Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The loss of Maeve Binchy

It was true what they had been saying: if people remember you, then you're not dead. It was very comforting.

Minding Frankie
by Maeve Binchy (1940-2012)

Book notes on four July books; and a year long resolve

37. Crocodile on the Sandbank - book 1 in the Amelia Peabody series
by Elizabeth Peters
mystery, 1975
second reading
Nook book 11
finished 7/4/12

I was surprised to see that my 37th book in 2010 was read just about this time of year, and it was the last in the Amelia Peabody series. And here I am two years later reading the first in the series. I first listened to it on Recorded Books unabridged tape maybe fifteen years ago. Is that possible? I adore these books, and I adore the characters. In Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia has inherited money from her father, and decides to go traveling. She is a most independent woman. She hates fashion, believes in comfortable, wearable clothes for women, isn't afraid to express how she feels, and is all about rights for women - not all that common in the late 1880s. Amelia meets a down and out young woman named Evelyn, and hires her as a companion. They travel to Egypt where their adventures and their new lives begin. They meet brothers and ultimately fall in love and marry. Amelia discovers a passion for pyramids, and Evelyn a talent for drawing. The story continues through 19 books, as they age, have children, suffer heartache and tragedy. Yet through it all Amelia is a bulwark of strength, and as they say, a force to be reckoned with. One of the all time great fictional characters.

38. Corduroy Mansions - book 1 in Corduroy Mansions series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2009
library book eight
Nook book 12
finished 7/13/12

It's hard to write about this book. There were the usual Alexander McCall Smith moments of insight and musings about the world. There was a strong sense of the London setting. But the stories and many of the characters were just so 'out there' to me. I felt this about many of the Scotland Street series characters as well. And yet, I continue to read them, as I probably will continue to read this series. You probably know that the book was presented in a most interesting way - serialized in the Daily Telegraph. Wonderful idea. And it was also recorded by Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers.

40. That Affair Next Door - book 1 in the Amelia Butterworth series; book 7 in the Ebenezer Gryce series
by Anna Katharine Green
mystery, 1897
Kindle book 16
finished 7/26/12

I first heard of this writer when Peggy sent me an email saying That Affair Next Door was available for free on the Kindle. She has a wonderful post on the author and her books. Well, I loved this book. Look at the publication date! That's a long time ago, and yet, I was as interested as if Anna Katharine Green had just written it. There's a site here which talks about Agatha Christie's Jane Marple and Anna Katharine Green's Amelia Butterworth. Amelia is a well-off spinster living in New York City. She is very intelligent and curious. One evening she looks out her window and sees an odd occurence. From this episode springs a quite intricate mystery. There are many twists and turns, but Amelia helps us out by recapping every once in a while. Oh, I had so much fun reading this book. Highly recommended.

41. Best Staged Plans
by Claire Cook
fiction, 2011
library book nine
Nook book 14
finished 7/31/12

I have Marcia to thank for getting me back on the Claire Cook reading path. I had read Must Love Dogs years ago, and so enjoyed it, as well as the movie. But that's it. Well, after reading a few of Marcia's reviews at Goodreads, I was reminded that I want to read more by this author. I really liked this book. Sandra Sullivan is around 50, her kids are grown - one married, the other a college graduate living at home, and she is ready for a change. She wants to fix up their old Victorian house by the sea in Massachusetts, and then sell it. This fixing up to sell has a name. It is called 'home staging.' It is much, much more than just baking cookies before a prospective buyer comes for a tour. It's all about selling a dream. People buying a house apparently don't want to see a junk drawer just like what they have in their own homes. They want to see such a space nicely organized. They want to see an exercise room with machines and dvds and a mat on the floor to encourage them in the belief that once they move, they will begin an exercise regime. Sandra's job is a home stager so she knows what she's doing. She gets annoyed with her husband that he isn't taking the renovation work seriously, and so accepts a job working on a 'boutique hotel' in Atlanta. She says not to call her until the work is done. This part seemed a bit contrived to me. She seemed too upset with her wonderful family, but I let it go, and of course she sees the error in her thinking later in the book. There was a lovely section about helping a homeless woman get a job, showing readers how any one of us could end up in that situation with just a few twists of fate. The book has humor, lightness, great characterization, and seriousness all at once. Pure delight.

Book 39 is missing from these notes because I wrote about it in a separate posting; Cleo Coyle's French Pressed.

This year I've bought a lot of books. I now own plenty of fiction and nonfiction. Beginning tomorrow, August 1, I am not going to buy any books for an entire year. The exceptions will be gift books, and possibly buying some for the Canadian Challenge. I own a few, and will try to get more from the library, but if I can't, I will buy them. The other exception will be ebooks for bedtime reading, if I am not able to get them through the state library's downloadable books.

