Sunday, October 30, 2011

October with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may scroll down to 'letter topics' and click A Year with Gladys and Rachel.

As I sat down to read the October entries of Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, I had just eaten Gladys' recipe for French toast, the easiest and most delicious ever!
Cut the crusts off two pieces of bread.
Whisk together an egg and 1/4 (she used 1/3) cup milk.
I then pour the mixture into a 7x11 glass pan, and dip the bread until it has completely absorbed the liquid.
Warm the maple syrup.
Heat up the griddle to 350º and spray with cooking spray.
Cook the bread on both sides. Serve with butter and the maple syrup.

Here is what the outdoors looks like at Windy Poplars Farm on this Sunday afternoon. Last night we had a lovely, gentle, soft snowfall, and the snow is staying unlike the other day when it had all melted by noon.

It seemed strange to see this while reading Gladys' words about the colors of October, but it just shows how very much the landscape changes during what she calls the 'dramatic' month. We begin October with those colors which people from all over the world come to see. As Gladys says, 'everyone knows about autumn in New England.' After the leaves fall off, we have a ground full of color instead. Then they turn brown and blow around. I'm not one for raking. Invariably when I go out to rake, the wind kicks up and my leaf piles quickly blow away. I've learned over the years to just let the leaves stay. They very often settle in the flower gardens providing soil-improving mulch and some protection against the winter cold. It's interesting to me that Gladys didn't mention raking this month. Maybe she also let the leaves be.

Gladys says,
Now is the time to go out to the woods for butternuts and hickory nuts and hazelnuts. ... We carry old gunnysacks and we fill them. ... Staggering under the weight of the sacks, we finally come home, feeling we have done a very worthwhile thing. Never mind that we never do get all the nuts shelled. We crack some with the flatiron on the hearthstone, but we never really get to them all. I surmise it is more fun to adventure in the autumn woods than to dig out the tiny meats afterward with a pick.
I have read in old books about 'going nutting.' But I've never known anyone who did so. When I was a girl, older women would talk about 'going berrying' but as far as I can remember no one ever gathered nuts. I don't even know if there are nut trees in the surrounding woods. I've never heard of any.

As she writes of hanging the blankets on the line for their annual freshening, she is reminded that 'all our blankets have stories about them.' Two that belonged to her grandmother get her thinking about that grandmother's son, Gladys' Uncle Walter, and a walk she took with him after her own mother died.
The street lamps cast a pale lemon glow on his erect figure, his careful hat, his impeccable shoes. All he said was so simple and so short. We walked, and the light fell on him, and the shadows moved. The new-cut grass on the lawns smelled sweet. A little dog nosed along the curb and vanished.
"The Raybolds [Gladys' maternal family name] have always been heavy burden-bearers," he said quietly and as if that were to be expected and accounted for.
At that moment I felt myself one of a dim line stretching back and back and back, of people who went about their business and just bore their burdens. He never said another word to me about mine, he just let me assume I was to bear mine in the family tradition.
It is strange how that simple statement has sustained me down the years. Thereafter, every time I felt crushed by events, I stiffened my spine, and said softly, "well, we Raybolds have always been heavy burden-bearers."
It feels to me that we have traveled light years from this philosophy, to a time when everyone tells everything to anybody. I guess we have learned that it is good and helpful to talk our problems over with someone, but I think we have gone way too far in the opposite direction from the words of Uncle Walter.

I will close this month's letter about Gladys' October chapter with her stirring words:
There is always one moment in a day when I think my heart will break. Such a moment I think all women have, and men too, when all the meaning of life seems distilled and caught up and you feel you can never, never bear to leave it. ... My definition of happiness is just the ability to garner the perfect moments.
And aren't we, her readers, lucky, lucky that she shared them with us.

