Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Forgotten Books

A lot of what I read is out of print and sometimes I have to go to great lengths to acquire the books on my list.  I have run afoul of UVA's Iliad system, trying to get books out of the Ivy Stacks warehouse.  They did let me have Martin Boyd's Outbreak of Love, which could have been about some sort of health care crisis, but I was not allowed to have Isabella Bird's Six Months in the Sandwich Isles because it was not "work related."  I try to remember which titles I'm having difficulty finding and will look through used book stores whenever I get a chance.  My other sources for hard-to-find books are intralibrary loan and, which has books that are not available on, usually with reasonable shipping rates.

Now, I have a new source, forgottenbooks, an online library that provides free access to nearly half a million titles.  They contacted me with an offer of a lifetime membership and I have been having fun browsing there.  You can search directly for a title or author, or browse among twenty-five categories, including fiction, drama, foreign language, and the very tempting "home and household books." (I love old books about cooking and domestic chores.)  You can also search for images.  Once you've found an interesting book, you can read it online, download a PDF, or download it to your kindle.  There are also mobile apps available.  Each book also comes with citation styles for MLA and APA, which is a great feature for students!  Since you can search back to 1500, Forgotten Books is probably a great resource students who need primary source material for a paper.

Do you ever find yourself searching for books that went out of print long ago?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: The Goldfinch

I hesitated writing about The Goldfinch because thousands of bloggers have already covered it more eloquently than I.  What can I say that hasn't been said already?  It's good!  I liked it!

The story, which anyone can read on the blurb, is about Theo Decker, a young boy who is visiting an art museum with his mother when a terrorist's bomb explodes.  Theo escapes, carrying The Goldfinch, and his mother is killed.  The rest of the book is the aftermath.  Donna Tartt's writing is breathtaking. Every word essential to the structure and none is superfluous. There is not a single sloppy sentence.  As with her other books, little details will haunt you long after you've finished reading: a woman, dead in the bombing, whose skin retains a healthy color because of her spray tan, the well-meaning yet somehow terrible social workers from New York social services, the doormen and their subculture.  Which is another thing; how Donna Tartt manages to portray disparate groups of people with such perfect verisimilitude: the doormen; Manhattan society people; the antiques world, organized crime, Greyhound bus drivers, art theft gangs, the drug scene, and much else.  The characters too, especially Boris and Hobie and Mrs. Barbour, are so real you yearn to speak with them.

I was on the hold list at the library for months for this book and when I got it, I was worried I wouldn't be able to read all 770 pages in the three weeks allotted to me (no renewals; hundreds of people still waiting), but it was such a page-turner, and so suspenseful in some parts that I could hardly put it down.  I returned it six days early.  You're welcome.

Have you read it?  Any insights to share?  By the way, The Goldfinch is scheduled to be discussed at the Derfwad Manor book club.  Not until June, so you have plenty of time to read it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tales of a Charlottesville Bus Rider

A good public transportation system is essential for any city because reliance on the automobile truly degrades our quality of life.  When we moved to Charlottesville, Jon planned to commute to work on his bicycle, which he did until we moved to Belmont when, disenchanted with constant brushes with death, he switched to the # 3 bus which took him straight to work with no need to transfer.

Eventually I joined the # 3 bus crowd too--there was quite a community of regular riders.  We became friendly with a woman who worked in food service at the student cafeteria at UVA.  She would walk from blocks away to our bus stop--she had bad knees--and would spend her entire shift on her feet.  There was a guy, who we didn't know and never spoke to, but who was on the bus every day.  I'm pretty sure he lived in a supervised home for the mentally ill and he always got off the bus at Avon & Elliott, for the half mile walk to the "clubhouse." Some strange things happened occasionally.  The incident that stands out is the woman who offered Jon a blow job in the bus stop at 6:30 one dark winter morning.  Then there was the bus stop bear.

