Saturday, January 29, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge~Books #3 and #4

I managed two books this week, mainly because the first one was so short I finished it on Sunday. Read on for details . . .

Having watched the film version of 84, Charing Cross Road many times I was eager to read the book. I reserved it from our local library and was surprised by its modest dimensions when the librarian handed it over. Ninety-seven pages, that was all, and those not very full either. The book consists of letters exchanged between Helene Hanff, living in New York City, and the employees of Marks & Co., a used bookshop in London. Unable to get what she wants in New York, Hanff writes to Marks and Co., and thus begins a long, warm, and even loving relationship between her and Frank Doel, Cecily Farr, and the other "inmates" of the shop. The correspondence lasts for many years, and a real friendship springs up between them, though they never meet. The movie supplies a lot of details that the reader of the book must infer and fills in large dollops of narrative, which I didn't find distracting or distressing, though I might have if I had watched the movie after I had read the book. Both are funny and delightful.

I have many online friends. I have met almost none of them in person, but they are my friends nevertheless. I sometimes think it odd how many people I "know" through cyberspace and will likely never meet but who have enriched my life. I care what happens to them. These internet friends are in my thoughts and prayers, and I talk about them to my family and "real life" friends as if . . . well, as if they are my friends too~which they are! 84, Charing Cross Road is a reminder to me that sincere friendship can be nurtured through many media. Helene and all in the bookshop were true friends. It's just that that friendship was conducted from oppposite sides of the Atlantic through letters and parcels. What difference did that make, after all? Clearly, they made a difference in each other's life.

Add Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome to my short list of funniest books ever written. I actually laughed out loud. Many times. Why do I find British humor so completely amusing (except for Monty Python~blech!)? I think it's the quiet subtlety of so much of it. It doesn't slap you in the face but respects your intelligence and expects you to have to think to get the gag. Sometimes it slowly dawns on you. Jerome (how convenient to have the same first and last name!) achieves this over and over again. I found myself re-reading many passages just to revel in the hilarity. I positively wallowed in it at times. The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around a boat trip the author, two friends, and a dog are taking on the Thames in 1888. The mishaps are numerous. The book is largely one digressive jaunt into Jerome's past foibles after another. These side-trips are inspired by the events of the three men's journey (and don't forget the dog!) in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. On the other hand, Jerome at times offers some lovely and poignant descriptions of, for instance, the scenery that momentarily made me forget I was reading a comedy. Then at the last minute he tacks on a funny sentence that suddenly reminds the forgetful reader that he is reading drollery.

Now I have an urge to re-read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, but since I just re-read it this past summer, I shall forgo that pleasure for now. I wonder what else Jerome K. Jerome has written, though. A little research is in order . . .

Here's trusty Mr. Linky for anyone who wants to share a book:

Friday, January 28, 2011

On My Mind

Brenda at Down to Earth has started a new Friday feature called "On My Mind" in which participants share something they are thinking about today. Here's my contribution:

The nice man in the brown truck delivered two highly diverting packages this week. One contained fabric for making dishtowels and dustcloths! The selvedges are finished so all I have to do is cut the length I want, hem both ends, and I've got a nifty new cloth. Girl of the House has some too for her hope chest, and I have more than enough to save for later and for giving. is having a terrific sale. (Thanks to Like Mother, Like Daughter for the link.)

We ordered our garden seeds early to take advantage of another terrific sale at Henry Field's. I plan to plant lettuce indoors in window boxes on our back porch and keep it going year round. Maybe I won't have to buy anymore lettuce. When we want some, we'll just go pick some. Think it'll work?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge~Book #2

Last night I crossed book #2 of my reading challenge, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, off my list of "gotta reads." It was different than I expected but enjoyable. Not amazing, but enjoyable. Reading it was like sitting down with an elderly relative and listening to her stories of her childhood. Mildred Armstrong Kalish reminisces about growing up on a farm during the Depression without emphasizing deprivation, which was a welcome change from other Depresseion-era books I've read (which admittedly are not many). While her young self was far from pampered, she feels blessed to have grown up when and where she did. The amount of work required from the entire family to produce the food that they would eat (very little was bought) is staggering. Yet they all willingly pitched in and never complained . . . well, seldom complained. Their thrift and ingenuity fill in any perceived lack in their lives. They seemed contented and happy with their simple, unglamorous lives.

