Sunday, October 30, 2011

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell
When last I lived in Brevard, I came across Angela Thirkell's books. She was a favorite author of the "Miss Read" author, so I gave her a try. Thirkell lived from 1890 to 1961, a Brit who spent time in Australia. She wrote to make money when money was tight. She wrote about 40 books, sometimes one per year. Right now, I'm rereading this one:

The large body of Thirkell's novels are set in the fictional English county of Barsetshire, a place first invented and explored by my favorite novelist, Anthony Trollope. Trollope wrote only six novels set in Barsetshire; Thirkell went far past that! Her novels are set around the time of the two world wars. She is winsome, humorous, satirical, fun, and never melodramatic. There is occasionally a tinge of sadness because of the time she lived in, but not much. Like Trollope, her characters as so "spot-on" that the reader occasionally thinks, "Yes! That's it exactly, although I've never been able to describe such-and-such a person just so." And because I know Barset almost as well as I know Brevard, reading her novels is a bit like going back home. If you're looking for a good read, try one of hers; your library may have a few. I think I read about twenty of hers last time I read her, nearly 8 years ago. It's been long enough that I've forgotten the plots and characters. (Let's hear it for having a terrible memory!) Thus, I can enjoy them all again.

(There's even an Angela Thirkell Society!)

Now, for those who are not yet bored, I'd like to give you a more in depth look at Thirkell by examining Chapter 1 of Before Lunch. I read it last night before bed. I had quite a few chuckles, and I do not chuckle readily while reading. Thirkell makes me chuckle. So, let's begin:

We're introduced to Mr. Middleton, a 50ish gentleman farmer of strong personality and slightly spoiled habits. He's used to his own comfortable ways. He's received a letter from his sister, making an unwelcome request. "In his hand he held a letter, with whose contents he angrily refreshed his mind from time to time."  See? Doesn't Thirkell nail us humans? Don't we do that? As soon as our tempers begin to cool, we're sure to fire them up again with a revisit to the source of our unrest.

In the letter, his sister asks to come for an extended visit, with her two adult step-children, whom Mr. Middleton doesn't like. "... the son was delicate and the daughter, as he shudderingly remembered her, not delicate at all, and at the moment both states of health seemed to him equally repulsive."  Can't you picture Mr. Middleton physically shuddering, from his shoulders down, as he contemplates the step-daughter? He is a man who can be equally displeased by two opposite things. Oh yes.  The next sentence? "Giving his camel's hair dressing gown a petulant twitch ...." Do you know any grown men who are occasionally, privately petulant?

And I'd be remiss if I did not record here Mr. Middleton's encounter with his morning coffee:
"The cup of coffee that he had poured out ten minutes ago was now tepid with a crinkling skin on its surface. It was more than flesh and blood could stand. He strode to the door, opened it and bellowed his wife's name into the passage .... He ... spooned the horrid skin clumsily into the saucer, drank the tepid coffee to which nauseating fragments of milky blanket still clung, and looked at the rest of his post."

Sigh!!! Don't you just love British writers? This is exactly my kind of stuff. A writer that can so succinctly describe the film on a coffee, is a pleasure. Don't we enjoy Mr. Middleton's discomfiture?

I can't regale you with all Thirkell's chuckle moments. She takes us through a brief history of Mr. Middleton's acquisition of the farm. Then she tells us, "His mother, who was unwillingly installed in the country, preferred a hipbath in her bedroom and soon languished and died." Heehee!!  Okay, that's not funny. Only it is funny! Clearly, Thirkell had little time for Grandma Middleton, so she killed her off immediately. If only Trollope had killed off Mrs. Proudie as promptly!

Mr. Middleton married rather late, when he was 50 and she was 30. "Mr. and Mrs. Middleton had no children, but as Catherine Middleton truly said, once one had got over the mortification it was really a very pleasant life." You just have to laugh at a writer who's willing to put those words into her heroine's mouth, in the first chapter.

