Let your photo(s) tell your story.
The Literary Salon – Quiet – A Book for Introverts
One of the most common remarks that I read from bloggers on here, is that she/he is an introvert. Writers tend to be introverts, with a few exceptions, Hemingway being one, but then maybe he was just an extrovert when he’d had a few too many. Writing requires introspection, and some peace and quiet. Your mind be busy and your thoughts multiplying faster than you can get them down, but outwardly you are silent. Although this book is not a new release (it was a best-seller in 2012 and won numerous awards), I thought it would be a good selection for this month’s literary salon, if only to provide food for thought as summer is winding down and our noisy busy lives resume.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – by Susan Cain – 2012
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts–from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”
A self-proclaimed introvert, Susan Cain is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School and spent seven years working in corporate law for prestigious clients, then worked as a negotiations consultant before quitting to become a writer. In addition to her two best-sellers (Quiet 2012 and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts 2016), her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications, and her TED talk on the same theme has been viewed over 23 million times. She is co-founder of the Quiet Schools Network and The Quiet Leadership Institute. All in all, a very impressive resume – it tired me out just reading about all her accomplishments, and this is just the shortened version – although she attributes all she has achieved to being an introvert. I did note that it took her seven years to research and write the book.
My Goodreads Review:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an introvert, I really enjoyed this book, especially the last chapter which was addressed to schools and teachers, but then I was the child whose otherwise stellar report card always included the derogatory comment, “Joni fails to participate in class.” Vindicated – Introverts now Rule!
Why I Liked The Book: (see review above)
It’s been so long since I read this book that I can’t remember specific details about it, but it made me feel that introverts were finally being heard and valued for the first time, in a world which basically worships extroverts. Most of our public leaders, CEOs and politicians are extroverts – anyone who can talk a good game is often successful, justified or not, in a world which often values style over substance. These are the people who take up all the space in the room, grab all the attention and never lack for anything to say. But do they ever stop to listen? Introverts tend to be the best listeners, and often make the best bosses because they listen, ask questions and weigh all the factors before they decide or speak. They tend to observe and remember things about others, and usually make great conversationalists, a rare trait in this all-about-me world. They are often creative souls as creativity requires solitude. Introverts are generally undervalued in today’s society, so I enjoyed reading a book which pointed all that out and felt a certain degree of vindication. (Not to knock extroverts though, parties would be dull without them!) Here’s a Wikipedia link with a breakdown of the chapters and principles involved.
Introverts would much rather stay home and read a good book than go out to a social event, but usually enjoy themselves when they do. The would rather have a good conversation with one person, than many superficial ones at a crowded party. They enjoy their own company, and like being with others, but usually need alone time after socializing, in order to recharge.
I’ve always been a quiet person, a result of genes, being a middle child and growing up in a fairly isolated rural environment. I was a quiet kid who turned into a quiet adult. I might have gone into journalism as I love a good story, only I and others (like the high school guidance counselor) thought I was too quiet. (But then they ruined my plan of being a girl detective too!)
I was a details person, as quiet people often are, and was well suited to my career where for decades I had a comfortable level of interaction with people. Working forced me to become more extroverted, and I was good at it, (no one would know as I can talk for hours if I have to, it’s an Irish thing), but it can be exhausting being an introvert in many jobs today. Like many work places, mine was eventually subject to downsizing, staff cuts and quotas and my enjoyable job turned into a stressful one, where I was under constant pressure and seeing way too many people – as those Facebook memes say, it was too peoply out there. I like people, in small doses, but after a day of people in big doses I would come home so overstimulated and drained it would take hours to decompress. I needed lots of down time. (I suppose if you are an extrovert who works at home all day you might want to go out at night and see people, but I have to wonder if the author’s change of careers was precipitated by her marriage and raising young children – those little cling-ons require lots of energy). Plus there is a level of rudeness and impatience in society today which was not there in my earlier working years. So if you ask me what I miss about not working, it’s the people, (most of them quite wonderful), but then again, it’s not. If you’re an introvert, you’ll know what I mean.
Introverts often have an easier time with retirement, as they are used to spending time alone, content in their own company and many retirement activities – gardening, reading, painting, are solitary pursuits. I guess if you are an extrovert you fill your schedule with volunteering or run for public office or travel the world on bus tours. While no one wants to be lonely or turn into a hermit, it’s nice to have a balance between the two which is consistent with your level of introversion or extroversion whatever it might be. (People who fall near the middle of the spectrum are called ambiverts).
Do they still make kids do public speaking in school? It was always a dreaded activity for me. Oh, I could write the speech, but my voice is soft and I can’t hear you would be the usual comment. Introverts do not like being the centre of attention, hence the dislike of public speaking – hard to avoid unless your speech is so boring the audience falls asleep! I would hope that teachers are better trained now to value introverts as well as extroverts. As for those report card comments, it was always the word – “failed” which bothered me. As if failure to raise your hand and participate was a crime, instead of merely being the innate personality trait it is, belonging to that of a quiet soul.