Tom has announced his retirement for next June, and that means we are going to have a lot less money coming in. We should be okay because we live quite simply. I don't buy clothes unless necessary, I don't buy furniture unless ours is worn out, we haven't traveled in years. Tom hardly ever buys anything unless it is a necessity. But what I buy is books. I love hearing about a book, buying it, unwrapping it, and putting it on my shelf. And that is the rub. I put it on the shelf. And all too frequently it stays right there. A book I just had to own sits and sits. Often the hardcover I bought as soon as it was published remains unread. And then I see it is out in paperback, and feel a bit ashamed. Right now every shelf in the house is full of books. I've read a few but the vast majority I haven't.

If I read about books on Goodreads or on blogs, I will either bookmark the post or jot down the title in this cute little notebook a friend gave me.

If I truly 'can't wait,' I'll borrow from the library. Those of you who love buying books will understand this is not an easy endeavor to embark upon. But I shall persevere.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

36. Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
fiction, 2007
finished 6/29/12

I'm quite sure it was Marcia who first brought this book to my attention. And then I read reviews from Les and Kay. I knew I wanted to read it but didn't pick it up until this summer.

Tom's father has Alzheimer's. For a while it was quite slow in manifesting itself, but lately the changes are coming quicker and stronger. The other day Tom was to bring his father for a haircut at 9 am. When Tom arrived to pick him up, he wasn't dressed. His landlord said that the previous evening he came down his outside stairs, all dressed and ready for his haircut. The solution that day was to make a later appointment, but we know that there are going to be events and situations for which there are no solutions.

At present he lives alone but in a house owned by a wonderful man who keeps track of him. He still recognizes everyone. He still goes down the hill to his part-time job as a proofreader at the weekly hometown newspaper. Don't ask. We can't imagine how he does it, but they may just keep him on because everyone there is so fond of him. Yet, this very job has created a couple disturbing Alzheimer's situations. One evening he went down at 8 o'clock, thinking it was the morning. Another time he called here just before midnight all upset because he had to get the paper ready for publication the next day. Tom talked him out of this, saying it wasn't his job; that someone else would be doing that work and he could go to sleep.

The difficulty dealing with a person who has mental issues, whether Alzheimer's or anything else, is when they look you in the eye and speak rationally. We all tend to take people at face value. If someone says they're out of orange juice, the listener assumes it is true. But we are fast learning it isn't necessarily true. Tom has jumped into the car to go buy medicine his father said he was out of, only to bring it to the apartment and see bottles of it sitting on the shelf. For a while we thought it would be good for Tom to call each morning just to check in, but even if he does so, whatever his father says at 9 am may be entirely different at 9.05. That's just how this disease works. There are no rules. There is no map. Every sufferer is both the same and different, one from another.

But there is a guidepost. Still Alice is a most helpful way to get inside the head of one with this disease. The reader meets Alice, a woman who has it all - a family and a very successful career as a Harvard professor. Both husband and wife are acclaimed in their fields and spend much time working. The children are grown and living their own lives. She begins to quietly, slowly feel a little odd. The book in fact begins with her husband John racing around looking for his keys, a typical situation in their household. It is a moment of levity; a moment of familiarity for the reader because this is something we all know. If not ourselves, then our partners or children cannot find things that are right in plain sight. The sense I got was that this is a problem John has, but not Alice, at least not until recently. She hasn't told John about the little episodes of forgetting she has experienced, like not being able to find the charger for her BlackBerry, and after a search bought a new one only to find the original plugged in next to her bed, 'where she should have known to look.' The book is fiction but reads as if it were really happening. Sometimes it felt like a thriller in the way it built up. What now? we wonder. After that beginning, the narrative slips into a regular tale of life with concerns about a daughter and annoyance that her husband is away so much. And isn't this like all mystery/thriller books? Normalcy with a little something strange, and then the strange begins ever so slowly to take over the normal. It is a very gripping story which I read at two sittings. The characters and the situations have stayed with me. When things come up with Tom's father, I am reminded of an event in the book. I've told Tom how very, very helpful Still Alice is in understanding how the disease can work. Sometimes Alice seems almost 'normal' and then does something so unexpected that I was stunned and shaken. Later in the book, as her Alzheimer's has gotten worse, but she is still functioning, she attends a seminar. After someone gives a presentation, Alice makes a comment which is received with respect until … she says the whole thing over again though in fewer words. What a mysterious disease that causes someone a few moments of brilliance which she can't recall saying but can repeat.

