Embracing Winter

It’s here.  Finally.  Winter.  We’ve been spoiled so far with good weather in my corner of Canada, with only one big snowstorm in early November and just  an inch or two since then.   Like much of North America, we had a green Christmas.   It’s been cold then balmy, flurries then rain, zigzagging back and forth like Mother Nature can’t make up her mind.   But now that winter is upon us, we might as well decide to embrace it.    Here are some ways to enjoy the season or at least feel grateful to be hibernating inside.    

To Ski or Apres Ski

Such a difficult question….

Leave the Christmas decorations up.   While you might want to pack up Santa and his reindeer, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy all the twinkly lights for another month or two.    I usually leave my greenery up until Valentine’s Day.

lighted spruce decoration

Leave the outside decorations up too.   Snow on a plaid ribbon looks especially festive. 

winter pine decor with plaid ribbon

If you love the smell of pine, light a scented candle and indulge in some small luxuries like pine hand soap and hand cream. 

pine scents

Have oatmeal for breakfast, with raisins and brown sugar.

Oatmeal

Then go for a walk in your warm parka.  If the seagulls can brave the cold you can too.

Seagulls in winter

Reward yourself afterwards by trying out a new hot drink.   Steep an Earl Gray teabag in a cup of steamy apple cider for a sweet/tart taste. 

Cider and tea mixture

Wear something in a cheerful plaid, preferably flannel. 

vintage plaid flannel shirt

 If you don’t own anything plaid, enjoy your morning coffee in a plaid mug. 

plaid coffee mug

Look out the window at the snow and be glad you don’t have to drive in it. 

Christmas Wreath

Take advantage of being stuck indoors and spend a productive day cleaning out your closets.   Save a scarf for a snowman.   Once you have room, buy a new winter coat on sale, in any color but black.   Winter needs a shot of color.  

Winter coats

If you must venture out, keep warm and look stylish by learning how to tie scarves like the weather forecasters on TV.   I swear they must take a course.  Winter is also one of the few seasons where you can wear a hat and not get stared at. 

plaid scarf and winter coat

Bake something, anything that smells good – muffins, cookies. apple crisp.  Go outside and come back in just so you can smell the kitchen.  

date nut loaf

Date nut loaf anyone?

While you’re outside, feed the birds. 

birdfeeder

Go bird-watching with binoculars.   Hunt for those elusive cardinals with your camera.  cardinals AMc

If you’re lucky enough to get a snow day and the kids are off school, build a snowman or two. 

Have a competition for the best one in the neighborhood.

Snowman

He does not look happy about that sunshine…

Have tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch – you’ll need stamina to shovel the end of the driveway where the snowplow has dumped a row of boulders the size of icebergs. 

tomato soup and grilled cheese

Make comfort food for supper.  Turkey stew anyone?

turkey stew

January is sofa season.   Watch a movie or read your favorite magazines.  

chair and pillows Victoria

Read a book or two….or sixteen.    Buy enough books for the whole winter so you don’t have to go to the library at all.     

book outlet

Bookoutlet bargains….

We’ve all been hygged to death but comfy PJ’s, warm socks and flannel sheets on a cold winter’s night help make things warm and cozy.   A velour or chenille robe for chilly mornings is great too.    Not sure if I would have paid $35 for a pair of reading socks, but $12 on sale is good. 

Reading socks

What a marketing scheme…

Have cookies and cocoa before bed.

mug and cookie

And to all a good night!    Happy January!     (600 words and lots of pictures)

 

 

 

 

Give Me Shelter

Chances are if you’re reading this, you have a roof over your head and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in on a cold winter’s night.   But what if you were reading this on a computer at the library and after the closing announcement is made, you have nowhere else to go.   Do you join the other homeless people sleeping on the street?   What if you decided to stay right there in the library, which after all is for the Public. 

That is the premise for the movie, The Public, a 2018 entry at the Toronto International Film Festival.    (We have a local theatre which shows TIFF selections the following winter.  It’s nice to see some of these lesser known indie films.  I need to add TIFF to my bucket list).  

The Public video   Homeless

After one of their friends is found dead from hypothermia, a group of homeless people decide to stage a protest and occupy the library in downtown Cincinnati to escape the freezing cold.   Starring an ensemble cast, the film was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who plays the role of the head librarian.   While the movie is a Hollywood version with perhaps not the best acting (with so many characters there’s not much time for character development), it’s worth a look, if only for it’s focus on such an timely topic.    (see Trailer at the end)

Homelessness is a growing problem everywhere, fueled by the increases in drug addiction and mental illness.   In many cities, rents are high and vacancies few.   Even in my own small city the homeless shelters are often full and they are planning extensions to meet the demand.   When there’s no room at the inn, the city has to cough up money to pay for stays in motel rooms – 99 people in total last year.   Sometimes the shelters don’t have any female beds.  Sometimes they’re not centrally located.   Some have strict rules on drugs and alcohol, some don’t.   It’s a complex problem and one not likely to get better anytime soon.

My first glimpse of a homeless person was decades ago looking down from the window of my hotel room near Times Square.   There was a man rooting through a garbage can and another one curled up sleeping in a doorway.  I remember being horrified.    (I’m reminded of the opening scene of the 2006 memoir The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, (link) where the author is riding in a taxi cab in New York City and sees her mother going through the garbage cans.  If you’ve not read this book it’s a riveting read about her escape from a childhood of poverty, much better than the movie version).    Homelessness used to be a big city problem but now every city and town is dealing with the same issue and the ones you see sleeping on the street are just the tip of the iceberg.   Many times the problem is a hidden one as the couch surfers and car sleepers are not as visible.      

The street people are not so common in my city that I don’t notice them.  Although they seem to congregate in certain areas downtown where I seldom go at night unless to the theatre, I have noticed a few about during the daytime with all their worldly possessions loaded onto a cart.   Once I was at the farmers market and a woman was approaching people outside asking for money to buy food.   I gave her ten dollars but wondered if it would go for food or drugs?   A friend of mine gives out Tim Horton’s gift cards for this reason.  Recently a Tim Horton’s franchise was in the news after posting a notice on the door that patrons were not to linger longer than thirty minutes.  There was such a backlash that it was quickly taken down.  Of course the senior men’s coffee club members were upset, but it wasn’t aimed at them.  It was aimed at the homeless.  They had overstayed their welcome.   I remember seeing one young man, looking like hell on a bender, begging in front of the mall – someone’s son.    Last March there was a middle aged man holding a cardboard sign – Need Money for Food and Rent – at a busy intersection near Walmart.   He was there for weeks, with all the cars driving past him in the pouring rain, and the sad thing is there was a church just down the street which I’m sure must have tried to assist him.   Imagine how destitute you would have to be to resort to that.    Can you help people who don’t want to help themselves, who are just looking for the next fix.   While our Canadian government finances free injection sites and naloxone overdose kits, funded by tax dollars, we don’t even have a Rehab program for those who do want help.    They’ve been talking about it for years. 