PS. As this is an older book, libraries may have a copy. It’s a fairly long but interesting read, but if you lack the time, here’s a link to the author’s TED talk.
Upon re-watching the TED talk again (20 minutes), I highly recommend it – some very excellent points, especially about solitude and creativity. I especially liked that it opened with the author talking about social activity in her family being everyone all together in their comfortable corners, reading their books. Obviously she grew up in a family of introverts, but her talk/book also has an important message for extroverts trying to understand their introvert spouses (opposites attract!) and children.
A Gothic Read for Halloween
Here’s a spooky book to read while handing out the Halloween candy….and a link to last years blog on decorations, Come In For A Spell.
(I had not intended on doing a Halloween post other than this short book recomend, but the opportunity arose for A Visit with the Paranormal – so stay tuned for Fright Night at the Museum early next week).
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I had enjoyed British Crime Writer, Ruth Ware’s earlier books (In a Dark Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10) but found this one very slow going at the start, to the point where I thought I might abandon it altogether, but I am glad I stuck with it because the ending was brilliant. The stage must be set, but I don’t know if we needed seventy or so pages to establish the protagonist as poor, cold and alone, and then the next seventy pages to establish the Gothic mansion as decrepit, cold, creepy and full of magpies…and well Gothic. I noticed she used the same descriptions over and over……her breath huffing in the frosty air……the cold draft at the window…..shivering in the rain etc……it made me long for a cuppa hot tea. But once the story got going, it took flight just like those menacing magpies…..and I couldn’t put it down. Even though I had guessed part of the ending half-way through, there was still a surprise twist. Jolly well done.
Add the soundtrack from some classic Hitchcock….
Under Pressure (Instant-Pot for Beginners)
Several months ago, I was gifted an Instant-Pot Pressure Cooker. I would never have been brave enough to buy one myself. Anything that boasts about it’s ten safety mechanisms on the box makes me extremely nervous.
Of course, I realize the marketing team felt it necessary to reassure those who remember their mothers or grandmothers pressure cookers blowing up on top of the stove and coating the ceiling with the meal du jour.
And then there was the Boston Marathon tragedy, all those lives lost and missing limbs. I remember a co-worker telling me several years ago that her husband had bought a pressure cooker from Amazon and staring at her quite puzzled as to why someone would want such a thing, in fact I even reminded her that the government was monitoring online purchases of such possible terrorist devices. I was blissfully unaware of the cult of the Instant-Pot, which can cook food two to six times faster, but her newly-retired-now-in-charge-of-supper husband was not, and anything that could promise to whip up a meal in thirty minutes might also conserve precious couch sitting time. If you check out Amazon, the reviews tend to be favorable, lots of “life-changing” comments, a few mentions that it stopped working after a few months, some complaints about older models, and recently there was a company recall on the Gem 8 in 1 model which overheated and caused a meltdown. I am probably already making watchers of the American TV show This is Us very nervous, (the main character dies after a crock-pot catches fire and burns the house down but this was in the seventies when crock-pots were new).
The Gifter was a millennial, and aware of my technological ineptitude, but also aware that I, the Giftee, would persist, with gritted teeth, until I figured it out. Like many of my generation, I lack the technology gene, the devil-may-care, let’s-try-this-and-see-what-happens attitude of younger people, who don’t remember when “it should work” usually required four hours of trying to restore it to it’s previous state. When I bought my first computer back in 1986, a glowing orange DOS dinosaur currently awaiting museum status in the basement, it did not even come with an instruction manual and there was no internet back then to google solutions. I still have PTSD from my first laptop in 2000 when I recall spending a whole afternoon reinstalling Windows the very first day. Now laptops have become so efficient nothing ever seems to go wrong with them, and on the rare occasion it does, they fix and upgrade themselves. I may hate it, but I must admit technology can be a wonderful thing.
Still, it was several weeks before I took it out of the box, but finally I read through the Instruction Manual and checked out all the menu buttons.
It didn’t seem too bad until I read the troubleshooting guide – “Intermittent beeping after the cooker starts for awhile could indicate overheating due to starch deposits on the bottom – Stop the cooker and inspect the bottom of the pot.” Stop the cooker? How? There is no stop button. Hit cancel? Pull out the plug? Do a Quick Release before or after? After that, I was not brave enough to try the initial steam test. My mother was having eye surgery soon, and I had visions of burning my hands or face and not being able to drive the several hours to the clinic. I put it back in the box and it sat there in a corner of the dining room glaring at me while I did my best to ignore it, although once in a while I would stare at it and sigh.
