Monday, October 31, 2016

Marking Time - Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the second of the five books in The Cazalet Chronicles.  I read the first one a little while ago.  I enjoyed that one so much that I started right in on volume two.  I feel more comfortable with the Cazalets now.  I was overwhelmed by meeting the three Cazalet sons and their wives and children and Villy's sister Jessica and her family.  I had trouble keeping everyone straight:  who was married to whom, which children belonged to which families.  There's a family tree at the beginning of each book and I made a copy to have at hand while I was reading.  I'm starting to know them better.

In Marking Time, several of the characters get their own chapters.  Clary has her own chapter, as do Louise and Polly.  Thinking back, the book is mostly about these girls growing up under difficult conditions, both personal and historical.  It's hard enough growing up under normal conditions.  Growing up with bombs falling around and shortages of all kinds must have been horrid.

Clary's father goes off to war and disappears.  She refuses to believe that he's dead, although the rest of the family believes that he must be.  She and Zoe, her stepmother, become closer.  Zoe has a baby and between that and her husband being MIA, she matures and becomes more compassionate.

Polly is faced with her mother, Sybil's illness.  She's outraged that her father and mother don't talk about it to her or to each other.

Louise is pursuing her acting career.  She meets an older artist who falls in love with her.

The book is full of the sorts of things that happen in all families.  People get older, people get sick, people fall in and out of love.  I'm still enjoying the series and plan to get on to the next one  -  as soon as I finish several library books that I have or have on hold.  You could do much worse than to befriend the Cazalets.

Katrina has just read this, too, so you might want to check her blog to see what she has to say about it.  I think she'll be posting her thoughts soon.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hungry Heart - Jennifer Weiner

I don't know Jennifer Weiner, but she's one of my neighbors.  I used to see her writing at the coffee shop across the street from my house.  I haven't read any of her novels, for no reason other than that I almost never read contemporary fiction except for mysteries.  I did watch the movie In Her Shoes, which was from her book of the same name.  But now that I've read Hungry Heart, I feel like I know her intimately.

This is a collection of her essays  -  about everything.  And EVERYTHING about everything.  If you know anything about her, you know that she's a feminist, opinionated, and that she's struggled with her weight and body image all her life.  When I used to see her at the currently defunct coffee shop, I didn't think she was noticeably large.  Maybe that was after her gastric bypass surgery.  Yes, in detail.

It was strange to recognize so many places she writes about.  We took our pets to the same animal hospital.  I know the park on Front Street where her dog was attacked by another dog and I know the dog park her dog hated.  I know which hotel her family stayed in when she got married the second time and the bookstore she took her little girl to to buy a birthday present for a friend.  It was a little unreal and it makes me feel a little creepy that I know so much about her.

I admire people who can be so self-revealing.  I'm usually honest, but I'm reserved, and I reserve my deepest secrets because I've been burned by people I trusted with them.  She puts it all out there:  her two marriages, her ex-boyfriends, the father who abandoned his family and ended up dead of a heroin overdose, her miscarriage (again, in detail), childbirth, her beloved dogs  -  it's all there. 

Maybe oddly, I found it refreshing.  The only way we know about people, about our own selves, is to know what other people experience, how they live, how they feel.  But it's a weird feeling to know so much about someone you don't know but who you see every now and then.  I walk past her house several times a week.  The next time I see her, will she know that I know her now?

It's Chilly - Time for Chili!

I was chatting with my friend Katrina over the Internet yesterday and mentioned that I was making chili for dinner.  She suggested that I share the recipe with my blog followers, or at least with her.  So here's our favorite chili recipe.  I usually have all the ingredients in the pantry except the peppers.

                                                    Bean Chili with Peppers and Corn

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)                            1 Tbsp. olive / vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped                            1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded & chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded & chopped    2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tsp. ground cumin                                            2 C. frozen corn kernels
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz. can)                1 C. water
12 oz. spicy vegetable juice (I use Spicy Hot V8)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed         1 15-oz. can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained & rinsed          2 Tsp. white vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil in large pot for 3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute.  Add peppers, saute for 5 minutes.  Add chili powder & cumin and saute 1 minute.  Stir in corn, tomatoes, water, juice, and beans.  Simmer for 30 minutes (it gets better the longer you simmer it).  Add vinegar, salt, and pepper before serving.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Covered Bridges, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, on a crisp, sunny day, Jack and I headed off to Bucks County, just north and east of Philadelphia.  I'd seen a self-guided tour of covered bridges that looked interesting.  The weather was gorgeous and adventure was in the air.