Obviously there are no easy answers, but the homeless shelter here is working on solutions.   It has programs which will try to find affordable housing and help with rent and utility bills.   How many people are just one pay cheque away from being evicted?   You can get food from the food bank or the soup kitchen and clothes from the thrift store, but the rent must be paid and a little financial assistance with overdue bills just might keep another person off the street.   A Circles social program has also been started, aiming to break the cycle of poverty by means of personal support for a family or individual.   It’s a small dent in a big problem but at least they’re trying.  

When I returned the DVD to the library, I asked the library staff about their personal experiences.   While not really an issue at my small branch, those who worked downtown at the main branch mentioned them coming in to get out of the cold and using the washroom in the mornings to clean up, (a scene depicted in the movie).   They said there was always a box of donated gloves, scarfs, socks and toiletries for anyone to take if needed.   One even told me they gave someone a ride to the homeless shelter one night as the buses had stopped running by the time the library closed.   In the opening sequence of the movie there’s an old 50’s black and white newsreel, which talked about careers and the role of the Public library.    I’m sure no librarian back then envisioned that particular type of social assistance would one day become part of their job description.   

If you enjoy a movie with a message, you might enjoy The Public, and no matter how good or bad your day has been, when you go to bed tonight be grateful for a warm bed to sleep in.       

PS.  (Be forewarned, there are a few scenes in the movie which some people might find objectionable).             (1100 words)

Trailer for The Public:

 

 

  

 

 

 

Linda Ronstadt – Tribute to a Female Music Icon

Once upon a time in the golden days of the music world, there were female singers who were known primarily for their songs and their voice.   Those were the days my friends.  No gyrating around like a porn star in barely-there costumes and thigh-high hooker boots.   It was all about the music.   

On New Years Day CNN aired a documentary special, Linda Ronstadt – The Sound of My Voice which takes a look back at the forty year career of this music icon, one of the first female rock stars.   Here’s the trailer:

While I was not a big fan back when she was popular, I found the documentary interesting for its take on this trailblazing woman who flourished in what was basically a male universe.  Although I remember her mostly from her 70’s rock songs, her 80’s American standards phase, and her legendary performance in the operetta The Pirates of Penzance, I found her early folk days in LA during the sixties to be the most interesting.   Not yet famous, she toured with the likes of Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Glenn Frye and Don Henley of Eagles fame.  By the late 1970’s she was referred to as The First Lady of Rock and voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the decade, appearing six times on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

She arrived in LA at the age of 18, joined a band called the Stone Poneys, and was on her way after their first hit, “Different Drummer” which was written by Mike Nesbitt of The Monkees.   I always liked that song, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s certainly an ode to the early days of women’s lib.    The LA music scene was basically a man’s world, but shortly thereafter came an onslaught of popular female singers, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Emmy Lou Harris, Carly Simon and Stevie Nicks.   Of course, even back then, good looks and costumes helped with the performance (think Stevie Nicks floating around the stage in her gauzy creations singing Rhiannon), but can you imagine any of them prancing around the stage dressed like a porn star?    How about Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand or Julie Andrews?   Linda Ronstadt was a cutie and she wore cute outfits (it’s worth a fashion look back) but she didn’t rely on her looks – her voice was the star.    Eventually she got tired of playing in big arenas and the “rock chick” image they packaged her into (including some racy magazine covers she didn’t approve of), and branched out to different genres – country, old classics, light opera and the Mexican music of her childhood. 

LR didn’t write her own songs, but she had a knack for picking good ones and could basically sing anything, and while Dolly Parton may have called her the Beyonce of the days, IMO there is no comparison.   I am probably one of the few people in the universe who thinks Beyonce is highly over-rated.  An okay voice but no good songs to show for it.   Strutting around in high boots and black leather at the Superbowl does not a memorable performance make – well maybe for the guys.   My Canadian TV station refused to air one of her award show performances (the one with her equally over-rated husband), as it didn’t meet the Canadian Broadcasting Standards for decency on a Sunday night.  Maybe we’re prudes up here in Canada. 

I used to think Taylor Swift was a classy gal, (good songwriter, not so good voice), but lately even she seems to have succumbed to the racy trend.   Is Lady Gaga, ladylike?  Would a real lady sit at the piano in her underwear?   As for Miley Cyrus, Niki Manaj and all the rest – do they need attention that badly?   (It must be difficult to raise daughters and sons, these days if these are their musical idols).   While female singers may argue that it’s their choice and they now have the freedom and right to act as they please, is it a choice or is it just what is expected now.   Show the most skin possible has become the new norm.    Is that how they want to be remembered some day?   I recall  Prince’s brilliant performance at the Superbowl but Beyonce’s skimpy outfits.   Whatever happened to just standing in front of the mic and singing the song in the best voice possible.  Oh yea, that’s just for the guys.  It’s still a double standard folks.    

When is it time to hang it up?   Would you still want to be shaking your booty at fifty even if you’re in great shape?  Are you listening Madonna?  Jennifer Lopez?  Shaina Twain?   The last one is the most disappointing based on the snippet of her Vegas show I saw during the New Years Eve countdown.  Slithering around in a tight leopard skin outfit detracts from the music, unless you’re in a production of Cats, and even then it’s distracting!    Sorry ladies, but past a certain age it just gets to be an embarrassment.   Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?    While you might argue that no one cares if wrinkled old Mick is still prancing around the stage at age 75, the stage moves of the Rolling Stones were never the focus of their show – it was the music.    Personally I think Mick should hang it up too, same with Paul McCartney – his voice is gone – I cringe every time I hear him sing as I am comparing it his glory days.      