He goes to find his wife in the garden. She looks at him and says, "You look very nice and peculiar."  I'm lovin' this woman already! And Thirkell's description of Mr. Middleton's farmer-garb justifies the word "peculiar." "It is true that no gentleman farmer off or even on the stage ever wore so preposterous an outfit or wore it so unconsciously, but to go about looking like an eccentric gave Mr. Middleton such unalloyed pleasure that his wife had not the heart to point out to him the marks his nailed shoes made on the parquet floor of the library."  And some people are just like that -- they adore being peculiar and looking peculiar. Mr. Middleton does not wear these clothes to the law office in London, thankfully.

I can't type out all the couple's conversation, so you'll have to imagine what gentle fun Mrs. Middleton has at her husband's expense. Then the reader moves on to meet Mrs. Pucken, some of the help, and she is silly and fun as well.  If you enjoy mostly silly and fun, a bit of romance, and lovely British countryside, Thirkell is for you. And she's not always silly;  I couldn't stomach that. Her books, taken together, as a good blend of the serious and the silly, and so well done. I hope this gives you a little taste.  Tata for now!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I wish I'd had my camera!

Today, Mother, Peter, Julia and I went to town for our weekly shopping. Brevard was having its annual Halloweenfest.  Brevard has a festival at the drop of a hat. I've never known such festive folk! About a half-dozen times a year, they cordon off the streets, set up their tables, crank up the mountain music, and hand out candy. Today there were also creepy people in costumes roaming around.

Anyway, I walked from the bakery down to the thrift store, "down" being the important word here. It's a nice, steep, straight hill. The hill starts just to the left of the courthouse here:
And ends in front of French Broad Place, the swanky new high-rise:
And down that hill, small children were rolling  pumpkins.  Yes, friends, it was the annual "Pumpkin Bowling."
It was so very, very funny. Pumpkins, large and small, tumbling down the street (oh, about 100 yards maybe?), bouncing and bumbling, picking up speed, and barreling into hay bales at the bottom.  And parents and spectators hollering and cheering the pumpkins along.

Oh, I wish I'd had a camera! But I didn't. You'll just have to imagine.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Day for Flowers

My parents attended a banquet last night, and my mother brought home the centerpiece from their table. I couldn't resist some pics -- it's amazing! It's just bursting with color! It won't last long.
Roses! And white hydrangea!
This is the part with so many roses. They are delicious. Seriously -- how many flowers do you meet that you'd really like to taste?
The color contrast on this one is wonderful.
The bouquet is on the cool porch, sitting next to our painting paraphernalia. It seems we could just dab some color on those blossoms, a little purple here, and a little green there.
This rose seems to have a million curling layers.

Then tonight, Adam and I went to the high school's last football game for the season, and Peter's last game in marching band. It was Senior Parent Night, and each Senior Mom got a flower. Isn't he a cutie? He's kneeling, in the rain and cold :)
I brought this little thing home, and put it in a vase. Adam and Peter are still at the game, watching in the rain. Brr! I came home, soaked in a hot tub, and am happily ensconced in my chair, listening to Christmas music. Ahhh!

Blogasbord Lineup

If I don't shut down my ancient Apple laptop soon, it's gonna crash. I have so many tabs open along the top of my Firefox, I'm losing track. So here are some of the tabs I'm ruminating on. No impressive news, I'm sorry to say ....

Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole -- This recipe is from Jo Lynne at "Musings of a Housewife." I haven't made it yet, but I like the the look of this recipe because it goes past the boring standard mushy chicken casserole, with the addition of salsa and black beans. I love how Jo Lynne was looking for something that didn't use (as she called it) "Cream of Chemical Soup."  Bwahaha! So true!

London Fire, #1 -- This link takes you to Samuel Pepys's September, 1666 entries. If you never, ever read any more Pepys than the first five days of September in that year, please just read this. His first-hand account of this major historical event/tragedy is so good.

The Intruder -- I don't know who Alan Huffman is. My mother-in-law linked to this cool story of his, on Facebook. He lives in an old house in rural Mississippi, and she probably knows him. I loved his writing here, and I'm looking forward to reading more of it. "The Intruder" is a great impression of how Real Southerners feel about the fringe people among us, the oddballs, the ones whose elevators don't even leave the basement.