I suspect that some of us smug New Englanders think we are the only place on earth where the real autumn may be found. Oh, we know that trees turn color in other places, but the show can't be like ours. But if we read Rachel Peden wax poetic about the colors in Indiana, I think we must let our feelings of superiority slip a bit.
Indiana's autumn leaf coloring, like the Grand Canyon, is so magnificent and spectacular that the only way you can describe it, or even believe it, is to understate it.
Let it be said, therefore, that in a hillside around which Maple Grove Road climbs on its way to town, there is a young beech tree that has authority to speak for all beech trees. Its coloring bronzy-yellow leaves shine with a metallic glitter. Enough of them have dropped to make the ground glitter also, around the tree, and yet the tree is not diminished of its glory. Anyone who has seen it will remember its light all winter.
Throw in sweet gum and ash for purple; sassafras for sentimental pink and deeper red; sumac for a glossy bright red; luminous yellow for poplar and papaw and hickory and maple. Add the kaleidoscopic pink, yellow, rose, and red of maples; the quiet, mighty old-hymn brown of oak; the warm, live brown of tall white sycamore; the dark, melodious red of wild blackberry's rough leaves; ... In autumn not an acre, hardly a foot of rural Indiana is lacking in splendor. It is gaudy, breath-taking, unbelievable - it is Indiana in autumn dress.
I am duly humbled!

One of the minor plagues of my life is the fruit fly. Not for me those adorable wire baskets you see in the magazines, filled with lovely lemons and limes. You won't find a beautiful fruit bowl on my kitchen table. I even break the storage rule and keep my tomatoes in the refrigerator. Why? All because of the dreaded fruit fly. So, I was greatly consoled by reading that Rachel was dealing with them in her own kitchen fifty years ago. She knows it as a vinegar gnat.
It is doubtful that any insect has solved the complexities of personal nourishment and storage better than the vinegar gnat has.
If you need some for research on this point, you need only lay a bitten apple on the kitchen table, or a few grapes pulled from their stems, or a tomato weeping over its wasted life. Vinegar gnats will suddenly be there. From where, goodness knows. They arrive quietly, requiring no more space than the wind requires. Their sense of news must be prodigious.
... Gnats never seem to fly very fast, but they fly elusively, as every housekeeper knows who has tried to clap her hands together into a gnat sandwich.
She goes on to talk about the use of fruit flies in the study of genetics, and ends her passage with,
Decidedly, with such an outstanding scientific career possible, the vinegar gnat is wasting its time in the farm kitchen.
The Peden family also goes nutting and afterward,
Carol picked out the black nuts whose hulls cattle had trodden off, and Joe spread them out on the brooder-house roof, where rain would wash them and sun would dry them. I poured the unhulled ones into the driveway; there incoming tires would mash off the hulls.
Speaking of rain, this year that Rachel was writing there was a very dry three weeks. And I learned the most amazing thing. Her husband came in to tell her that the
"spring had started running again. So now I know it's going to rain soon. I don't know why it is, but after there's been a long dry spell, the creeks and springs start flowing again just ahead of the rain."
He was right. Monday evening the long-yearned-for rain began. ... It was perfect weather: it was raining.
She writes of taking the dog, Rose for a walk. 'In the woods there is much for a dog to read, and Rose reads well.' As we walk each day with Sadie, one or the other of us remarks on what she learns about the world. She stops and her nose wiggles as she stares into the trees. She pauses every few yards to smell whose feet have walked this path before her. We humans are sorely lacking in this department.

I shall close the October chapter with a deeply felt passage from Rachel.
For some people autumn is summed up in the magnificent drama of colored leaf. For me, the most poignant, almost unbearably dramatic, thing about it is the passage of wild geese, southbound in a chilly autumn evening, over the farm. There was one time in particular when the children were little ...
They came swiftly, a long, dark line undulating against the blue evening sky, like a dark ribbon tossed into water.
They were high above us, flying diagonally across the clover field. We could see the leaders at the head of the inverted V, and we could hear the weariness in the lonely, beautiful, wild crying. We watched until they had disappeared entirely, and it was as if some part of us had gone with them.
As we turned back to the wagon in the darkening evening, I was aware that some important truth had been summed up in the flight of the dark, vanished birds. It was stated in the cold, clean fragrant air, in the crackling of dry leaves under our feet, and in the blended colors of far-off hills, where already many emptied trees were only bare, dark outlines. It was a statement of acceptance, but not of resignation. ...
There was something there that was immensely lonely and vulnerable, and yet invincible; ... this poignancy in which transience and permanence exist side by side, in the same thing.
Rachel's writing is full of such truths.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mrs Bale is happy to announce...