LR seems like a grounded, level headed person.  It was interesting to hear her discuss the pitfalls of the business even back then, and why music idols often self destruct.   She’s a class act all the way.

Sadly, she has developed a form of Parkinson’s disease and has not sung professionally for the past decade.   She may no longer be able to hear the sound of her voice, but we can as her music legacy will live on.

PS.  If you missed it, CNN tends to show their specials over again, but it ‘s also available on Amazon and Apple Music.   It’s worth viewing if only for the clothes.   I do wish shag haircuts would come back in style, but those 80’s perms – never!     

PS.  In 2013 she published her memoir, Simple Dreams A Musical Memoir (link) which looks like it would be an interesting read for music fans.  (1000 words)

   

Fame and Fortune – Monday Musings

         I don’t watch many movies anymore, there being a dearth of anything good unless you enjoy remakes and sequels from the last century, but we had our first snowstorm last night which called for a night on the couch with some mindless entertainment – ie. The Golden Globes, the first of the Hollywood award shows.   So in an effort to shake things up here, I thought I’d do a Monday version of Five on Friday – just some random thoughts on fame and fortune from the past weekend.     

Does Meg Ryan ever watch her old movies on New Years Eve?

I see from my five-year diary that I’ve watched Sleepless in Seattle the past three years on New Years Eve.   (Yes,I lead an exciting life).   Before that When Harry Met Sally was a staple of New Years television.   Meg Ryan is in her late fifties now.   Does she ever look back at how young and pretty she was and sigh.   And the fashions – while I was never a big fan of 80’s clothes they look stylish in a retro way and wider pants and bigger shoulders seem to be coming back in.   I always loved her French braid hairstyle in that movie.

Does Brad Pitt find it uncomfortable being the same room with all his ex’s?

Brad Pitt won for best supporting actor at the Golden Globes last night.   He was there by himself and cracked a joke in his acceptance speech about dating anyone he stands next to.   Gwyneth Paltrow (they were engaged once), was there, looking older and plumper, and Jennifer Aniston (they were married for five years), looking great as always, but they were at tables in a galaxy far far away.      Wouldn’t it be the tiniest bit awkward?  Thank God Angelina stayed home.  

How does Jennifer Aniston stay so young looking?

Come on we know it’s not the Aveeno moisturizer.   Maybe it’s the fake tan.  Why do some people age better than others?   Genetics, good bone structure, staying out of the sun.   You can have plastic surgery and botox, but it’s hard to hide a turkey neck.    Aren’t we all a little bit jealous?

Why is it okay for male actors to have wrinkles but not females?

Brad Pitt still looks good with a few wrinkles, but I didn’t see any wrinkles on anyone female.   It must be exhausting having to be so high maintenance.  While we’re on the subject of looks, why are women expected to be turkeys, (flashing lots of leg and breast but minus the neck) while the men can just show up as penguins (throw on a tuxedo)?   More on this double standard in an upcoming music blog.  

Why are there always so many ugly dresses on the red carpet? 

Yes, I know they want to stand out but the red carpet was a sea of strange colors, enormous sleeves, bell hoop skirts not seen since the days of the civil war (Scarlett O’Hara, not Johannsen), and weird criss-cross halter tops.    And it seems skinny is out now.   Even Taylor Swift has gained some weight.  Hardly anyone looks good in leprechaun green (Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift).    You’d think with all that money they could come up with something a bit more classy – think Audrey Hepburn. 

Why is Tom Hanks such a nice guy?

Tom Hanks received the Cecile Demille Lifetime Achievement award.   I was amazed at how many good movie roles he’s had though the years.   Why doesn’t someone like him run for president?  Such a nice decent guy, universally liked – a simple end to divisiveness.     Does Tom Hanks ever sit around on New Years Eve watching Sleepless in Seattle and think, hey I wasn’t bad looking back then.              

Enough about Fame – on to Fortune

How would you spend 70 million dollars?

The Canadian Lotomax is up to 70 million this week again.  No one won, but after seeing it on the evening news, I dutifully I went to the variety store at 8pm on Friday night to purchase my once in a trillion chance.   While not as big as the US Powerball lottery, it’s all tax-free, but how could you possibly spend all that money?    Other than buying the obvious things, vacations, houses, cars, more winter coats (see upcoming blog), giving to charity and those relatives speaking to you, what would you do with the rest?    Chances are I’ll never know.

(Okay, it was seven not five, but it’s only 700 words, and it was kind of fun).

Bucket List – 2020

It’s that time of year – in the with new Bucket List, out with the old.   Let’s recap last years list (2019 link) and see how I did.

Add More Books to my Library:   I added some, but not as many as the year before.  Bookoutlet to the rescue again on Cyber Monday.   There’s nothing quite like receiving a big box of books in the mail.  

Books from Book Outlet

An Unwanted Guest calls for Grace not Perfection….

 I didn’t buy a new bookcase, just removed the glass doors from the old one which made a big difference.   (B as in Bargains, for the big Rotary Book sale is coming up in January).  

Start Writing Murder Mystery:    Well I started – but I didn’t continue.   I wrote a rough outline during two snowstorms last winter, but it was soon abandoned because my plot was too cliché and I didn’t like my protagonists enough to want to spent a lot of time with them.  Maybe a short story?  Maybe a Christmas short story?  Thus giving me 11 months to procrastinate….   (A because I started).       

Renovate Kitchen:   done and dusted, but more work than I expected.  See Once Upon a Kitchen Reno link.   (A plus because it went smoothly and I was happy with the end result).

Kitchen Reno

The After Picture

Spend Money on Experiences versus Stuff:    Tickets for everything seem to have escalated in price, so I decided to reassign the money saved from not having to pay my annual license fees to this cause.   While I did do a few more things that I wouldn’t have ordinarily (Harvestfest Supper), summer theatre, the majority of the money set aside for such fun endeavors went to the electrician, who I’m sure had fun buying a new guitar for his rock band.    PS.  I was good at staying out of the dollar store however, except for a few new things for my kitchen cupboard.      (C for effort, but needs more work/fun).

Kitchen Reno

Dollarama treasure

Walk Every Day for Thirty Minutes:   Who am I kidding?  I failed dismally at this.  It was either too hot, too cold, or too rainy.   The worst wackiest weather year ever.   This will be put back on this years list, as Santa brought me a warmer down-filled parka.    (D minus).   (edited to add: maybe I can return it -the weather has been downright balmy lately).