The confusing thing for those of us on the outside is that sometimes the person with Alzheimer's does indeed seem so normal. Tom will say something to his father and it seems as if he understands. And he well might for that instant, but then it is lost. This has been the hardest thing for Tom to grasp so far. Tom says he has to stop looking at his father's words in a 'logical' manner.

Still Alice is simply brilliant in the way it shows Alice's state of mind. A morning is described when she and her husband are going to go for a run. She felt the cool air and went inside for another layer of clothing. After searching through several drawers, she found a lightweight fleece and put it on. She noticed a book she'd been reading on her nightstand. She grabbed it and walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of iced tea and walked out to the back porch. She settles down to read. Goes and gets a blanket. John finds her and asks, "What are you doing, aren't we going for a run?"

And there is a terrible incident when she can't find the bathroom in her own house.

Every character in this book is well-written, and real. Her husband does not come off as a knight in shining armor, but his actions do seem possible in light of who he is. And really, how do any of us know how we would react if the person we know so well is no longer that person. It's hard enough if the couple is in their 80s, but being thirty years younger creates particular strains on the relationship. We see the impatience of her children, and the great kindness of those same children. They react, when what they are reacting to can change in an instant. Alice remembers the word 'condiments' but can't name that
... tub of white butter. But it wasn't called white butter. What was it called? Not mayonnaise. No, it was too thick, like butter. What was its name?
Some people say that they would rather have cancer because it may be able to be cured, while Alzheimer's at this point in time is unstoppable. Even Alice feels this way.
She'd trade Alzheimer's for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted herself the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she'd have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she'd be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.
I understand this view, but it is not my view. Probably it comes from watching two parents die of cancer. I would hate to know I had cancer. I would hate that 'good-bye.' Whereas, if I had Alzheimer's I wouldn't know, at least at some later stage. You know the Alzheimer's joke? The doctor says to the patient. 'I have two bits of news. You have cancer and you have Alzheimer's.' And the patient replies, 'well at least I don't have cancer.' This may seem irreverent and impossible, but it happened to Tom's father. He has had lymphoma for a couple years but it is very slow moving, and the doctor has said outright that this is not what will kill him. When Tom and his father were at a new doctor's office one day, there was a mention of chemotherapy. Tom told the doctor his father hadn't had chemo for his cancer. And Tom's father piped up, 'I have cancer?' So there you are. I would be happy with an illness that let me forget I had cancer. Yes, there are horrific things about it, but if I had my choice of the two that's what I would choose.

One day Tom had to interrupt class because he had to call his father. He asked this group of about 18 junior high kids if they knew anyone with Alzheimer's. Five hands went up, and they proceeded to tell Tom their own personal Alzheimer's stories. This disease is a plague, and is only going to get worse as we baby boomers get older and older. Doing crosswords, using stainless steel cooking pots, running every day - they aren't going to prevent it. The early onset seems to have a genetic component, but most people get it when they are older. The statistics from the Alzheimer's Association are chilling:
One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Over 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in 2012.
I am someone who believes in the gifts, even the strengths, that can accompany a dysfunction in the brain, and Still Alice illustrates my belief. Alice's daughter is an actress, and though Alice doesn't 'get' what is going on in a play, she does understand the essence, the truth of a character and what the actress is trying to portray in that character. In a very touching scene near the end, Alice doesn't remember her daughter Lydia's name or that this young woman is even her daughter but when Lydia asks
"Hey, Mom, will you listen to me do this monologue I'm working on for class and tell me what you think it's about? Not the story, it's kind of long. You don't have to remember the words, just tell me what you think it's about emotionally. When I'm done, tell me how I made you feel, okay?"
Alice nodded, and the actress began. Alice watched and listened and focused beyond the words the actress spoke. She saw her eyes become desperate, searching, pleading for truth. She saw them land softly and gratefully on it. Her voice felt at first tentative and scared. Slowly, and without getting louder, it grew more confident and then joyful, playing sometimes like a song. Her eyebrows and shoulders and hands softened and opened, asking for acceptance and offering forgiveness. Her voice and body created an energy that filled Alice and moved her to tears. …
The actress stopped and came back into herself. She looked at Alice and waited.
"Okay, what do you feel?"
"I feel love. It's about love."
The actress squealed, rushed over to Alice, kissed her on the cheek, and smiled, every crease of her face delighted.
"Did I get it right?" asked Alice.
"You did, Mom. You got it exactly right."
And Lisa Genova 'got it exactly right.' This is a perfect book. It is real but not completely discouraging. Facts are faced and not faced. People respond well and don't respond well. It is the truest fiction I've ever read. The author has given a great gift to the world.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dead and Berried by Karen MacInerney

35. Dead and Berried - Book 2 in the Gray Whale Inn Mysteries
by Karen MacInerney
mystery, 2007
eighth book in the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
Kindle book 15
finished 6/25/12

For someone who purports to not care so much for cozy mysteries, I am finding myself quite enamored with this series. I love the heroine, the plots, the locale, and the food! In the second adventure for Natalie Barnes who has moved from Austin, Texas to Cranberry Island, Maine, she is trying to make ends meet running her bed & breakfast. Dead and Berried is set in the fall, when business traditionally falls off. In addition to this problem, Natalie hears noises coming from her bedroom ceiling at night and she wonders if her house may be haunted.

