Monday, December 31, 2007

Favorite Books of 2007

I guess I'm just not a top ten type of person. As I read through my whole list today, these are the ones that I love the most. Seven of nineteen were re-reads, often perennial reads.

They are listed in the order read and there is a book report for those highlighted:

Little Christmas by Agnes Sligh Turnbull - fiction, 1947. This is a book I've read many times, and simply love.

Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer - fiction, 2004. A wonderful account of Horace Rumpole's oft-mentioned first case. Mortimer and his character, Rumpole are among my favorites.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler, unabridged audio - fiction, 2001. I love every word of this book and have listened to it several times.

Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, unabridged audio - nonfiction, 1955. This is one of my top five books of all time. I own both the audiotapes and the print version, the latter being signed by Reeve Lindbergh, the author's daughter, who is a fine writer herself, and lives in my area.

Celia's House by D.E. Stevenson - fiction, 1943. She is one of my favorite authors, and this was a terrific story of a family and their home.

In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson, unabridged audio - mystery, 1999. This was an excellent mystery, by an author I read several times this year. It has one of my favorite devices; a modern detective solving a decades old crime.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin - nonfiction, 1988. Wonderful beyond measure.

Cottage For Sale, Must Be Moved by Kate Whouley
- nonfiction, 2004. I loved this true story.

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith, unabridged audio - fiction, 2007. The latest in the Mma Ramotswe series, and I thought it the best thus far.

American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever
- nonfiction, 2006. I found these people to be very interesting, and the book a good introduction to what they believed and how they lived.

Apricots at Midnight by Adele Geras - juvenile fiction, 1977. Such a good idea and story.

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, unabridged audio - nonfiction, 1994. A tremendous account of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt during the Second World War.

The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy by P.G. Wodehouse, unabridged audio - fiction short stories, 1924. My favorite author, the one person I could spend my whole lifetime reading.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, unabridged audio - nonfiction letters, 1970. Just the perfect "bookish" book. I own the print version and have read it as well.

The Lion's Pride - Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War by Edward J. Renehan, Jr., unabridged audio - nonfiction, 1998. A wonderful telling about this most remarkable man, one of my real heroes.

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith, unabridged audio - fiction, 2007. The Isobel Dalhousie series is my favorite among all his excellent books. I am so fond of this woman who really thinks about how to live.

Dear Mr. Jefferson, Letters from a Nantucket Gardener by Laura Simon - unabridged audio - nonfiction gardening letters, 1998. I have listened to this so many times that this year I finally bought it so I can listen each year.

Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson - fiction, 1993. Another book, along with Gift From The Sea, which is in my top five of all time.

John Adams by David McCullough, unabridged audio - nonfiction biography, 2001. Such an excellent book about a man who isn't nearly as well-known as the others in his time. He is a new hero of mine.

Book Lists

On this New Year's Eve afternoon, as others planned their outfits for a special evening, or prepared food for a party, I was a book geek, excited about going through my 2007 book list, and putting it into categories.

It has been a different year for me in terms of keeping track of my books. I've used this blog instead of my print journal. I think what I want to do in the coming year is to first write in the journal, and then come to the blog and write a review. I also want to jot down more details, such as the narrator of the audiobook, and the year the book was published. I've spent a fair bit of time today looking up publication dates for my records. See, I told you I was a geek.

So here are my results.

I read 87 books in all, which averages out to about 7 books a month.
49 of the books were on audio, and 38 were print editions.
I read 58 books by women, and 29 by men.

fiction, 26
nonfiction, 25
mystery, 20
children's picture books, 3
juvenile fiction, 6
ya fiction, 6
ya mystery, 1

Publication Dates:
2000s, 35
1990s, 25
1980s, 7
1970s, 5
1960s, 1
1950s, 3
1940s, 4
1930s, 1
1920s, 2
1870s, 4

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Today's Picture/Kitchen sunlight

Book Report/Shepherds Abiding, 2003

Listening to Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon has been an excellent way to end my 2007 reading year. First of all because it is a Christmas story par excellence, and second because it is nice for me to spend the last days of the year in Mitford, the town in North Carolina where Karon sets this series of books. Those of us who grew up in a similar small town will recognize the people with their kindnesses, their faults, their eccentricities. I haven't been pleased in later years to see that her books are now categorized as "Christian fiction." Just as I don't like pigeonholing people, I don't like classifying books. I'm sure there are many people out there who won't read these lovely books because of this; people who think they might be "preachy" or moralistic. Well, they aren't. They are about regular people going about their lives, doing their best, failing, and starting again. Yes, the main character is an Episcopal priest, and he is guided by his faith, but this is never written in a heavy-handed way. Just as one doesn't have to live in England to enjoy an English book, one doesn't need to be an Episcopalian or even a Christian to love these books.

I've read only one of this series in the print version. All the others have been read to me by the most excellent John McDonough. What a great voice he has. He brings each character to life, and he even sings.

