Monday, May 31, 2010

Hannah - Discussion Thread

Betty Keira and I have an ongoing frustration with our separate libraries...for whatever reason, we seldom seem to have the same edition of any given Neels.
Her: it's on page 59 in my book...
Me: Umm...which edition do you have? Mine is a "Best of"...
Her: Mine's not. In my book the scene happens just before chapter 4.
Me (madly rifling through): Ah, got it.
I was therefore quite pleased that we have the same edition of is good. [Betty Keira] I know. Life IS good.

In spite of the Great Neels predilection of often giving us ultra-specific medical terminology, she leaves us wanting a little more right at the beginning of Hannah. Little Paul's mum is in the hospital, she uses a 'monkey rope' to lift herself up in her hospital bed...I couldn't find any references or pictures that went with I'm going out on a limb and say that it's that triangle thingy hung from what looks like a Balkan frame (we read a lot about Balkan frames back in Damsel in Green). We're never told exactly what brought Mevrouw van Eysink to the hospital...but Hannah gives us a clue when she says that Mevrouw will have to wear a 'hip spica' for a bit when she leaves hospital. So....something to do with hips? Perhaps she was driving her Jaguar too fast and was in a motor car smash-up...breaking her hip and forcing her to have an emergency C-section to deliver the premature Paul. We Hanna (no extra H) Bettys have a brother, Brian, who broke his hip a couple of years ago...he was tossing trash into the solid waste disposal unit (dump) and fell into the giant dumpster better known as The Gaping Maw of Doom. They're massive enough to drive little tractor-plows in to compact it--maybe the size of a few houses. The Founding Bettys grew up without curbside garbage pick-up so would haul our trash to the dump in a trailer from time to time. So, so cool and you have to be very conscious of how much you throw away. It was a clean fracture, so he didn't have to have a cast or a brace, but he was supposed to be confined to a wheelchair for 4 weeks - he lasted 2 weeks before his wife started getting calls from his co-workers (it's a small town) ratting him out - he had ditched the wheelchair at work and used crutches. After 8 weeks on crutches he was good to go. Except that he has had to put up with more than a little snickering and teasing from his sisters. None of the above look comfortable to wear with a C-section scar, fyi.

A little bit of aristocracy... Hannah's nursing superior is referred to as "The Honorable". Sister Thorne is the younger daughter of a viscount. Being called "The Honorable" just doesn't have the same ring as "Lady". Can you be both?

Hannah and her mum have some noisy neighbors. Above them, they have an old lady who walks with a stick...and they can hear every tap. The downstairs neighbors are 'ardent disciples of pop music'. 1980 pop music: After a few minutes of exhaustive searching on the inter-web-nets, I came to the conclusion that the top song of 1980 was....Call me by Blondie (If I lived above those neighbors, they would have had to put up with me dancing and singing along...which probably would have put a stop to playing the music loud). What other hits of 1980 might the neighbors be listening to? Let's take a trip in the Uncrushable Time Machine:
Hannah's drippy mother is of the selfish absorbed species. Even though she spends her evening watching tv and knitting, she doesn't like Hannah to go out with friends...a little gentle chiding and the pressure of guilt squashes Hannah practically flat. Her leisure has become so restricted that for fun she takes a long time choosing books at the library. When Dr. van der Stevejinck was finishing up his degree (and we were dirt poor), going to the library was what often passed for fun for me. I still enjoy a good browse at the library.

Hannah's father was a 'rural dean'--what is this? a schoolmaster? A cleric? Anyone?

Hannah is a very good dancer despite having little practice--Neels heroines drive/don't or swim/don't but they ALWAYS dance well. Discuss. We Hanna Bettys (no extra H) are enthusiastic dancers with rather indifferent style...somehow one of our brothers (I'm looking at you, Brian) is possessed with the hips of a lounge lizard. Or at least he did before falling in the dumpster. I think we got it from Dad who has more passion than skill...