In this installment the reader learns more about the other inhabitants of the island, and not all the revelations are pleasant. A woman who works for Natalie is murdered, as is a new Episcopalian priest. And Natalie's ex-fiancé shows up at the Gray Whale Inn trying to win her back to him, and their life in Texas. Is he sincere? And if so, why is he spending so much time with a gorgeous fellow guest? Two of Natalie's new island friendships are faltering causing her much distress.

There's a lot for Natalie to deal with in this book. It is a cozy, but it is rather a serious one. Of course all murder is serious, but perhaps the time of year and all her troubles make the book a bit darker. I enjoyed it very much, as I did the first one, and plan to continue on with the series. So far there are four books, and a short story. You may read more at Karen MacInerney's website.

I include Dead and Berried as an offering for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge because baking is a big part of Natalie's life, and hence the book. There are numerous mentions of delicious sounding dishes, with recipes following the story, as in the first book, Murder on the Rocks. I'm particularly interested in Berried Medley Lemon Streusel Muffins. I think I'll be trying them when autumn arrives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The very local meal

You may have heard of the 100-mile diet, as part of the locavore movement. This is a goal which is impossible for me to achieve most of the year, but in the summer, on this very evening it is a reality.

I'll call it the 15 steps to the garden diet. Everything is from our garden except butter and olive oil. While the potatoes are baking in the oven,

I am making a salad with

lettuce and tomatoes

and cooking:


yellow beans

onion, zucchini, and summer squash

and when we sit down there are chives to top the potatoes

Monday, July 23, 2012

Today's poem by Arthur Rimbaud

When we were in college, living in a Boston apartment, the guy across the hall loved Arthur Rimbaud. So often he'd say, 'Rimbaud, man, Rimbaud.'

So, in honor of Paris in July, and that long ago neighbor,

here is a poem by Arthur Rimbaud.

The Cupboard

It's a board carved wooden cupboard;
the ancient dark-coloured oak
has taken on that pleasant air
that old people have; the cupboard is open,
and gives off from its kindly shadows
inviting aromas like a breath of old wine;
full to overflowing, it's a jumble of quaint old things:
fragrant yellowed linen,
rags of women's or children's clothes, faded laces,
grandmothers' kerchiefs embroidered with griffins;
- here you could find lockets,
and locks of white or blonde hair,
portraits and dried flowers
whose smell mingles with the smell of fruit. -

O cupboard of old times, you know plenty of stories;
and you'd like to tell them;
and you clear your throat every time
your great dark doors slowly open.

Arthur Rimbaud (20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891)

From Groundhog Day

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawberry-Blueberry Cobbler

I can't believe it has been five years (!) since I first read Les' recipe. I've meant to try it every summer since, and today I finally made it. I will not wait five years to make it again!

Strawberry-Blueberry Cobbler

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Grease 7 x 11 pan. Les called for an 8 x 8, and actually used a deep dish pie pan with a tray underneath to catch juices. I found the 7 x 11 worked great. It rose to the top but didn't overflow.

In the mixer, beat together:
1/4 cup soft butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl, mix together:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Turn the mixer on low, and add dry mixture alternately with
1/2 cup milk

Top with 3 cups of chopped strawberries.
Because I had both fresh strawberries and blueberries, I used a mix of the two.

In a small bowl stir together:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 sugar
and cut in (with two knives or your fingers) 1/4 cold butter

Spread on top of strawberries.

Bake about an hour.

This is fantastic. Just the ticket for a mid-July day. You could top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream but I didn't have either one, and it was still delicious.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Françoise Hardy

What on earth prompts a young American girl to listen to a young French girl sing in French? That was me in the late 1960s, listening to Françoise Hardy albums. For most of us in the US we were first introduced to her in a famous scene in the 1966 movie Grand Prix. Happily I found it, with a little bit of James Garner afterwards.