Several weeks post-op, the Gifter (waves at Gifter), emailed me asking how the pressure cooking was going. The Gifter had also previously sent me an email recall of Insta-Pots melting down, but a quick model number check reassured me mine was not one of them. Nevertheless, I was starting to feel under pressure.
So feeling guilty for having ignored the gift for so long and with some trepidation, I did the recommended steam test first, which involved adding 3 cups of water and hitting the steam button for 2 minutes. This is to ensure your machine is not defective, and horror, might have to be returned. The steam shot out like a mini volcano then stopped. It didn’t seem too bad, but if you have small children or dogs be forewarned they might find the hissing part scary. (Lock up the cat too, it might hiss back). I know I did, and donned safety glasses just in case. I can’t quite figure out the mechanism of the steam release, as it does this when the proper pressure is reached before it starts the cook countdown, and then after when it is done, it either releases naturally or you can do a quick release, but I am sure there is a sound scientific theory behind it.
Part of my dilemma, when researching the literally thousands of recipes online, is that I have the Mini-Duo 3-quart pot, and all the recipes are for the regular 6-quart size, (there is also an 8-quart size). The Mini is designed for 2-4 portions, and people who don’t want leftovers – it’s ideal for singles, college students or empty nesters. I found it made four regular but not man-sized portions, but then I was careful not to overfill it past the 2/3 fill line, due to fear of clogging the release mechanism. I wasted several days trying to find out if I needed to reduce the cooking time as well as cut the recipes in half, but the Instant-Pot support person told me to use the regular cooking time in the recipe, (as in the oven temperature is set the same for one piece of chicken or ten), but then she said it depended on the thickness of the meat/food. It was all very vague. She finally came out and said there was no official cookbook for the Mini, although there are lots of regular recipes on the Instant Pot website. There is also an official Facebook page listed in the instruction manual, one for beginner’s (and those who are scared) and one for cult members, (lots of gushing and pretty pictures). There is also a small recipe book in the box, with things like coconut fish curry, Moroccan lamb tajine, purple yam barley porridge and turnip cake (and no I am not making this up.) The only recipe I found appealing in the booklet was for roast beef, so I started with that.
I had bought a small sirloin tip roast but had to cut the end off to get it to fit in the pot. I stuck the rest in the oven with some baked potatoes. My dilemma then was whether to set the roast on top of the trivet thing, or to rest it on the bottom in the 2 cups of chicken broth. I posted the question on the Facebook support page and when I checked back later, two women were having a fight – one said resting it on the trivet would result in steamed meat and the only way to get any flavor was to let it soak, the other said it would be soggy and boiled if I set it in the liquid. Having spent the better part of the afternoon researching recipes online I was exhausted so I posted that I was going to take a nap and left them duking it out. I seared the meat on saute, plopped it on the trivet/steam rack (as it was also recommended by the tech support people and majority rules), added the broth, and set the timer for 40 minutes (the Instant-Pot recipe booklet said 50-60 min for roast, but I cut it back as mine wasn’t as thick), and went to take a catnap. I woke up feeling much better, and after doing a quick release, the meat was perfectly done and perfectly tasteless – it tasted boiled, to me anyway, but the recipient of the meal seemed pleased.
Blame it on the Facebook lady, who when I reported back on my lack of success, suggested I feed it to the dog, and since I do not own a dog the neighbor’s would have to suffice. This picture is taken through the fence, as the dog has the strange habit of peeing on my shoes in some strange form of enthusiastic greeting, and I am rather protective of my shoes, size 5 being hard to find. I did get the owner’s permission of course, (as some dogs only dine on dried dog food), but the dog was so happy, he will probably pee twice as much the next time he sees me. I know he doesn’t look happy but that breed looks perpetually sad.