This sign graced our bus stop after a bear was seen in it.
Later the # 3 route changed and could no longer get us to work by 07:00, so we switched to the #4, which we could catch on Avon St and which dropped us off in front of the ER reliably at 06:45.  The #4 was a good way to get home too, as it went in a fairly direct route from the hospital to Avon St, where we had to walk just four blocks to get home.  It was never perfect--the #3 and #4 ran just once every half hour during peak hours, and once an hour during the middle of the day.  If I was working night shift, which meant arriving at work at 7:00 pm, there was no bus because day service ended so early.  Still, as friends in our neighborhood got jobs at UVA, I talked up the #4 as the best way to get to work on time.

Effective January 4, 2014 CAT drastically changed the routes.  The #4 no longer goes anywhere near Avon St., so that route to and from work is lost to us.  To get home, you can catch the #3 from UVA, but now it makes a huge detour south down 5th St. extended.  It took Jon nearly an hour to get home from UVA on the #3 bus the other day.  He could have driven all the way to Richmond in the same time, and he could have walked the whole way home in half that.  Now, the trick to getting home to Belmont from UVA is to take the #7 down Main St, get off somewhere on Market, and transfer to the #3, which by the time it is on Market, has finished its tour of Southwood and goes straight to Belmont.  If only the #3 ran more frequently than once every half hour!  I have tried this route a few times since the change, and your chances of waiting for the #3 for less time than it would take to walk the whole way home are slim.  I'm not going to stand at a bus stop for twenty minutes.

I usually walk to and from work, but I like to have the bus as a backup when it's raining or unbearably hot.  My usual work hours are 7:30-4:00.  The first day of the route changes, knowing that the #4 was no longer available, I was at the Belmont Park bus stop waiting for the #3 at 06:45--fifteen minutes earlier than I usually leave the house--but I'd checked the schedule on line and the bus was supposed to get there at :50 and :20 minutes past the hour during rush hour, starting at 06:20.  I waited and waited and waited and at 7:01 gave up and walked to work, fuming.  Jon called me to say that he'd rechecked the schedule, and while technically the #3 bus runs every half hour in the morning,  CAT eliminated the run between the 06:20 and 07:20 stops at Belmont Park.  I now have no way to get to work on the bus unless I adjust my work schedule half an hour earlier or later.

That day, I tried taking the bus home.  After leaving work at 4:00, I waited only a minute or two before the #7 came rounding the corner of JPA.  A promising start!  The bus made pretty good time--one part of the change is that the city removed a lot of bus stops.  I got off at Market & 2nd and discovered that it would be an eighteen minute wait for the #3.  No way am I going to stand in one place in the freezing cold for eighteen freaking minutes.  Then I remembered that the #1 bus dips into Belmont on its way to PVCC.  I hurried across the mall to Water St. and found, to my consternation, that the old bus stop--a major one with a big shelter and benches--had been removed.  I walked as fast as I could to the transit center, which is just a few blocks away, only to discover that the #1 would not arrive for twenty minutes.  So I walked home.

Later that week, I had a late meeting at the Cancer Center and it was raining, so I thought I'd give the bus another chance.  I walked to the bus stop in front of Jordan Hall, only it was hard to tell where the stop was.  There was a shelter--which I really wanted to stand in and read The Goldfinch while I waited--but all the bus stop signs had been removed from the shelter.  The actual bus stop was a little way down the street, with no shelter, so I had to stand in the rain.  This time, however, I was able to catch the #3 on Market St, but I'd left work at the irregular time of 4:15.  We've already seen that leaving work at 4:00 causes me to miss the #3, and leaving at 4:30 would also cause me to miss it.  So, essentially, there is no bus home for me.  The best I can do is take the #7 or the trolley downtown and walk from there.

I gave the bus one more try the next week when I had an appointment for my car at Cville Imports, which is near the intersection of Fontaine & JPA. In the past, I would drop my car at the shop and catch the trolley on JPA and ride into work.  The first bus stop on JPA had been removed.  Well, OK, I knew they'd spaced the stops farther apart, I'd walk to the next one.  The next one was gone too, and the next.  So I walked to work, about 1.5 miles, and I was late. The trolley no longer travels north on JPA.