She was the essence of cool to me. Her songs in English, and the ones I couldn't understand in French, created a grownup world I was just beginning to enter. On the album Françoise Hardy there are translations in the liner notes. I can remember poring over them. They are all about romance and relationships. For example in the song 'Quatre Fois'
Four times now winter has come and the falling snow still speaks of you. I sit down on every bench and I wait for you. Four times I have seen the rust colored leaves which died in autumn beneath our feet as we walked in the woods - do you remember? We'd be walking and people would say 'How happy they are, how happy are those two!'
Heady stuff for a young girl. In those days, I was immersed in the poetry of Kenneth Patchen, and even Rod Mckuen for a while. ee cummings was so important in my life that for years I never used capital letters. My one venture into writing poetry was on black paper using white ink. Sadly (?) it has disappeared.

In those days, I didn't know anyone else who listened to her music. And I still don't except for a woman who left a comment on my blog four years ago. When I went over to hers, Life Must Be Filled Up, and saw the name Françoise Hardy on her sidebar, I knew I had come upon a kindred spirit.

I am still a fan, and have her 2010 album La pluie sans parapluie (the rain without an umbrella). It is lovely.

Françoise has a website. It is thrilling to see that she has over 50,000 friends on Facebook. Apparently my blogging friend and I were not the only ones listening all those years ago.

Here is a sweet little video of a song which is on my The Best of Françoise Hardy album.

If you go to YouTube, you'll find lots more. There is also a great tribute on the The Style Notebook, where I was pleased to read that a favorite artist Feist was influenced by her.

This is an offering for Paris in July.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

French Pressed by Cleo Coyle

39. French Pressed - book 6 in the Coffeehouse Mysteries series
by Cleo Coyle
mystery, 2008
ninth book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge
Nook book 13
finished 7/18/12

Clare Cosi's daughter, who attends culinary school, comes upon two murdered people - a friend and the chef she is interning with - and is charged with killing them. She is sent to Rikers Island jail until a judge can decide if she will be allowed out on bail. The police have decided she is the culprit and do not intend to investigate further. Clare and her ex-husband Matteo know that Joy is innocent. Clare joins forces with her policeman friend Mike Quinn to find the killer and thus free Joy.

In French Pressed we get a brief and interesting glimpse of Brighton Beach, and learn quite a bit about upscale restaurant life. Who knew that chocolate mousse was passé?
You start putting traditional chocolate mousse and creme brulee in your dessert selections, and the gourmands will declare you zombified ...
One of the many pleasures of this series has been watching Clare grow into her sleuthing work. At the end of this book Mike actually suggests that she might want to become a Private Investigator. She is quick thinking, has good instincts, and is really quite fearless.

The characters and relationships in the series change over time. The reader has seen Joy grow into a young woman who makes mistakes. Clare worries about her. She has to confront some behaviors and let others alone. It is not easy being the parent of a child in her early twenties.

The husband and wife team of Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi who write as Cleo Coyle consistently impress me with the intelligence and heart in their books. I love this series.

French Pressed is my ninth book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

34. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (originally published as These Foolish Things)
by Deborah Moggach
fiction, 2004
finished 6/23/12

The book cover looks very like the colors in my yard just now.

In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel we meet several people, from Dorothy, a lonely former BBC employee to also lonely Evelyn, a widow who has never held an outside job; from inconsiderate, self-absorbed Norman to kindly Douglas. We also get to know the various children of these older people, and several much younger men and women. It is a book large in scope but filled with details and descriptions which make it easy for the reader to become familiar with everyone. What they all have in common is the Marigold Hotel in Bangalore, India, an alternative life for older English individuals facing elderly residential living. The people take a leap of faith, and their lives (and prejudices) are changed in the process as they move from England to India.
Sealed into their compound, the residents lived in a world that was, in many ways, more familiar than the England they had left behind. It was an England of Catherine Cookson paperbacks and clicking knitting needles, of Kraft Dairylea portions and a certain Proustian recall.
Yet outside their hotel is India in all its glory. Bustling, noisy, full of all the various conditions of people.

Much is made of the dangers in England compared to the safety in India. I so hate to think that present-day London is as described in this book with muggings, old women not feeling safe in their long-lived in, long-loved homes, and gangs of youths scaring and harming people. I'm hoping the author exaggerated in order to better show why these folks would be happy to go off to a strange-to-them, new land.