Luckily, the end piece of roast I had put in the oven was tender, and the baked potatoes were nice and fluffy. With some salt and lots of butter, a baked potato is a perfectly fine meal, (it must be my Irish Roots). The Instant-Pot went back in the box…..and might have stayed there had the weather not turned cold again, and I turned into the Soup-Chef. I am a soup lover, and we were still having winter here. What is more warming than a hearty bowl of soup. Since then I have made Loaded Potato Soup (the potatoes cooked in 8 min, but I would have nixed the cream cheese), Potato and Leek Soup (again 8 min potatoes but I cheated and used a Knorr Cream of Leek dried soup mix to flavor the broth because I didn’t have any leeks, next time ½ package as it was too onioney),
Split Pea and Ham soup (using the leftover ham from Easter, too thick, too many peas), Cheesy Cauliflower Soup (the best so far, but maybe less onion), and Beef Stew (with cheaper stewing meat, but it was too watery, had to remove some broth before I thickened it, and with recommended cooking times ranging from 12 min to 45, I chose 20, and although the beef was very tender, the potatoes had turned to mush. Next time I will cook the beef for 15 min and add the veggies for 5 min). After the countdown is done, the keep warm function will come on, so you can add the milk, cheese or other ingredients to thicken the soup. I also made macaroni and cheese (perfect pasta in 4 minutes), but when I vented it a thick white liquid (instead of just steam), came spewing out all over the kitchen cupboard (which since my cupboards need replacing didn’t bother me too much other than I had to wipe up the mess). Page three of the instruction booklet warns that certain foods such as macaroni, noodles, spaghetti, oatmeal, split peas, cranberries etc may foam, froth, sputter and clog the release mechanism, “these foods should not be cooked under the pressure cooker settings unless directed in Instant-Pot recipes.” I was aware not to overfill it with foods which could expand, but were they suggesting that frothing and foaming like a rabid animal is normal – proceed at your own risk if you have nice kitchen cupboards? A puzzling, rather ambiguous statement considering the sheer volume of recipes available containing these ingredients.
The saute feature is also useful for searing the meat first in the pot, as it saves dirtying an extra pan on the stove. When using Saute of course you must keep the lid off. There is also a slow cooker function on the pot which I have not used, you have to have the lid in the venting position for that, or you can buy a special glass lid. There is also a yogurt maker function, which some people raved about. While browsing recipes someone had made sourdough bread in his, and I wondered about baking as deserts are my thing. I noticed there is a recipe for Crème Brulee in the small recipe book.
There are seven features on my model, (see pic below), but I see from the Website there are now 9 in 1 models which add cake baking and sterilizing functions, a Bluetooth model you can control from a smartphone or tablet, and a new Ultra Deluxe 10 model which can customize pressure and non-pressure cooking for the perfect combination, as well as 16 different functions, including make perfect eggs and probably also set the table, empty the dish washer and put out the garbage. Can kitchen robots be far behind? A pot like that deserves a name – perhaps Louis?
To sum up, I see this machine as being particularly useful for busy working people who want a nutritious meal on the table fast, especially if you have prepped your ingredients before hand, plus it has the added advantage of fresh ingredients, (perhaps from your Potager), but it is definitely a learning curve and a process of experimentation. While I don’t think I’m a Pot-Head yet, and might never be, I think if we spend a little more time together we could become quite good friends.
Some additional tips:
The Instruction Manual, like most instruction manuals, is simultaneously ambiguous while also making it seem more complicated than it really is. Of course, I have not encountered anything which requires real troubleshooting yet.
To be reassuring, it is impossible to open the pot when it is in the locked position and under pressure. It also makes a cute little chirping R2D2 sound when you lock the lid or remove it. Do not open the pot until the float valve drops down and all the steam is released, either naturally or a quick release. To do a quick pressure release is not difficult, but you do have to be careful of the steam, use tongs or oven mitts to move the valve to venting, and keep your face away. Be careful also when taking the lid off the pot, in case it is steamy. Pay attention to your recipes and follow whichever release is recommended for the food you have in it…..a natural release might result in overcooked food, and vice versa. Some recipes combine the two, calling for a natural release of 15 min, then finishing up with a quick release. After a couple of uses, I was not worried about the pot exploding anymore, as it is quite sturdily built, and you cannot open the pot when it is locked and in the sealing position. I even put the safety glasses away.
The official Instant-Pot website has lots of recipes, a help line, and FAQ’s. I found the Youtube videos helpful also, more for quantities and cooking times, but make sure you look at the finished product as my beef stew recipe did not need 3 cups of water, (and that was one of the few Mini recipes I found). You must have the required minimum of liquid in the pot to achieve pressure, but that was overkill for the Mini. (The tech help line said a minimum of 1 cup for mini, 2 cups for the larger size).
The advantage of the smaller 3 qt Mini is that it takes a shorter time to reach pressure, (less than ten min), so this cuts way down on the meal prep time. I made soup in 30 minutes. Whereas the bigger pots (6 to 8 qts) can take up to 20 minutes to reach cooking pressure before they start the cooking countdown, so factor in the preheat time when deciding which size pot you want to buy, as well as the size of your family, and whether you want leftovers.
I am still skeptical about cooking plain meat, unless you like to add lots of spices, like in a curry or stew. (I tend to be more a plain meat/potato/veg person). As well as pasta, I am sure the pot would be wonderful and fast (4min) for rice dishes, as well as baked potatoes. I cooked my potatoes for the potato soup in 8min, but some recipes said 5min. As for the soups, I don’t think you get the same mingling of flavors as you would if you simmered the soup on the stove for several hours, but the quickness of the cooking might outweigh the difference. For that reason I wonder if the new Ultra Deluxe 10 in 1 model with it’s customized programs might be more beneficial in terms of taste, as you would have the best of both worlds, the flavor of a slow cooker and the speed of the pressure cooker.
