Review: We Fed An Island by Jose Andres

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“You should never feel guilty about feeling ambitious when you are trying to help other people. If you don’t dream then reality never changes.”

The Story

After hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico, chef Jose Andres and others got together to feed the people of the islands while FEMA, the Red Cross and others dithered and followed standard operating procedures that left people hungry, homeless and without hope. Military MREs were given out but were barely edible.

“A plate of food is not just a few ingredients cooked and served together. It is a story of who you are, the source of your pride, the foundation of your family and community. Cooking isn’t just nourishing, it’s empowering.”

As he tells his story, Andres tells of other disasters and how groups responded to the crisis. He documents the many times that President Trump’s TWEETS were nowhere near the reality and times when the President seemingly intentionally mislead the American people on the effort in Puerto Rico. He shows how ridiculous much of the response process is, how much over-spending and under-delivering is involved and how impractical many solutions are. Then he explains how he re-wrote the rule book on feeding people after a disaster.

“The group seemed to like my energy, but that was about it….They looked at me like I was a smart ass with some crazy vision of saving the world.”

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My Thoughts

Having seen the foreign aid process first hand–the graft and corruption that eats up much of it, I know he is telling the truth. Having researched charities and the amount per dollar that actually reaches the intended “target” versus what is spent on staff, offices, transportation, etc., I know he is telling the truth.  FEMA, a name now reviled after Hurricane Katrina, gets more well-deserved criticism. STOP–standarad operating procedures really can mean STOP or stopped.

Having visited Puerto Rico, worked with educators and educational administrators there back in the early 90s, and having an uncle with a home on Vieques, I know everything he said about the kindness and generostiy of the Puerto Rican people is true. The communities pulling together is exactly what happens there.

Sadly, the legislative history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States (Puerto Ricans ARE U.S. Citizens) was very dull even to me, a former law librarian who enjoys researching things like that.

As a librarian and historian, I loved seeing how social media is capturing history in the making. Andres made excellent use of it in documenting the story.

Some Things I Learned

I did not expect to hear the Southern Baptist Convention praised in this book! I had no idea that they provide fully staffed mobile kitchens to help in Red Cross disaster relief efforts. That was fascinating.

I may have misunderstood–I was, after all, listening while driving on my daily commute, but I did not know that the Red Cross spends only what is donated for that cause–not it’s millions in general. That shocked me. I know they are ridiculously wealthy, have horrendously high overhead, but I had thought they used the money on hand for each disaster. I knew they were a virtual government agency, but I really didn’t know the full extent of that. I had long ago stopped donating to them, but this reinforces my decision.

Regret

Why or why didn’t he include recipes!

P.S.

Jose? Please find a different word for focus. I loved your accent but I heard a very different word in your accent! (laughing)

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Six Degrees of Separation: Vanity Fair

This month’s Six Degrees starting book is Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. I first read “selected excerpts” from it in an anthology in my high school British Literature class. I finally read the book in its entirety in the Peace Corps in 1990 and loved it. All of my books today center on women with messy lives like Becky Sharpe

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Anna Karenina is another amazing woman with a messy life! After Gone With the Wind, it is also my “next favorite” big novel.

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The original brought to mind this marvelous modern retelling: What Happened to Anna K–the messy life of a rich younger wife of an older man.

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How much messier can a life get? How about a husband and lovers in two different centuries? I haven’t read the others–too much icky sex for me, but you have to give it to Clare–that’s one heck of a messy life! Outlander.

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Princess Margaret may have been royal, but she had a true mess of a life at times!99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.

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Sweet, smiling Ma on tv’s Little House on the Prairie made 70’s mothers cringe at their own sharp tongues and short tempers! But maybe Ma was only “keeping sweet??” Ma had a pretty messy life with that rascal Charles Ingalls. Caroline: Little House Revisited.

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First Ladies have to be pictuer perfect even when their lives are messy. Lady Reporters must be on top of their game even when their lives are messy. When the two women get close the facade of their lives could not crack no matter the hurrican level mess of their lives.  Loving Eleanor.

Do you like compiling lists like this? Why not join in the next month when the starting book with be Dickens’ Christmas Carol? You can read more about Six Degrees of Separation here. Thanks to Books Are My Favorite and Best for hosting this fun monthly event.