I bought the book as soon as I heard about the movie, which I was terrifically excited to see. I read the book first, and then was quite disappointed in the movie version. It felt like a not-very-good translation of a book. Almost every facet of the book was changed except for some names and the hotel. I wonder if Deborah Moggach found it almost unrecognizable. I know I did. Afterwards I said to Tom that I didn't really like it that much, and he agreed. He used the adjective, 'contrived.' And it is. Contrived from the basic story. Snatches taken here and there. What I liked about the film were Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and India. The colors, the bustle, even the cremation. I have a longing for that country which I don't understand. Our friends who went with us said they couldn't take the crowds which would usually be my own feeling, but there's something about India that draws me. My friend wondered as we left the theatre if it was really safe for those people, particularly the women, to wander the streets, even at night, in such a carefree, fearless manner. I told her that the book mentions it being safer than England, but of course I didn't know the truth, until just recently when I came upon an article exposing the dangers to women in at least one part of India. It doesn't mention foreign women, but being an Indian woman is wrought with danger and humiliation. Another piece talks about Indian crime statistics.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is quite a good story. Good, but not great. Good characters, but maybe too many. And I will offer a caveat. It quite vividly describes a number of bodily functions, which often seemed gratuitous to me. I liked the book better than the movie, but I didn't love either one. Still, the book offered lovely passages, and interesting people, and a reading experience I'm happy to have had.

The author's website is here. It is interesting to read in her 'news' section that the book was prescient. Places like this are showing up in various countries now.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bastille Day 1971

I've been to Paris only once, but happily was there on Bastille Day. And also happily, I still have the letter I wrote to my mother about that day. So, for today's Paris in July entry,

I give you 23-year-old me, with no corrections of spelling or grammar. I was in my ee cummings phase when I used no capital letters.

the main boulevard of paris - champs elysée was full of people cuz it was a holiday. late in the afternoon there was a ceremony where veterans put a wreath or something under the arc de triomphe. we got some movies [8 mm, with no sound]. was quite impressive. … the evening of bastille day was wonderful. we walked to a bridge to watch fireworks that didn't come at all - but we enjoyed watching the people + just being part of it all. the french people are great. really full of life. in the little square near our hotel there was a midnite celebration outdoors with a dixieland band. people were dancing in the streets. we sat at a sidewalk café for a while - was so neat to see people excited with living + not necessarily drunk. in america i would be afraid of a crowd like that but here everyone was just enjoying themselves. was a wonderful site to see. i'm so glad we were here for it cuz its the biggest french holiday.

I don't have any photos of Tom and me on July 14, but here are a couple quite near the date.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Strawberry Cake

Here's a wonderful and easy to make summertime dessert.

Strawberry Cake

6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk


Preheat oven to 350º F.
Grease a 10-inch pie plate. (I used a 9-inch)

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.

Put butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg and vanilla.
Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture, alternately with the milk.

Put batter in pie plate.
Arrange strawberries on top of batter.
Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 325º F.
Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour.
Let cool in pie plate on a wire rack. Cut into wedges.
Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, up to 2 days.
Ha! Ours was gone in one day. (We did share it with our dear neighbors down the road)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Today's movie - The Red Balloon

The Red Balloon is a beautiful movie in every way. The story is magical, and so appealing to children and the child within us all. Who wouldn't love being chosen by a balloon? A balloon that obeyed us and stayed with us as we went about our day. Pascal is about six years old when the red balloon appears in his life. He is delighted by it, but also accepts the situation, as children do. In case you haven't seen it, I don't want to say much more about the story itself, but I do want to talk about the look of the movie. It takes place in Paris about ten years after WW II ended. The red balloon is a startling bit of color in a gray, stone city. Very few people wear bright colors. Children and adults are in mostly browns, blacks, and grays. I read that the setting is the Belleville area of Paris, which was in such bad shape that it was all torn down in the years after this movie was made. I thought I saw waste water draining away along the sidewalks. There were areas the young boy walked that were barren with uneven ground and holes. The stark setting made the balloon all the more miraculous.

The boy Pascal's real name is Pascal, and he is the son of the director, Albert Lamorisse. Part of the joy of The Red Balloon is the sense that maybe, just maybe, this could really happen. Wonderful, wonderful film which won many awards when it came out in 1956.

This movie is an offering for Paris In July.

I watched it on Netflix Instant, but it is also available on YouTube. It is only about 35 minutes long. You'll never forget it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse

32. The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Golf Stories
by P.G. Wodehouse
fiction, 1922
Kindle book 14
finished 6/2/12

Since Letters from a Hill Farm began in 2006, I've written only one book report on a book by P.G. Wodehouse - Something Fresh. I reread The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy in 2007, and Thank You Jeeves in 2008. I read Love Among the Chickens in 2008. But I didn't write about any of them. Most of my reading of Wodehouse happened in the years before I began the blog. For quite a time, I was completely immersed in his world, of which Evelyn Waugh once said,
Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
Well, some of my happiest reading moments have been spent delighting in that special Wodehouse land.