... the first snow of the season at Windy Poplars Farm! She hasn't had much to say about the long days of summer and the rather mild autumn but last night her heart began to flutter!

And this morning she feels alive walking in the cold air, and seeing the beauty of sunshine on snow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today's poem by Dylan Thomas

In honor of what would have been his 97th birthday.

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In the rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the woods faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart's truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - Home for the Day by Rosamunde Pilcher

Please visit Breadcrumb Reads to see what others are reading this Wednesday.

I tried to find a live version of this song, but there wasn't one where the words were as clear as this.

You might wonder why on earth I would begin a posting on a Rosamunde Pilcher short story with the song, I'm A Woman sung by the great Maria Muldaur. Well, it's because I was reading along in the story, and came upon the line:
James tried his hand at hanging out a sock or two, but it was dull and fiddly work, so he abandoned it and went back to work at his makeshift desk.
and the words to this song came to mind.
I can wash out 44 pairs of socks, and have 'em hanging out on the line.
I started laughing and thought I've got to find the song and put it up on the blog.

The story begins as James is returning from a business trip with the beginnings of a cold. His boss tells him to go home and do his work from there.
He realised, with some surprise, that he could not remember when he had ever taken a day off during the week. Revelling in idleness, he felt youthful, like a schoolboy with an unexpected holiday.
He does work on his report, but more often he spends his time noticing things. He has never known what home life was like during the day.
Sometimes it occurred to James that Louisa's life, when compared to his own, must be very dull. "What have you been doing today?" he would ask when he got home, but "Nothing much" was all she ever told him.
On this day off, James learns the millions of things that women at home do every day. He marvels that the Saturday housekeeper isn't there, and Louisa tells him the several days a week she doesn't come. He doesn't even know why the children aren't home until she reminds him they'd gone to stay with someone.
"You knew they were going."
He had known. He had simply forgotten.
The room where he wants to work is cold, and his wife tells him she doesn't light the fire until five o'clock. He happily smells cooking, and is surprised when a huge meal isn't for his lunch. She's making it for a dinner some days ahead and will freeze it. The phone rings off the hook all day long. She paints, she helps the man who cuts up a downed tree, she irons.

James isn't made out to be an unkind man. Until this day at home, he really and truly did not understand what Louisa did in the hours when he was away. When he is on his way home from work the next day, he stops and gets her flowers. She is delighted and asks, "But why?"
Because you are my life. The mother of my children, the heart of my house. You are the fruit loaf in the tin, the clean shirts in the drawer, the logs in the basket, the roses in the garden. You are the flowers in the church, and the smell of paint in the bathroom, ... And I love you.
This is the sort of story that makes one breathe a sigh of pleasure at the end. What a lovely writer Rosamunde Pilcher is. Her people are so often like James, not unkindly, just unknowing, and what a joy when he finally does understand.

Home for the Day
22 pages long
first published in Good Housekeeping magazine, as "Louisa" - February 1979
included in The Blue Bedroom & Other Stories, 1985

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quote du jour/Christopher Morley

Read, every day, something no one else is reading.
Think, every day, something no one else is thinking.
Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do.
It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

Monday, October 24, 2011

A surprising fall color

As the countryside around me returns to its winter look, I am struck by the beauty of the Korean lilac. We are all familiar with the autumn beauty of maples and oaks but after their leaves have fallen to the ground, this little tree/bush is the star of my late October landscape.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Three-Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