The main story in this eighth tale in the Mitford Years series is about Father Tim finding an old nativity scene and feeling moved to fix it up and give it to his wife for Christmas. He has always been a "man of the mind" and he finds a new creativity in himself. As in all the books, this is just one part. We also revisit our old friends like Uncle Billy who is trying to come up with a "Santy" present for his wife of many years, who has mental problems. We see Lew Boyd, the gas station owner coping with the fact that his new wife must live in another state. Mitford is not like Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot." It is a living, breathing town whose inhabitants live their lives, not apart from the world, but in it. Some of the businesses in town are facing change; the owners of the Main Street Grill are retiring, and Hope Winchester wants to take over ownership of the local bookstore, called Happy Endings. In this series, people grow up, they grow old, they marry, they die. The books are not "sappy" or sentimental. I find them inspirational, and not just in a religious way. I am inspired to work toward being a better person, to think more of others, to live more fully. They also give hope to those who are facing older years. The people in this book continue to grow and learn even as they age.

Along with the book, this recording contains two short stories, Esther's Gift and The Mitford Snowmen, both of which are warm and entertaining and give the reader further insight into the people of Mitford.

Jan Karon ended the Mitford series, and has now begun a new one which brings us back to Father Tim's childhood. The first is called Home to Holly Springs.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Corner (sort of)

Old New England farmhouses lack closets. This house has two. One of them is downstairs, and is long and narrow and never worked well for anything over the years, so a while back I decided to turn it into a Christmas closet, exclusively. We have never changed anything in it over the twenty-six years we've lived here, so there is still horsehair and lime in the plaster, and I'm sure, much lead in the paint. But it is perfect for the Christmas things. It holds all the boxes and bags of decorations and movies and books, and isn't opened for eleven months of the year. A great plus is that it opens right into the living room where the tree goes, so we don't have to lug heavy, sometimes fragile treasures around. How I love it.

Mrs Bale reports

Mrs Bale reluctantly reports that it is raining and dreary. It is 33º but feels like 28º, with winds from the west at 5 mph. Humidity is 92% and visibility is 6 miles.

And so, with the darkness outside and many lights on inside, I've decided to take down the tree and the house decorations. It just feels like a day to clean up, to organize, to make the house "spare" again after the abundance of Christmas beauty - "to everything there is a season."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Corner

Christmas nightlight. Isn't there just something about an old red truck with a Christmas tree in the back?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Night

All tuckered out from the big day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Our Gentle Donkey

The kind, dependable donkey is featured both at the beginning and end of Jesus' life, and legend has it that the cross on the Sicilian donkey's back comes from this association.

We have had miniature or Sicilian donkeys since 1988. We got them primarily to guard our sheep. We had heard of a local donkey who chased a dog out of the pasture, and that they would be a great protection against coyotes. And in all these years, even with the coyotes around, we've never lost a sheep. If a moose walked through the pasture, the sheep and goats would group around our late horse and the donkeys until the presumed danger was gone. But I think we would have gotten them anyway because we fell in love with Derek and Jeannie Tangye's donkeys in his books.

Well, a few weeks ago our donkey, named Juno, died. He was thirty years old. This is where the expression donkey's years comes from; they live a long time, but it is still very sad when death finally comes. Both the vet and the farrier had told us the time was near, but he lasted longer than they thought. He was thin and he limped, but he kept eating and he actively wandered the pastures with all the others. Tom thinks it was a heart attack. Juno had eagerly eaten grain and hay the night before, and his death looked like it had been quick and peaceful. After the initial shock, our thoughts turned to Daisy, his slightly younger companion; how would she react? They were very close, always near each other when in the pasture. Tom felt he should leave Juno in his stall for a while to give Daisy time to adjust to his death. She was curious and would stick her nose over the stall door and smell. Tom let her into the stall two or three times until she didn't seem interested anymore. A friend of ours who has a backhoe came over to dig the hole; there was little snow and the ground wasn't frozen yet. It took half an hour from beginning to end to bury him. Both our kids have never known life without Juno. He was a gentle soul, and we will miss him.

Today's picture/Reading Cat

The other day you saw our athletic cat, and today you can see the intellectual one. :<)

Stuart McLean

If you're burdened down with trouble
If your nerves are wearing thin
Pack your load down the road
And come to Holiday Inn

Well, we can't all go to the mythical, wonderful Holiday Inn featured in the 1942 movie, but here is an alternative if your "nerves are wearing thin" on Christmas Eve day. Head over to the CBC and download podcasts of Stuart McLean's stories of Dave and Morley. Scroll down, and hit the ? at the Vinyl Cafe area to find out how to do it. If you can get old ones, which I hope you can, listen to December 15 and 22. These will get you into the Christmas spirit, and help you laugh off the stress and strain of the past few days or weeks.