I think he is one of the greatest writers of all time. Because he is funny, he isn't often given the credit or acclaim which he deserves. We somehow think humor isn't genius. Well, it certainly can be, and is when it comes to PGW. His wit and his intelligence are beyond compare. As is the amount of his output. If you go to Fantastic Fiction you may see a list. It takes one's breath away. The Cat-Nappers or as it is also known, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen is one of my very favorites and it was written soon before he died, at 93 years old! The man stands alone.

I have not read all his work by any means, but I have read a lot. Yet a 'lot' of Wodehouse isn't nearly all, or enough, and I've decided to begin reading the ones I haven't read. I started with The Clicking of Cuthbert, one of his golf books. Do I play golf? No. Am I the least bit interested in golf? No. Did I adore this book? Yes (with a qualification to follow later). It is comprised of mostly romantic situations which are resolved through the knowledge of and/or the playing of the game. It is clear that to those who love it, golf is a minor (?) religion.

The Clicking of Cuthbert contains ten short stories, one of which is the book's title. Throughout the stories a famous Wodehouse character makes an appearance. He is only known as 'the Oldest Member.' He is a golfer grown old. His time is still spent in the clubhouse, usually in the 'smoking room,' or out on the terrace, and he is always available to give advice to the younger generation in the form of a story.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse loved golf, and here he is in 1924 at the golf links with his wife Ethel, and her daughter Leonora, whom Wodehouse adopted.

The Clicking of Cuthbert begins with a young golfer dropping his clubs in the clubhouse and announcing that he is giving up golf.
"Blanked infernal fat-headed silly ass of a game! Nothing but a waste of time."
The Sage winced.
"Don't say that, my boy."
"But I do say it. What earthly good is golf? Life is stern and life is earnest. … Can you name me a single case where devotion to this pestilential pastime has done a man any practical good?"
The Oldest Member says
"I could name a thousand."
And he goes on to tell how Cuthbert Banks wins the girl and happiness through the game of golf. There's a funny line in which a Russian novelist, who is all the rage, says
"No novelists anywhere any good except me. P.G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. …"
In Sundered Hearts, the reader is told that
A lifetime of observing my fellow-creatures has convinced me that Nature intended us all to be golfers. In every human being the germ of golf is implanted at birth, and suppression causes it to grow and grow till - it may be at forty, fifty, sixty - it suddenly bursts its bounds and sweeps over the victim like a tidal wave. The wise man, who begins to play in childhood, is enabled to let the poison exude gradually from his system, with no harmful results. But a man like Mortimer Sturgis, with thirty-eight golfless years behind him is swept off his feet. He is carried away. He loses all sense of proportion.
The stories proceed along, giving this reader an almost constant smile and some moments of outright laughter. The situations are quite ridiculous but are faced with great solemnity which makes them even funnier. I felt nothing but joy until I came to The Rough Stuff. A woman named Eunice loves novels where men were like
'brusque cavemen' who treated women like dirt.
What she wanted was a great, strong brute of a fellow who would tell her not to move her damned head; a rugged Viking of a chap who, if she did not keep her eye on the ball, would black it for her.
I'll tell you, those words chilled me. Those of us who read older books have noticed, and written about, the occasional racism and anti-semiticism which fly out of an author's pen without a thought. Well, there's another thing that I see in older books, and that is the hitting of women. It is often joked about, without any apparent wincing on the part of the writer.

There's an old song from the 1930s which makes me cringe called I Wish I Were In Love Again. Here are a few of the lyrics:

The sleepless nights,
the daily fights
the quick toboggan when you reach the heights
I miss the kisses and I miss the bites
I wish I were in love again!

The broken dates,
the endless waits,
the lovely loving and the hateful hates,
the conversations with the flying plates
I wish I were in love again!

The furtive sight
the blackened eye,
the words "I'll love you till the day I day"
the self-deception that believes the lie
I wish I were in love again!

If this is love, I sure don't want it. Nowadays we read of 'domestics' in the local police reports, but I have a feeling that years ago the police weren't even called (as is sadly still the case sometimes). It was part of the 'right' of a husband to hit 'his' woman. And what is almost worse, is when I read of women like Eunice who want that kind of treatment.

Anyhow, it may be a quibble, but nonetheless it spoiled what had been a lovely little collection of stories. As much as I enjoyed the hapless fellows and the salvation which golf brings, this little section taints the book for me. I'm quite positive Wodehouse himself was the gentlest of men, but this sentiment may well have been in the air, and thus he could write about it with no fear of disapproval from women, except this one ninety years later.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

31. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
by Paul French
nonfiction, 2012
sixth book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge 2012
finished 6/1/12

You may have come upon those markers on roadsides which pay tribute to someone who has died there. I usually see a cross, and flowers in season. Unconsciously, I put my hand to my heart, and feel such sadness for the person's family and friends, the ones who put up the memorial.