Since my last review was Waiting For Deborah, (Betty Debbie's first name, sort of) it seems appropriate that this week I'm doing Hannah (The Founding Bettys maiden name, sort of). Historically, it hasn't been my favorite--maybe it's because that palindromic (and unnecessary) 'H' at the end makes me hostile to the title. The extra 'H' is for hairy milkmaids whereas Hanna is a lovely name and needs no addition. But I digress...Short review: Mind changed. I loved it!

Hannah Lang, 24, Staff Nurse of the Prem Ward of St. Egberts, is sick to death of Uncle Valentijn. Her patient's mother, Corinna van Eysink, has been quoting him, chapter and verse for weeks now and Hannah is sick of his thickset, balding, deadly boring perfections. That she has never met the man doesn't impede her deep antipathy one jot. She is sure that the picture she's conjured of a paunchy, middle-aged paedetrician with pebble glasses is spot on. How mortifying then, to have her imagination land so wide of the mark.
Valentijn van Bertes is nearly 40, it is true, but he's a looker. Dang it. And the look in his eye when he meets her--a painful cocktail of amusement, mixed with mockery and a chaser of indifference--has her thinking, better the devil you've conjured then the devil before you.
Hannah (I seriously hate that extra H) spends her off-duty days with her widowed mother in a flat that sports a 'respectable address' and not much else. Yes, they could move to something cheaper and quieter but Mother must have her little refinements. Mother is described variously as selfish, dreadfully lazy, charming, pretty, quite ruthless and (in her own gag-inducing words) 'poor little me'. Her complaints are like rain drowning her daughter. Drip--I can't believe you're so plain--Drop--I'm so tired, you'll have to make dinner--Drip--I'm glad you have no plans to marry--Drop--Have I chased off that pharmacy worker who took a shine to you yet?. But if nothing else, The Weather Event has raised her daughter with a healthy respect for the fifth commandment.
Hannah has plenty of good points though. She has excellent dress sense (thank you Betty) even if not much money to indulge it, is a wonderful nurse, warm-hearted, persevering and is never bored. This last makes her a catch all by itself but it's a quiet quality that you'd have to be paying attention to notice.
Valentijn is not paying attention. He's gotten himself engaged while we had our backs turned--to Nerissa, a woman whose very name sends a delicious chill up my spine. Corinna is not pleased about it. She loves her Oom Valentijn and after his sad marriage and divorce many years previously he deserves better.
Side Note: The former Mevrouw van Bertes is still alive somewhere. This book came out before The Mighty Neels discovered the untapped expediency and drama of a plane crash in the Andes with a South American lover.
Corinna wants to return to Holland and Uncle Valentijn, Smoother of Pathways, Greaser of Skids is there to make it happen. These onerous duties include lavishing Mother with 6 bottles of sherry and supplying her a temporary home help while Hannah comes with them. He also asks her for dinner and complains gently to his niece the next day '...and don't for God's sake let her loose on the claret; my head aches with her chatter!' Gentle Hannah, shy and intimidated in his company, had gotten a little muzzy on the drink but overhearing him give such a scathing review of taking her out makes her furious.
She gets her own back soon after, however. They arrive in Holland to a welcome party and Hannah refuses to drink the toast. Her natural competence asserts itself, 'If claret makes me chatter, the risk of what I might do after a glass of champagne is too great to bear thinking about.' (She shoots, she scores!)
But life at the van Eysink villa is lovely and, even if she is busy feeding little Paul up she has afternoons free to swim or walk or ride. It is on one such day, after skillfully swimming a few lengths, that she becomes aware that she is being watched. (Tell me how this is accomplished underwater?) Uncle Valentijn and the dreaded Nerissa--which is Greek for 'sea sprite' and Dutch for 'sea serpent'--stroll up in their well-bred outfits. Ugh. Meeting the enemy soaking wet?! I protest.
Nerissa doesn't really like children (she'll make a perfect paediatrician's wife), she fusses over her clothes and, though it seems absurd, has taken an instant dislike to insignificant Hannah. Silly, really. The doctor and the nurse don't care for one another.
Or do they?
On Hannah's free day she takes a horse around the countryside and is enjoying her solitary ramble. While stopping for lunch, who does she stumble across but the good doctor. He's come to talk about little Paul and why doesn't he buy her lunch while he's at it. Okay, just to sum up: He drove over, discovered that she was off duty and, instead of calling it a wash, mounts a horse and prepares to devote the bulk of his day (hours and hours) to her.
Her response is to pull out her union contract, show him the fine print and remind him that she's entitled to bank holidays, smoking breaks, full dental coverage and days off without being pestered.
She clearly doesn't know what's happening here. To her he is an attractive man whom she enjoys being impertinent to. He is Uncle Valentijn. At this point, however, he is beginning to understand that she attracts him. He likes her--he doesn't want to and is willing to concede that she's not trying to captivate him at all. But while she blithely goes about her darling and precocious business he's arming himself to defend his fortress.
Then one night she wakes to find little Paul pinched and vomiting. "Intussusception--or I'm a Dutchman." What a smarty-pants. Google is such a comfort at times like this. Intussuception is a problem with the intestine in which one portion of the bowel slides into the next, much like the pieces of a telescope. Ouch.
It's touch and go for a few days but our dedicated nurse straps her starched muslin cap on and pulls little Paul back from the brink. He can't help but admire her so that it irks him when she calls him Uncle Valentijn (to little Paul) or sir.
'I do mind being called "sir" by you, Hannah. Don't do it again.'
'Oh, sorry--we call consultants "sir" in England.'
'So they do here, or the equivalent of it,' and at her look of bewilderment: 'No, don't try and work that one out.'