66. Three-Act Tragedy - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1934
Kindle book, 42
finished, 10/11/11

Three Act Tragedy is one of my favorite Agatha books so far. Mr. Satterthwaite is one of the main characters, and I learned from my Who's Who that he makes an appearance in a few other stories and books:

The Mysterious Mr. Quin, Dead Man's Mirror, The Love Detectives, and The Harlequin Tea Set. He is attending a party given by a retired actor who has moved to the seaside. A beloved local rector suffers a seizure and dies after drinking his cocktail. Though everyone is terribly upset, it is declared an accident. He was in his sixties and had been having some health problems. But the host of the party, Sir Charles Cartwright meets with his doctor friend Bartholomew Strange and Mr. Satterthwaite, and expresses his concern that it might be murder. He is upset because he is the one who mixed the cocktails. When another death occurs in the same manner some time later, with many of the same people present, it begins to look like he had reason to wonder.

The book is set up like a three act play.
First Act: Suspicion, with five chapters
Second Act: Certainty, with seven chapters
Third Act: Discovery, with fifteen chapters
Yet another new way of presenting a mystery. There was no moss growing under Agatha Christie's feet. She is adventurous in her writing, not sticking to a formula, always coming up with something new. People often refer to a 'typical' Christie book where all the suspects are brought into a room and the detective presents the story of what happened and whodunnit. Yes, this does often happen, but before the denouement each book is different in presentation, characters, and plot. I've written it before, but I do proclaim this woman was a genius.

Apparently this book isn't viewed as one of her best, but I do not agree. I found the characters very interesting, particularly Mr. S. I liked 'listening' to the conversations between these men. The book also features one of my favorite Agatha Christie 'types' - the plucky, strong-minded, energetic young woman. In this book she is Miss Lytton Gore who has the nickname 'Egg.'

I've seen the title hyphenated, and presented without the hyphen. As too often happens in publishing, the book has another title in England, Murder in Three Acts, which I actually like better. But in this case, not only is the name different but the two editions differ in the motive of the killer. I read an explanation online but I won't offer it here because it gives away too much of the story.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Quote du jour/Samuel Butler

Youth is like spring, an over-praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.
Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Samuel Butler in spring
and in autumn

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bookkeeping - book reports, book reviews, and book notes

When I first began writing regularly about the books I read, it occurred to me to use the old book reports model from school. I went all over the internet trying to find a form and I couldn't. I remember certain facets from when I was in elementary school like characters, plot, and locale but not exactly how to put them together into a book report. So instead, I decided to just write what I thought about the books I read. I loved the way I could find links and pictures online which related to my reading experience. These book reports are very personal. I'm not trying to be objective. I try to say what I think, and offer enough information so readers of my letters may decide for themselves if a book appeals to them or not.

And now I come to an idea which I've been mulling over for some time - occasionally offering shorter versions of my book reports and calling them book notes. I don't always want to do a long book report. Sometimes I want to state 'just the facts,' with a only a brief explanation of the book and how I felt about it. Once in a while there just isn't that much to say, but yet I want to write something because I use my blog as a book journal. So from now on you will see book reports sometimes, and book notes other times. I may have some posts where I write about a couple books at a time, or even some monthly roundups of books.

I'm also going to change the way I organize my book reports/book notes. For years now I've kept both 'Book Lists' and 'Book Reports' (see tabs under blog header photo). I began the two categories back when I wasn't writing about each book I read, and I jotted down the ones I had read under Book Reports. Now that I write about all the books I read, I am going to discontinue the 'Book Reports' listing. All the books I write about are highlighted under Book Lists, and if clicked will lead you to the book report. I don't need to have duplicate records.

This year I added an 'Authors' tab, which is the place to go if you are looking for a certain author whose book has been mentioned here. The titles by those authors are also clickable to find the particular book reports. Because of this addition, I no longer need to keep my Agatha Christie lists, since everything I've read by her may be found there or under short stories. I may add the list of Christmas books, formerly under book reports to book lists or perhaps make a separate tab just for those seasonal readings. I'm not going to keep the Book Reports as a tab, but the category will always be there under Letter Topics.