Host Virtual Literary Salon:   This was fun and gave me a good excuse to write about  books I have read recently and some older ones which made an impression on me.  (see The Literary Salon under Books on my homepage for a list of the books I reviewed.)   (A)   

2000 Goals:

Eat More Low-Fat:   get some new cookbooks and experiment with low-fat recipes – motivated by the gallbladder issues of a family member and the massive heart attack of a colleague younger than me.   Making a few changes in my diet (eliminating salty snack foods and cutting down on desserts) has already made a big difference, especially in my energy level.  

Exercise:   maybe try something indoors like water aerobics, but then I’d have to go from the warm water into the cold air?    I really need to think about this some more…

Home Renovations:    redo bathroom floor (I already have the ceramic tiles, an end of the roll lot, just need to find an installer) and new window treatments (shutters or blinds?) for the two big front windows currently adorned with heavy gold drapes and pull strings.   For anyone who remembers my harvest gold dishwasher, these drapes are equally ancient.  They provide privacy and are in good shape but are ugly as hell, so neither Maria VonTrapp nor Scarlett O’Hara will be recycling these relics.  

Buy a new camera:    I’m still taking pictures with my 2005 digital camera – yes, it’s a teenager at fifteen years and like most teenagers the zoom lens is temperamental.   I’ve done a fair bit of camera research, and initially wanted one which had both the LCD screen and the old-fashioned viewer lens for framing on sunny days, but it’s impossible to find one that’s not too big or too complicated, so I will probably settle for a good old Cannon point and shoot as I’m lazy when it comes to learning new technology.   There’s always the cell phone camera….

Hold A Giant Garage Sale:   (early June)  once I get all that leftover kitchen stuff sorted out from the dungeon where I dumped it last summer.  

Clean out Clothes Closets:    add to garage sale.   I don’t know if people have any luck selling clothes at garage sales, but when I took a pile of perfectly cute though itchy wool sweaters to the vintage store, the owner said they would sell better at a garage sale than anything he could offer me ($6 for three sweaters), so back home they went.  

Sign up for Netflix:    Maybe……I watch very little TV now, and am afraid I’ll be sucked into the vortex of wasting hours watching mindless shows I would otherwise never have heard of.   Maybe Brit box instead?  Any advice?

Write Shorter Blogs:    “Yea, good luck with that.”     (What’d mean, it was only 800 words?) 

Happy New Years!

bells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Christmas Activities for Santas and Scrooges

It’s that time of year when many of us are feeling broke.   Maybe we’ve spent too much on Christmas once again but the damage is done, so if you’re looking for a few free seasonal activities, or ones which require very little money, then read on. 

Take in a small town Santa Claus parade, preferably one at night with lots of  lights.   

Christmas parade Santa Claus

I love being able to walk down to the corner of my subdivision and see our little parade.  It gives you a chance to see with all the neighbors who have been hibernating inside this time of year, and later you can visit the town square for free hot chocolate and cookies.  There are the same floats year after year but who cares, it’s tradition, plus Santa is the main attraction.   Sure beats the city parade where you have to leave so early to get a parking spot and then stand in the cold for hours staking out your curbside space.

Splurge on a fancy specialty coffee at the mall.   $5 for a Cup of Christmas Cheer, complete with burnt brown sugar topping.   What a marketing tool – sign me up. 

Christmas Coffee in a Cup

Verdict – a bit too sweet, but the perfect antidote to shop til you drop.    Personally, I avoid the mall but some people enjoy all the last minute hustle and bustle and need the extra calories to brave the crowds. 

Take in A Free Celebration of Lights Bus Tour:   The city provides special transit buses for half hour tours of the lights, all for the price of a donated can of goods.

Celebration of LIghts

If you don’t have a Celebration of Lights in your area, then take a walk around your neighborhood and enjoy the twinkling displays.  

Christmas Holiday Lights

Avert your eyes when you come to The Inflatable Village, (lost count after thirty), because it shines brighter than Rudolph’s nose. 

Rudolph

Oh my nose!

Go skating.   Many local arenas sponsor free family hours once the kids are out of school.  

Skating Rink

Go Caroling in the Snow.    Many years ago, I had a group of grade school carolers at my front door – what fun they were having!   Our local paper still publishes a free carol song book, but I wonder what happens to the stacks of free copies in the grocery store now that so many people don’t read a print newspaper anymore.   

Carol Song Book

No carolers in your group, then attend a church Christmas cantata or carol sing. 

Carol sing notice

I’m a big fan of those old church hymns from years ago, although the last time I attended church there was folk music?   Christmas Eve mass belongs to Hark the Harold Angels Sing and The First Noel, and always Joy to the World at the end.    Not a church goer, dust off your old albums in the basement and crank up the vintage turntable.

Mitch Miller

Set up your traditional nativity scene, the reason for the season if you are Christian.   My dad made this one back in 1950 from old barn board, long before barn board was fashionable, and my mother bought the figurines at Kresge’s dime store.   The star he made in grade school always sits atop the snow on the roof. 

Nativity scene

Sit in your living room and stare at your tree, or twinkly lights if you don’t have a tree, or light some candles.   

Christmas tree

Open a box of Pot of Gold chocolates ($3.99 on sale), and indulge in your favorites.    

Pot of Gold Chocolates

Watch your favorite classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The Sound of Music, A Christmas Carol or all of them.

A Christmas Carol movie

Or make reading the book an annual tradition.

A Christmas Carol

Enjoy a wee small glass of port and a slice of Christmas cake late on Christmas Eve (my Irish family tradition), watch midnight mass on TV and wait for Santa to come.    Track his progress on the eleven o’clock news.  Merry Christmas to one and all!

santa and his reindeer

 

 

Santa’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making several batches of no-bake chocolate/oatmeal/peanut butter cookies a week or two before Christmas and distributed them to all the hungry little elves who are slaving away trying to make Christmas good for everyone.   They are always a crowd-pleaser at pot-lucks too.   I don’t know what they are called, but I inherited the recipe from a sister-in-law back in the eighties so we refer to them as her cookies, but you could call them Santa’s favorites.  