This used to be a bus stop

 I don't think it's too much to ask to get to and from work without waiting at transfer stops for longer than it takes to walk a mile, but apparently CAT can't provide this service.  I know some of you are thinking: "You have a car, why don't you just drive to work?"  Because driving is the worst option of all.  I would have to drive past my office to a distant parking lot and then wait for a shuttle to take me to my office, and pay UVA for the privilege.  Furthermore, UVA employees get free bus passes, a very nice perk, which I appreciate, but it's useless if the bus can't get me where I need to go.  It's actually faster for me to walk to work than it is to deal with the driving/parking/shuttle nonsense, not to mention the traffic.

I realize that I'm speaking from a place of privilege.  I'm lucky just to be able to walk to work, although I'll counter that by saying that it's no picnic to be a pedestrian in Charlottesville.  If I had a dollar for every time a troglodyte in an SUV tried to run me down, I could retire and not have to deal with any of this bullshit.  I'm not going to be fired if the bus makes me late for work.  My schedule is flexible enough that I could adjust it if I absolutely had to take the bus.  For me, a two-mile walk in the rain is an inconvenience, but what if I were disabled, or had bad knees like our bus stop friend?  CAT removed three consecutive stops on Avon: Avon & Druid,  Avon & Elliott, and Avon & Blenheim, so some people have to walk much farther to catch the bus or no longer can get off where they used to.  The # 3 seems to function more as an "express" than a "local," which means you're SOL if you don't live near one of its hub stops.  How does the guy from the #3 get to the clubhouse now? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: A Box for Books

I am engrossed in The Goldfinch and have no assignment for you, so let's take a break and talk about how we store our books, or, to be honest, my new bookcase.  When Ian moved to his own apartment, I gave him our living room bookcase.     I stacked all the books into piles against the living room wall, and there they sat, for over four months.

You would be surprised at how difficult it is to find a decent bookcase. I looked locally in second hand shops and antique shops. Oh, there were shelves, but they were too big or too small or too wobbly or too ugly or too smelly and often all of those things.  The guy at the Covesville Store told me to just make my own, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I know enough about carpentry to realize that something deceptively simple like a big wooden rectangle is very easy to turn into a sort of mutant trapezoid if you don't know what you're doing.  Someday I'll tell you about the time Jon built wooden bunk beds for Ian and Seamus.

I looked online and for a while I was stalking a bookcase at a high end business that does custom made pieces.  It was a nice bookcase, but the price!  And it would take eight to ten weeks to arrive and the delivery fees were exorbitant.Still, I kept visiting the webpage and filling out the order form all the way to the point of checking out and then I'd close the browser.
The Nice Book Case

Then I found a nice-looking bookcase at a mid-level "decorators" website.  "Nice-looking" is the operative word, because it's made of horrible engineered wood and veneer, but it was half the price of the nice book case with free shipping.  As much as I preferred the high-end book case, I couldn't justify spending that much for what is essentially a box for books.  I consulted Jon and he voted for the cheaper bookcase.

Of course it needed to be assembled and I did the first several steps entirely on my own before Jon even got home from work, but really, it's a two person job, despite all the people who reviewed the product on line and claimed that even though they're 58 years old and are two weeks status post hip replacement they managed to put it together alone.

Jon and I have been married for more than twenty years and we have assembled a lot of cheap furniture.  We both now know to assume a grim name-rank-serial-number mode and just shut up and get the job done.  I broke rank once and said something truly cruel, but it all ended happily with margaritas at Continental Divide. And I got to spend Saturday happily filling the new bookcase. It's so much larger than the old one, that it fit all of the books from the old book case plus the random stacks around the house and the contents of a small bookcase in the upstairs hall.

It dresses up my very stark living room.

The new bookcase is mostly for Jon's books.  His taste in literature is very different from my own.

Here is the upstairs bookcase I'd like to get rid of.  We bought it second hand and the previous owners inexplicably carved huge holes through the back of it.  We bought it as a stop gap because it was cheap and always used it for books we didn't particularly want to read.  The way it's wedged into a corner, partially blocked by another bookcase is suboptimal, but this is the only place where it fits.  Even Ian doesn't want it.