All these little changes will make my blogging a bit easier with less busywork, and more fun, methinks. Probably a lot more fun than it was for you to read this long explanation!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - The Case Of The White Elephant by Margery Allingham

For more short stories this week, please visit Breadcrumbs Reads.

When my Auntie Laura died sixteen years ago, I was lucky to receive a few of her books, including a two-volume mystery compilation.

I love to think of this former schoolteacher sitting in her cozy living room reading from them. These books are treasures for the mystery lover. They contain novels, novelettes, and stories from many of the great writers. Here you will find unabridged works by such authors as Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Daphne Du Maurier, and Cornell Irish whose short story, It Had To Be Murder was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Rear Window. The story was featured here in the early days of this blog.

Today I decided to read a story by Margery Allingham, featuring her detective Albert Campion. I've read only one Campion book, and keep meaning to read more in the series.

The story begins with Campion's young friend, Juliet wanting him to tell her all about the jewel robberies that have been taking place in London. During the course of their conversation, we learn about her fiancé Philip, his 'Auntie Flo,' otherwise known as Florence, Dowager Countess of Marle, and Philip's 'man' whom he fired after learning he had a criminal record. Juliet is appalled by this, and being a feisty young women she got him a new job with the unknowing Aunt Flo. Two other characters are a traveling manicurist, and Campion's policeman friend Chief Detective Inspector Stanislaw Oates. In just these few pages, we get a mystery presented and solved in the most interesting and entertaining manner. The Dowager Countess turns out to be an older version of Juliet, a strong, assertive, and compassionate woman.

I really like Margery Allingham's writing. There is wit and humor in the midst of a mystery. When Juliet wants to tell Campion about Philip,
Mr. Campion smiled ruefully. It was a sign of the end of the thirties, he supposed, when one submitted cheerfully to the indignity of taking a young woman out only to hear about her hopes and fears concerning a younger man.
The author was 32 when this story was published, and the reader may imagine her little smile as she wrote those words.

Perhaps 2012 will be the year I read more of the Campion books. I look forward to them with great joy.

The Case Of The White Elephant
14 pages long
first published, 1936 in Mr. Campion: Criminologist
included in A Treasury of Great Mysteries
edited by Howard Haycraft and John Beecraft, 1957.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Up and down the road

Yesterday I took a walk down the road to let the pups out. (If you are a new reader of my letters, you may go to 'letter topics' and click on 'the making of a home' to learn about our daughter and her boyfriend's house. The posts are in newest to oldest order.)

It was a beautiful October day.

This is how I found Piglet and Lexi. Tough life.

A few weeks ago their dear female duck was killed. We had all heard coyotes that night, so maybe it was them, or maybe a fox. The kids went on Craigslist and found some Rouens in the next state so they took a field trip and came home with three - a drake and two ducks. The males had a tiny bit of competition, but they've settled into a happy routine now.

Matt and a friend have been busy building winter quarters for all of them. On the left is their summer house, while the new log home is on the right.

The interior view.

Piglet accompanied me. (That's the shadow of my hand and camera on her back)

Walking back up the hill.

Our old Duchess apple tree blew over this summer. This tree was here when the owners before us bought the place in 1919. When you talk to old-timers they get a special look in their eyes when you mention a Duchess apple. We have eaten our fair share over the years and they are special. I wrote about this tree last year, including photos of it during apple blossom time. I don't know if it is true, but someone told Matt if we cut it off at six feet above the ground it will grow back. It's sure worth a try.