Chocolate cookies

I don’t make them any other time of year, just at Christmas, although with the chocolate they would be suitable for Valentine’s Day too.   It’s hard to justify the calories, but they do contain some good-for-you ingredients, like oatmeal (for lowering cholesterol), milk (source of calcium), peanut butter (for protein) and cocoa (source of antioxidants), even if there is a fair bit of sugar in the recipe.   I find good old-fashioned grocery store Fry’s cocoa works best, as the one year I tried a fancy imported French brand, they were way too chocolaty, so I needed to add less.   (Note: some versions of this recipe only use 1/4 cup cocoa but I’ve always used 1/3 cup of Fry’s, so you could adjust to your taste if you have a richer cocoa.)    

Fry's Cocoa

Recipe:

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup Peanut Butter 

2 cups white sugar

1/3 cup cocoa  

1/2 cup milk

3 cups oatmeal (rolled minute oats)

2 tsp (10ml) vanilla

Mix sugar and cocoa in a pan.  Add butter and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.    When it starts to boil, boil 1 to 1 1/2 minutes exactly.   This is a full boil, not just a few bubbles.   Do not under boil as the mixture will not set properly after you add the other ingredients.

Chocolate cookies

As the chocolate mixture has to be boiled in a pan on the stove, these cookies are not suitable for kids to make.   Santa’s little helpers could help measure the ingredients though. 

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, peanut butter and rolled oats in that order.    I use Crunchy peanut butter as that’s what I buy, but Smooth is okay too.

Chocolate cookies

Once you have added the peanut butter to the boiling chocolate mixture and whisked it through, and then added the oatmeal, you have to work quickly to scoop out the mixture before it sets.   Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper or non-stick baking pans.   Let cool thoroughly.   Makes 24 cookies.    Keep them in an airtight container.   If they dry out too much after a few days, you can zap them in the microwave for ten seconds to make them moist again. 

Chocolate cookies

Some batches turn out drier than others, depending if I have let it boil too long, but it doesn’t affect the overall taste.   It’s all good.   They can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge, or frozen for later.    

I usually keep a batch in the freezer and defrost when needed, even it it’s just one cookie as a treat with a cup of tea before bed.   Heating them up in the microwave for about ten seconds makes them even better as there’s nothing like a warm chocolate cookie.   Don’t forget to leave some out for Santa!  

Christmas mug with cookies       

 

      

The Literary Salon – The Man Who Invented Christmas

A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite books of all time.   I love it for it’s perfect plot, it’s memorable characters and it’s simple message of hope and redemption.  If you want to know the story behind the writing of this Christmas classic then this months Literary Salon selection may be for you.    

The Man Who Invented Christmas Book

I first wrote about Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in a Dec 2017 blog where there is a link to the 68 page handwritten manuscript on view each year at the Morgan Library in New York.   It’s interesting to see how many revisions he made to the original.   Can you imagine Tiny Tim being called Tiny Fred?  This year it is open to the page with the famous description of the foggy London street and the introduction of Scrooge in his counting-house.   

Last year I blogged about A Christmas Carol as Applied to Modern Life as it struck me how many of the descriptions and themes are still applicable today.   

But back to how the story came about, for don’t we always want to know where other writers get their muse.   

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday SpiritsThe Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ultimate Christmas gift for the Dickens fan, this little book makes a great stocking stuffer!

The Publisher’s Blurb:   

As uplifting as the tale of Scrooge itself, this is the story of how one writer and one book revived the signal holiday of the Western world.   Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.  The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.   With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

Why I Liked It:   

I first read Dickens in the summer of 67 when the musical Oliver came out, and believe me, at the age of eleven it was a struggle.   He was so wordy if I hadn’t already known the plot from the movie it’s unlikely I would ever have attempted it, but I was madly in love with my first crush, the Artful Dodger (as played by Jack Wild who sadly later died from throat cancer) and so I persisted.    I fared better in high school when I enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Cities for a book report.   A Christmas Carol is a mere novella in comparison, at barely a hundred pages.   Of course it helps that we have seen movie versions and theatrical performances of it too.    It’s such an accepted part of the Christmas culture that we seldom think about what inspired it? 

The Man Who Invented Christmas delves into how the book came to be written, including even the smallest of details like the name Ebenezer Scrooge.   As well, Dickens was writing from his childhood experience of poverty as his father was frequently in debtor’s prison and he was made to work in a blacking factory at a young age to support the family.   The book also provides some background context to the times, such as Tiny Tim likely suffered from rickets, a common medical condition in industrial London where smog frequently blocked sunlight and vitamins had yet to be invented.  While I was familiar with much of the discussion in this book, having read Jane Smiley’s excellent (link) biography of Charles Dickens, two things stood out. 

The first is the absolute genius of the plot.    I can picture Dickens walking the foggy streets of London, late at night, planning it all out.   Normally he would write and publish in installments, (a feat in itself leaving no room for revision), but this was to be a complete book, and for something he dashed off in a mere six weeks, writing in a manic frenzy until it was just perfect, it is a work of pure genius. 

The second thing is Dickens knew when he was writing it, that it was good and possibly had the makings of greatness, although he could not have foreseen it’s enduring power, and as he mentioned in several of his letters he was quite obsessed with the process.   What a wonderfully satisfying thing to be pleased with what you have written, and then to find out other people like it too.  Isn’t that something we all aspire too?   The reviews were all positive, glowing in fact.   It never went out of print.  

Les Standiford’s book is a fascinating peek behind the scenes into the mind of a creative genius and well worth a read, especially for fans of Dickens.    

Postscript:   Skip the movie by the same name and read the book instead.  What the Dickens kind of miscasting was that?   Dan Stevens will be forever known as Mathew Crawley on Downton Abbey.   Any suggestions for who could play Dickens well? 

      

Once Upon a Kitchen Reno

Once upon a time there was an old castle in need of renovation, which contained an ancient kitchen which was an eyesore to the castle inhabitant, a crotchety old woman who was never home as she was out ruling her kingdom and when she was home she seldom cooked, (although she did like to bake cookies for the neighborhood children).   When the old woman retired from kingdom running she looked at the ugly kitchen and exclaimed, “Something must be done.”

Kitchen Reno Before Pic

The Before Picture

The original mahogany cupboards were thin and plywoody plus the U shape closed in the room from the adjoining banquet nook, and despite being custom build in the previous century, none of them were the same size.    Although the Castle Owner was aware that they might qualify for the minimalist look which was back in style, she was tired of them and dreamed of something Bright and Snow-Whiteish.  

