is Gilbert Highet, anyway? I'd never before heard of him, but I did look on PaperBackSwap and saw a few books authored by him. Here's what I found out about Gilbert Highet:

Gilbert Highet was born on June 22, 1906 in Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated from Oxford University in 1932, and began teaching at Columbia University in 1938. He was married to Helen MacInnes (I remember reading some of her suspense novels when I was in junior high!) and he died on January 20, 1978.


Monday, February 01, 2010

For an April girl

I just finished a blanket for a baby girl due to make her appearance in April. She will be the first girl in her family, following two sweet older brothers. I thought I'd start the blanket with a pink flower, followed by lots of white, then edged with pink at the end.

I'm looking forward to making the acquaintance of Miss April Baby.