This is not a linear narrative of Kalish's life told in story form in the manner of, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. Instead, Kalish dedicates entire chapters each to a single subject: relatives, medicine, wash day, nut-gathering, school, animal tales, leisure, gardening. They lived their lives in seamless harmony so that it was often impossible to distiguish work from fun, for those who lived it and for the readers. Life was hard but immensely satisfying, according to the author.

What impressed me most about Little Heathens was the vast store of what we more "enlightened" moderns would call "folk lore" exhibited by Kalish and her family. Doctors were something you only went to if home remedies were to no avail, and they almost always worked. Their knowledge of home nursing encompassed everything drawing out a splinter to remedying blood poisoning. Living so much by the seasons and off the land meant that they knew the natural world around them intimately, even down to the smallest dips and rises in the topography of their farms. They knew almost by instinct when to plant and when to harvest, where bees made their hives, and how to save seeds for the next year's planting. If you were to plop me or anyone else I know down in the middle of a wilderness, we wouldn't know the first thing about survival. But Kalish and her family would in the same amount of time be half-finished erecting a log cabin using makeshift tools fashioned from the natural materials around them and putting up food they've foraged from the forest for the winter in containers made of bark. We often assume that people in times before ours were ignorant, unsophisticated, and at the mercy of natural forces, but I've got a growing conviction that they were a lot smarter than we moderns want to give them credit for. It's a pity this kind of knowledge is dying along with our forefathers.

In the epilogue, Kalish tells us briefly of her life after the farm, and I discovered that she taught for a time at my college alma mater. I think I will look her up and see if I can find her mentioned in the archives somewhere.

The book gets a little earthy at times, so I wouldn't recommend just handing it over to your young-ish children (though I did and gasped a few times at what I had done!). I also detect a note of overweaning pride from time to time as Kalish tells us of her life and accomplishments. But then again, maybe she has earned the right to brag a little. Not particularly deep and difficult, the book lent itself to quick reading, and I now know that a 300-page book is about the limit of what I can handle in one week. If a slower pace and more thought are required, even that will be out of my reach, and I suspect that I will avoid certain books during this reading challenge just because I know I will not be able to keep up. Be that as it may, a whole two weeks into it I'm glad I've set this challenge before me. It's been beneficial.

NOTE: I've added a Mr. Linky in case anyone wants to share a book from the past week. If you have a book from the first week, please add it and a link to your blog (if you have one) in the comments section. Thanks!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From My Commonplace Book

"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."~~James D. Miles

"I am afraid that schools will prove to be wide gates to hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not constantly occupied with the Word of God must become currupt."~~Martin Luther

"The feeling that 'if nothing is happening, nothing is happening' is the prejudice of a superficial, dependent and hollow spirit, one that has succumbed to the age and can prove its own excellence only by the pseudo-events it is constantly organizing, like a bee, to that end."~~Vaclav Havel

"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."~~Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge~Book #1

Last night I finished the first book in my reading challenge: At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. This is the fascinating book I mentioned earlier, and I had actually begun it before starting my reading challenge, but since I wasn't more than halfway through this 450 page book, and some of the books waiting their turn are much shorter, I decided to count it.

Bryson uses his 1851 rectory in the English countryside as a jumping off point for exploring a wide range of historical topics loosely related to domestic life, everything from adulterated flour to the development of the staircase to the rise to prominance of the flush toilet. He hits on archeology, architecture, and agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, insecticides, and infectious diseases, to name a few. The "aha!" moments abound. If you are a fan of British literature and history, then this book will connect a lot of dots and fill in puzzling social and historical background. The author also touches on some American developments where they apply. I found every page fascinating and Bryson's writing quite witty in the dry manner that I enjoy. I never would have thought reading about building materials and sewers could be so enjoyable.

Bryson does share some tidbits that I wish I didn't now know, such as the rat-to-person ratio in the average city (in America too), what percentage of a six-year-old pillow's weight can be attributed to mites (it's bigger than you think), and what size crack an adult mouse can squeeze through to get into your house (it's smaller than you think). And we now close the lid when we flush the toilet. I'm just saying . . . Especially by the end of the book, I thought he was skimming across the surface of several topics in order to wrap things up quickly. He left me wanting to know more on many points, but that's not entirely bad, is it? The book is nearly 500 pages long as it is.

Don't expect Bryson to spend much time exploring the history of his particular house. While there is a bit of that, the house and its layout are just an excuse to go off on loosely related but thoroughly engrossing tangents suggested by the rooms themselves. Sometimes they are pretty far-flung, but they are always worth the trip.