London Fire, #2 -- This is a cool facsimile of the article in the London Times about the Great Fire of 1666. Julia is studying the fire, and is reading all this stuff, and she prefers Pepys, as do I. But the look of the yellowed newspaper is pretty cool. I love how the subtitle under the paper's name is "Published by Authority." Whose? The King's? The Authority of Truth? Of a dispassionate observer? I wonder if modern papers would dare to put "Published by Authority" on their front pages?

A Shawl Pattern -- I'm back over at Garn Studios, looking for shawl patterns to knit or crochet for Christmas presents. I visited Charlotte's Fibers recently, and some of the shawls there are like gossamer; they are mostly air. Not designed for warmth or the morning visit to the chicken shed, these shawls are elegant, a covering of lace over whatever garment the woman is wearing. I want to make a few of those. And since they're mostly air, they should be easy, right? Knitting air must be simple.

London Fire, #3 -- This is just an online article I found as a supplement for Julia's reading. Not very long, but the pictures, and the map were helpful. Do you ever find websites that really don't have much content, but the graphics, or the name,  is neat? This one is called "Luminarium."  I like that word.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Thorn-Removal Is Not Necessary

Today I listened to the most wonderful recording at this website, from a woman named Jennifer Rothschild. Her message is called "Why Such Grace?" Please go listen! (Scroll down a little.)

I needed Jennifer's words. Because of an eye disease at the age of 15, she went legally blind. She has a permanent trial in her life, a burden. As the Apostle Paul would call it:  a thorn.

She says that she doesn't ask God to heal her eyes, to restore her sight. I've heard Joni Earickson Tada say the same -- that she doesn't desire for her paralysis to be healed. She's lived with it a long time. It's a huge part of what God has done/is doing in her life. It's been His tool to work magic in her soul. She doesn't want to lose that.

But Jennifer gave me a different reason, one I could relate to. She says she doesn't ask for healing, but for contentment. That's because if God healed her eyes, but she wasn't content first, then she would soon just find something else to be discontented about. Isn't that true? So true! I was listening to her and thinking, "How does she know my heart?" My main, huge, deep issue is contentment. And discontent is a result of distrust. I don't trust God that He knows what's He's doing in my life, with my life.

Life stinks right now in many ways, period. I wake up each morning, and briefly remember where we're at, and my heart sinks. Every. Morning. I hate it. I'm discontented.

Jennifer challenged me brutally to face up to my discontent and lack of trust in God. Am I willing to put aside my worry and emotions, and trust Him with all that's going on?

She also mentioned the Apostle Paul, and his urgent request to God to remove his "thorn in the flesh" -- the thing that was abusing and disconcerting him. He longed for God to take it away. But God didn't. Thorn-removal wasn't what was necessary for Paul; he needed to learn how to live his life in Jesus, with his thorn. Or with blindness. Or with cancer. Or with depression. Or with unemployment. Or with poverty.

Jennifer didn't shy away from how much it hurts. She didn't pretend that it's easy. She says it's harder for her mom, for whom her blindness is still (as she describes it) "a wound." Wounds hurt. Thorns smart for a lifetime. And the point is not their removal.

Is it possible to accept this? I hope so. I want Jennifer's peace and contentment.

Making Progress

Here are some updates on things making progress lately:  the black gum tree, as it strives for an autumnal redness, and my pink sock, as I knit my way slowly toward the toe!

This photo was taken last week, I think.
A bit redder in this shot, which was taken only moments ago. I tell you, the tree next to the black gum is very yellow now, isn't it? I believe this is about as red as the black gum will get. The leaves are drying, and so many are falling off.
I've finished the cuff of the sock, and the heel. Just so you know, the heel, toe, and a little crochet trim around the top, will all be in this buff color. I don't think I have enough of this pink to do two whole socks. These two colors were the only sock yarn I had. Make do! I kind of like it so far.
And this is where the sock is today. I've made errors and gone back and fixed them, which is so much more tedious in knitting than in crochet! In crochet, when you make a mistake, you just pull it out, and the yarn unwriggles itself like a zipper sliding down the back. Not so in knitting; each stitch must be taken off one needle, and placed oh-so-carefully on another. Time-consuming! It's a dead run for the toe now. I think I'll save sock #2 until after the New Year. Next, I want to start Christmas projects, and these socks are just taking up too much of my time! I want to make shawls, lovely lacy, airy shawls.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Basket of Blessings

On Friday, my friend Carolyn and I were finally able to get together for a visit. She has a handful of young children to raise, and we live about an hour apart, so (unfortunately!) we don't see each other as much as we'd like.