We started at Washington Crossing, which is where General George Washington made his famous and icy  Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.  We didn't spend any time there because there's no covered bridge.  But we'll go back someday.

Our first bridge was the Van Sant covered bridge, built in 1875 and 86' long.

Next up was Loux covered bridge, 60' long and built in 1874.

Then on to Cabin Run, built in 1871 and 82' long.

As we left Cabin Run, we turned onto Dark Hollow Road.  Wouldn't you want to live in a creepy old house on Dark Hollow Road?  I would.  There was a huge, deep hollow behind the road, so I understand how it got its name.

Next up was Frankenfield covered bridge, built in 1872, 130' long.  Are you getting a sense of mystery?  Dark Hollow Road?  Frankenfield?  Late October, just before Halloween, seemed like a good time for a stop here.

Then to Erwinna covered bridge, the shortest in the county at 56', built in 1832.

When I pulled the car to the side of the road to look at the Erwinna bridge, we spied three deer browsing beside the creek.  It appeared to be a doe and two fairly large fawns.  The doe kept a close eye on us until we left.  You can see the doe (which looks sort of like a kangaroo), to the left, but I can't even see the fawns.

The Uhlerstown covered bridge was next, built in 1832.  I thought this one was interesting because of the huge cliff behind the bridge.  Very dramatic.

On to Knecht's bridge.  We debated about how this should be pronounced.  I voted for a silent 'k'.  There was no one around to ask.  The map said that this bridge is set on the route of the Penn family's famous Walking Purchase.  

Sheard's covered bridge was next on the map, built in 1873.  It's 130' long.

Then there was Mood's covered bridge.  The original was built in 1874 but burned down in 2004.  This reproduction was built in 2007.  This was a fairly common fate for covered bridges.  I'm happy that people care enough about them to rebuild them.

South Perkasie covered bridge was  moved in 1959.  There's a wall of photos of the move, which was quite an undertaking back then.  It would still be an undertaking today, but we laughed when we saw the 'large cranes' used to move it.  Cranes are part of our business and today's giant cranes make those look like erector sets.  This was one of the two bridges not still in use.

How about this sign above the Perkasie bridge?  Don't you be smokin' yer segar on the bridge!

Nearing the end of the tour, we came to Pine Valley.  It was built in 1842 and is sometimes also called the Iron Hill Bridge.

The other bridge not in use is the Schofield Ford covered bridge.  It's in Tyler State Park.  The bridge was destroyed by fire in 1991 but was rebuilt.  At 150', it's the longest covered bridge in Bucks County.

And now we're done.  I drove the whole time because I can't read in the car.  Jack was a terrific navigator.  There were a few times when I had to yell 'Left or right, quick!'  There are small pull offs near most of the bridges.  Many of the bridges were in very rural areas, so traffic wasn't a concern.   Here's a map of the route:

We left Philadelphia at 10:30AM and got back at 5:30.  We stopped briefly at a park to eat lunch.  We had most of the bridges to ourselves, an advantage, I'm sure, of doing this trip on a weekday.  It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed being out in the country.  If you're in the area and are interested in covered bridges, I highly recommend it.  You can find more details of the tour here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tenting To-night - Mary Roberts Rinehart

If you're like me, you know Mary Roberts Rinehart as a fairly prolific Golden Age mystery writer.  I've read a bunch of her books and enjoyed them.  But browsing through the Travel section of Manybooks, a free books download site, I noticed that she'd written a book called Tenting To-night, about a pack trip she and her family had taken around 1917.  I like older travel narratives, so I downloaded it.