Nonfiction November: My favorite nonfiction so far for 2018

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Until I returned to writing about 8 years ago, I read almost exclusively nonfiction. For the last 10 years, though, I have had almost two and a  half hours of commuting time to deal with. It became unrealistic to just listen to nonfiction so that also contributed to the switch. This month I’ll be intentionally listening to or reading more nonfiction. To help with my decision, I joined the Goodreads.com group Nonfiction November which asks members to read 4 or more nonfiction books in the month. To kick off the month, here are my favorite nonfiction reads, so far, in 2018. To date, I’ve read 10 nonfiction books–including one I loved, but still, need to review. I’m not including it in the list for this reason.

An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew

by Annejet van der Zijl

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Thanks no doubt to Meghan Markle, this has been one of the most popular posts on my blog this year! Even though it is about an obscure one-time wife of a minor European Royal and not about Prince Harry’s actress bride. It’s an interesting biography all the same. Here is the link to my review.

How To Get Dressesd and  The Accessory Handbook

by Alison Freer

These little books are FABULOUS! Their value far outstrips their size. Leave it to a savvy and talented Hollywood costumer to help women look good! Here are the links to my reviews:  How to Get Dressed and The Accessories Handbook.

Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth

by Paula Byrne

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The Kennedy Curse claimed Joe Jr.,  Rosemary (though she did not die), Kick, Jack and Bobby–and nearly claimed Teddy. Kick is the sister who was presented at Court to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the current Queen’s parents) and shocked her parents and the British Aristocracy by being the very Catholic bride of the extremely Protestant Marquess of Hartington. She was also the sister seen as a near “twin” to JFK. Here is the link to my review.

Do you read nonfiction? Are you participating in Nonfiction November–even informally? Leave me a comment.

Top 5 Wednesday: Characters You’d Cosplay or wear as a Halloween Costume

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Since I’m short and round and over 50 that leaves me with the Golden Girls as my most likely cosplay folks! Never mind, we can all dream, right?

 

#1 Literary Cosplay: Carol Burnett’s Scarlett O’Hara

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One of the funniest takes on literature ever done! In the book, of course, the dress is made out of the drapes the Yankees somehow forgot to steal. In the sketch, Scarlett wears the drapes, rod and all, to comic effect!

 

# 3 Royal Cosplay

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Well, ok, I couldn’t resist–that’s Carol Burnett again, famously playing Queen Elizabeth with the ridiculous hat and voice back in the 1970’s.

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Both Carol and the real Queen Elizabeth have aged since then! But give me a coat dress, a hat, a white hairdoo and a good brooch and I’d be the queen!

 

Camilla–well, Tracey Ullman’s Camilla! For years on my old blog and for a while here on this blog, I wrote a spoof diary of ‘Milla. You can read those here. I was pleased the Tracey saw her the same way I do.

 

#4 Political Cosplay

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I used to have the Hilary pantsuits and we have the same body-type though she manages her weight very well by comparison with me. Same lank, do-nothing hair too. Tracey Ullman also does a greet Angela Merkle. I can pull her off too–same dumpy body and short hair.

 

You can participate in Top 5 Wednesday by joining the group on Goodreads.com and then doing a video or blog post. It’s fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween or Creepie Freebie

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted each week by That Artsy Reader Girl. Here are the rules. Won’t you join in?

 

Halloween, aside from chocolate, is not my thing. Meh. I’m a Halloween Scrooge! It’s simple–I don’t like being afraid, frightened or scared. That’s that. I’m not wild about the dark, either. I do love black cats though and have one. Since this is a freebie, I’m taking it in various directions this week.

Favorite Creepy TV Show or Movie

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I love the original cartoons from the New Yorker, the old black and white tv show, the cartoon version of the show and the movies and I can still sing the theme song. I love the Addams!

A Movie Scene That Nearly Makes Me Love Halloween

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Halloween Fest from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Weirdest Halloween Scene in a Movie: Meet Me In St. Louis

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Weirdest thing ever in a musical. I didn’t like Tootie anyway, but still, this was really “off.”

Favorite Non-choclate Halloween Treat: Great Pumpkin Cookies

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I like them best “iced” with peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter! Try it! I made them for a guy in college and his fellow grad students in the journalism department loved them! Here’s the recipe link.