I think Stuart McLean is the best humorist, the funniest writer since P.G. Wodehouse. His humor is warm, without sarcasm or satire. He tells stories about people you may know, or people you wish you knew. They are filled with the love of family and the foibles of everyday life. I mentioned the story I most adore in an entry last December. I hope you can either get the album or find it online because it is very, very funny.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

O Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is the center, the heart of our Christmas decorated home. What a delightful custom during the time of year when no bouquets are coming in from the garden, to "pick" a tree and put it in a "vase" and keep it for weeks in the corner of the living room. The smell is so fresh and outdoorsy. Our lights are the old-fashioned big ones, which happily seem back in fashion again. The colors are pure primary, nothing pinkish or purplish. Red, green, blue, yellow. In my heart, just right; the December lights of my whole life. The decorations are from all times - some from childhood, some from our time together before kids, some from our children's childhoods, some from now. Again, just right. Aren't all our trees "just right" for us? Each is individual and each is lovely. I admire all kinds of decorating when it comes to Christmas trees, though mine is always the same. At Christmas I am strictly traditional and nostalgic and warm-hearted. I like to sit in the living room and experience its physical and emotional glow. O Christmas Tree, indeed!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Quote du jour/Gladys Taber

To make a home beautiful, to create a good family life, seems to me a job as important and dignified as any, and there is no reason why pushing a vacuum is incompatible with thinking about Plato or Aristotle or Parker's Aesthetics.
Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons

While I don't believe I have ever, ever thought about those fine fellows while I vacuum my house, I do find it a time when I think about my home and my life. Today's ruminations were these.

I am living a pretty simple life. We don't have a lot of extras. Our furniture is frayed and worn and comfortable. As I've already noted, I'm not buying books (except for a couple). We don't go out to eat much. But, I am a huge fan of presents. I grew up with lots under the tree, as did our children. Well, those same kids are now in their twenties, and I want them to have gifts that are meaningful; gifts they can use throughout the year, not just open and put aside on the twenty-fifth. Our family is smaller this year due to my daughter's divorce (a good thing for both of them), and it has seemed like the right time to simplify my gift buying, and really "walk my talk." I have bought fewer, and, I hope, better gifts. Most of the presents are intangibles like gift certificates, and a snowboarding pass already given to my son. There is little clothing, since they both like to choose their own and sizes are always tricky. What I did get can be easily exchanged. For my daughter who loves to read, there is the annual bag o' books. They will find the various winter necessities, like Smart Wool socks, and fleece neck warmers. There are some dvds that Santa will put in the stockings. All in all, I am quite satisfied, quite content with my purchases. There are fewer presents under the tree, but I believe they are good quality gifts that will be appreciated in the new year as well as on Christmas Day. And my shopping took only three afternoons.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Corner

I think it's fragile, honey."
From A Christmas Story, 1983 movie. This is a most treasured present from our daughter, in honor of all the wonderful times we spent as a family watching this movie. It is displayed in front of the television, of course.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I had three experiences today while I did some Christmas shopping. As I dropped off the present for the woman, Jean, I saw a man in the parking lot with no legs. He walks around town in shorts, with artificial legs. He doesn't hide them. They end in his running shoes. What must he have gone through? But he is cheerful, and as I say, he walks everywhere, unashamed and unstopped. Then I ran into a woman, an acquaintance, who has had cancer for what must be ten years now. Our children are the same age. She is very religious and has never given up going to church throughout this time. And then, in the local kitchen store, a man I didn't know was buying a great set of Cuisinart cookware. I commented on it, and he said he got it for his son who wants to be a "gourmet cook." Then he mentioned he bought it for his wife last year, and then he told me she has cancer and her chemo which they thought was going well hasn't gotten it all, and in one place it has spread, so back she goes for further treatment.

All these encounters gave me pause in the midst of this joyous season, reminding me that there are people who cope, people who are suffering, people who are still out shopping. I was humbled, and moved so deeply.

Christmas Corner

Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
Zuzu in It's A Wonderful Life, 1946 movie.

Book Passage/John Adams

Long before, on his rounds of Boston as a young lawyer, Adams had often heard a man with a fine voice singing behind the door of an obscure house. One day, curious to know who "this cheerful mortal" might be, he had knocked at the door, to find a poor shoemaker with a large family living in a single room. Did he find it hard getting by, Adams had asked. "Sometimes," the man said. Adams ordered a new pair of shoes. "I had scarcely got out the door before he began to sing again like a nightingale," Adams remembered. "Which was the greatest philosopher? Epictetus or this shoemaker?" he would ask when telling the story.

Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, had said, among other things, "It is difficulties that show what men are."

John Adams by David McCullough

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Corner

Plastic, yes.
Tacky, maybe.
Old, 50+.
Loved, very much.

Today's picture/ Big Book!

While I was Christmas shopping at our independent bookstore yesterday, I came upon this great edition of the big book, itself. It is a new translation, apparently very readable, and true to Tolstoy's words. Well, really, how could I resist? Last night we read a bit aloud, and today, Tom began in earnest. I'll let him read it first since I have all these book challenges going. :<)


There is a genius amongst us! Just in case you haven't read the comments on the post about the blog header problem, Margaret over at BooksPlease came up with the solution. She gave me permission to post her comment as a blog entry, so here you go:

Nan, if you go to Template and edit Header, then choose the setting under placement that says "Instead of title and description" this puts all the photo in the header. It removes the blog title though, so I added it to my photo (in Photodraw)before adding it to the header. I hope this makes sense - it worked for me.