The other week, for the first time in all my years on earth, I saved a life! I heard the bleating of a goat. In the best of times, the sound is pleading, but this day it was really different. There was agony in it. I raced outdoors and found Bracelet caught in the mesh fence. The only reason there was mesh and not just our regular five-strand 'predator proof' electric fence is that this summer the goats have been particularly assertive in getting out of the pasture. Tom put the mesh up in front of the electric fence hoping that would keep them in. We should have known better. Nothing stops a goat from going where she wants to go. The fencing was caught on her horns and went around her face and across her throat. I pulled and got some of it away but realized I needed scissors. I ran madly back to the house, scaring Sadie with my cries of worry, and grabbed my trusty Fiskars. It wasn't easy cutting plastic strands away from a writhing goat. She was having trouble breathing and had begun to foam from her mouth. She was in dire distress. I cut as fast as I could, finally freeing her. It was very frightening for both Bracelet and Nan. There's a poem, a photo of Bracelet, and a little piece about our goats here.

After quite a spell of not getting much exercise other than daily yoga, I've started walking outside. And my Sadie is joining me. Pretty much since Ben died, she hasn't cared much about going outdoors. They used to go out in their big enclosed field for long periods of time, but she hasn't shown any interest in going alone. Well, now we two are heading out every day and enjoying the cool fall air. Then when Tom comes home we take a different walk, going up the hill into the woods. And here's what is different. We have Sadie on a leash. Whenever we used to walk in the woods, she'd take off for half an hour at a time. Thus we stopped those walks, and she only went out in the safe field. We decided that we missed taking her up the hill so I got her one of those cool Ruffwear leashes. We have the 'Roamer' variety. And she loves it! I tell her she's a city dog living on 200 acres of country.

A well-deserved rest after our walk this morning.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today's cd/The Rip Tide - Beirut

I first heard of this band here, and I haven't stopped listening since. Oh, do I love their sound! This video is from the fantastic NPR series, Tiny Desk Concerts.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pasta and Vegetables - a new-to-me way of cooking

Please go visit Beth Fish Reads for more cooking this weekend!

Just about a month ago, Bonnie offered a video of Kathleen Flinn making Pasta Pomodoro. Flinn suggests three things I've not done before in cooking pasta and vegetables:
1. salting the pasta water
2. adding some of that water when you sauté the vegetables
3. putting the pasta in the frypan with the vegetables after they are cooked

I've always just put the sautéed vegetables on top of the pasta, but this week I followed Kathleen Flinn's directions, using a yellow pepper, an orange pepper, and some scallions instead of tomatoes. And the result was a wonderful, delicious supper.

We ate supper on the terrace, and the view matched our meal!

In case you haven't seen the video, here it is. I really like this woman's approach to cooking.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Friends/Simon & Garfunkel

How 'terribly strange' indeed that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are turning seventy this year; Simon today and Garfunkel on November 5th.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle

Please visit Breadcrumb Reads for other short stories this Wednesday.

Here's how I chose this week's story. Tom just began reading Laurie R. King's The Language of Bees, and mentioned that it features Damian Adler, the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. I did a search and discovered that Irene Adler is mentioned in four stories, but A Scandal in Bohemia is the one in which she plays a starring role. I realized that while her name is part of the popular culture, and I have been familiar with it for ages, I've never read the story about her. I actually haven't read very much of the Sherlock Holmes canon. But that will change. I loved this story. I thought the detail was fantastic, and I really got to know Holmes and Watson quite well.

A Scandal in Bohemia is in

Look at that price! It is a 1978 edition.

I really enjoyed John Watson's telling of the tale. Sherlock refers to him as his 'Boswell,' the biographer of Samuel Johnson in the 1700s. Watson says that he hasn't seen Holmes too much lately because of his new marriage.
My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centered interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb my whole attention; while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own nature.
I've not taken cocaine but I think that it is not what may be called a 'drowsy' sort of drug, and Conan Doyle's saying this shows the reader that Holmes' natural energy level is amazingly high! This little paragraph also shows us the difference in the two men. It got me thinking about a few other male companions who are the same sorts of opposites. Jeeves and Bertie Wooster; Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. The first ones are geniuses, while the second ones are not as brilliant but are certainly more kindly souls. Together they make rather a perfect human being, so paired together they each fulfill what the other lacks. I find this utterly fascinating. I like both men in each group, almost equally well.