Here’s a Previous Version of this posts with more favorites:

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Like any 60’s kid, I liked trick-or-treating. Chocolate. It was all about the chocolate! This week the Top Ten Tuesday selected a “Halloween related freebie: ten scary books, favorite horror novels, non-scary books to get you in the Halloween/fall mood, bookish Halloween costumes, scariest covers), scary books on my TBR, etc” for this week’s topic.

1. Favorite Halloween Decoration

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This is our old haunted house! It has well-loved, hard-played-with soft Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, Black Car, Goblin, a witch, a huge spider and a bat! Both the green goblin and the mummy have done time as cat hunting trophies and have the teeth marks still to prove it. I think this came from Chinaberry in 2003. The nice thing–beyond the hours of happy play my kids enjoyed with it–is that all the inhabitants of the house are stored in the house. Very nice feature. I’m keeping it for my future grandchildren.

2. Favorite Halloween TV Show–as if there’s really more than this one!

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I am a charter-member of the generation this, and the Charlie Brown Christmas, were created to entertain. Happily we have this on DVD, so though my children are adults I can still enjoy it once a year. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

3. Favorite Halloween Story

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Legendary Hoosier Poet (I spent most of my life in Indiana) James Whitcomb Riley, wrote the poem Little Orphant [spelling is Riley’s] Annie. While today it does suffer from old age in some regrettably un-politically correct ways, I still treasure the memory of it being read at school nearly every Halloween season. That was back when you could be a witch or a mummy for Halloween and no on cared. Yes, that long ago. Here’s a link to the real poem and here’s a link to a friend of mine who portrays James Whitcomb Riley.

4. Favorite Halloween Candy

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5. Least Favorite Halloween Candy

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Yep, the dreaded Dollar Store Peanut Butter in Waxed Paper “Candy.” Here’s a funny blog post, Still the Worst Halloween Candy Ever by the Rambling Reverend. I’ve NEVER, ever–not as a kid, not as a parent, not as a Trunk or Treat Candy Giver have I ever seen a kid make any but the “Oh, gross…” face on getting these. I’m pretty sure Starving Children in Where-Ever would make that gross face even. Maybe it’s the after taste of the waxed paper. Or maybe its that they were manufactered in 1957 in such quantities that they’ve never had to rev up the ole’ p.b. extruder and make more–that aging in a warehouse flavor, perhaps? Yuck. Just yuck. I love REAL peanut butter. But this stuff? Use if for potholes in the street.

6. My Favorite Childhood Memory of Halloween # 1

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Since I’m a 60s kid, photos are pretty rare. Most likely anyone in your family who was alive then still have a basket like my Mom’s, stashed in the back of a closet, of film to be developed when the budget allows. Yeah. Those would be MY childhood. So, no picture. But it was a simpler time. You bought a mask and that was about it. Then around 2 or 3rd grade people began going “overboard” and buying those tacky one piece costumes with a mask. My favorite wasn’t the darling kitty costume my Mom made me (though as an adult I love it) but the time I got to wear my big brother’s outgrown red blazer and be a “Buckingham Palace Guard.” No Disney princess crap back then. We saw a Disney movie ONCE per movie in those days. But, at least I didn’t have to go as a witch, bride or old lady like the other girls.

7. My Favorite Childhood Memory of Halloween #2

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My parents made popcorn balls for us. They gave out candy, of course, but we got to have homemade popcorn balls too. Usually we had chili for dinner. I never did like other people’s popcorn balls–I think simply because like the dressing (aka “stuffing”) at Thanksgiving, the popcorn balls were something my Dad helped make. That made them special. He was a typical 60s Dad who played catch with a football or baseball and watched tv with us. He didn’t cook! Here’s a recipe if you want to try some.

8. Spookiest Music


Night On Bald Mountain–it was still spooky when my high school band played it in the 1970s!

9. Favorite Spooky Book

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Possibly the only spooky book I’ve ever finished.

10. Spookiest Place I’ve Ever Visited

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In the early ’90s co-workers and I visited Edgar Allan Poe’s grave late at night. At that time, the neighborhood was, shall we say “none too savory” so there was that type scary added, too. Happily nothing “untoward” happened. A co-worker rattled off much of the raven and we went back to the hotel. No photo of my own, because it was the early 90s. Point and shoot 35 mm’s were very hot, but no one had one with them on the trip. I don’t think disposables were a thing yet, either.