(Picture: English Cottage IV by Terry Lawrence courtesy of

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge

My reading lagged a bit last year, so I've decided to challenge myself in 2011. My goal is to read a book a week~52 weeks, 52 books. I'm actually a week late getting started, so if I don't make up the time during 2011 I'll let myself lapse into 2012 a bit. I've already got a shelf set up with 15 or so books to tackle for starters. Some are very short (Good-bye, Mr. Chips) and some are much longer (The Pickwick Papers), so if I take more than a week to finish a long one, I can follow it up with a short one and still be on track. I will allow myself audio books as well. Looking at my pile so far, I see I need some more non-fiction and some books older than Dickens. I believe in C.S. Lewis' dictum about reading old books.

You can see what's on the docket in the sidebar, and every weekend I plan to post about that week's book. If I'm not able to keep up the pace, attempting to will result in my reading more books than I would have otherwise, so I don't really see how I can lose. Anyone care to join me?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easy Sewing

MSW Mom Jan asked for pattern specifics in a comment on my last post, so I thought I'd post it here along with a couple other easy patterns I've used with success.

Butterick B4803~~This is the pattern that I used to make Girl of the House the skirt in the last post. I used view E as it was the simplest and most straightforward, but I'm going to branch out into some of the more complex skirts for springtime. NOTE: I didn't use the faux drawstring because Girl 2 didn't like it. I just left the elastic waist plain, but since she never tucks things in, it didn't matter.

McCall's 2450~For making pillows. Some use a pattern; some just have instructions. I have not made any of the pillows that require the pattern, but I have made a couple using the instructions. They were easy to follow and the pillows turned out well. Quite simple to use.

Simplicity 5923~For making pajamas. I made the long pajamas pants for Girl 2. It's the hardest pattern of the three, and I admit that this one required some ripping out of stitches and trying again. :-( My powers of envisioning beforehand what's supposed to happen and how the garment goes together were stretched while making these, no doubt due to my inexperience. The instructions were just a leetle bit confusing, but the pants came together nicely after some thought.

Half Circle Skirt from Anna~Anna of Pleasant View Schoolhouse posted these directions on how to make a half-circle skirt. Her easy-to-follow instructions are written for us novices and led to my first successful attempt at sewing clothing. This skirt is fuller than the one above using the Butterick pattern and uses a drawstring waist. Girl 2 prefers this skirt, but it will not work with every kind of fabric. It's easily adaptable for all sizes. I buy three yards of fabric for five-feet-tall Girl 2 and have lots of scraps leftover. From last April:

(Not sure why that came out sideways . . .)

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Every day happenings at our house . . .

You know Christmas is over when the seed catalogs begin arriving. We got our first shortly after Christmas Day. It's funny, but as soon as Christmas is over, I begin hankering for spring just a little. Christmas is a mental turning point for me; before that the snow and cold are just part of the season and part of life, but after the Christmas tree comes down, I involuntarily begin looking ahead to spring. I actually like this time of year. The quiet weeks after the Christmas festivities are welcome. School has found its groove and is humming along nicely, there's no gardening or yardwork, and hunkering down with a good book or movie or my sewing machine is a pleasure. We practically ignore Valentine's Day around here, though we do have two birthdays in February. It's the quietest time of the year, and I like it. But behind it all I'm thinking about spring. It won't be here for quite awhile yet, but I will be subconsciously looking for its signs~~the first snowdrops and crocuses, the scent of warmer air, the sun creeping higher in the sky. But I'll be reminding myself to look for the beauties of this time and to be content.

Last Friday was bottling day for Man of the House. He's been brewing beer for several years now. After it sits in a big bucket in a corner of the kitchen for a couple weeks, the beer must be moved to bottles to carbonate. Then the bottles get put in boxes to sit near the fire in the dining room, not my place of choice but right for the process of carbonating. Besides, it's only for a few weeks. After that it's ready to be drunk. Man of the House never is. ;-) I've never even seen him tipsy. lol

(We recycle!)