Since he is in the neighborhood, Watson decides to drop in one evening. Though Holmes is not 'effusive' in his greeting, Watson feels quite certain that the great detective is glad to see him. Holmes immediately notices that Watson has gained weight and has been tramping around in wet conditions, astounding John Watson as always. Holmes explains that most people 'see' but do not 'observe.'

Holmes reads a letter he has just received telling of an upcoming visit by a masked man who wants to keep his identity secret. From the writing paper and the way the note is written, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that the writer is a German writing on paper from Bohemia. When the man arrives, he begins an involved tale but using the famed powers of observation, Holmes already knows who the man is - the King of Bohemia. He is about to be married, but an old love interest has a photograph of the two of them and has threatened to send it to the family of his fiancée. He wants Holmes to get ahold of the picture.
This woman is Irene Adler, 'the well-known adventuress'
Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. ... Retired from the operatic stage.
There have been five attempts made to get the photo back, with no success. Sherlock Holmes takes on the case and we find out why, in John Watson's words,
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
I had the best time reading this story. It is wonderfully engaging. I so enjoyed all the characters, and all of Holmes' deductions and schemes. My previous connection with Holmes has been through the Laurie R. King series, and though I am very, very, very late to this party, I'm now an Arthur Conan Doyle fan!

A Scandal in Bohemia
18 pages long.
first published, July 1891 in the Strand Magazine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today's pictures/Farm animals on the lawn

Some years we are really punctual and organized about keeping the gardens weeded in the summer, and cleaned up as fall comes, but not this year. I don't know why except it was a summer of bugs. Maybe the early rainy start to the spring brought them out. Whatever the reason, it seemed to be a nonstop rush of blackflies, noseeums, deer flies, mosquitoes. They came in sequence and sometimes all at once. And they just bit and bit, so consequently I didn't spend nearly the time outdoors that I usually do in the summertime. Tom was busy putting in new windows in this old farmhouse, and painting outside doors.

We had quite a lot of rain, and then no rain in July. My beloved day lilies seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye. I picked the tomatoes and basil and parsley and summer squash and potatoes in good time, but got way behind on the yellow beans. Probably because of the odd weather my sweet peas grew and budded but never blossomed. Anyhow, as October progressed I got the bright idea that maybe if we let the animals into the garden area, aka the side lawn, that they might do some cleaning up for us. So yesterday we did just that. So far, they've just nibbled the lawn and some lilac leaves but we're going to try for a few hours each day, and hope they will enjoy the overgrown squash and sweet pea leaves. We'll see. If nothing else, it is a humorous pleasure to see them so close to the house.

Do you think they'll eat those huge squashes?

Daisy by the clothesline! What a mess the day lilies are!

Looking out the screen door at sheepies!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

65. Tom's Midnight Garden
by Philippa Pearce
juvenile fiction, 1958
second reading
second book for R.I.P. VI challenge
finished, 10/7/11

After wimping out on a couple books I thought I'd read for the RIP VI challenge,

I got the brilliant idea that maybe a children's book would be a better choice for me. I don't mean young adult, but that glorious genre for young readers which lies between picture books and teen books, referred to as juvenile fiction. The ages listed on these books are either 9-12 or 10-14. That's just about right for my comfort level with ghostly, creepy sorts of stories.

I went to the upstairs bookshelves where I keep the books from Tom's and my childhood, and Margaret's and Michael's childhood.

My eye fell upon Tom's Midnight Garden, a book I've been meaning to read again, having read it years and years ago to my kids. And I thought this would be just the ticket! I really love this story.

The book begins with 12 year old Tom Long having to leave home because his brother Peter has come down with the measles. He goes to stay with his aunt and uncle in another town so that his mother may devote her time to her sick son. Tom also must be in quarantine for a while so that he won't give the illness to anyone else.

Tom is greatly distressed because he and Peter had looked forward to playing in their back garden during the summer holidays. They had plans to build a tree house.