Rinehart, her husband, and her three sons hired guides and horses to take them through Glacier National Park and the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.  These were places that almost no one had travelled to before.  According to her, they were the first non-Native Americans to reach some of the places.  They took thirty-one horses to ride and to pack in all their supplies.  When you're gone for weeks and weeks, you need lots of supplies.  She and her family were, apparently, accomplished  horsemen.

The Rineharts were fond of the outdoors and had camped often.  They were also great anglers and were always stopping to fish.  Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they were not.  The boys, heavily armed, were also encouraged to shoot a bear if they saw one, you know, just so they had a skin or two for their college rooms.  They did see some, but, fortunately, they were apparently very bad shots and mostly just scared off the bear.

Although I've ridden horseback in the Tetons, I'm a tenderfoot.  I prefer to ride all day and come back to a hot shower, a good meal, and a soft bed.  The Rineharts, as the title implies, spent the trip in tents, if they were lucky.  Rain, snow at high altitudes, the occasional miner's or trapper's cabin, mosquitoes, deathly steep mountains and rock slides  -  no way would I do what they did.  They risked their lives, the lives of their horses, and the lives of the guides.  They considered the trip to be a victory, an accomplishment.

I was surprised that despite her apparent love of the wilderness, she waxed ecstatic about the eventual conquering of it by man.

Although there were interesting details in the book, maybe this wasn't the book for me.  I worried about the horses and didn't really care if she or her family disappeared over a cliff.  Maybe you'd like it better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Autumn at Longwood Gardens

It was a gorgeous fall day, so we decided to drive out to Kennett Square (PA) to Longwood Gardens.  We're members and can visit any time they're open.  Would you like to come along?

Here are parts of the topiary garden.  Unfortunately, they're doing a major renovation of the fountains that are next to the topiary.  The topiary garden was closed.  The fountain garden isn't scheduled to reopen until next spring.

Every place you look, there's something lovely and peaceful.  That's primarily why we go:  to look at beautiful things and to soak up the tranquility.

Now we're inside, looking at the fern wall.  We love this wall.  If the demolition and construction that's made our lives a nightmare for the last 10 years ever gets finished, we'd like to replace the metal wall on one side of our  patio with a wall like this.

We're still inside.  Now we're enjoying the tree ferns.  Aren't they lovely, feathery and light?

I like waterlilies.  I don't know what it is about them.  They're  exotic and graceful and I think fairies live in them.  Or frogs.  Who turn into princes.  There are, at least, little fish that live in the waterlily garden at Longwood.

But my favorites are these:

Don't they look like something from a science fiction movie where the plants eat the people?  They remind me a bit of Venus fly trap plants that have a taste for humans.  I made this photo extra large so you can read the sign.  It takes only 3 weeks for the 'platter' to grow as big as 8 feet!  Whoa!  I've seen photos in old books of children or small women standing on them, but they forbid that today at Longwood.

Here's the conservatory.  The waterlily garden is right in front of it.

This is one of the chandeliers in the conservatory.  There were three hanging in a row.

Longwood was a 402-acre farm back in the 1700s, owned by a Quaker who bought the land from William Penn.  I believe the house in the photo above is the 1730 brick farm house.  (There's another farmhouse on the property, on the other side of the meadow, but it's fieldstone.)  His grandsons were interested in trees and nature and planted an arboretum.  In the early 1900s, after the farm had been sold several times, Pierre du Pont bought it to save the trees from being cut down for lumber.  Longwood is now over 1,000 acres, so thank you Mr. du Pont.  It's a wonderful place, well maintained, and the trees and plants are marked.  It's so frustrating to go to gardens without labels.  What is that tree?!  What is that plant?!

This ginkgo must have been planted by the original owner's grandsons.  I forgot to take a photo to show you how big the tree is.  It's big.  Philadelphia has lots of ginkgos along the streets.  They have beautiful fan-shaped leaves.  The only problem is that there are male trees and female trees.  The female trees have fruit that drops on the sidewalks at this time of year and it's the stinkiest fruit!  Stinky ginkgo!

The last few photos are the view across the meadow.  A few trees are starting to show fall color, but, if we remember, we'd like to go back in a few weeks to see if the color gets better.

I hope you enjoyed a few hours in Chester County, PA.