Bonus–Favorite Black Cat:

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My writing buddy–Candy. And before you think I made that up for this post (I didn’t–I tell the truth here!), her name is “Candy Cane” and yes, she was named by a child! She prefers just plain “Candy.” And, she and her kitty housemates get tuna for trick-or-treat.

 

Need some fast Halloween, Harvest or Thanksgiving Help?

Check out my Pinterest board!

Doing a GREAT OCC Shoebox for free or almost free

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Note: You will still need the $9 donation to help with shipping (a bargain) unless your church or other community group raises the money for this cost.

 

 

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1. Swagbucks

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  1. Order online via Swagbucks at Wal-mart and other stores–this is how I rack up most Swagbucks.
  2. Daily to do list
  3. Occasional searches
  4. Swag Codes

This takes almost no time! I barely bothered with it this year and I still came up with over $35 in Walmart gift cards! You can sign up here (THIS ONE I WILL GET PAID FOR–I usually refuse to make money on my blog but anything I earn on Swagbucks goes to charity) Sign Up for Swagbucks

2. Ibotta

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I’m not a big consumer of convenience food, booze or restaurant meals, but I managed with minimal effort to earn over $35 in Walmart gift cards with Ibotta! Many, many of my items were the “Any Item” variety. You can sign up for Ibotta  (same deal as with Swagbucks, yes I get some points if you sign up, but I use  them all for charity). Ibotta Sign Up link.

3. Found Money I “earned” this year

  1. Unexpected freelance work or side jobs
  2. Product rebates
  3. Unexpected checks–dentist refund, class action settlement, etc
  4. Change found in the car, sofa, laundry
  5. Sold unwanted gift cards or cashed in balances too small to buy anything

 

Some Ideas I Still Haven’t Made Myself Do:

  1. Take the “total savings” from your grocery receipt and put the actual amount into an OCC “account”.
  2.  If you “save” by changing car insurance, phone plans or other put that actual amount into your OCC “account.”

 

Learn to Shop

Learning how to shop at various stores helped SAVE a tremendous about this year. There’s more than just Kohl’s Cash to use for huge savings!  Here are the ways I’ve learned to save this year:

  1. Dollar General stores have a weekly $5 off $25 coupon.They have occasional penny deals, too. I haven’t learned that but have accidentally gotten two 1 cent pencil pouches! And, the mark things down to 70% or more off, so be patient. Always make them check the shelf if they argue about a sign. It works.
  2. Wal-mart’s app lets you scan prices–this is helpful as they don’t always replace stickers or signs when they lower prices. I’ve occasionally had to re-scan an item to show it came up at the price I claim, but it’s always been honored. I’ve saved a ton with this–for my family as well as for OCC.
  3. Target’s app has Cartwheel offers even fro Clearance clothing and shoes–this includes shoes, too, so again I’ve saved on items for myself as well as for shoeboxes

 

 

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336 Pencils
368 erasers
96 stickers
Under $11.00

  1. Big Lots discounted all their summer flip-flops and sandals 90%. I hope this is an annual event.
  2. Dollar Tree marks down Christmas merchandise on December 26–I got tons of pencils this way and a few stuffies.
  3. Target marks down their Dollar Spot at the end it’s run–super bargains on socks, pencils, toys, bags, and other items.
  4. All stores mark down Valentines. Tagert and Walgreens went down 90% eventually and I got all the Valentines with pencils or erasers for next-to-nothing. (I used these for pencil packs for Pencil Granny and Friends who make them for under-filled shoeboxes –find them on Facebook.
  5. All stores eventually markdown school supplies, too. I got pencils bags for 50 cents or less at Walmart and a host of other bargains.
  6. Walgreens and Dollar General marked down their summer toys to 70 to 90% off. I got soccer balls for toddlers for about a dollar at Walgreens and more toys at Dollar General for under a dollar each–and those were on they the toys I felt were worth buying.
  7. Plastic shoe boxes are deeply discounted each January. I found great deals on 20 or 30 packs of them at Target and Walmart.
  8. Walmart marks packaged underwear down to $1 a certain times per year.