Let's run that through the Rich Dutch Doctor to Poor Brit Nurse translator:
Nerissa's curves appear inadequate to plug the hole in my heart.
I'm a size 10.

Well, what are we waiting for?
He is unable to admit to any dawning realizations but understands the threat Hannah poses to his peace of mind. To that end he brings Nerissa along with him to the van Eysink villa. But when that fails to help him he attempts the Uncle Valentijn routine--avuncular and concerned and matchmaking. If only she could meet some young man. Then, surely (he thinks desperately to himself), surely, he can lead his life in peace.
Nerissa has just the guy. Enter Henk van der Kampen--he of the straggly mustache. He asks Deborah out and she finally agrees because Nerissa implies that Valentijn wants to prise her from little Paul's side--for Corinna's sake. Well, that puts another complexion on it. She'll go but '...Henk was going to be hard to swallow.'
She has a miserable time. The restaurant is nice but he complains about everything and pesters the waiters. His parting shot is that she is starchy and he'll be dashed if he ever does Nerissa any favors again.
Remember, this is a girl who spends her off duty cooking for Mother and watching tentative romantic interest be crushed in Mother's twittering grasp. It hasn't been fun or ego-boosting and tonight is no exception. Valentijn, anxious about--well, he's just anxious because he didn't really want to send her away with some young man in the first place--is waiting for her. Tears and a muddled cry that tonight, compounded with that time they went out, is ample evidence of her failure as a companion. High time for some of his beastly Dutch oaths--at himself, this time, for thoughtlessly wounding her before. And kissing. Don't forget the kissing.
Hard on the heels of that little spot of snogging comes a solid gold dawning realization. Hers. And for a few days she's in shock. The monstrous suggestion that Valentijn--her Valentijn--would marry that cold fish who, if she has children would only allow them near her for a half hour after tea, sends her deep into the Land of Indiscretion with an emotional tirade on Distant Parenting.
Valentijn, his hands tied by the very engagement he created, has accepted his dawning realization at last--knowing full well that it was his constant companion for weeks before. He is unable to defend Nerissa or comfort Hannah so let's spend a minute and be sad for him.
A little while later, he invites Hannah to tour the hospital. (Okay, fine. That's a nice short activity.) And then he brings her home with him. She's gobsmacked by the opulence and he tells her that she looks 'like a worried little trout'. (Note the endearment. I expect he will still use it in her sweet 70s.)
Editorial Note:
A common trope to Neelsism is the RDD home tour--which often serves as shorthand for 'Ik hou van jou' (English for: I love you, Poor Brit Nurse.) Hannah has possibly the best example of what the emotional ramifications of this tour are as the hero discusses the loving family circle of his childhood, his present loneliness and hopes for a peaceful and happy future. Failure to show a woman his house is tantamount to indifference (The Hasty Marriage) and Valentijn has shown Hannah nearly every nook and cranny.
'No doubt I seem an elderly fool to you...'He returns her to the villa and tells her to be ready in one hour. For what? Oh, did he forget to mention? He's taking her out to dinner. And not just any dinner. It's a repeat of the disastrous date with Henk (hate that name) van de Kampen. But of course this time the service, the table, the food, and the dancing are excellent. Lesson learned.