I am not sure if Instant-Pot’s are popular elsewhere or if this is a North-American phenomenon? I read somewhere they were invented by a Canadian company. They were certainly one of the most popular Christmas gifts last year, and everyone I run into has a relative who got one for Christmas and loves it and gushes about it (members of the cult), or hasn’t taken it out of the box yet. I had an interesting conversation with a lady in the grocery store aisle when buying dried split peas. I asked if she knew the difference between the yellow and green variety, and she replied that her family wouldn’t eat anything that green unless it was St. Patrick’s Day, a valid point, so I bought the yellow ones. She had been given an Instant-Pot three weeks earlier but hadn’t used it yet, it was a re-gift from her sister who had been afraid to open it at all. Fear seems to be a common theme. One woman posted ecstatically on the Facebook group that she had found one in the original box at a thrift shop for $5. If you don’t want to spend too much, or think it might end up living in the Cupboard of Unused Appliances, you could check out the thrift stores for donations by those who feared too much, but beware the safety mechanisms have been improved on the newer models, so I would check the age of the model. Also if you see a sale in a flyer, act fast as they sell out quick. So, chose your side – Team Instant-Pot or Team-Stove. For me I think it will be both, the Instant-Pot for quickness and convenience and the stove for a leisurely afternoon and a house filled with the aroma of something good cooking.
(Disclaimer: I received no remuneration for this review, unless you count the bone the dog greeted me with on my next visit to the neighbors – see you can teach an old dog new tricks).
April showers bring May flowers, so the saying goes. Finally we are having some signs of spring here after what must be the longest winter ever. Midway through April and nothing but single digit temperatures, flurries and freezing rain. The flowers were up and trying to be brave but why bloom when you can hide. But today it rained, a soft spring rain, destined to bring the first new fuzz out on the trees, a shade of green that is impossible to describe.
Here’s some proof that warm weather is on it’s way.
Forsythia and Siberian Squill,
I like the mixture of colors in this clump of tulips, so cheerful to see while walking on a rainy spring day.
This is the best time of year for lazy gardeners, as mother nature is doing all the work.
All the fruits of last years fall plantings are bursting forth, and we can just sit back and enjoy the show.
The final sign, the love birds are back and nesting. They arrived during the last ice storm and had that nest assembled practically overnight, hence the messy job. It was so cold they must have felt the need for some extra layers. They need to do some spring cleaning and so do I, but first a cup of tea on the deck to listen to the birds and gaze at nature’s masterpiece.
Postscript: for more pretty flower pics see last weeks post Among the Daffodils.
“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine. Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.”
Despite being written almost a hundred years ago the book, The Enchanted April, is just as enchanting today. Four very different women, all unknown to each other in dreary post WW1 Britain, answer an ad for an Italian villa. Two are married but taken for granted by their husbands, one is single and beautiful but tired of grabby men, and one is a widow facing a sad lonely old age. They have nothing in common other than they are starved for beauty and love, and for the fresh air and sunshine of the Italian coast.
I watched the movie first, before I read the book, which is what I would recommend. The movie is from 1992 and while film quality has improved tremendously since then, it is still a lovely period drama, (and if I’m ever reincarnated I want to come back with straight black bobbed hair).
My Good-reads review:
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I absolutely loved this book, but I had watched the movie first. A timeless tale with a lovely story line and such vivid descriptions of flowers, gardens and beautiful countryside that you almost felt like you were there.
I ordered the book because it is one of those timeless classics you simply have to own. It was a bestseller in it’s day, 1923, and was based on a month long trip the author, Elizabeth von Arnim, made with her husband to the village of Portofino, Italy, which soon became a famous tourist destination because of the success of the book. They stayed at the Castello Brown, (now a museum), which is where the movie was filmed seventy years later.
It’s such a charming story, that it might inspire you to grab three of your girlfriends and go off on your own Italian adventure. Who wouldn’t want to live la dolce vita?
Of course in the book the villa came complete with all the necessary servants, so hiring a chef to do the cooking would be the sensible thing to do. (You could invite Amal for tea, she’s British and may be in need of a cuppa and a break from the bambinos). Isn’t that part of the attraction of period pieces, there was always someone to prepare the meals, wash the dishes, care for the children…..and look after the garden.
It’s not surprising that there were such lovely descriptions of the flowers and grounds in the book, as the author’s first bestseller was Elizabeth and Her German Garden in 1898. I have not read that one yet, as I plan on reading it outside on the deck whenever it gets warm enough, as inspiration for gardening season. But I did read her book, The Solitary Summer, last summer which I enjoyed also, which concerned her need for solitude and beauty in the countryside with her April, May and June babies. Her first best seller was published anonymously, and the subsequent ones as by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Because these books are old and often out of print they are best ordered online.