The Vision:  

Kitchen

Vision Board – Thanks Oprah!

As per her 2019 Bucket List, The Castle Owner had envisioned a new kitchen for years, and it was time for action. 

The Previous Renovation Wars:

Now the old woman had been through her fair share of castle renovations, many with disastrous results and was wary of any more endeavors and in truth a bit low on gold bullion.   It could even be said that she suffered from PRSD (Post Renovation Stress Disorder), which explained why the kitchen was still in it’s dreary dungeon-like state. 

Years of renovating had worn her down.   First there were the new windows and doors, where the installer had cut the hot water heating pipe along with  the brick for the new French doors onto the deck, which required an emergency welder to be dispatched from another kingdom to fix stat on the eve of a major snowstorm.  Then there was the deck, a no-maintenance castle-gray Veka with white vinyl trim, a thing of beauty from which to survey the surrounding countryside and which had come at a very reasonable price as the newly hired sales rep had underestimated many such projects and was subsequently un-hired.   Unfortunately the inexperienced peasants installing, being illiterate of blueprints and such, had ignored the Do Not Dig hydro markers and plans, (in truth there was no actual reading involved just orange flags) and placed the pilings too close to the hydro line, so when the ground froze and heaved the following winter, the lights subsequently dimmed so that lanterns were required to find one’s way around the castle interior.   A temporary generator was hooked up outside by the Hydro Kingdom on a cold January night and then it was up to the property owner to find someone to dig a trench under the deck so the lines could be reconnected.   After interviewing NINE electricians from far and wide, most of whom were never heard from again, she finally found one who agreed to take on the job – for a price, thus turning the bargain deck into the Taj Mahal of decks.   (Where were those voles when you needed them?)    Then there was the roofer, a charming Jester who promised he would have his hand on every  shingle, who dropped two kids off on Monday and was not seen again until Friday when he returned to do the chimney flashing leaving it in such a state as to cause continuous commentary among all the male neighbors.   At 4:30 he tore out of the driveway like a bat out of hell to return the scaffolding to the rental company, never to be seen again.   Then there were the twelve dead ash trees which had to be removed from the castle grounds, and the tree cutting truck which got stuck in the mud of the Ides of March who tried to remedy the situation by putting down sheets of plywood AFTER it was stuck, and the resulting fortune paid out to the landscaping company to repair and reseed the lawn.   And last but not least, the new asphalt driveway, which became a moat of sorts as it wasn’t quite level near the garage so it turned into an in-ground pool for the birds every time it rained, and it rained a lot.   So much that Castle Basements had to be dispatched twice to fix the water pooling in the dungeon which required more trenching.

The Research:

So the crotchety old woman (she wasn’t even that old, but this explains why she was crotchety), was battle-weary and extremely leery of taking on anything new and proceeded with extreme caution.   She wasted the month of April with sessions and quotes from Ye Old Lowes and Castle Depo.   Ye Old Lowes was particularly pointless as after a whole afternoon of much pencil-erasing on graft paper, it was revealed the design employee was going for training the following week.    The quotes were all way too high, but more importantly they had nothing she wanted, which was old-fashioned white bead board with glass doors.  (see Vision Board)  Most castles now being into the minimalist look, the pickings were slim.   Finally, she decided to visit the showroom of Castle Cabinets, who specialized in supplying new homes and whose kingdom had been building custom cabinets for fifty years, and there on display were the cupboards of her dreams!     

After a month of consultation with the in-house kitchen designer and some tweaking, which went on for far too long as the Castle Owner was a bit of a perfectionist and indecisive too, a bad combination, which caused the  designer in exasperation to repeat the mantra, “It’s whichever you prefer Joni,” a final plan was decided upon.   

The blinding white cabinets of her dreams had morphed into a soft Cloud White.   The mullions in the windows became plain glass, apparently mullions are out.   On May 27, the contract was signed.   The Castle Owner had been told six weeks and was expecting a bit of a reprieve to enjoy the nice weather, but Castle Cabinets was not terribly busy as no one could afford new castles anymore, so the installation date was set for the end of June, thus leading to three manic weeks of appliance shopping for a dishwasher, Over the Range microwave, sink, faucet, and lining up an electrician, plumber, demolition crew and lastly and with the most difficulty, a painter, a rare breed – good luck trying to find one who wasn’t booked up for months.   Once found, the painter promptly did a disappearing act.   He said he would get back with a quote, a week went by, many messages were left, but he finally answered one night in Ye Olde Pub (the Raptors were in playoffs, there was a party in progress in the background) and yes he’d have that quote the next day, which came and went.   But eventually he agreed and squeezed her into his already hectic schedule and then he too came and went over six days, (strip wallpaper border, clean walls, sand, prime, ceiling, paint one coat, two coats).   It all went well, except for a few days when he never showed up at all, but the Castle Owner, being eternally grateful to have found anyone at all, refused to nag and eventually it was done.       

Kitchen Reno - Paint samplesSelecting the paint had been an ordeal reminiscent of Goldilocks.  Who knew there were so many different shades of beige.   This one was too gray, this one too green, finally a Benjamin Moore employee recommended Muslin (as in the Jane Austen attire), and it was just right.   The Google Kingdom confirmed it as the perfect neutral shade for a north-facing room.   

The Players

The Castle Owner met many nice people during the reno.   The electrician was a retired troubadour who played bass guitar in a band of merrymen and so had to leave early several times for gigs and band practice.   He was there 4 or 5 days, so you get to know a bit about your royal subjects from spending so much time with them.    The hydro had never been upgraded in the old castle and the circuits were not labelled and every appliance needed its own separate wiring.     The plumber, well known with a gruff but efficient manner, refused all offers of brownies and sweets.  He simply did not have time to eat, although he had time to critique the cute but cheap bathroom taps and the lack of a contractor.   He also installed two new bathroom sinks, having located the last remaining relic in a separate kingdom, (reflected in the bill as extra travel time).    The Castle Owner did not like the satin brush kitchen sink (she was expecting stainless steel as his secretary had emailed), and could a Delta faucet possibly be that expensive, but wisely kept her mouth shut.   A good but reasonable plumber is hard to find.   Finally, the prep work was done and by late June, the Castle Owner had been demoted from Contractor to Supervisor and Chief Baker – in addition to brownies, there was rhubarb streusel cake, strawberry shortcake and date-nut loaf to feed the hungry mob, all made in advance while she still had a stove.