I made this skirt for Girl of the House. It's the third skirt I've made using this pattern, and I'm getting pretty fast. Yes, you heard me~~I used a pattern! Successfully! Oh, wait. That's probably because the pattern has only one piece, unlike the Christmas stockings that employed three pieces each and instructions that assumed a lot. The skirt pattern is the simplest pattern I've ever used. Indeed, I don't think it's possible to get any simpler. This version is made up in a very soft baby corduroy in black. Remember, all you accomplished seamstresses out there, I'm just learning. And I'm teaching myself, so be proud of me. ;-) The sweater is new from Lands End clearance (we bought a royal blue one just like it), so Girl 2 sported a new outfit to church this morning. I will not bore you with the travails of getting this child into a store and finding anything worthy of trying on let alone buying. So for her to have a new skirt and new sweater without even setting a toenail into a store . . . well, let's just say we are both pleased.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reading Jackpot

I have verily hit the jackpot with my reading lately. I have finished two beautiful and profound books and am in the middle of a simply fascinating book, but I won't tell you about that until I finish it. I will, however, tell you about the other two.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry~Oh! I am in raptures about this book! I had not read any Wendell Berry before, and actually I listened to this one on CD, but I will get myself to the library to get more soon. Berry writes with a beautiful simplicity and straightforwardness that was a joy to my ear. His prose is musical in rhythm and cadence. Hannah is someone I wish I knew. I loved listening to her tell her life story. I felt like I was sitting with a beloved elderly relative reminiscing about her past. Hannah's was a simple life and not very sophisticated, but she shares her wisdom freely and without pretension. This is a late book of Berry's, and so I assume that his fully formed philosophies and beliefs can be found in it. I've been mulling them over ever since. This book has made me a Berry fan!

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen~More raptures! I actually put down the above-mentioned fascinating book to read this, so you know I must have loved it. I was wowed by Esolen's eloquent yet clear writing style and even more by what he had to say. Esolen is tongue-in-cheek throughout his book, reminding me of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. He gives ten methods in which children's imaginations are being destroyed today, why our society desires this, and how our schools and our very lifestyles assist in this. Since my oldest is now out of the house and my youngest is just shy of 14, I was a little apprehensive that I would be guilt-ridden after reading this book, but I wasn't. I plan to give this book at baby showers. Cindy at Ordo Amoris will be doing a book club about this book, and I urge you to join. This book is for parents, grandparents, teachers~~anyone who has a child in his life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas 2010

For all of posterity, here is a somewhat (in)complete record of our Christmas festivities. This is the first Christmas since Man of the House and I were married in 1987 that we have not traveled for Christmas. We loved being at home! Even more we loved having Girl Out of the House (Girl 1) and That Boy visiting!

Man of the House had Christmas Eve services at two churches. It just doesn't seem like Christmas without singing God's praises and welcoming His Son come in the flesh for us.

A picture of our tree trimmed and stockings stuffed late Christmas Eve . . . or was it early Christmas morning by this point?

Here's the same shot with the flash on so you can actually see everything. With me it's either flash on or flash off. I'm a point and click kind of gal.

I made those stockings for Girl 1 and That Boy! They didn't have anything really nice, so I decided to remedy that. With many dark mutterings, quiet cursings, and a little weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth I deciphered the pattern instructions. Why do you need to know how to sew already in order to sew anything from a pattern? Gee! I do better with instructions from the internet, but I couldn't find anything I liked on-line, so I muddled through with a pattern, even making small adjustments here and there. There is a special circle in hell for authors of cryptic pattern instructions. (JK!)

Now a picture of all the presents. It does seem profligate, doesn't it, but those are for five people giving and receiving, plus a few others. It's not really so bad to give gifts to those you love, is it? Isn't that what God has done and continues to do for us in Christ? A tree overflowing with presents is a reminder to me of God's provision and blessing.

Since we don't have little kids anymore, there's no mad rush to the tree in the early mornings anymore. That gave Man of the House and me a chance to shower and dress before opening stockings and having breakfast. Here are the young'uns well-manneredly pillaging their stockings Christmas morning. I'm sure they won't mind one bit that I've posted pictures of them in their jammies on the world-wide web. ;-)

After homemade waffles, sausages, and Christmas Scripture readings for breakfast, the youngsters showered and dressed and then it was time to open presents.

Girl 1 loves scarves~

That Boy and his favorite ale (Hey, we're a bunch of Lutherans and Calvinists. What can I say??)~

Isn't Girl of the House (Girl 2) the cutest thing?

Man of the House looking very dapper in his new hat~

Even the cats got in on the action~

After that came a couple heated rounds of Harry Potter Clue in which the husbands narrowly beat the wives by the luck of the draw (so to speak). Unfortunately, Girl 2 was out of the running by the end both times. All that sleuthing worked up our appetites for the Yorkshire pudding, green bean casserole, pies, fruitcakes and other yummies.

It was a truly delightful day and we thank the Lord for His manifold blessings to us!

Catching Up

Lake Michigan--gorgeous! It really has been two months since I last made a blog post!  This summer has been full of traveling, gardening...

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