Me, again. I didn't bother with the photodraw or photoshop thing. I decided I liked the picture just fine without the name on it, and instead put a little picture on the sidebar with the blog name. So, thank you so much, Margaret, and I hope everyone who has had trouble will have the same success.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blog header picture :<(

Have you noticed blogs with truncated blog header photos? Mine changed yesterday. I went to blogger help and groups and found some other people who were complaining, but nothing has been fixed yet so I just took mine off. :<( I hope they can fix this because I love those pictures on other blogs and my own.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote du jour/Theodore Roosevelt

John Singer Sargent, Theodore Roosevelt, 1903, oil on canvas, 58 1/2 × 40 1/2 in., Washington, DC: White House.

White House, Dec. 26, 1903

We had a delightful Christmas yesterday—just such a Christmas thirty or forty years ago we used to have under Father's and Mother's supervision in 20th street and 57th street. At seven all the children came in to open the big, bulgy stockings in our bed; Kermit's terrier, Allan, a most friendly little dog, adding to the children's delight by occupying the middle of the bed. From Alice to Quentin, each child was absorbed in his or her stocking, and Edith certainly managed to get the most wonderful stocking toys. Bob was in looking on, and Aunt Emily, of course. Then, after breakfast, we all formed up and went into the library, where bigger toys were on separate tables for the children. I wonder whether there ever can come in life a thrill of greater exaltation and rapture than that which comes to one between the ages of say six and fourteen, when the library door is thrown open and you walk in to see all the gifts, like a materialized fairy land, arrayed on your special table?

President Theodore Roosevelt in a letter to his sister, Mrs. Douglas Robinson


Have you ever read Lee Smith's The Christmas Letters? It is a really wonderful and unique Christmas book. It focuses on all those letters we get that tell us how well everyone is doing, how successful they are, and how great their families are. The book shows what is between the lines, the story beneath the words sent out at Christmas. From my book journal:

As a recipient of Christmas letters, I always wonder what isn't being said. Sometimes I even know what unhappy bits are left out.

Do you suppose recipients don't want to hear about the job loss or the divorce, the sad and upsetting things that all of us go through in any given year? I don't think so. I like to know how people are really doing, and for some reason this year, the cards we've received seem more honest, more heartfelt.

I don't write a general Christmas letter. I write a note on each card, sometimes filling the back of the picture, and other times just saying the standard lines. It depends on how frequently I see the people. The ones I do not see often, or even never, and am only in touch with at Christmas get the long notes. I try to compress into that space how my kids are doing and any changes in our lives in the year's time. And you know, this is tiring. The emotion that comes up as I write drains me. Even if there isn't anything particularly dramatic that I'm writing, still, I am having a conversation, albeit one-sided, about the important thing in life, my family. And as I write, I am thinking about the person I'm writing to. Sometimes it is an aging person who may not have many more Christmases; sometimes it is someone from my past whom I will most likely never see again; sometimes it is a childhood friend and all the lovely memories just course through my heart, bringing tears to my eyes.

So, writing Christmas cards is no small venture. It is big, it is important, it is emotional, it is necessary. The cards that dismay me are the ones with just a name. I want to cry out, wait a minute, tell me how your kids are, what are you doing, how are you. And when I write back, I ask these questions, a year flies by, and a card comes the next year with no answers. Isn't it strange? One more facet added to this emotional activity, a seasonal pastime I wouldn't miss for the world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Report/What Child Is This? A Christmas Story, 1997

If you want to buy one seasonal book this Christmas, for yourself or as a gift, What Child Is This? A Christmas Story by Caroline B. Cooney would be an excellent choice. We've owned it for years, and this is the second time I've read it. What a good, good idea for a book, one that focuses on foster children at Christmas time. And while the spotlight is on these two children, we also get to know the children who surround them; those with families, those who decorate, those who believe in Christmas and the Baby born in the manger, and those who don't. The chapters shift between different characters. And Caroline Cooney does a beautiful thing by putting just a few words at the top of the page as the chapter title. The font is different, and the message is from Christmas carols, and is a perfect fit with the action in that particular chapter. Some examples are: The hopes and fears of all the years; Great kings have precious gifts and we have naught; Peace on earth, and mercy mild; and the book title, What child is this? An incident we see in one place, comes up again later, and only we know that the viewer has it all wrong. Isn't that how life is? We imagine the way someone else lives; we do not know. That family who looks so good may not feel so good. It seems to be a lesson we must learn over and over again. Don't judge anyone, especially by appearances. Look deeper. Really get to know another person.

This is a book to make the reader think and feel, as we put another log on the fire or shop for the treasures our children are hoping for. These are children without families. They don't have laps or hugs or schoolwork put up on the refrigerator. Little Katie, eight years old:

was still up. She was coloring at the kitchen table. Nothing would make her go to bed before everybody else. Up to the last possible moment, Katie wanted company.

And this "company" was watching the History Channel and doing work on the computer. These were her foster parents, doing their best, but they were "no longer young and were tired of being foster parents."

Yet we also see that even in the "perfect" houses and families, there is sorrow and longing. A baby has died, people are cynical, a girl aches to know what Christmas is really about.

And this book brings everyone together. E. M. Forster's words, "only connect" come to mind. These people do connect. They grow and change and become better people because they don't stay separate. What a message for the world.

What Child Is This? had a special meaning for me this year. At church, there was a tree, a "caring tree" with names and gift ideas hanging from it. I chose one, and this is what it said:

Tag #15. Jean [a very lonely woman who spends most of her day roaming the streets.]
* A calendar with photos of baby animals.

