Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Summer Wedding (2014 Edition)

College sweethearts, they nipped away and got married this winter, after about eight years of living in poky bedsits in Brighton, fresh flowers always on the marquetry drum table so the various places looked bright and homey.  They decided to gather the clans to celebrate at grandma's New England pond-side summer house, and gosh can the young folks throw a party.
The gift table, with its own little marquee in case the partly-cloudy sky got obstreperous.

The bride is a horticulturalist and artist; this wildflower arrangement is hers.

She also did the centerpieces, with help from friends.  The table runners are paper, decorated with the bride and groom's initials handwritten by anyone who was around to write them.  They made a great graphic design; I feel very smart that I managed to figure out they were letters.

The view from the buffet.
And we walked by the marriage vows to get to that buffet.

May there always be a shared adventure rich with moments of serenity, as well as excitement; vital with problems that test as well as successes that lift...

The feast included charcuterie and cheese plates, mezze and salads and sandwiches and really great breads.

On the groom's side, we got to meet Mum and a cousin or something.  On the bride's side, there were Mum and Dad, one and a half sisters, three aunts, two uncles, just one of several cousins, Mum's second ex-husband (effectively bride's stepfather for much of her childhood and adolescence), stepdad's mother, sister and wife and someone who may have been his mother's boyfriend, Dad's mother, sister, wife, two cousins and Dad's daughter by current marriage so that's another half-sister.  There may have been more.  The photo of the bride's mother, father's wife and stepfather's wife together is... let's call it interesting.

Dress varied widely.  One of the wedding gifts was the bride's gorgeous tiara of fresh roses.

Where do I come in?  Through the kitchen door, natch.  I made Mum and Dad's wedding cake more than thirty years ago, and the bride wanted someone to bring dessert.  They hadn't specified a wedding cake, but wedding cakes are fun!  And since they had way fewer than 150 guests, I didn't need to construct a three-tier cake, which I can only vaguely recall how to do.  So I decided to go with two tiers and a cheesecake on the side that would make her dad happy.

Cheesecake o' love.

So having made that first cake, 30-some years ago, I got called on twice more in the ensuing fifteen years.  That, for those of you challenged by the maths-totting, means I haven't made a tiered cake for more than fifteen years.  How hard could it be, I reasoned, and left everything to the last minute.  My wedding cakes have all been chocolate, with fruit filling between the layers and buttercream overall.  The two marriages celebrated with chocolate and raspberry ended in divorce; the one celebrated with chocolate and cherry filling is still going fairly strong.  So there you go.  One of the bride's friends whipped a gallon or two of cream to go with a few gallons of fresh strawberries, plus there were sorbets, so everyone got well-desserted.

Sugaring a cherry is akin to gilding a lily, but sometimes 'fancy' is the right way to go.

They both seem very down-to-earth, reasonably smart, and centered.  I'm betting on happy ever after.

Guests did a little swimming as the sun drew in.

Then there were lanterns.  The groom and bride took theirs out on the pond, lit it...

let it go...

and watched it fly.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Six, part one