The books stacked on the floor are earmarked for the library book sale

Do you have book storage issues?  You probably think it's crazy for a bibliophile like me to consolidate two bookcases into one, but I am just itching to put that carved-up piece of crap out at the curb.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Marmalade is one of the cornerstones of civilized society. More sophisticated than jam, I associate it with  leisurely Sunday after mass breakfast, and, like Bath buns, a food that is intended for adults.  Its bitterness is definitely an acquired taste. We always had a jar on hand when I was growing up and my parents would make periodic trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, to buy Greaves marmalade; the only acceptable brand.  I didn't care for marmalade myself, but I recognized it as a food to be respected.  We never made trips anywhere to buy special jam and Smucker's grape was considered good enough for us kids.  

Last week I had a craving for marmalade and decided to make my own.  I made a tiny batch of the Cara orange marmalade from Food in Jars.

Marmalade is the ideal winter canning project because citrus is in season now.  You start by peeling the zest off your fruit with a vegetable peeler, and cooking it in water until it softens.  Then you cook the softened zest and water with sugar and your fruit, which you have separated from the pith and membranes.  Once it reaches the right consistency, you ladle it into jars and process in a hot water bath.

The recipe I used also calls for fresh ginger juice, which you make yourself by combining ginger and water in a food processor and then straining it through a sieve.  I haven't opened my marmalade yet, but when I was testing it to see if it was set, I thought to try some with a bite of dark chocolate. I love ginger + chocolate, and I love orange + chocolate, so ginger + orange + chocolate was divine.

Two oranges = two half pints (almost)
Unfortunately, I can't even eat it right now because I'm doing a food elimination diet to see if I have an allergy to something, so wheat is off my menu for a few weeks, although I could just eat it straight out of the jar with some chocolate.

What are your thoughts on marmalade?  Did you cook anything interesting this weekend?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Slipstream

I'm so glad I discovered Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Besides the wonderful Cazalet Chronicles, I've read her first and second novels, The Beautiful Visit and The Long View and I look forward to reading her other novels including a surprise fifth novel in the Cazalet series, which was published in 2013 when she was 90.  She died a few days ago, as I was reading Slipstream, her memoir.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (known as Jane) came from a privileged British background, with nannies and servants and houses in London and the country.  I always figured that The Cazalet Chronicles was autobiographical, and it is, but not in the simplistic way that I imagined it to be.  Louise, Polly, and Clary each represent a different aspect of Jane Howard.  Clary is Jane the writer, Polly represents her creative and domestic side and Louise is the one whose life most closely parallels Howard's own.  The real Jane Howard had a philandering father and ex-ballerina mother.  She wanted to be an actress and was informally educated at home by a governess similar to Miss Millament.  She married Peter Scott, son of the antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his mother was a domineering mother-in-law.  They divorced, and much later she married Kingsley Amis.

If you do an image search for Elizabeth Jane Howard there are a gazillion pictures of her at glamorous parties with the beautiful people.  (She once met the Queen Mother, who glared at her and said, "Is that a boy?")  Slipstream is peopled with famous people of literature: Elizabeth Taylor, Cecil Day-Lewis, Cyril Connolly, Barbara Pym, Martin Amis as a boy, Iris Murdoch (a sad encounter with her in a church when she was demented with alzheimers), and many others.

Her writing life was like the fantasy life of most wannabe writers: a romantic, starving artist youth during World War II, an every-other-week job in a publishing house, typing away across the table from Kingsley Amis in a rented beach house in Spain, intermittent dips into show business to write for TV and movies; jaunts to St. Tropez when it was "still a fishing village."

Despite all that, Howard is never smug.  Writing was a struggle, and she was perpetually unsure of herself and easily tongue-tied.  She was embarrassed about her lack of formal education.  She had a difficult relationship with her parents, and later, with her own daughter, two miserable marriages before she met Kingsley Amis, and a habit of affairs with married men, including the husband of one of her best friends.

Even if you have never read Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, I encourage you to read Slipstream.  A well-written memoir, even when it is about someone with whom you are unfamiliar, is a pleasure to read.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Quilts, Angels, and American Girl Dolls

It occurs to me that new year's resolutions serve to distract us from the fact that we are now facing a dismal stretch of toil, with not much to look forward to for nearly four months.  I've made a couple of finite, short-term resolutions that I hope will help me accomplish a more amorphous long-term goal.