As the installers did not wish to assume the liability of scratching the floor, Castle Movers were contacted to move the stove and fridge into the dining room, where the Castle Owner dined, sitting on a stool with the stove top for a table, digging utensils and plates out of boxes, the dining room table and chairs being covered with all The Kitchen Stuff.    There being no stove for two and a half weeks, she ate healthy salads and microwaved dinners and happily lost several pounds. 

Salad Meal

Lean Cuisine

In the last week the kitchen cupboards were emptied (with many treks up and down the stairs to the storage dungeon, exercise is good too), revealing flower-power shelf paper not seen since Woodstock.    

Kitchen Reno - Woodstock

Yellow/orange/lime green?

The demolition went well, despite being a king’s ransom for a few hours work on a Saturday morning. 

Kitchen Reno - Tear out

The crew was finished by 11, their donkey cart loaded for the dump, although two brownies were deducted for the snarky comment about the ancient dishwasher. 

Dishwasher

Harvest Gold or Avocado Green?

As in Shakespeare’s time (“It was the lark, the herald of the morn”), all the trades people started at an unholy hour.   The Castle Owner was not a morning person but she enjoyed taking pictures of the dew on the roses and thought she might get up early more often.     

Roses

Stop and smell the roses

After the demolition, there was a week of sheer madness when the painter and electrician descended to work their messy magic, resulting in the Castle Owner promptly turning into Cinderella each evening, sweeping up bits of plaster and drywall once again.   But weep not lady, there was a deadline to be met.   

Then came the actual installation day.    All went well, but of course not on schedule and it lingered on and on as is the expected course with these things.   The Castle Cabinets installer was a perfectionist but looked permanently tired as he had one-year old twins and a long commute.  (Fortunately he left every day at 4 pm, which allowed the Castle Owner to take a long nap – like Sleeping Beauty reposing on the couch,the smell of sawdust didn’t disturb her at all so soundly did she sleep).   The doors weren’t spray painted on time and required another visit the following week.   The broom closet turned into pantry shelves did not line up and needed to be re-cut.  One piece of floor molding did not match and had to be redone then resprayed.      

The Big Reveal:

Kitchen Reno

The After Picture

Finally, it was finished, and they all left.   The castle owner breathed a big sigh of relief the first day NO ONE was scheduled to come and she had her house to herself again and could sleep late and drink her coffee and check her emails in her PJ’s without the sound of pounding or drilling.   Except then she had to cart all the kitchen stuff back up from the dungeon and place it in the new cupboards.   A whole afternoon was spend looking for the perfect matching shelf paper, and then another with measuring and cutting it.   She tried to channel Marie Kondo and place only those items which were useful and which sparked joy back in the cupboards.    She was amazed at how cluttered her cupboards had been before, and how simple they looked now, with the aid of a few new accessories from Dollarama. 

Kitchen Reno

Dollarama treasure

She was also amazed by how much stuff she had that was never used.   She tried to sort through it all, putting things aside for the Goodwill or a garage sale (the gold coffers needed replenishing and that $35 once used French press coffee machine might bring in a few coins), but by late July she said, “the hell with this” and threw the rest of the boxes back down in the dungeon where they would sit until some frosty day in January.   There was still six weeks of summer left to enjoy.   

Beach umbrella

Overall the Castle Owner was satisfied with the way it all turned out.   Even the things she had dithered over for weeks, like the hardware pulls and the laminate, looked good.

Kitchen Reno - Cupboards

She wasn’t sure how her red accessories/curtains/rugs would go with the new look, but they were fine and saved the added expense of buying new ones right away.   Even the red and blue dishes blended well together.  Kitchen Reno - Red and Blue

Unlike some of her previous projects, (see Renovation Wars) she was pleased with the trades she had hired.  They were all nice and trustworthy professionals.   (Trades are in such short supply in this part of the kingdom, we should be encouraging more young people to consider them).    

The Castle Owner lived happily ever after in her new kitchen – except now everyone wanted to see her new domain and she was expected to cook more – for there can be no better excuse to entertain than a new kitchen – Gobble, Gobble.    Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours!

Tom Turkey - AMc- 2013

Some Bits of Advice:

Unless you have a contractor, or a plumber, electrician and painter lined up, allow yourself plenty of time between signing on the dotted line and the actual installation date, because all these trades are super-busy.   I was extremely lucky and used references from people I knew who had been through a reno themselves.   The plumber was frankly horrified that I had not hired a contractor, but I didn’t think I needed one – it was just kitchen cupboards, could it be that big a deal?   Yes it was, and it wasn’t like I was even tearing down any walls – although I wish I could have, I had to work with the small space available.    Line up as much of the other stuff (appliances, hardware, paint) ahead of time if you can, unless you want to spend a crazy stress filled month like I did. 

One of the most frustrating things was picking out the paint as I had expected to paint after the installation, not the week before.   How do you decide what color to use if you don’t know how it’s going to look?   In retrospect a darker wall color might have contrasted better with the light cupboards, but I grew frustrated with all the graige (gray-beige) samples which matched the the laminate in the store but not in the room, and opted for safe and neutral.   I painted the bulkheads the same Cloud White as the cupboards so they would not stand out.   

Don’t be afraid to change your mind.   I had carried around the idea of a blue and white kitchen in my head for years but practically I knew bright-white would not go as well in my house which is mostly beige and warm tone wood.    I even gave in on the clear glass cupboards and am happy with them, as the smallish cupboards would have been too cluttered for mullions.

Don’t stress too much about mistakes.   While I was happy with everything, except for the brushed satin kitchen sink, after awhile the mistakes didn’t bother me as much.   I can always buy a new sink at Lowes if this one doesn’t stand up.   In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.   On the other hand, if something really bothers you, don’t be afraid to speak up – it’s your money. 

Do lots of research and budget wisely.   You don’t have to spend a fortune on a new kitchen, unless of course you want to.   Some of the quotes I got were crazy…..as well as ugly.   My small kitchen came in under budget for the custom-built cupboards with another $5000 or so for the trades/paint/appliances etc.   I did run over on the trades as my hydro had never been updated.   I still have to upgrade my fridge and stove to stainless steel, but frugal me hates to give up my old  faithful Maytags for those electronic models which barely last five years.  (I obviously jinxed things as the fridge is now making strange noises so I may be hitting the Black Friday sales this week).   The OTR microwave is also great and frees up counter-top space.   I’m happy to have a dishwasher again and am using it more than I thought I would.    