American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman.  To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later!
Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Titus was sensibly docile when introduced to his new home, and housemates.  As a result, Fiona didn’t object to his presence, and Hal and Jennet accepted him peaceably.  Tory decided to thaw a block of the pesto she’d made toward the end of summer, and had just set a pot of water to boil for the linguine when she was surprised to hear the chiming that signaled an incoming Skype call.  Usually it was only her parents who Skyped, and sure enough, there was Mother when she clicked to accept the call.  Tory, startled, was doing some muzzy calculations of flight schedules and time zones as her mother caroled, “Hello, darling.”
“Hey, Mum.  Where are you?  What time is it?”
“We’re in Boston, Victoria, at your sister’s.  The weather forecast was a bit uncertain and there’ve been protests – well, you know that.  So we thought it safest to take an earlier flight.  Anyway, the jet lag hasn’t caught up yet, so I thought I’d give a call tonight and see whether we should pick anything up in the city.  We’re going to leave about mid-day tomorrow, so we should be with you in time for tea.  You have that early start on Tuesdays, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes.  Funny about teatime; I just had a proper tea party at a friend’s house the other day.  Oh, I’m so glad you didn’t get held up over there.  Let’s see... groceries.  There’s nothing essential you need to bring.  We can get the turkey from the Musgroves again; I reserved one already.  And there’s plenty of all the veg and things here.  Max is bringing wine, and it should be excellent – that’s this Dutch doctor the twins know.  He’s coming to dinner, and his housekeeper.  But if you want to bring some fancy, big-city treats for hors d’oeuvres or chocolates or something, that would be great.”
“I’ve got an amazing pepper spread from Konya that we can snack on while we’re cooking, and some – well, slightly peculiar, really, but so interesting – little pickles.  Maybe I’ll sprint over to Formaggio’s in the morning and pick out some cheeses and trimmings for a lovely cheese tray.  And I can send your dad off to Burdick’s for chocolates.  Now, don’t fuss about beds and dusting, sweetheart, we’ll have plenty of time to take care of that for ourselves.  Here’s your father,” she said as his pleasantly rounded, spectacled face joined hers on the screen.
“’Lo, Tory.”  Her dad sounded like he was on a very different sleep cycle than her mother.  “All set for the invasion?”
“Welcome home, Daddy,” she smiled.  “I’m ready, but there’s a new boarder who may freak out a bit.”  She lifted the screen to point the camera toward Titus, sitting up in his bed.  “I found him by the road, hurt.  He seems pretty sanguine about the new environment so far, though.”
Putting the screen back on the table, she could see her father’s gently resigned expression.  “I suppose we couldn’t expect to come home to the same number of animals we’d left,” he said.  “I hope he’s a more active mouser than Fiona, that’s all.  Have you taken care of all the logistics with your mother?  You know we’re bringing Aunt Lindy?”
“Yes, all set,” Tory assured him as her mother came back on screen, looking unexpectedly dazed.
“Jane’s calling us for dinner, Peter,” she said.  “And I’m suddenly so sleepy.  We’d better hang up now.  Oh, and Tory, Neil and Emma have each told me a bit about their friend Max, so don’t, please dear, indulge in further prevarication.  We’ll see you tomorrow.  Night-night!”
“G’night, Mother, g’night, Dad.  See you soon.”  Tory clicked to hang up, then uttered a groan as she turned back to her merrily bubbling sauce pan.  Why would they tell?  What did they tell?  Oh, brother.  And sister.  And mother, the last living American to say ‘prevarication.’  What does she think she’s talking about?”
After washing her dinner dishes, Tory whisked through the living, dining and sitting rooms, with a final flick of the duster, and swept away the various litter the animals had managed to spread since her big clean on Monday evening.  Then she made up the beds in three rooms, dusted, and set out clean towels.  She closed the bedroom doors carefully to ensure pet hair wouldn’t be part of the family’s welcome the following day.