The weather could not have been more cheerless yesterday.  It was like spending the day in the plot of The Field, accentuated by damp laundry.  Nothing contributes more to squalor than damp laundry on makeshift clotheslines draped all over the bathroom on a rainy day. I think we are going to have to get the dryer fixed.  Europeans get along without dryers, but Europeans don't expect their trousers to be laundered after each wearing.

I did make progress on the housecleaning project.  Last weekend was a fairly cursory cleaning of the kids' rooms.  Where is the boundary between cleaning and snooping?  I'd rather not cross it.  Grace keeps her room pretty clean without any nagging and Seamus' room is so small it's like a monk's cell.  All it needed was to clear out a few things that Ian left behind when he moved out.

Next, I did the closet under the stairs and now the Christmas decorations are neatly boxed and firmly stacked.  Yes, I did find the missing N to my noel.  I also found this calico angel, lying face down on the dusty floor.

I made her years ago.  I have a childish habit of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects and I felt so terrible about the forgotten angel that I've propped her up in the kitchen to watch over us for the year.

This weekend I tackled the upstairs bathroom, which is a major undertaking.  I found these quilts which I made when the kids were little.  The space between the washing machine and the wall is probably not the ideal place to store them, but it is the only space I have.  These quilts were a cheerful sight on a dreary Sunday.

Irish Chain quilt I made for Ian's first big boy bed 
I made this pinwheel quilt for Brigid and Grace 
I made this one because I love the log cabin pattern 
I wish I could make a living from sewing, but it is so time consuming that charging a living wage for your time drives the prices higher than people are willing to pay.

Also found between the washer and the wall: a gaggle of American Girl dolls with their entire collective, rather sumptuous, wardrobe stuffed into a gorgeous dance bag from our ballet days.  I moved the doll clothes into a plastic bin and I'm appropriating the ballet bag for myself.  The dolls themselves were too dearly bought to give away.  My grandmother had a secret attic hidden behind a bookcase that pulled away from the wall.  In the attic were my aunts' old dolls and I used to love playing with them.  I'll save our old dolls for my future grandchildren.

L-R: Not a "real" AG; Josephina; Molly; Elizabeth; Emily
Kirsten is missing.  I wonder what happened to her?
After all this cleaning and turning out of closets, I don't have bags and bags of stuff to throw away.  I did donate a modest stack of books to the library book sale and there is one trash bag full of stuff for the Salvation Army.  Another partially-filled bag of stuff was diverted to Ian's apartment and probably less than a bag of stuff too decayed to donate that went to the trash or recycling.

Anything to report from your world?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: On the Nightstand

Here's a sample of what's on my nightstand.

The House that is Our Own by O. Douglas.  I felt compelled to read this after reading a review at Leaves and Pages.  Plus, most of the Canadian literature I've read has been very good.  I had to go to Amazon.UK to find a copy.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.  I hate the way clothes have become disposable; how stores like Forever 21 or H&M will have bins of $6 tee shirts that will only clutter up our lives.  Far better to have an edited wardrobe of high-quality pieces.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn.  I can't remember what prompted me to add this to my book list, so I'm looking forward to a nice surprise.

Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  This is the memoir of the author of the Cazalet Chronicles.  I am reading it now and I know that when I finish, I am going to want to tell you all about it. *Yesterday, I heard that Elizabeth Jane Howard has died at age 90.

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.  I've read this before, but it's so good, it's time for a re-read.

Ultrametabolism by Mark Hyman.  Because my sister told me to read it. I am feeling the urge to do another diet book roundup post.

Also,  on my virtual nightstand, aka the library hold list are The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.  I can't wait to read The Goldfinch and I have been on the list since forever.  I'm now up to number six, with over 200 people in line behind me.  Americanah, I am going to read for the Derfwad Manor book club.  There are only two people ahead of me.  I don't mind waiting for books, because there are always plenty of other things to read.

*FYI, affiliate links.