Kitchen Reno - Stove and Pantry

They wisely left me room for a bigger fridge with small cupboards above, which are basically inaccessible so therein resides seldom used items such as my liquor supply, one lonely bottle of rum for the Christmas cake.

Kitchen Reno - Stove & Fridge

Laminate has improved and is now a popular choice again.   It came with my package so I chose the best of what they had and although I wondered if it was a bit too busy, my choice (Spring Carnival) pulled the gray of the stainless steel and the beige of the wood floor together.   I had decided if I didn’t like it I could always upgrade later but as well as the extra $5000 for granite or quartz it would have added another three weeks to an already drawn out six-week process, plus travelling to a city an hour away to pick out a slab, another set of installers etc.    Be realistic about what your investment will return when you go to sell your house.   For me, trying to avoid trendy stuff was important and the  classic farm-house look went with my older cottage style home.    

Kitchen Reno - Dinette

Removing the one wall of cabinets opened up the space to the dinette but now my old table doesn’t match.  I draped my grandmothers lace tablecloth over it to hide it, but wonder if I should move my beige and and oak dining room table in there, although it’s really too big for the space.   I’ll live with it for awhile and decide later, always a wise option. 

Kitchen Reno - Lazy Susans

I’m very happy with the two Lazy Susans, even though at just nine inches they were a tight squeeze in the corners, and the pull-out shelves in the pantry, the best invention ever, and also the large drawer for pots and pans.    Splurging on these small things made everything  very functional and efficient and did not add that much to the cost.   The designer talked me into using pulls on the glass cupboards instead of pretty knobs, so as not to mark up the new cupboards when your hands are messy from cooking, a practical tip I had not thought of.    Because a kitchen isn’t just for show, it’s to cook in too! 

Of course, renovating one area, makes the rest of your house look old and tired.   I have to tackle window treatments next – I’m thinking shutters if they are not too expensive for those big front windows – really a house is just a money pit!

I was happy when it was over, and wished I had done it sooner, but never again.   Two conflicting thoughts – but anyone who has ever done a kitchen renovation will know what I mean!

PS.   Do you have any renovation stories/nightmares you wish to share?

  

  

 

 

The Literary Salon – A Modern Gothic Mystery

“It’s a dark and stormy night….the November winds are howling around the house as the last of the leaves go scurrying across the yard.   Inside, all is silent except for the sound of sleet pinging against the window.   It will be snow tomorrow.”      

Thus reads my journal entry for last weekend.   We had eight inches of snow on Monday, Veteran’s Day, a record for this early in the season.   It was the perfect day to snuggle inside and read a good book, preferably one with lots of atmosphere.

Gothic mystery is heavy on atmosphere – there’s always a haunted house with a dark history, a slightly sinister caretaker, an unexplained murder or two and some ghostly phenomena to set the proper tone of creepy ambiance.  Add in a determined but solitary heroine who confronts terror head on, and a dash of potential romance with a male of the strong and silent type, and the genre is complete.    Dauphne du Mauier’s Rebecca, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights set the bar high for this standard.    But if you want a modern update on the Gothic mystery then Ruth Ware’s latest book, The Turn of the Key, provides a modern twist – a haunted house with Smart technology set on the windswept Scottish moors…but maybe it’s not a good idea to be too Smart. 

The Turn of the Key - Ruth WareThe Publishers Blurb:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unraveling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant. It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

About the Author:
Ruth Ware is an international number one bestseller. Her thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway were smash hits, and she has appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times. Her books have been optioned for both film and TV, and she is published in more than 40 languages. Ruth lives near Brighton with her family. Visit http://www.ruthware.com to find out more.
Why I Liked It:

This is the third Ruth Ware book I have read, and by far her best.   I blogged about The Death of Mrs. Westaway in last years post A Gothic Read for Halloween.   While I enjoyed that book, it took over a hundred pages to establish the protagonist as young, poor and alone, although she did an excellent job of describing what it’s like to live never knowing where your next meal is coming from.   While The Woman in Cabin Ten was more of a psychological thriller, her last two books rely on the haunted mansion theme to supply the needed atmosphere.   Her first book, In a Dark Dark Wood, was my least favorite but they were all good reads.   I do love it when I discover a new author and find she churns out a new book every year that I know in advance will be good.    So often I pick up a promising thriller in the library, start into it and then abandon it from sheer boredom.      

The Turn of the Key is told in first person, which is not my favorite, being so limited in scope, but somehow it works.  The young protagonist isn’t even all that likable, as many of her heroines aren’t, and they’re not always the brightest either.    If someone offered you a nanny position with high pay, but you knew the four previous nannies had quit, would you take it on?   You would if you were poor and struggling….and had another reason.     Scotland seems a popular locale for books these days but there isn’t even that much about it in the book.   At the center is the house with its modern Smart technology – the owners are IT/tech specialists who travel extensively (thus the need for the nanny), so the house is equipped with all the bells and whistles to control everything from lighting to music to locks.    Well, someone is controlling it….   

The annual hospital lottery Dream Home in my neck of the woods is equipped with all the latest technology, and although I intend to buy a ticket I’m not sure I would want to live in such a place.   It creeps me out knowing that Smart TVs and Alexa are listening in on our conversations, but perhaps I am too old-fashioned and you grow used to all these modern devices and wonder how you ever lived without them.   I’ve noticed that many of the protagonists in her books tend to have a wee bit of a drinking problem.   This is a plot device which started with The Girl on the Train but the fuzzy alcoholic memory thing has been overdone IMO.    Or perhaps it is just a reflection of the popularity of binge drinking among young women.   I don’t know, we never had the money or the inclination for that type of recreation.   (Note – the protagonist in The Woman in Cabin Ten is drunk throughout the whole cruise).    Other than that small criticism, the plot here is nicely revealed and the ending well done although perplexing in some ways.   Technology is great but it can sometimes make life more complicated.   Perhaps there’s something to be said for old haunted houses full of ghosts who aren’t too Smart….

Fairbanks mansion