Such a few words, but they make me cry. Who is this woman? Have I seen her? Did I notice her as she "roamed the streets" and walked past me. Why did I need to draw her name from a tree to find out about her? What more can I do, must I do, not just for Jean, but for others in my small community?

This is a young adult book, not a children's book. There are themes and references that may be too intense and too adult for a young child. And it is a book for we grown-ups. We can all learn from it, and our lives may even be changed by it.

Quote du jour/Robert Louis Stevenson

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Winter-Time

-4º F. this morning at Windy Poplars Farm!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Card

Today, as the snow lightly falls outdoors, and A Charlie Brown Christmas softly plays indoors, I will be at my desk writing Christmas cards. This is the photo we chose for our card, a February sunset. And so, I send it out to all who come to visit my blog. I wish you a joyous holiday season, and all good things in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quote du jour/Jerry Herman

For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.
Jerry Herman

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Today's Christmas cd/Christmas Song

You probably wonder, is she one of the von Trapps, the family immortalized in The Sound Of Music? Yes, she is. Elisabeth is Maria's granddaughter. This cd just arrived in the mail yesterday, and it may be the most "essential" of all my Christmas albums, because the Holy Birth is really the center of the music; not sleigh rides or snowfalls or romantic love. We hear her angelic voice singing a wide range of songs, from a 7th Century Gregorian Chant to a 16th Century French Folk song. She also includes the famous, Edelweiss, and makes it sound like a hymn. It is all beautiful, as it is unique. Her instrument is the guitar which in itself adds a quality not often heard in holiday music. Happily, there are samples of the songs to help you decide if you'd like to own this exquisite music. I thought you might enjoy seeing the photograph on the album insert. The girl holding the doll is Elisabeth in 1958.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I just wanted to let you know I have spent this morning replying to your wonderful comments, including the High Cotton review which Tom wrote. Sorry to be so long in writing back.

Gerald Terborch (1617-1681),
Woman Writing a Letter (c. 1655)

The cd winner

You may remember that on Wednesday, I felt badly that there was no place to buy the featured cd, Laura's Gift, and I wrote this:

If you would like me to send you a copy, leave a comment here before Saturday, and I'll draw a name out of a winter hat.

Well, this morning's drawing result is, as you see, Becca. I'll try and get it mailed on Monday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Quote du jour/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

New list

You may have seen the preceding post with a list of Books Read in 2007. That isn't "really" a blog entry. It is more a reference post. I am so grateful to Nicola for telling me how to do this. I have now deleted that long, long list of 2007 books which took up a lot of room on the sidebar, and added the little link which says, Books Read in 2007. Whenever this is clicked, the post will open up, and all my 2007 books will be listed. I can go in and edit whenever a new one is added. The ones I've done a book report on are highlighted. I am so tickled, and thank you again, Nicola!

Books Read in 2007

Click the red highlighted titles for a book report.