Strangely though, at the end of the night he walks her into the van Eysink's, listens to her thanks and disappears abruptly--which reminds me of that line in That Thing You Do:
Mr. White: We bow, right? In unison, and we're off the stage before the applause dies out.
Jimmy: Well, what if they want an encore?
Mr. White: You unplug and you run, RUN offstage! Smiling, smiling, of course.
Our RDD could sustain an encore but his self-control can't.
Nerissa returns and poisons things and Hannah tells Valentijn, when he tentatively asks, that she DOESN'T want to meet in London for dinner when he comes in two weeks. The look she surprises on his face at the farewell dinner is equal parts of thoughtful, sad and calculating. The Pride of Holland is down but not out.
Soon she's back in London and miserable. Mother wants to keep the hired help and tells Hannah to quit her job and take up private (read: pointless) nursing. There's more money in it, Mother says, but Hannah cannot believe this gaping maw is her parent. She wishes she'd get a job or contribute or move or '...just stop moaning about her lot'. Cathartic, no?
So she does it (because nothing matters now that Valentijn is gone) but is fetched back by Valentijn within weeks. Gastro-enteritis. Little Paul again. And broncho-pneumonia on top of it. The little fellow just can't catch a break. Hannah works like a Trojan to get him well again and in between charts and sleep and feedings she meets Valentijn's aunt--because that's what this book needs to get this couple on the same train--an outspoken old person making personal remarks about her bosom.
Paul is finally pronounced well enough to go home and Hannah can now take a few walks without having to be near. She becomes lost, Valentijn finds her, she tells him she loves him and he...tells her they ought to be getting back. Awkward small talk ensues. Fate may be remarkable but it doesn't open up giant holes and swallow you when you want it to. She is mortified and he assures her that they'll talk when he gets back from Brussells. (Oh, no! Not Belgium!) Nerissa puts her oar in to no good purpose but then (during yet another walk) Valentijn returns to find our soaking heroine. See, he couldn't propose until he'd shaken off the sea serpent for once and for all.
The villagers rejoice.
But what about Mother?
We'll provide a home and money for her. (Which is code for: We'll tie a big rock to her ankles and find the nearest Meer...)
The End

Rating: I loved this--just loved it--which is all very strange since I was so ho-hum about it before. I blame the cover art which makes her look both weirdly plain and as though she has had an unacceptable amount of plastic surgery or laser hair removal. A ton of time gets spent on little Paul's afflictions, treatment and recovery but I didn't mind too much. Hannah, herself, is a force of will, pulling little Paul back from the brink time and again. She is natural and frank and cute as a button. In turn, Valentijn is my favorite kind of hero--arrogant and living to regret it. Queen of Puddings.

Food: Languid mother eats a lot of egg-based dishes-souffles and omlettes and salad. Also, we have artichoke hearts with vinagrette, tournedos Rossini, trifle and lobster Thermidor. When Hannah overindulges on the claret she keeps strictly to non-alchololic beverages for a while--tonic water and lemon and iced orange juice. Ice cream ('she allowed her liking of ice cream to overcome her dignity'). And uitsmijter is defined as 'beef or cheese...on bread and butter, with fried eggs on top' which sounds like my diet for all four years of college.