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Big Lots summer shoe blow-out

 

4. Free Stuff

These all need to pass the “Would My Kids Like/Use this?” test. I don’t refuse good quality logo-ed water bottles, string backpacks and similar. Clothing I’m not wild about but it depends what it is. Excellent quality is the key with freebies. Some corporate toys are fine–who doesn’t love a squishy stress ball or similar? Logo-ed pens and other school supplies I take. They do the job for the kids just fine.

 

Freebies I Used This Year

  1. Socks from a pack I bought myself in a color that I just didn’t want
  2. Office supplies from a friend’s closed business
  3. Kid’s T-shirt from a friend
  4. Stickers from a co-worker
  5. Notepads, pens, water bottle, lanyard and non-breakable mug from co-worker as well as the same from me from our conference (multiple boxes got these!!)
  6. Homemade craft kits from my stash [ok not “free” but….]
  7. Cosmetic bags (for pencil bags) from co-workers and Sunday School classmates
  8. Two small stuffies from friends
  9. Cool bookmark from an event
  10. Free fire safety coloring book
  11. Shoeboxes from lots of people
  12. Unopened post-its found inside cosmetic bag that no one wanted back
  13. Hot Wheel car left in my car and not wanted back
  14. Unclaimed shirt left at my house (for bigger kid)
  15. Misc hair things left behind by my daughter (unused still on the card)
  16. Cloth wine bottle bag free at garage sale shortened into a pencil bag
  17. Toys from Free box at the thrift store and garage sale–some still in packaging
  18. Sticker sets and games from fast food kids meals at one place I go for lunch–kids meal is enough for me!
  19. Passed-as-new Hot Wheels, dinosaurs and other small toys from a friend’s grandson. [Always inspect them in bright sunlight.]
  20. Office supplies donated by guests at my office who said “throw or donate”. I got them–included 2 sets of 8 markers and 2 sets of 4 markers plus unopened Post-its.

Guess what? This was almost a full box for a 5-9 year old child (going on the t-shirt size). I could then use my gift card From Swagbucks or Ibotta to buy that cool little LEGO set or Barbie doll who swims with the dolphin or whatever for the WOW item and a few other little treats like Hot Wheels or Barbie clothes.

The Result

All of this let me pack 102 well-filled boxes that contain high-quality items kids need and will enjoy. All have school supplies, a full outfit of clothing and underwear, high quality WOW item, a stuffie, and more. Over half of my shoeboxes this year had shoes.

Need an illustration of all this?

Here’s how this videoblogger did a free Toddler-aged box

Review: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

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When it comes to chosing a cover photo some people just nail it. That’s the case wit this book. See the horrified woman behind “Ma’am Darling”? That eye says it all.

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A little sisterly side-eye from Queen Elizabeth

Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s only sibling, could have been the first Real Housewife of Kennsington Palace, the model for Bridezilla and the Chairman of the Board of the First Wives Club. She could also according to some, have been a remarkable cabarete singer and piano player.

She had a seemingly unending need for deference, booze and the beaches of Mustique. She is credited by some for starting the 1960’s upperclass “too posh to push” school of child birth. Easy to understand why.

She had a cringe-inducing, well-publicised romp with a Toyboy and yet retained the nerve to cut Sarah, Duchess of York, dead for having her toes sucked on the front page of the tabloids in the late 1980’s. All of this made her both hated, revield, loved, and adored. And mocked–oh how often was she mocked? In recent times by Tracey Ullman, previously by the Spitting Image puppets and before that by witty magazines.

Her life, though, ended on a very sad note. Not used to checking anything for herself, she badly burnt her feet stepping into a scalding bath–the water was always “just right” for Ma’am. Then her horrendous smoking and drinking caught up with her and she suffered several stroked.

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Margaret near the end of her life outside her mother’s home, Clarence House

The Book

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Thorpe and second wife, the former Countess of Harewood–former wife of Princess Margaret’s cousin.

This book could be sutbtitled: An Anthonlogy of Horrific Royal Behavior. As the title suggests it is a collection of antedotes on “Margot” and her very regal behavior intetrspersed with biographical sound-bytes.  Many of these I’ve read elsewhere as you would expect in an anthology.  I was especially fascinated by one “new” bit–that Margaret’s husband, the then Anthony Armstong-Jones, a child of divorced parents who endured polio, was a classmate and friend of scandal-plagued Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe.