87. Shepherds Abiding, with the stories Esther's Gift and The Mitford Snowmen by Jan Karon, unabridged audio - fiction
86.The Village by Alice Taylor, unabridged audio - nonfiction memoir
85. Freewheeling Through Ireland, Travels With My Bicycle by Edward Enfield, unabridged audio - travel essays
84. One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell - gardening essays
83. Remind Me Who I Am, Again by Linda Grant, unabridged audio - nonfiction
82. John Adams by David McCullough, unabridged audio - biography
81. What Child Is This? A Christmas Story by Caroline B. Cooney - ya fiction
80. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West, unabridged audio - fiction
79. Karin's Christmas Walk by Susan Pearson, pictures by Trinka Hakes Noble - children's Christmas picture book
78. Them Times by David Weale - nonfiction historical vignettes
77. Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson - fiction
76. Fill My Stocking by Alan Titchmarsh - Christmas collection
75. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny - mystery
74. Country Days by Alice Taylor, unabridged audio - nonfiction
73. Dear Mr. Jefferson, Letters From a Nantucket Gardener by Laura Simon -
unabridged audio - gardening essays
72. The Railway Detective by Edward Marston, unabridged audio - mystery
71. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers - mystery
70. Simply "Father"- Life With Theodore Roosevelt As Seen Through The
Eyes Of His Children by Toby Selda - children's picture book
69. The Careful Use Of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith, unabridged audio - fiction
68. The Battle For The Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop - juvenile fiction
67. The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert, unabridged audio - mystery
66. The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop - juvenile fiction
65. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym - fiction
64. The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert, unabridged audio - mystery
63. The Lion's Pride - Theodore Roosevelt and His Family In Peace and War
by Edward J. Renehan, Jr., unabridged audio - nonfiction
62. Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer by Dorothy Gilman, unabridged audio - mystery
61. Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns,
unabridged audio -nonfiction history
60. The Funny Thing Is... by Ellen DeGeneres, unabridged audio - humor
59. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, unabridged audio - nonfiction letters
58. A Rose In Bloom by Louisa May Alcott, unabridged audio - juvenile fiction
57. A Brush with Death by Sheila Pim - mystery
56. The Game by Laurie R. King, unabridged audio - mystery
55. Mrs. Pollifax Pursued by Dorothy Gilman, unabridged audio - mystery
54. The Man Who Ate The 747 by Ben Sherwood, unabridged audio - fiction
53. Idle Curiosity by Martha Bergland - fiction
52. A Farm under a Lake by Martha Bergland - fiction
51. The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy by P.G. Wodehouse, unabridged audio - fiction short stories
50. Justice Hall by Laurie R. King, unabridged audio - mystery
49. Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear - fiction
48. A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt, unabridged audio - YA fiction
47. The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry, unabridged audio - mystery
46. Edenville Owls by Robert B. Parker - YA mystery
45. The Library by Sarah Stewart, Pictures by David Small - children's picture book
44. Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, unabridged audio - YA fiction
43. My Summer In A Garden by Charles Dudley Warner - nonfiction
42. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, unabridged audio - YA fiction
41. What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn - fiction
40. No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, unabridged audio - nonfiction
39. Apricots at Midnight by Adele Geras - juvenile fiction
38. Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, unabridged audio - nonfiction
37. The Private Passion of Jackie Kennedy Onassis by Vicky Moon - nonfiction
36. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, unabridged audio - juvenile fiction
35. Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer - nonfiction
34. Cold Is The Grave by Peter Robinson, unabridged audio - mystery
33. American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever - nonfiction
32. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott, unabridged audio - juvenile fiction
31. Shelter for the Spirit by Victoria Moran - nonfiction
30. Quite A Year For Plums by Bailey White, unabridged audio - fiction
29. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith, unabridged audio - fiction
28. West With The Night by Beryl Markham, unabridged audio - nonfiction
27. Cottage For Sale, Must Be Moved by Kate Whouley - nonfiction
26. Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief by Dorothy Gilman, unabridged audio - mystery
25. O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King, unabridged audio - mystery
24. Girl With Glasses by Marissa Walsh - nonfiction
23. Home Cooking: A Writer In The Kitchen by Laurie Colwin - nonfiction
22. Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer - fiction
21. In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson, unabridged audio - mystery
20. Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her contemporaries edited by Joan Russell Noble - nonfiction
19. Close To Home by Peter Robinson, unabridged audio - mystery
18. The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker - mystery
17. To The Hilt by Dick Francis, unabridged audio - mystery
16. Celia's House by D.E. Stevenson - fiction
15. Back Story by Robert B. Parker, unabridged audio - mystery
14. May Sarton: Excerpts From a Life: Journals and Memoirs, unabridged audio - nonfiction
13. A Right To Die by Rex Stout - mystery
12. Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, unabridged audio - nonfiction
11. Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler, unabridged audio - fiction
10. Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz - YA fiction
9. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, unabridged audio - fiction
8. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz - YA fiction
7. Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy, unabridged audio - fiction
6. Dandelions in a Jelly Jar by Traci DePree - fiction
5. Virginia Woolf: A Portrait in Sound, unabridged audio - fiction and nonfiction
4. The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, unabridged audio - fiction
3. Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer - fiction
2. Little Christmas by Agnes Sligh Turnbull - fiction
1. The Firm by John Grisham, unabridged audio - fiction

Book Report/Them Times, 1992

This is a collection of stories from the older people on Prince Edward Island, Canada along with the author's own thoughts and remembrances of life in "them times," the years before the Second World War. I approached the book expecting fine and interesting stories, but I did not expect such excellence in writing. There are a lot of people out there writing books or newspaper articles celebrating or bemoaning the old days. In my experience most of these are not well-written. They begin with some sort of theme which they lose along the way, or they tell a story that has no meaning beyond the writer's ideas. David Weale is a wonderful writer and storyteller.

Among the phrases I love:

the confidential back stairs; I know exactly what he means for I have a set. The front stairs are visible all the way to the top and they are what you see as soon as you come in the front door. But those kitchen "back stairs" are off the kitchen wall and you see only the first couple before they wind off to who knows where.

Another is:

It was like growing up in a straitjacket of community surveillance; the reader who has grown up in a small area knows exactly what this means. Everyone knows you, your routines, your family, your past. And though he also talks about how this can be wonderful, his apt description tells the other view.

Then he offers this beautifully expressed paragraph in a chapter called Spring Cleaning:

In those polished hardwood days, where the circumstances of a woman's life were so largely preordained, and where there was so little opportunity for replacing or even rearranging the old furniture of disappointment and regret, the ritual of spring cleaning was an important symbolic undertaking. It wasn't just the year's accumulation of dust and dirt that had to be dealt with, it was also the winter's accumulation of drudgery, repetition, and constraint that needed scouring and ventilating. That was the real grime.

In an essay called Homemade Bread:

No surpliced priest at his altar ever performed a more sacred task than that aproned woman at her kitchen table, for it was the staff of life in her hands, and in her hands the answer to the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread."

These stories have truth and significance for all of us, not just those people who live on PEI. "Them times" were lived in New England and Garrison Keillor's Minnesota. Rick Bragg writes about them in All Over but the Shoutin', and he grew up in Alabama. They offer a universality that we can all recognize. David Weale writes very fairly and honestly about all facets of this rural island life of not-so-very-long ago. He touches on telephone party lines, and love for the land, and the cold houses in winter. He doesn't say these were the "good old days," but finds both the wonderful and and the difficult in the lives of the people.