Fashion: Pleated skirts get a lot of wear which I am deeply suspicious of. No matter that her waist is small--if she's short and curvy then it''s bound to add inches, right? A silk jersey pinky mushroom gown, a leaf green cotton dress and one in pastel voile. Also, short-sleeved blouses and a blazer.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Betty Mentions Appropriate Church Attire

...the aunts needed new hats. They seldom went out but church on Sunday was a must and they never condoned a bare head in church.*

-An Old-Fashioned Girl

*we don't always have much to work with as far as church mentions go...some books just plain don't have much.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Luck Be A Lady

In Waiting for Deborah, our plucky redheaded heroine splashes out on some new clothes."...and always at the back of her mind was the hope that one day Sir James would come and by some lucky chance she would be wearing them." Of course Sir James comes by when she is on her knees giving the fireplace a good clean, dressed in an old dress, covered by a pinny - hair tied back and no make-up on. Of course. Because that's the way real life works. Luck just never seems to stretch that far.
  • Old friends that you haven't seen in ages stop by when you're in the middle of canning season.
  • The ladies from church stop by just as your toddler has emptied the entire contents of a) your refrigerator b) his diaper c) the toy box d) the bookcase or e) all of the above - all over your living room floor.
  • Your stylish neighbor drops by just as the cat has been sick (or incontinent) right in front of the door.

Never fails. If slings and arrows of outrageous fortune happen to fall upon you at your house, it will always do so at the most inconvenient time...just before company rings your doorbell.

Everythings Coming Up Roses

Both Waiting For Deborah and An Old-Fashioned Girl are veritable landscape-gardening shows.

Flowers make everybody feel better. Daffodils, forget-me-nots, pansies, grape hyacinths and snowdrops have the power restore motor skills and cognition evidently. Old Mrs. Vernon starts twitching her toes after the flowers. Coincidence?

Sir James' cottage also has roses and a herbaceous border. Nothing says romance like common ragwort...

In An Old-Fashioned Girl, Patience tip-toes around as a general factotum placing bowls of primroses, winter jasmine, and forsythia on innocent side-tables. There are daffodils and tulips in the greenhouse. Interestingly, though women are the prime receivers of blooms, Julius likes having the flowers around.

When you have flowers in your house, what do you prefer?

Psst...Betty Keira likes roses (any color), cherry blossoms and no carnations.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Emergency Preparedness Soapbox

"Emergency preparedness is a team sport." - Eric Whitaker

In An Old-Fashioned Girl, our plucky heroine plus her boss and his housekeeper are snowed in for several days. They quickly run out of flour and Patience is reduced to making a bread-like creations out of potatoes. First of all, bread from potatoes? Cool. Second, it's January out in the boonies of Norfolk and the locals warn the housekeeper that a blizzard is coming. Who wouldn't do a little judicious stocking up of the larder at this point?

Being snowed-in is the most common natural disaster in Neeldom (I can think of several books that use this particular trope). Heavy rains/flooding would come in second, and there are at least two books that have earthquakes. Man made/caused disasters mentioned include fire and bombs.

While we here in the Northwest enjoyed a mild winter this year, many of the Betty's on the East Coast were subjected to snow storm after snow storm. Many in the East also had devastating floods. More recently there have been tornadoes in the Plains States. My question is, if any of these affected you, were you prepared for it, or did you have to sacrifice a house pet to survive?

FEMA and the American Red Cross have an Emergency Preparedness Checklist (linked to here). Swing by and give it a look-see.

Climbing down from my soapbox....

Cinema Betty

Waiting For Deborah presented a bit of a challenge. I know our Bettys will forgive me for making them travel down a tangent with the pick of:

The Man From Snowy River (1982)

"But wait, Betty Keira. What do wild brumbies, rustled cattle and the Australian Outback have to do with the quiet, little novel at hand?" Kirk Douglas, that's what.
The elder statesman of the Douglas dynasty suffered a stroke in 1996 that effected his speech. He, like a certain Old Mrs. Vernon we know, was not content to lay on his back for the rest of his life. He underwent a second bar mitzvah, continued to act and is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) celebrity bloggers.
I also chose this movie because, in the end, the hero rides into the sunset and leaves the girl to no doubt take a three-month correspondence course in shorthand/typing...but he'll be back soon.