The story is that Thorpe, in addition to giving school chums an eerily prescient performance of the speech he planned to give when standing down as Prime Minister, Thorpe hoped and planned to marry Princess Margaret! Instead she married his friend, Tony. Since Thorpe was a homosexual in a UK that still considered that an offense resulting in prison, Margaret would have been the most protective beard a man ever had. But, there’s an interesting end to that story beyond Thorpe’s scandals. He married the woman Margaret’s paternal first cousin, Lord Harewood, dumped!

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The Mitford sisters

Another new-to-me-story concerns Jessica Mitford–the liberal end of the famous six Mitford sisters. By then middle aged, an radical in America and married to the Black Panthers attorney, she unexpectly found herself seated next to Princess Margaret at a party. After a bit of nervous chat, Jessica’s husband arrived and she introduced him. He did not know or did not admit to knowing H.R.H.

Decca [Jessica’s nickname] please present your husband to me,” the Princess says.

“I can’t think why you can’t just say your name,” Decca says back.

Margot called over a flunkey and had him make the required “presentation.”

My Verdict

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For those who think Prince Harry’s naked game of pool or turning up at a party in a Nazi unform was the utmost in royal boorishness, this book will open your eyes to just how awful the “Spare” heir can be.

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Margaret and her children, the current Lord Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto

To close, one GOOD antecdote I’ve used in my own life. When asked about taking her children to museums, Margaret recalled the endless tours and lectures with her grandmother, Queen Mary [the loathed each other, by the way]. Margaret said something all parents should follow. She took her children to see one, maybe two pictures in a museum. Better that they beg for one more than be bored into hating it all.

4 Stars

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret byt Craig Brown

Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

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Oxford Don, writer, and theologian C.S. Lewis is an unlikely hero of the American Evangelical church. I’ve often wondered, as I’ve sat in church and heard his words quoted, what the congregation would make of the REAL man, Jack Lewis. As well as of his very Catholic friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, another unlikely hero. None led lives or worshipped or even believed in God in the ways our churches today articulate the word and truth of God. Nor did they speak to God in the same way we are lead to do. Lewis was an Anglican, Tolkien a Roman Catholics. They’d likely be appalled by our services, our church as lifestyle center, our music–our music would definitely leave them shuddering! I can see Jack singing “I Vow To Thee My Country” but NOT Mercy Me’s Greater!

Today I’m looking at an overall enjoyable historical fiction of what Lewis’ life may have been like from the time he met the woman who would be his only wife–divorced, converted Jew, ex-Communist, Joy Davidman. The love of his life. The love of her life, I should say, for it is told from Joy’s perspective. Her life as she slowly became Mrs. C.S. Lewis.

The Story

Joy and Jack’s love has been told before in books, stage/radio/tv plays and, for me most memorably, in the fabulous (though very fictionalized) film Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger as Jack and Joy. That is one of the dearest romantic films ever, but this book goes deeper and wider than a 2-hour feature film could go.

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We meet Joy in her horrible, dying marriage to fellow writer Bill Gresham. Joy has had a conversion moment and is trying to live her faith in a stolid Presbyterian congregation in the late 1940s in suburban New York. Eventually, they even move to the countryside near Poughkeepsie–taking her farther from friends, agents and her writing life in New York. Like many, many post-war mothers she found the new suburban life stifling to the point of loss of self. Her new faith helps sustain and strengthen her. She has also been physically ill. She and her husband, Bill are still working at their marriage in spite of his depression, alcoholism, violent temper and womanizing,  They finally decide that, with the arrival of a cousin to help with the boys, Joy should go away to England to get well.  Joy has written in both their names, to C.S. Lewis with questions of faith and belief. During her time in England she will meet him and the rest, in a way, is history.

My Thoughts on the Writing

Even though Lewis and Davidman were both celebrated writers, both incredibly intellectual and fabulously well-educated, I found the conversations too perfect in the book.  Do people, even ones such as these two, really speak like that at home, with a drink in hand and the day done? I wonder.  I found it a little odd that she would include “bloody” and “bugger” in their speech but that an American only used British swear words! Did they ever just say “mutton again?” or “We’re out of whiskey Joy–tell the housekeeper.” Every moment was amazing “prose-speak–” the occasional mention of bugg– notwithstanding.