Well, this book feels like one of those markers. The author didn't know the young woman who died, but with this book he is memorializing her. Before Midnight in Peking, there weren't many people who had been thinking about Pamela Werner since she was murdered in January 1937. Now that has been remedied. Now we know, we remember, we care. That's just what the author set out to do.

I first heard of the book on the Diane Rehm show in April, a show you may listen to here. I went right to Barnes & Noble online and ordered it. This is an exceptional story, told in an interesting, most engaging way. It isn't an easy book to read, but it is excellent nonetheless. I can't praise it highly enough.

I came upon this video on the website for the book. How wonderful that we can hear the author tell of his book while walking in the very area where it took place.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Today's song/Vicksburg Stomp - Hot Tuna

We saw Hot Tuna last night with Michael and his girlfriend. The tour schedule is here. If they're in your area, try to go. They are just fantastic!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Today's short story - War Memorial by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I found myself thinking this morning that ebooks are a little like the magazines of the past which used to include short fiction within their pages. The reader is able to buy one short story for under a dollar, and get to know a new author. War Memorial is a wonderful story that would have easily been accepted by the magazines of yore, probably for the July 4 issue, or the November 11 issue.

This is a story of how meeting 'the enemy' face-to-face changes a person's view on war. In this case it isn't soldiers, but a soldier and a sixteen-year-old young woman in 1863 just before and after the battle of Gettysburg. The story begins in 1946 with the Darrell family sitting around listening to the radio on a rainy day when the power goes off. While bustling around looking for matches and candles, one of the children opens an old box on top of the piano. Inside are tucked away mementos, and at the very bottom is 'a small lump of some dull gray metal, of a vaguely recognizable shape, heavy for its size.'

When Matthew asks what it is, his father Paul tells him

"That's a bullet from the Civil War. That was taken out of a Confederate soldier after the battle of Gettysburg."
"How do you know?" asked Matthew somewhat suspiciously, viewing the lump of lead with eight-year-old skepticism. …
"I know," said Paul, smiling a little as he tossed the bullet gently on his palm, testing its familiar weight. "You see, this was my grandmother's most prized possession."

Well, that certainly gets the family's and the reader's attention. Soon the short story goes back to that long ago year, and we learn the remarkable truth behind this bullet.

War Memorial ends with the children going up to bed
… in the dark, with the warmth of the past close around them.
So beautiful. I dearly loved this story, and went looking for more by the author. I bought Elisabeth Grace Foley's collection called The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. It is available for the Nook and Kindle, and is also in paperback.

War Memorial is, as far as I know, available only on the Kindle. It was published in 2012.

You may have seen the author's blog under my 'Bookish' blog list on the sidebar. It is called The Second Sentence.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Quotes du jour on the Fourth of July/Twain and Bombeck

Many public-school children seem to know only two dates: 1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don't know what happened on either occasion.
Mark Twain

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4th, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.
Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Paris in July 2012

I'm joining in this fun event for the month of July. With 'rules' like the following, how could I resist?! You may go here for more info or to sign up.

Watched The Red Balloon on July 12.
Reminisced about our 1971 trip on July 14.Listened to Françoise Hardy on July 19.
Shared a poem by Arthur Rimbaud on July 23.

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris in July - just blog about anything French and you can join in.
Some ideas for the month might include:
Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction -
Watching a French movie -
Listening to French music -
Cooking French food -
Experiencing French art, architecture or travel (or remembering travel experiences)-
Or anything else French inspired you can think of...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Quote du jour/Colette

You must not pity me because my sixtieth year finds me still astonished. To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Endeavour on PBS tonight

I have read that early fans of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books believed Sherlock was a real person. And still tourists flock to Baker Street looking for the plaque with the famous address.

We fans of Inspector Morse, particularly the televised version based on the books by Colin Dexter, may be forgiven for feeling the same way about him. John Thaw made us believe that he was Morse, and it was all too eerie when he died a couple years after Morse died on the television episode, The Remorseful Day.

Morse and his partner, Robbie Lewis

In 2006, the wonderful Lewis, or Inspector Lewis as it is known in the US, debuted, with Lewis played by the original actor, Kevin Whately. It was all we could hope for. There were occasional homages to Morse, but mostly the series, with the addition of Lewis' partner Hathaway, played by Laurence Fox, has stood on its own. Sadly, I have read that the end may be near for the show. Season 5 will be on PBS from July 8 - July 29.

And tonight we have Endeavour, about Morse' early days as a policeman. An extra treat is that Thaw's daughter, Abigail has a role in tonight's episode.

And Colin Dexter, the man who began the whole thing, makes a cameo appearance.

Watch Endeavour Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.