An Old-Fashioned Girl has a pretty hairy episode where Patience is snowed in with inadequate resources but Alive is R-rated and I haven't seen it (Also, it is about eating people which tends to suck the romance right out of a situation) so I chose:

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

I know it's a stretch. It helps if you think of rural Norfolk as the ice-planet Hoth, the rambling house as the soon-to-be-surrendered rebel base, Julius as Han Solo, Patience as Luke, and Miss Murch as the frozen Tauntaun that gets sacrificed to keep the characters alive.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Betty and the Real World

Waiting For Deborah:

Deborah is so hard up that she has to go to British Home Stores to replenish her meagre wardrobe. It is described as a department store aiming for a less affluent crowd than Marks and Spencer. I'm thinking J.C. Penny's in relation to Macy's, perhaps? Her old friend gets to trot off to Liberty's.

Old Mrs. Vernon is allowed to eat Complan after Sir James sees her--a nourishing milky food. Yu...m.

The dreamy Sir James thinks Old Mrs. Vernon might someday be able to walk with a Zimmer frame--which sounds like a trapeze apparatus, but isn't. It's just an ordinary walker, to ordinary folks like you and me.

Deborah wants to borrow a special chair/tray from the Red Cross (here, I think Betty is betraying the fact that she was a nurse and would be expected to know that the Red Cross might be willing to part, even temporarily, with valuable medical equipment). The British Red Cross was formed in response to the Franco-Prussian war and their four values were, while noble, after careful consideration deemed too tedious to mention.

Sir James, that naughty boy, loosens Deborah's tongue with some Meursault 1989 Gauthay-Cadet. Sadly, I couldn't easily find info other than that Betty's publisher's should have spelled Gauthay as Gauthey.

Sir James' house was built in 1550 and actual historical figures are mentioned and discussed. Edward VI gave it to James' family and Mary Tudor would have tried to take it back so they lay low until Elizabeth came into the throne. Now, as someone with who is a pretty big fan of the Reformation, I find that Henry VIII and his daughter make themselves so objectionable to me (and I get why others would find Elizabeth I a fun gal--I just don't) that I find myself often rooting for the other side on the micro level even while cheering them on on the macro. Riddle me that.

When Deborah flunks her exams, several girls suggest that she collect Social Security and go on the dole. Interestingly, UB40 was named after the form issued by the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security) to those claiming unemployment benefit, the full name of which was Unemployment Benefit form 40. And now enjoy some reggae.

An Old-Fashioned Girl:

The only book Patience can find to read during the snowstorm is Beeton's Household Management. I found a whole blog dedicated to her. Wow. A little obsessive, right? A whole blog dedicated to a dead author? I mean who in their right mind...(Betty Keira, um...cough {point of order} cough...) So, hat's off to all your mid-Victorian housewifery needs.

Patience sings to Rosie--ending with "My Old Man's a Dustman" (it just makes me love her more). It's pretty clear that Patience was an only child raised by maiden aunts with a repertoire like that but my question is, when did she have time to frequent pubs?

Patience is employed as a general factotum. From the Latin, fac is do/make and totum is everything. (Google makes me look smart.) 'Everything' includes the flowers I suppose. Betty Debbie found a song with factotum in the title and it's a recognizable one at that. I give you Barber of Seville--Largo al factotum. Are you picturing Tom and Jerry in your mind's eye too?

An Old-Fashioned Girl--Discussion Thread

Patience is another one of those Puritan virtue names. In this case it fits her personality. I always feel bad for people who are named for virtues or attributes. Upon meeting them I am always aware of how they fail to embody it sufficiently rather then it prompting me to think of them in that way. Chastitys who aren't, Faiths who don't, Hopes who are downers, Bellas who are homely, Serenas who pitch a fit, etc. (I'm thinking of poor Venus and Serena Williams during their unfortunate pony bead years...) It's like walking into a gorgeous room and seeing the tiny wrinkle in the carpet or the one panel of wallpaper that doesn't align correctly. [Betty Debbie] That's why I'm plumping for 'Mindwell' as a middle name. Takes some of that pressure off - no one need know (except the neighbors - when she's in trouble and all of her names are called).

Patience answers a door (during the duties of factotum-ing) and talks to a man selling double-glazed windows in January. Now, now, you're thinking it's a silly time to be selling a thing like that but when the weather is worst and the wind is coldest and you're wrapped in a Snuggi, freezing, with only a copy of Mrs. Beeton's Household Management to warm you, double-glazing sounds like a mighty fine idea.