Perhaps there is something about being in such a lovely setting that inspires love. In the book their husbands became more appreciative, although no one runs off and has an affair, (it was a more decorous time), well only the single one. I remember reading once in a book on Italy about a medical condition called, Stendhal’s Syndrome, which is an emotional reaction to too much loveliness. A handful of tourists are treated for this every year in Florence, having been overwhelmed by an excess of beauty. Finally a medical condition we can all aspire too! Of course we don’t have to go to Italy to experience beauty in our lives – it is all around us, we just have to pay attention. Is it possible to surround yourself with an excess of loveliness, especially in a world which so often seems full of evil, hate, and ugliness? Perhaps not, but it is an admirable goal to choose to focus on what is lovely in the world, and so much better for your health! Buona giornata!
Quote of the Day: “It is their manners as a whole, their natural ways, bonhomie, the great art of being happy which is here practiced with this added charm, that the good people do not know that it is an art, the most difficult of all.” (Stendhal on Italy)
Song of the Day: April Love by Pat Boone
The French Touch
We cannot always have Paris, but we can all have a touch of Paris in our homes. I was surprised when I looked around my humble maison, (which more resembles a B&B), how much of a French influence I have in my surroundings, but they are small touches, understated, like the French themselves, where less is more. The French way of life is one of order, elegance, proper routine and a good dose of perfectionism – of course this might just be a myth perpetuated by smug French women! (The Victoria magazine cover Oct 2000 is just so French – I collect the back issues and the annual French edition is always inspiring. This years French edition is in May/June).
A favorite flea market sign from Winners, in my front hallway. (Note B&B wallpaper as I have not finished renovating the house yet, although the outside is done, but I don’t mind the wallpaper so it may have to stay).
My first and only attempt at stenciling hangs in the dining room, (don’t look too close, you really have to glue those stencils on well).
Who doesn’t love lavender. I have lavender everywhere, in bowls, sachets, vases, soap….
Paris hatboxes and journals….
A special Renoir journal for jotting down blog ideas.
A silk scarf a friend brought me back from Paris many years ago, in my favorite color blue.
And of course no aspiring Parisian would be complete without a navy striped boat neck sweater, (and some red lipstick).
HappyHauteHome, (check out her elegant blog on the modern French country home) posted about a French provincial home for sale, which looks like my dream house, but until I win the lottery, I will just have to be content with my petite accents. To be French is an attitude, a state of mind, oui?
What blog would be complete without une recommandation de livre.
The French way of life is a call to pay attention, an appreciation of all matters large and small, including food, which is to be savored without guilt or worry. I can smell those fresh baguettes already. French Women Don’t Get Fat.
French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An enjoyable read, this book certainly provided a different way of looking at eating, for pleasure and without guilt about calories or cholesterol. I think I’ll go for a long walk to the boulangerie….like the French do!
After reading so much about their chocolat chaud, I decided to try making my own. I added four squares of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate (but any good dark chocolate would do), to a bit of water and microwaved it well until it melted into a nice chocolatey gooey mess, then a few teaspoons of sugar and the milk, and microwaved it again until hot. Um….like drinking a chocolate bar. Maybe best to add only add two squares……
My only venture into French cooking was a failed attempt at beef bourguignon which I ruined by using a cheap red burgundy, despite the advice of the LCBO clerk that I should trade up to a better vintage. She was adamant, I did not listen. I hadn’t shopped at the liquor store for years (other than an annual trek at Christmas to buy rum for the pudding), and was horrified by the wine prices, when I only needed a cup and a half? The best that could be said for it was that it was edible….if you were very hungry and very poor like Hemingway in his early days.
One day while shopping at a very expensive bakery ($55 for a birthday cake – let them eat Betty Crocker!), I spied a lovely tray of pastel macarons, and even though they were $2.50 per cookie I decided to splurge – totally tasteless. If this is what Proust was going on about with his French madeleines, I think I’ll pass. The best part of the cookie by far was the turquoise color. It’s good to try new things sometimes, if only to find out what you don’t like. I do like crepes though, my favorite tea shop used to offer an excellent chicken and mushroom crepe until they closed due to a rent increase. On my farewell visit I asked the owner for the recipe, and she said just make a basic roux, so I did, but my roux was thick and pasty from too much floor. Julia Child I am not, so I will need to try again as I do miss the tea shop. We have no need to fear the cream filled calories of France however, as gardening season will soon be here and now that spring has sprung, we can walk it off. Next week we will be in Italy, along the coast, bring sunscreen. Until then enjoy the spring flowers.