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Then there were the various really odd phrases. Why was Jack always in “lounging clothes” and never pajamas or nightclothes? He really stuffed tobacco “leaves” into his pipe?  Strange that a Southern writer wouldn’t know how big a tobacco leaf is! Pipe tobacco is shredded or almost grated. Joy and her children “land port” in England. On and on with weird things like this that her editor should have nixed. Then there were the British terms–always a “cuppa” and then “smashing” and….oh please, don’t try so hard!

Joy and Jack as Characters

I found the characters were not “real” to me in the way, say Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Chaney were in Nancy Horn’s great Loving Frank. Joy’s physical desire for Jack is well written. Much of the rest of her character seemed selfish. I was completely on her side in wanting to get well and then to get her boys to a safe new life –even a life in England. But I kept thinking why didn’t she and Bill just get JOBS? They could find the money for this haven of a farm, scrape up money for a trip to England (admittedly with Joy staying at a friend’s) but money was always a big problem. I agreed with her though that Bill could go off on a “business trip” (her trip was partly to research a new book) and no one thought anything of it. But for a mother of two small children to up and go on a research trip and rest cure was unthinkable. Sadly, it can still be treated that way today.

I think today we would almost term Joy a “stalker.” She fell in love with Jack’s intellect–a powerful aphrodisiac without doubt, but then decided to have him even before she was free from her marriage to Bill, yet, in the story at least, while yearning for the consummation of this love she has a hook-up with another writer? I’d not even have noticed this little blip given the way s– is omnipresent in modern fiction, but the book is from Thomas Nelson–a Christian publisher! We are supposed to see Joy, warts and all, but Jack–not so much.

She then brings her sons to England and, after “abandoning” them (as it must have seemed to elementary school-aged children) to go get well (and, lets face it, to stalk Jack) she then puts them in yet another new culture–a British boys boarding school like the Princes William and Harry went to at age eight. Wow.  She writes feverishly, but sells almost nothing. Finally, her work on the 10 Commandments sells–but she is smart enough to realize it is Jack’s name on the cover that sells it.

Meanwhile, Jack is there with his theories of love and that theirs is the love of friendship. He knocks back whiskey, pontificates eloquently, smokes like a factory, pays for the boys boarding school, yet won’t even give Joy a good-night peck on the cheek. Odd. Well, odd to an American of today. It’s as though she felt not only the natural lust for a man she was in love with but also guilt for all that he’d done for her and so she should “pay her way” in his bed. I hope not, but it felt like it at times. Would Jack’s completely platonic approach also have been odd to an Englishwoman of that day? I imagine so. People kiss socially in that world–not in passion, more in air kisses, but contact was not forbidden. That Jack is “taken” with Joy is without doubt. But I think he might have used Prince Charles’ famous phrase “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” if asked if he was in love with Joy, before lighting a new cigarette and swishing his whiskey around in his glass and squirming a bit in his chair.

What WAS holding him back? Could a man truly be that faithful to God and Church? I hope so. Was he that chivalrous and romantic and idealistic that any thought of the physical was besmirching their love? Or, was he just not taken with her in that way? Was her continuous need to all but hurl herself into his arms just too much? Then too, it is easy to forget that anti-Semitism was still huge at that time (and can still be today). Or was his very settled life in a totally male, easily understood world at home and at Oxford too hard to give up? Was he attracted more to men? (I don’t think so.) Was his past too shameful to him to let himself overcome it and move on? (Very possibly). Or, was he afraid if he did kiss her or did take her in his arms that he’d not make himself stop? I hope it’s the last, but then I’m a romantic. But I think the death of his mother, his disastrous life with his late friend’s mother and the male-mate culture he was so immersed in, kept him from opening up.

One emotion that seemed very real was his discomfort on taking Joy to the pub with some of his Inkling friends met. Tolkien, very priggishly, says that his wife does not frequent pubs–she is at home [implied: where she belongs] with the children. You can just hear the others saying “hear, hear” like in Parliament. Jack probably lit another cigarette and sipped his pint.