Miss Murch sings the praises of the dishwashing machine back in London. The Lovers van Voorhees have a well-documented affection for their dishwasher, having been without during spells of their marriage. When you think about the kinds of multi-course meals our doctors are accustomed to, it only makes sense to have a little appliance help in that direction...

The only book Patience can find to read during the snowstorm is Beeton's Household Management. Pardon me, but no television and no radio would have me pounding on the study door toot sweet for something to keep me occupied. Earnest Victorian Housewifery would make for thin gruel, at best. Surely, in a house that size, a few Betty Neels novels would certainly be secreted away. They were maiden aunts that lived there before. The Venerable Neels would have been right up their alley. If there's no answer on the study door, I'd be applying a large axe tout de suite.

Along with a quickly diminishing supply of flour,and one chicken in the freezer, this is all she can find in the pantry:
  • dry lentils
  • one tin of prawns "good"
  • some rice "I'll make something of these"
  • mandarins in orange liqueur, "they'll be nice"
  • stem ginger "now that's no use at all"
  • duck mousse with port wine
  • canned oysters "I don't know what to do with them"
  • Paxo stuffing "Oh, I'm so surprised she doesn't make her own"

Betty Debbie has a bit of a bone to pick with all these Neels housekeepers who don't have anything in the pantry. Last Sunday at church we were all challenged to go for the next six days without shopping for food and to be ready to share the experience the following week. (Food storage and disaster relief is a bit of a Mormon hobby, humor us.)Thank you Betty Kylene! If you need any tips on Dutch oven cooking w/coals, give me a shout-out. Dr. van der Stevejinck and I usually take ours camping (so we can make all the other campers jealous). Those with Paxo stuffing and canned oysters would be mildly up a creek and those with a several months supply (Betty Debbie, I'm looking at you.) would be in better shape. Eek, I thought, good thing I'm headed to Idaho and this won't apply to me. Good thing I just went shopping. Sadly, my oldest left the garage freezer door ajar yesterday and the ice cream is ruined. I just hope my husband doesn't run out of milk and start shooting varmints that happen across the backyard for protein. How would you be fixed for a week or more? We would do just fine, thank you. We would run out of fresh milk - but I have plenty of powdered milk (I'm not a milk drinker, so that doesn't bother me)

Patience takes her aunts to a nice little hat shop instead of buying them much cheaper at a 'high street' store. (High street is evidently Brit for 'main street'.) This is actually rather sweet. I like the old ladies and they don't annoy me half so much as languid middle-aged mothers that batten on their thin Aramintas for everything.Warning! Languid middle-aged mother in our book to be reviewed Monday.

Julius goes to Northern Ireland to operate on a soldier and Patience is worried lest he be hit by a stray bullet. Here's what you get when you wiki 1992 Northern Ireland: Yes, well I see how one could worry...

An Old-fashioned Girl - 1992

Last week I reviewed a book wherein the heroine had one of those Puritan virtue names...(Prudence Makepeace of Paradise for Two)When I realized that I'd drawn the same sort of name two weeks in a row, I was not thrilled. Last week's Prudence was not what her name implied. How will Patience stand up? Let's take a look see...