By ‘teatime,’ without a moment to recover from a busy work day, she had put chrysanthemums in a few vases for the bedrooms, stirred up a batch of apple muffins and put them in to bake, set plates and cups on the coffee table, and put the kettle to boil.  She was putting the remaining groceries she’d collected on a hurried lunch break into the pantry when she heard a car pull up, and the dogs began to bark excitedly.  She left the sweet potatoes and onions in the bag and ran to the front door, flew through it and into her mother’s arms.
“It is so good to see you,” she cried, luxuriating in her mother’s solid hug as the two of them rocked lightly from side to side.  Then it was Dad’s turn, and by the time they were done, Jane had assisted their father’s Aunt Lindy to emerge from the car.  Great Aunt Lindy was spry and alert at 87, but warranted a gentler hug than what she called ‘the young folk’ had shared.  After greeting her warmly, Tory gave her an arm to assist her into the house, and installed her in a well-upholstered armchair by the living room’s huge open fireplace.  Then she dashed back outside to assist with the luggage, winning an armload of bags from specialty food shops.  She dumped those on the kitchen counter and pulled the singing kettle from the stove, and had the tea nicely steeped by the time Jane and their parents had settled the various suitcases and parcels and gathered in the main room.
They spent a lovely hour or two chatting, interrupting, repeating stories and fussing over the dogs, who were elated to have so many hands available for patting.  At one point, Mother and Dad had competing slide shows going on their separate tablets, but there would be time to get caught up with all the photos, so no one objected.  Eventually the calm induced by hot tea and carbohydrates settled over the group, and Jane had a chance to ask, “Tory, what needs to be done ahead of Thanksgiving?”
Tory, being Tory, was ready with the plan.  “I’ve got all the groceries, I think, except the turkey.  So someone will need to pick him up from the Musgrove’s tomorrow morning.  I’m working until noon, and then I’ll go to the community center to make sandwiches and help pack donation boxes.  We gave homemade applesauce and cranberry sauce, by the way, and you’re welcome to come help.  Mr. and Mrs. Aboud are going to drive the boxes down to Concord.  Of course you can do whatever flower-arranging, centerpiece-making, dusting and table-setting you like. This is Liberty Hall.”
The others were all eager to participate in the food drive work, and turkey-pick-up was soon settled.  Jane asked about the regional high school’s senior play, and their mother mentioned, somewhat vaguely, that ‘the children’ might like to get a lacrosse game going.  Jane and Tory grinned at that – mother was the gentlest of souls until she saw an incorrect citation in an academic paper, or got a lacrosse stick in her hands.  “How many for dinner, total, Tory?” her father asked.
“Twelve in all.  Six Birds, Aunt Lindy, cousin Bob with Ilona and the baby, and Jaap and Max from Amsterdam.  No known food allergies in the group; Baby Paul may eat some potatoes but they’ll bring mushy food in jars to warm in the microwave.”
“And who’s to make what?” inquired Great Aunt Lindy.
“You’re on cranberry sauce as always, Aunt Lindy,” Tory said.  “Emma and I will make pies tomorrow night.  Mum and Dad have turkey duty, Jane and Neil peel and chop.  Our Dutch guests are bringing salad and wine.  Ilona and Bob aren’t bringing anything because Paul had another ear infection and so they took him in for surgery last week and when Ilona told me she couldn’t stop crying.  Neil is doing something with Brussels sprouts; Emma wants green beans; I’m making cheesy onions and scissor rolls.  My friend Debbie sent me the recipe, and they look delicious, so I don’t care what Miss Manners says about no rolls with dinner.  Dad mashes potatoes, Jane glazes sweet potatoes.  Isn’t that everything?” she gazed around her, and noticed her audience looked slightly stupefied.
“It is an awfully large meal, isn’t it?” Aunt Lindy pointed out after a brief pause.  “But such a lovely one.  It will be delightful to see the baby, though I suppose he’s really a toddler now, isn’t he?”
“And that much better at getting in the way, but we can stick him in the mud room with the dogs if we need to.”  Jane was almost entirely kidding, but Tory figured she’d keep a discreet eye on the one child in their group, just in case.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Five, part four