We met at a coffee shop, and as we left, she gave me this gift:
Isn't it beautiful? Carolyn knows how to make anything beautiful. Ripe tomatoes, Rome apples, fresh herbs, dark chocolate, two kinds of peppers -- that's healthy and fun!

Yesterday I blanched quite a few of the tomatoes, peeled and froze them. We sliced three of the largest, ripest ones on Saturday for lunch. Adam had some herbs on his salad last night. I'll be enjoying the apples with cheese; I've discovered that apples, cheese and crackers are as delectable to me as any dessert.  Well ... almost any dessert.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Uriah, the Hittite

I married an Israelite beauty,
But I was a warrior, not a lover,
Chosen as one of David’s valiant men;
Bathsheba said she wanted no other.
All her enticements were wasted on me.
I longed for armed camps and high-walled cities
To storm and pull down. The violent heart
Of this man had its own iniquities.
And David had his. I resented more
His staying at home in Jerusalem,
Than I did his ravishing of my wife.
Me, a warrior, called to report to him,
Like a messenger! I soon understood.
David thinks he murdered me, took my life.
Ha! I chose the spear thrust, the noble end.
May she ever be called “Uriah’s wife.”

October 24, 2011
Copyright by the author

Until We Sing Again

Last night at 9:32 PM, a great man and a dear friend died. His name is Clem Boatright -- and he is one-in-a-million.
Clem, in a photo from John Leynes

I first met Clem in the spring of 1995. We had moved to Brevard to my parents' house after a disastrous time in our lives. We were there for only 6 months, but during that time we worshiped at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville. I hadn't sung much challenging music in about five years, and my voice was out of shape, but I decided to sing in the church choir.

Clem was the choir director. At that time he was in his 70s, and had already enjoyed a long, successful career as a musician and director in both church and academic settings. He is such a happy, unaffected man that I was completely unaware I was in the presence of a genius.

(I've worked closely with several musical geniuses in my time. God has been good to me in that regard. Bill Wymond, a musical mentor during my teens and twenties, and Ira David Halvorsen, my college piano instructor, both fit into the "genius" category.)

We moved after only 6 months to Iowa, and later to Alabama, and I lost track of Clem. Until we moved in with my parents again, after yet another family disaster. By this time, a new church had been born in Brevard called Cornerstone Presbyterian, and my parents were attending there, so we did too.

And who was holding the baton in front of the choir? Clem, of course.

How happy I was to find him again. This time, I sang under Clem's direction for two years. He was long past "retirement," but had never stopped working. And how could a man whose whole being is suffused with music, ever stop making music? Never! By this time, Clem was in his early 80s. His body was wearying slightly, but as soon as the music started and the folders were opened, he lit up like a neon sign.

I had never sung under anyone like Clem. He was totally unstressed by the musical/performance experience. He was always happy (in spite of physical infirmities), and had such an intuitive connection to the music, and a perfectly formed imagination in how it should sound, that we singers trusted him thoroughly. When Clem looked at a soloist, grinned, lifted his eyebrows and hand, and gave you that look that says, "I'm certain you can do this. Aren't you? Go for it!" -- then you simply did what he asked, and found yourself able to do it. He knew your exact capabilities better than you knew them yourself.

As a very-out-of-practice soprano, my voice needed strength and range. I'd always been just a good church soprano. Clem turned me into a high, powerful soloist. Before I moved away agin, we sang "When Thou Comest," ("Inflammatus" by Rossini) in English, with our little choir.

Here's Leontyne Price, with orchestra, singing the piece in Latin. I got to do that! Up to a high C! But it was only because of Clem, who believed I could do it.

We moved back here to Brevard two months ago. Cornerstone has a new music director because Clem suffered a heart attack early this year and has been unable to direct. How I miss him! But it's a selfish missing, because I long to sing under his directorship, for me. His daughter Lynn has been caring for him, and in a desire to give some rest to her, I offered to come sit with Clem when she might need to go to town on errands.