Throughout the book we are treated to Joy, a woman from a time and culture in which effusive shows of mothering emotion were far, far from the norm, gushing about her beloved boys and kissing them over and over and seemingly constantly tenderly cupping their chins. Right. That rang so false and off-key. I’m sure she DID do some of those things but they were so cloying and precious and so “prose-y perfect” that I couldn’t see them as real. When Jack says Davey swanned off and he finally found him around midnight skating on the pond–that seemed real. The “Poo-gles,” [I had the audio so I’m not sure how to spell it] as Joy and, earlier, Bill, had called the children (and each other) was too saccharine for this book. It was supposed to be a touch of real life–a sweet thing, but it was just atonal mush to me. The boys themselves were reduced to stick figures–better to just have mentioned them and not tried to write them as characters.

What Was Missing

We get hints of the disapproval of Jack’s friends for the relationship in general and for Joy in particular. Tolkein alone gets to voice any disapproval and that is more for her being in his sacred man-cave-pub. It is easy to see how discontent would have been present. Joy was Jewish, an American, divorced, unwilling or unable to support her children fully and made herself very useful to Jack. Was she the Yoko Ono of the Inklings? It would have been something to have a standoff with one of them! Joy doing battle with a sanctimonious wife or priggish Oxford friend of Jack’s would have made for lively reading.

What I Loved

Yes, this has been a fairly critical review–but there was much to love in this book too. I loved the vivid way Callahan shows us the collaboration between Joy and Jack–the editing of each other’s work, the encouragement, the brainstorming. That was superb. Falling in love as mature adults, through shared interests, shared or complimentary intellectual passions, shared humor, being able to discuss and debate and have it fuel passion is perhaps the finest way to fall in love and become husband and wife, to become lovers. Joy helped sustain Jack but Jack sustained Joy, I feel, far more than her faith. He was her rock. But, Joy IS under-credited for her very real role in Lewis’ later work. That is a tragedy, but one wives of her era and before took for granted.

Now I must read more about the Inklings. And re-watch Shadowlands, which shows a Lewis who never learned to drive, driving! Hollywood.

What I Despised

THE READER! UGH! I listened to the audio book and while she was not the worst reader I’ve endured, she wasn’t good. Don’t try to do British accents. Just don’t. She was somewhere between Monty Python and Mary Poppins. It was horrendous. She was cloying to the n-th degree when Joy was being all modern-ever-gushing-attachment-Mommy. Yuck. But, none of that is the author’s fault. I doubt she had much of a say in who did the audio. A true New Yorker who smoked a lot would have been better!

 My Rating

3.5 Stars

 

For more on Jack and Joy see this fascinating blog post, My Mistress.

What Caught My Eye This Week: The Green Dress, again!

 

49417623gw_13_fThe Tea Dress

Today I visited a favorite blog, The Simply Luxurious Life, to catch up on her great posts. What jumped out at me was the tea dress the blogger, author Shannon Ables, pictured in her post Outfit of the Week: Afternoon Tea. Green. Be sure to go see this post–the shoes alone are to die for, but the dress! Wow! Wow! Wow! (You can pre-order Shannon’s new book, coming out in November. Read all about it here.)

Anyway, now I’m seeing superb green dresses everywhere! Back in August I posted on copycat covers for the book After The Party which featured, you got it, a green dress.

Credit for the dress photo: CEDRIC CHARLIER Gathered crepe de chine midi dress

Green Dresses At The Recent Royal Weddings

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Princess Anne (The Princess Royal) in green at Princess Eugenie’s  wedding

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Mother of the Bride, Sarah, Duchess of York (aka “Fergie” aka Sarah Ferguson) in green at her younger daughter’s wedding.

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Lady Kitty Spencer, eldest of Lord Spencer’s seven children by his three wives, won my vote for the most elegant lady at Prince Harry’s wedding. (Her mother, former model Victoria Lockwood (now Aitken) also wore green).

Here are the book covers for comparison

Link to the full post: Copycat Covers: The After Party

1944 Club: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

copy-of-1944club

I’ve wanted to participate in the X-Year Club since discovering it some time ago at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. I keep forgetting! This time, for the 1944 Club I picked The Robe, one of the year’s bestsellers. But, it was HUGE. My 50-something, phone-addled brain just couldn’t do it right now. Then, today, I read this post 1944 Club–Some Previous Reads posted by Kaggsy and realized I’d unknowingly read and reviewed a great book published in 1944 earlier this year. Hence today’s re-post with this new introduction! Click the link below to read the full review of A House in the Country, by Jocelyn Playfair, published in 1944.

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

housecountry

Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in…

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