American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman.  To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later!

Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

The next day, she kept her appointment to pick up Titus, driving up the hill to Josh and Sheila’s with a freshly-washed cat bed on the passenger seat.  It was just 6:00, since she guessed the household would stick to later, more European mealtimes.  It seemed she was right; Jaap answered the doorbell wearing a clean white apron and welcomed her in, explaining that he’d just put a cauliflower to braise for dinner.  “Well, then,” Tory offered, “I’ll just grab Titus and go.”
“A drink first?” Jaap suggested.  “That might give the beast a chance to accustom himself to his new bed.  I thought you might be interested in the kitchen here, and could perhaps advise me as to one or two things that are unfamiliar.”
“Oh, of course,” she agreed, and walked with him to the kitchen.  Given a choice of cocktail or mocktail, she picked the non-alcoholic one, and was rewarded with a tall, iced elderflower concoction that was light and delicious.  Jaap told her he’d brought the cordial syrup with him from the Netherlands, wisely not trusting to find it in rural New Hampshire.  “Although I think it’s quite popular in restaurants, now, so you’d probably be able to get it in Boston, and maybe someplace like Walpole,” Tory mused.
Jaap mentioned Thanksgiving, and Tory suggested he might like to arrive an hour or two before the 4:00pm dinner time.  She got the impression he would enjoy being part of the preparations for the big meal.  Jaap agreed with pleasure, and asked whether he might bring anything to add to the table.  They went through the various traditional menu items, and settled on salad as his contribution.  It wasn’t an essential element of the meal, Tory reflected, but it was nice to add some color to the largely-beige dinner, plus salad traveled well and no one at her house ever seemed to remember it or have time to throw one together.
“Mr. Max is a great one for vegetables,” Jaap informed her.  “He’s not particular at mealtimes, but he does prefer to emphasize nutrition over trends and luxuries.  Now Mrs. Winton, who cared for the children when they were little, she seemed to think bread and butter, porridge and potatoes were all children needed to grow strong.”
“Very English of her,” Tory commented.
“Rather Dutch, as well,” her companion said mournfully.  “But we had Bep in the kitchen, and she watching cookery shows, and took courses at the – you might say town center, I think – and taught her niece, Sitska, who’s the cook now, that we ought to have greens and citrus and spices and all the rest, not just this stodge and fat.  So we eat very well indeed at home.”
“I love the Indonesian spices,” Tory said, remembering the rijsttafel.  Jaap beamed.
“Mr. Max, also,” he said.  “You know he goes to that area every year or two, as part of Mediciens Sans Frontieres.  You know that company?  He has always been a great donor to charity.  His mother the same, and his father in his day as well.”
“I didn’t know about that,” Tory informed him, impressed.  “We call it Doctors Without Borders, and my sister spent two years with them, in Uganda, when she finished med school.  Medical school.”
“He has a program for club feet,” Jaap elaborated.  “He is very generous.  He was since he was a little boy, taking care of his sisters, and standing up for the scholarship children at school.  I remember he came home once with his shirt torn, and a cut lip, and asked me to help him tidy himself before he went in to his mother.  ‘Fighting is not the right way, Jaap,’ he said to me, ‘but when I saw them bullying Rafik, I had to help him.  Another time, I shall be there in time to be sure no one starts anything.’  He was twelve, maybe eleven.”
Jaap paused to contemplate the memory of a young Mr. Max, and Tory tried to imagine him as he’d been then.  Even allowing for Jaap’s prejudice, she could believe he’d been special from an early age.
“There have always been rescue dogs, cats, once a donkey at the house in Friesland,” Jaap spoke again.  Tory checked the time, suddenly guilty.  “Speaking of dogs,” she said, “I’ve really got to get home to mine.  Titus seems content in his bed, so I’ll just carry him out that way.”
Of course, Jaap insisted on seeing her to her car, holding doors and closing them again, and assuring her he looked forward to seeing Titus and her, and meeting the rest of the clan, in three days.  She smiled and waved and drove away, glancing down to ensure the cat was still settled.  He was.  “I love donkeys,” she remarked to him.  The handsome calico readied himself for a snooze, and evinced no opinion.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Betty by the Numbers: Cars Redux

If you've taken a look at The Huge Roses, my Betty homage, you may have noticed a Rolls Royce Phantom and an elderly Subaru.  They are, of course, sub-homages to TGB.  (If I were fully homage-ing, I would have my heroine drive an American make, but elderly Subaru are the quintessential New Hampshire vehicle for students, recent grads, and almost anyone else in the state who's not wealthy.  Rich folk drive younger Subaru, ha ha, and the RDD comes to grief in a rented Mercedes -- you don't drive rear-wheel drive in New Hampshire in the winter, for silly's sake!)  I love Betty's anomalous interest in, and knowledge of, hot car models.  It adds a touch of butch competence to the froth of dresses and souffles in her stories.  The great medical scenes of the early canon lay the foundation of gender-irrelevant competence, but the car-knowledge is a fun garnish.  So here's a redux of BbtN: Cars.