Muguet du bois,
Three Days, Three Quotes Challenge – Day Three
The grande finale. I would like to thank Chomeuse with a Chou for nominating me for this challenging literary exercise. (see Days One and Two for previous quotes and some shameless PR). What to chose? My mind is abuzz with numerous quotes, I cannot chose just one. It is so distressing. (“I will be calm – I will be mistress of myself.” – Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility). I fear we must set dear Jane aside, lest the other literary greats feel neglected. I am waffling between Henry James and Edna St. Vincent Millay and as they both involve better weather than what we are currently having (snow flurries for Easter), they may prove inspirational as well.
Quote: “I will be the gladdest thing under the sun. I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
I picked this cheerful quote because it’s been a long cold snowy winter, but spring and gardening season are on the way, and won’t we all feel better with some sun and May flowers.
And after spring, comes summer….and the beach and beach reading.
Quote: “Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” (Henry James)
Here are the Rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for three consecutive days (1 quote for each day).
3. Nominate three bloggers each day.
My nominees are:
If anyone else who is reading this would like to participate, please feel free to join in and share!
If you are burning the candle at both ends like Edna and are pressed for time that’s okay. I acknowledge some people are not fans of awards, but this one is a fun and easy post…..if you like quotes that is! As Jane said, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” (Emma)
Our one and only department store has closed and I am partly to blame. Note I said partly, as the other 99,999 inhabitants in the area are also responsible. It does seem strange that a city of a hundred thousand people can’t support a department store, but that is the reality of the changing retail environment, and it’s not just here, department stores are in trouble all over. Sears has gone bankrupt and closed it’s stores all across Canada, leaving us a nation with just one department store, Hudson’s Bay. The Hudson’s Bay Company was the oldest, established in 1670 as a fur trading post, back when Europeans considered it fashionable to wear beaver pelts, so perhaps it is fitting that it is the only one still standing. Eaton’s succumbed back in the late 1990’s, although it did a roaring trade in the eighties when every city had an Eaton’s Centre mall, back when people actually hung out at the mall.
The Sears store in town had been in operation since 1954. One of my earliest childhood memories was of my parents taking me to Sears to shop for a new dress, (my older siblings must have been in school, and perhaps I was soon to go), and I had to chose between a blue one and a brown one. The dresses were both otherwise identical with short puffy sleeves and smocking, the kind of dresses little girls used to wear before they wore leggings. I can’t remember which one I chose, it might have been the blue, but it sticks in my memory because it must have been the first time I was allowed a choice. Normally my mother dressed my sister and I in identical outfits, or I wore her hand-me-downs. Slowly our retail choices are becoming more limited. Other than Walmart which I don’t consider a choice, plus a few ladies shops for older women, and the usual teen jean stores, the mall is littered with empty store fronts, even the food court is deserted. You could go through it in an hour, while I remember whiling away a Saturday afternoon shopping at one of our two local malls. You couldn’t do them both the same day there were so many stores. Now the nearest department store and decent mall is two hours away.
Yes, I know there are lots of choices on the internet, thus the demise of the brick and mortar operations, and I know the internet is cheaper, but I when want to shop for clothes, I want the thrill of the hunt. I want to browse, see what catches my eye, feel the material, try it on, see if it fits – and I don’t want the hassle of having to return stuff. Someone told me part of the appeal of online shopping (other than the obvious of saving time and money), is they like the idea of having a package waiting for them when they get home, but how many of those packages have to go back, or are kept because the alternative is just too much work. And what about the porch pirates? The delivery guy once stuck my Sephora order behind a flowerpot on the front deck and the $24 tube of Tarte lipstick melted in the ninety degree heat. What fun that was to get refunded. I have shopped online after trying something on in the store if they didn’t have my size. Occasionally I have ordered from L.L. Bean (their perfect fit pants really are a perfect fit), but only because I know my size with them, and only when the exchange rate of Canadian to US money was on par, because we also have to pay customs and shipping when ordering from the States. Unless you really love it, it’s just not worth the additional cost.