Oh my.  Little did I know that the greatest blessing was yet in store for me! Three times I came and sat with Clem, he resting and I crocheting, listening to great music from his career, talking about many things. He told me about his childhood, his mother and step-father, his grandmother whom he cherished, his near miss with a career in dentistry, his service in WWII, his beginnings in opera and then his change to choral conducting, his early arrogance and later saving faith in Jesus, many escapades with his wife Carolyn. So many stories. I was so blessed to hear them! I wouldn't exchange those hours with him in recent weeks for anything. Clem would laugh -- what a happy laugh -- and grin like a boy. He is a consummate professional and gentleman, even in illness. In his death, I feel that we have lost so much we will never be able to recover, even with recordings and writings and so many thousands of singers impacted by this man whom we will never forget.

I saw him last, one week ago. I took Anna by for a visit. He was his laughing, friendly self. On Tuesday night Clem suffered another small heart attack, and he weakened after that, his heart unable to keep going. Now he is "in Paradise" with the Lord, as Jesus clearly says, and singing again. Actually, I bet he's already directing some group of singers.

I don't like using past tense verbs for people who have simply moved from this Earth to Heaven. They haven't ceased to exist. They're just in a different place. How sad is makes us to speak of our loved ones with words like, "he was." He IS. Clem exists as much today as he did yesterday. He is a genius of a musician. He is a lovely man, and a gentleman, and a kind friend with an infectious laugh. May he sing and sing, and not grow weary. And may he save me a spot with his back-row sopranos!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lunch on the Mountaintop

Mother, Julia and I were invited to lunch today at a friend's home -- Miss J.  She is Julia's Sunday school teacher, and such a sweet lady!
She shares something lovely with hundreds of other people in this area:  a great view!
Miss J. is an artist and interior designer, and boy, does it show! Her house is gorgeous and has so many impressive design features. I thought I took a lot of pictures, but they are not enough to show how great her home is.
One of her oils. Just precious.
I couldn't resist a pic of this little purse. Her daughter sent it to her from Paris! A woman should take red roses with her wherever she goes, yes?
This is just a little taste of the design style she uses all over her house. Amazing, daring, rustic, large, textured. It really works well in the large spaces she has.
Don't this pair look happy?
Miss J. showed us all through her house. She used wonderful paint selection to make the rooms warm or cool. This extra-large mirror in a sitting room is one example of her style.
Then she created a warm, intimate space here for a sewing nook. Who would have selected a little chandelier in a sewing room? But it looks great.
The view down to the dining and living rooms. Note the hanging window frame to indicate the room division. The massive cone-shaped bowl on the dining table came from Africa, and was used to pan for diamonds.
Downstairs was her largest piece, a long bar. Very long.
I couldn't resist a shot of Mother.
Julia found a friend in Miss J.'s cat, "Galore." Every home we visit seems to have a resident cat. Achoo!

Autumn Walk

Our cold front arrived. Yesterday was cool, breezy, and sunny. I told Julia, "It's time for a walk!"
These mountains have so many different faces. I love this one: autumn color sprinkled like cinnamon on the hilltops, ribbons of sun and shade interwoven across the scape, a mottled sky that belies the strips of sun.

We took Sandy, who had to sniff every leaf.
"C'mon, Sandy! Let's go!"
We live in such a beautiful place! This is right outside my parents' front door, yet I go for days without noticing it.
Julia snatches a hug from Sandy. And yes, her toes were cold on this walk; she could only find flip-flops.
One of our neighbors builds these split-rail fences, and they just make the scenery around here. He does a fine job.
Light and leaves ~
Sandy stands at attention. Julia is just out of the frame, pretending she holds something enticing in her hand. Dogs are so easily fooled!
"Wanna run, Sandy?"
There they go!
We found a massive leaf. Julia prefers to hide from the camera ....

Another neighbor has been drilling for a well for several days. What a piece of machinery!
The neighbor who builds the fencing also built this bench (or his wife did - I forget which - they're both so talented!). It sits right next to the mailboxes and is designed for relaxed retirees to visit with each other of an afternoon, while sorting through the junk mail.
Julia and I returned home to a place of warm, buttered pumpkin bread - yum!