Did you know this figurehead-thingy is called 'The Spirit of Ecstasy'?  I have got to hitch me a ride in a Rolls...

Well, this slice-and-dice proved something I’d kinda noticed whilst paging through the canon:  as Betty aged, either she or her editor decided detailed information on our hero’s chariot was unneeded or unwanted – or else Betty lost touch with or interest in the automotive world.  In the last 68 books, from 1985 on, our hero drives either a Bentley or a Rolls (sometimes called a Rolls-Royce), with the very occasional Jaguar, Daimler or Rover for back-up.  Only two of those late books identify which model of Bentley, and there are no specifics on the Rolls-Royces.

That’s a long way from the early years, when every Rolls is a Silver Shadow drophead coupé, Merlin or Corniche; Rovers are Land, Range or TC 2000s; and Aston Martins, Panthers and Lamborghinis zoom across the Afsluitdijk.  One notices, too, that in later years our hero is apt to explain his Rolls or Bentley by saying that he needs a big car to accommodate his large frame.  In earlier years, he was apparently content to cram himself into a sporty Italian model that must have required tucking his knees into his underarms.  And, incidentally, those cars were seriously ugly – check all the photo research the Founding Bettys have generously done.

Of course, in early years he also had a back-up car, to vary the ergonomics a bit.  In the first three years (1969-71) and nine books she published, Betty’s menfolk average 2.1 cars each.  From 1972-79, over 37 books, they average 1.7 apiece, and then from 1980-2001, 89 books, we’re down to just 1.1 vehicles per man; 80 of them have a single auto and nine have two – Titus Tavener of Dearest Love (1995) has three.  The average for all 135 heroes is 1.3 cars each.  The most conspicuous consumer of automotive goods is Fraam der Linssen of Ring in a Teacup (1978), who kept a Panther 4.2, a Rolls-Royce Carmague, a Range Rover and a Mini.  Which one do you think he passed down to Fraam Jr. sixteen years later?

The final count:  of the 180 cars Betty names for her menfolk, Rolls Royce wins the checkered flag, with 59 product placements.  The Bentley folks are close behind, with 50 mentions.  Since 38 of these children of fortune own multiple luxury automobiles – let’s just tot up some maths here – that means 44% of perfect husbands drive Rollses and 37% drive Bentleys.  Only two heroes – Jonkheer Max van Oosterwelde of Visiting Consultant (1969) and Radmer ter Bavinck of The Moon for Lavinia (1975) – drive one of each.

And what do the gentlemen drive when not in those exemplars of British automaking?  Other exemplars, mostly:  eleven Daimlers (typically Sovereigns) and ten Aston Martins lead the pack, with nine Jaguars almost keeping pace.  Six Rovers and six Bristols make a nice showing.

I was surprised to find four Panthers on the list.  That has got to be some kind of early-childhood fixation of Madame Neels’s, because no one could love that thing on first sight.  There are also four Minis, which are more likely to be wifeys, as no one as vast as an RDD will be comfy in a Mini.  The ones, twos and threes include:  Jensen, Volvo, Iso Grigo, Mercedes, BMW, Citroën, Porsche, Lamborghini, Iso Lele, a shabby Fiat, Maserati, Lagonda, Ferrari and – say it with me – “The Man in the AC 428 Fastback!”  I do think it impressive, and interesting, that Betty Neels had so detailed an interest in automobiles.  I read once that she didn’t know how to drive (it was in a Harlequin author profile, in response to a question about what she’d do differently in her life, or something like that), yet she obviously had strong opinions on how, and in what, it ought to be done.  She routinely praises her heroes for fast driving, and a few heroines in earlier books have ‘advanced driving certificates,’ as a point of pride.

And back here at home, I recently quit my career and had to give up the dream of augmenting my nearly-new Corolla with an elderly Miata for summer days.  Ah, well.  It’s worth it not to have a career that makes me stress-eat to the point of not being able to wedge myself into a Miata anyway.  And the Corolla has a sunroof, so life could be worse!