When he arrives at Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen's house, he sees:

a big house now converted into flats. The house was crowded round with newer, smaller houses that beat up to its very confines in a broken sea of bay-windows and gable-ends and pinnacles. It was the only big house among them: oblong, plain, grave.
Aunt Gwen is a cook of 'large, rich meals,' and they, combined with no exercise other than jigsaw puzzles give Tom some uncomfortable sleepless nights where the striking of the grandfather clock in the main hallway is his only companion. After getting up and prowling around and being discovered, his Uncle Alan makes him promise to stay in bed for ten hours.

The old clock never strikes the correct hour, and when Tom hears thirteen he is startled, and 'uneasy in the knowledge that this happening made some difference to him; he could feel that in his bones.'
The stillness had become an expectant one; the house seemed to hold its breath; the darkness pressed up to him, pressing him with a question: Come on, Tom, the clock has struck thirteen - what are you going to do about it?
With a child's reasoning, he decides that there is now an extra hour in the day, and that he can stay in bed for the promised ten hours, and still have an hour to himself to get out of bed and explore. Because he is such an honorable and obedient child he goes downstairs to make sure the clock really says thirteen, allowing him this freedom. He feels for the light switch, and can't find it. He decides he can use the moonlight, but it is dim and he thinks if he opens the back door more light will beam through so he can see the clock face. He has been told this door leads only to a paved back yard with rubbish bins. But… what he sees is a big lawn and flowerbeds and trees and a greenhouse. His immediate response is that his aunt and uncle have lied to him. But then he begins to see and experience strange things. A maid dressed in old-fashioned clothes cannot see or hear him. He looks back into the hall from where he came and sees it completely transformed from a central hall in an apartment building to a grand hall in a family house.

And so, our young hero's adventures begin. The reader moves right along with him night after night, completely believing in all that happens. We may wonder a bit more than Tom does, but we still don't question the occurrences. We meet a girl around Tom's age, Hatty, who can see and hear him. She accepts him in his new-to-her pajamas, as he accepts her and the garden.

In an afterward to my Dell Yearling publication of Tom's Midnight Garden, the children's book author, Zilpha Keatley Snyder explains just why the reader shares Tom's adventures without doubt or disbelief. She tells how she loved fantasy stories as a child, but that some let her down because they didn't follow her 'rules.'
The first rule was NO NONSENSE.
The second was NO TREACHERY.
NO NONSENSE meant that the magical and wondrous should be built on a foundation of lots of convincingly realistic details, and that magical events or powers had to be limited in understandable ways.
RULE TWO… What I really hated was a fantasy in which the magic was all TREACHEROUSLY taken away at the very end, as when the ghost turns out to be somebody playing tricks, or worst of all, a whole magic adventure turns out to be a dream.
Now, it's perfectly obvious that Tom's Midnight Garden follows both of these rules to perfection. One is completely caught up in Tom's everyday life when the first little hints of strangeness, the grandfather clock and the old house itself, begin the subtle preparations for magic. And by the time of the first visit to the midnight garden, one is ready to think, of course. That's exactly what had to happen.
I give you this extended report of the beginning of the book, and then Zilpha Keatley Snyder's words to show that you too may believe. It isn't even a matter of suspending belief. One simply believes. And what a story we fall into. Each night that Tom visits something or someone is a bit different. What is just a night to him is often much longer to Hatty. Is he a ghost or is she? What is happening to time? These are the big questions, but there is also unquestioning delight in the fun these two lonely young people share. They both know that their circumstance is not usual, but they can forget it for a while in their quest for adventure.

Philippa Pearce was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Tom's Midnight Garden. It is worth scrolling down that page to see all the other winners.

I love these photographs of her.

There are two obituaries of Philippa Pearce here and here. There was a celebration of the 50th anniversary edition of this book here.

And you may find another review of Tom's Midnight Garden here.

I own another book by Philippa Pearce which I plan to read again next year called Minnow On The Say, and I hope to get more of her work. She was a wonderful writer.