I could just as easily have titled this post, The Death of Style. I loved shopping when I was younger, (see vintage blog). When did it become so difficult to buy clothes? I distinctly remember it as being fun, a hobby of sorts, retail therapy before the term was invented. So, when I say I am responsible for the demise of Sears, it’s true – I hadn’t bought anything but socks and underwear there for years. Other than my twice yearly trek to the Estee Lauder counter to buy Night Repair, which I have been using faithfully for over thirty years, (by now they should be paying me), I don’t think I will miss it, other than the gift with purchase. Because the truth is the clothes were ugly or poor quality or just plain boring. So, it’s not just my fault you see, it’s the clothing manufacturers too. They need to start making better stuff and offering more choices. Is it too much to ask to have a bit of style with function and fit. As I have gotten older I have gotten fussier about what I buy, and that Marie Kondo tidying up book in January (click here) has only made things worse with it’s closet advice. Now I have to ask myself – does it bring me joy? That is why I have worn the same winter coat forever – I never find what I am looking for. I have a vision of my new winter coat, (a nice rich red, not orange-red, belted, wool, three quarters length, classic cut), in my head but that’s the only place it seems to exist. I would even settle for a new ski jacket (also red, with white or black fur trim), but all you could find in Sears were long over-sized puffy parkas – yes, it’s cold here but we don’t live in igloos. Have you ever tried to shop in a parka – instant hot flashes. Even when I do find something that might be somewhat suitable, I find myself critiquing it. I found a nice black belted wool coat but why would you put such cheap brass buttons on a black coat. Or maybe the style is nice, but the color is wrong. When I was in grade school I wanted to be a fashion designer, but was discouraged by the guidance counselor who looked gravely at me across the desk and said, young lady, you have a C in art. My dreams were dashed, but I wonder if it’s too late? If anyone has an advice on where to shop for stylish clothes, either in-store or online, please leave a comment.
(see part two: Twenty Pairs of Black Pants next week)
Postscript. my fellow Canadian blogger, Anhistorianabouttown, has posted a book review on, Service and Style, a book about how the American department store fashioned the middle class…sounds interesting…..click here for a link to her review.
How to Make Your Home Hygge
Now that I’m no longer working and my daily commute is a walk through the snow drifts to the mail box, I’ve realized that my life is already pretty hygge, at least compared to what it was. No more watching the weather forecasts for potential snowstorms or laying awake half the night worrying about the roads, (I had one of those jobs where the only option for staying home was if you called in dead), or driving home late at night through whiteouts, where the only good thing was that you were the only fool on the road and hence could drive down the middle of it. One of the benefits of getting older is that you don’t have to work anymore, and if you are elderly like my mother, no one expects you to go out at all, so you can stay at home and paint.
A big part of hygge is appreciating the things you have and do that make winter a bit more bearable. (see previous blog Comfort and Joy: How to survive January, for more on hygge, which is a derived from a Danish word for “well-being”). So, what are the things that make a home hygge? The Danes are big on coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, mulled wine, sweets, relaxed decor, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining. Sounds like a recipe for a snow day. Hygge is even better if you can arrange for a snowstorm, preferably one with howling winds, the kind where the weather forecaster tells everyone to stay inside and off the roads. Then after it has passed, and the world is a winter wonderland, you can go outside and make a snowman.
And of course no snow day would be complete without grilled cheese and tomato soup, it’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.
There’s nothing worse for your house than to feel bare and cheerless after the Christmas decorations have been taken down, (your house has feelings too, see Tidying up blog Jan), so I keep some of them up until the end of January, sometimes mid-February, if it’s a particularly harsh winter. You can put the Santa and reindeer stuff away for a much-deserved rest, but the greenery, pine cones, berries and fairy lights can help provide a hygge atmosphere.
The Danes are the biggest consumers of candles, (mainly unscented), so light some pretty candles.
Comfort food is a big part of hygge. Homemade beef vegetable soup simmering on the stove, leftover turkey pie, mac and cheese,
or a big pot of chili, with a simple green salad and some warm bread, all make a nice evening supper. Dempster’s baguettes are so good, you could pass them off as homemade – eight minutes in the oven, and they come in whole grain and rosemary/garlic too. Baking itself is very hygge, brownies from a box are quick and can bribe snow shovelers, while a date nut loaf takes more work but can give your house a wonderful smell. If you don’t want to bake, you can spray some cinnamon room spray around and buy some treats.
The Danes love reading nooks, so a plump lounge chair with some cozy pillows and a throw, is a good place to sip cocoa and read your favorite magazine, even better if the chair faces a window where you can watch the snow falling outside or the cardinals at the feeder.
If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, then nothing beats reading a book by the fire. You can start in on that stack you got at the second-hand sale last year. Popcorn and mulled cider make a nice fireside snack. Add some mellow music, Ella Fitzgerald is always good.
If you haven’t got a love to keep you warm, a cat is good company, maybe two, but no more than five.
Reading in bed with a cat purring, and tea and cookies, is pure hygge.
There is something about plaid that is so cheerful. I put a red plaid flannel duvet cover on my bed before Christmas and leave it on all winter. It looks nice with crisp white sheets and lacy pillows, an idea I saw in a decorating magazine once. A plaid flannel housecoat with a fleece lining (Vanity Fair at Sears before they closed, but L.L. Bean carries these too), can keep you warm and cozy while you do your final check around the house before bed, and when you look outside, yes it is still snowing. It’s really piling up out there, you may be snowed in tomorrow too. As you drift off to sleep, listening to the north winds howl, may you have sweet dreams….of summer!
Song of The Day: Our House – Crosby Stills and Nash – music link