One of the worst criticisms that could be bestowed on someone was that he was "big feelin'" and I can well recall as a child we would say that a former friend thought she was "big," that is, better than anyone else. When Weale writes, "in this province we often seem more comfortable with failure than success. We know how to handle it better," it could be the folks of Lake Wobegon we've heard so much about on A Prairie Home Companion.

He writes of the days when Roman Catholics and Protestants could not marry. It wasn't done. I can't believe I am old enough now to remember those times. They were beginning to fade but there was still much intolerance and whispering about what went on in one another's churches.

Weale tells about the big families back then, when four or five kids was considered a small family, and if "there were only two or three, everyone wondered why, and the priest might make it his business to find out."

Eldest daughters in these large families were frequently called upon to assume a heavy weight of responsibility. Some of them would be making meals, baking bread, and caring for infants.

This was my Aunt Mabel, the third born and the first girl, with seven younger than her. She spoke often of how she practically raised her younger siblings. Not surprisingly she never married and had children. She lived a nice quiet life, working in the Post Office until retirement age. Both my parents came from these large families, and hardly any of the children had more than one or two children.

Although we took trips to various locations when the kids were little, Prince Edward Island in Canada was the only place we visited for three years in a row. We rented houses in three different areas for a week. We visited the beloved Anne of Green Gables house, of course, but we also went to Ceilidhs in a little church in the middle of nowhere and were served strawberries and ice cream after the music and dancing. One year we went to the Irish Hall to another Ceilidh and saw old men get up and dance as they must have done for ages. It may not be just as it was, but it was a place of enchantment for this family in the twentieth century.

I loved this book, the third I've read for the Canadian Book Challenge, and literally couldn't put it down. I stopped whatever I was doing to read a bit. Because each chapter is a short essay, it is easy to pick up anytime.

And did you hear about the author last year? He caused quite a stir.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Today's Christmas cd/Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites

Lucky Laura got to see Raul Malo this fall! Oh, what a voice he has. This cd is hot off the presses for the 2007 Christmas season, and it is wonderful. At times, you might swear he was channeling Dean Martin as he sings Marshmallow World, or Elvis when he belts out Santa Claus is Back in Town, and he sounds a bit like Bing when he sings White Christmas, but then you realize he has made these songs his own and you may forget all about those other fellows. I just love this album, and I'm smiling at eight o'clock in the morning as he is singing in the kitchen. You've still got a lot of December left, so I'd say go buy it! And there is a video to tempt you even more. This may be the best ten dollars you'll spend this Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Joy of Baking - 1929 Sponge Cake

This recipe was Tom's request for his birthday cake today. It comes out of my late mother's recipe box and is from her childhood neighbor. I am typing it out first exactly how the neighbor (??) wrote it, and then will add my notes. In the picture, the additional notes are my mother's and mine. So three different people writing on the same handwritten recipe; isn't that a wonderful thing?

Sponge Cake

Beat 3 eggs without separating until a light colored, thick froth is the result.
Add 1 cupful granulated sugar and beat again with the egg beater until very stiff.
Mix in 4 tablespoonsful of cold water.
Then sift together twice one cupful of flour, 1 teaspoonful baking powder (I use 2 teaspoonsful of Grand Union Baking Powder), and 1/4 teaspoonful salt.
Add to mixture and beat the whole to-gether before putting in cake tin.
Flavor with 1/2 teaspoonful lemon.
Bake in angel cake tin.

I use my KitchenAid mixer to make this cake, and it comes out light and wonderful.
I, too, use 2 teaspoons baking powder (though not Grand Union).
I add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
I grease the pan, and use a tube pan.
I bake it at 350 F. about 30 minutes.
This is so good that you don't even need frosting. When I have frosted it, I have used a chocolate buttercream frosting, and also a regular buttercream frosting with added lemon juice.

Tonight it will be the lemon frosting, but I decided to take the picture before so you could see the beauty of the cake. Too bad I couldn't show you the great taste. :<)

Oh, and here is the birthday boy himself doing the nightly chores.

Book Report/Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast, 1993

I gave this book by Bill Richardson to Tom on his birthday in 1997 (amazingly enough, this very date!), and inscribed it as follows:

This sounds like a real treat. "If you go there, it will be in your own time and way."

I have found myself there on four or five occasions over these ten years. Not even the love of my childhood, Little Women, has the honor to have been read that many times. When I came to choose thirteen books for the Canadian Book Challenge, I didn't think John would mind if one out of the thirteen was a re-read, not when it is one of the best books in my world. But still, when I began I kind of wondered, would the words hold me in their thrall as they have in the past? Well, yes, without a doubt. From the very first sentence, I am there. I am amongst those wonderful brothers in their heaven-on-earth, a bibliophile's bed and breakfast; a place to go and read. Not sightsee, not climb a mountain, not swim, not try fancy restaurants, but simply and wonderfully, read.

Both brothers are avid, lifelong readers. They share the oppression felt by the gentle, sometimes confused people who are their paying guests; people who see that the ratio of books available to time available is terribly skewed. Hector and Virgil think of their B & B as a way of redressing that dreadful imbalance.

This book is told in a few different ways. There is the straightforward way, which alternates between the voices of the two brothers, as they tell a present day story or a tale from the past. Then there are chapters of lists: The Top Ten Authors Over Ten Years at the Bachelor Brothers' B & B, Virgil's List of Books for When You're Feeling Low, and Hector's List of Favourite Authors for the Bath. And there are guest book signings. We read the person's first name, and then that guest's story. These are so heartfelt and very interesting.

At one point a guest is talking about Jane Austen's "still, quiet, ironic voice," and I found that the words describe exactly how I feel about this book:

I have never tired of it, and there are not many things in a life that endure so shiningly.

A lovely way to nearly complete a year of reading, and indeed the book ends in this way:

The only sounds will be the scratching of my pen on this paper and the slight coughing of these three candles, these three dwindling magi, each one carrying a gift of gold, each small light shining as the earth rockets through space, spinning away from the year's darkest day, spinning towards a new year when anything might happen, and everything most assuredly will.

Today's Christmas cd/Laura's Gift

This young man, Bill Tobin, was a student of my husband's years ago, and he performs around the area. He plays the Celtic harp so beautifully. He has several albums, and Laura's Gift is his Christmas offering. This cd has sixteen Christmas songs, including The Sussex Mummer's Carol, Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella, and The Holly and The Ivy, to name three of my favorites. It is lovely music for a snowy December day.

I feel badly about today's cd choice because there isn't any place you can buy it unless you live nearby. But I'll tell you what. If you would like me to send you a copy, leave a comment here before Saturday, and I'll draw a name out of a winter hat.

A Christmas Meme

tagged me for this meme:

What is your most enduring Christmas memory?
Christmas Eve church service when the only light came from candles, and we sang Silent Night on our knees.

Do you have a favourite piece of Christmas music?
In The Bleak Midwinter, and The Sussex Mummer's Carol.

Do you stick to the old family traditions?
Pretty much so. I write Christmas cards as my mother did, with newsy notes inside. I use the big Christmas tree lights of my childhood. Some of the tree decorations date from when I was a child. On Christmas morning, we open stockings, eat breakfast, and open presents in that order.

What makes your mouth water at Christmas time?
Christmas cookies made with my mother's recipe.

How soon do you put the Christmas tree up and when do you take it down?
It is usually put up about two weeks before Christmas Day, and taken down December 30 or 31.

I have tagged the men on my bloglist, and the newest additions:

John, John, Rick, Simon, Becca & Bella, Bonnie, Colleen, and Dolce Bellezza.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quote du jour/Jan Karon

Oh, the ineffable holiness of small things.
Father Tim in A New Song by Jan Karon

Today's Christmas cd/A Holiday Celebration

I am stunned to realize that it was nineteen years ago when PBS presented A Peter, Paul, and Mary Holiday Concert. It was so wonderful that I bought the cd. It is today's choice because at sunset this evening, Hanukkah begins, and this album includes songs for Hanukkah, and for Christmas.

The adjective for this music is "stirring." It stirs the soul, as well as warming the heart. Those voices are like no others. The harmonies are perfect. The choice of songs are not the typical holiday fare, such as A Soalin', The Friendly Beasts, and The Cherry Tree Carol. And it ends with their signature song, perfect for this season of compassion and peace, Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind. I cry every time I hear it.

How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn't see?
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

Today's picture/Christmas Wreath

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Joy of Baking/Barney's Brownies

Barney's Brownies

This recipe is from Aunt Bee`s Mayberry Cookbook by Ken Beck and Jim Clark. The name of the brownies in the cookbook is "Bullet Brownies," which comes from the fact that Barney carried only one bullet in his pocket. I've chosen to rename them after the deputy himself. The note to the recipe says,"Be sure to eat them one at a time."

These are very simple to make. You can whip them up in no time. I made them this evening while listening to jazz on Public Radio. They are very tasty.

Barney's Brownies

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
4 beaten eggs (I use 3)
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Grease a 7 x 11 pan with cooking spray.
In a saucepan, melt the butter.
Add the sugar and cocoa, and blend well.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, stirring well.
Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake in a 300-325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Mrs Bale says it is still coming down

Christmas Movie/The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop's Wife may not be as well known as It's A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, but it is a simply wonderful Christmas movie. David Niven plays a harried bishop who is worried about raising money to build a great cathedral. He has been so absorbed in his work that he has neglected his wife, Loretta Young, and his little daughter, Debbie, portrayed by the girl who was Zuzu in It's A Wonderful Life. But before we even meet this family, we see a man help a blind man cross the street, and save a baby in its runaway carriage. We sense pretty quickly that he is an angel, played by the always excellent Cary Grant. He becomes the answer to the bishop's prayer for guidance, though not in the way the bishop expects.

This is the loveliest of movies; black and white, a skating scene, an adorable child, a rumpled old professor, a boy's choir. Everything is here. And it works. We believe in this Angel. We welcome his miracles. And we are moved by his longing to be human. I don't want to say more in case you haven't seen it, but I will say, please try and rent it or buy it this holiday season. Welcome it into your life.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and the stretched out hand of tolerance - all the shining gifts make peace on earth.