Patience Martin. The most Araminta-ish of Aramintas (her great aunt has told her that she has the most homely face she's ever seen. Way to build self-esteem!). Let's wait a bit to get acquainted - because this book starts with the hero, Mr. van der Beek (his first name is not revealed until Patience is sorting his mail on page 78). Mr. van der Beek is viewing The Martin House with his estate agent, with a view towards a six-month lease. He is taking a sabbatical to write a textbook on surgical techniques or something. Peace and quiet...that's what he's willing to shell out the big bucks for, peace and quiet. In order to insure our hero gets the peace and quiet he needs, Mr. Estate Agent suggests that Mr. van der Beek hire a general factotum. Someone to throw themselves into the breach...stand between Mr. van der Beek and the world...answer the phones and mediate between the housekeeper and the tradespeople. Mr. Estate Agent knows just the gal. He calls up his friend, Mr. Solicitor and gives him the down-low. Psst. Hey, I gotta job for our girl Patience. I can put her in the way of makin' a tidy little sum. Shhh. The Dutchman doesn't know who she is. Let's keep it that way. Patience is actually perfect for the job. She already acts as buffer/factotum to her great-aunts. If Patience is an 'old-fashioned girl' it's not surprising...she has spent the last 11 years with her very old-fashioned aunts. She spends her life contriving to keep them in as close to the style in which they were accustomed...they having succeeded in losing all of their 'capital' - which must be a family trait - since her parents also lacked any estate planning smarts. That's the reason Patience and the aunts are living in the poky terraced rental and renting out the big house so as to eke out something to live on.
Patience is a real gem, she is soon hardened to telling fibs so as to ward off unwanted phone calls and visitors...he's in the bath, he's with his publisher, he's not up yet....(this is not a skill I posess - I am distressingly honest). Warned by the butcher that the weather is turning bad, Patience tries to convince Miss Murch, the transplanted London housekeeper, that steps should be taken to prepare - because when it snows they won't be able to get out. Nonsense, there's nothing on the radio about a blizzard...Sure 'nough, here comes the snow. Mr. van der Beek, Miss Murch and Patience are all snowed in. Patience proves herself to be Wonder Woman. Her alias is discovered pretty quickly - Mr. van der Beek cottons on to the fact that she knows where everything is(candle and oil lamps, I'm looking at you), oh, and your last name is the same as the owner. The next 20 pages make for a charming domestic interlude. Not only are the three of them snowed in, but Miss Murch comes down with the flu - so she spends much of her time in her room...leaving the doctor and Patience alone to deal with chores: snow shoveling, cooking, tending the patient, carrying coals for the Aga, other words, playing house. All this boundless domesticity is bound to lead somewhere, right? Patience and Dr. van der Beek (I'm getting tired of calling him that) start to get to know each other. Patience might be quiet and plain, but she's got a lot of good sense and practicality seasoned with a dash of forthrightness. The Doctor occasionally gets his temper going.."What the h*** are you doing!" says he...Patience (in the kind of voice she might have used to explain something to a child) "I'm making sure the fire is going to burn". Him: "I shall take care of the fires in the future!" Patience (looking at him with interest) "Do you know how? I don't mean to be rude, but I would imagine that you never have to lift a finger in your house." Needless to say, there is no one that treats him like this...she is starting to pique his interest. Patience continues to treat him as if he is a child in need of patient coaxing're doing nicely shovelling the snow, be careful of the little dip before you get to the greenhouse, don't let it trip you up. She even manages to reduce his learned textbook to terms that she can understand:
Her (on silently setting down the tea tray in his study): I was told to make no noise...she added kindly, "I dare say you're busy with your book - is it about surgery?"
Him (I imagine a little pompously): Of course it is. It's a learned textbook - a sort of a reference book.
Her: Like Mrs. Beeton's cookery book - full of instructions about the best way to cook food, written by an expert.
Him: Is that a compliment?

See what I mean? Oh, you're writing the surgical equivalent of a cookbook? A little dampening. There's a little taking down a notch-iness, like you would a boastful child. I have to admit right now that I love Patience. Not only does she ooze common sense, she is also kind, patient, and a hard worker. With Miss Murch out of action with the flu, Patience now gets to show her culinary abilities. Nothing fancy, chicken casserole, scones, onion soup and homemade bread. Homemade bread? The doctor consumes nearly a whole loaf at one sitting...I suspect this is where he starts falling for her. What man can resist fresh, warm homemade bread? The way to a man's heart, etc...Patience and Dr. van der Beek divide up the household tasks...the doctor volunteers to take care of the fires and help with the sick Miss Murch, Patience gets the rest of the chores (a case of art mimicking life).
Remember when I said that Miss Murch pooh-poohed the idea of getting snowed in? Yeah, they're starting to run low on supplies...Patience, with a good deal of shapely leg showing, crawls in the cupboards to take inventory of their quickly diminishing supplies...Editor: I have a bit of a bone to pick with all these Neels housekeepers who don't keep anything in the pantry. Aarg! must. climb. down. from. soapbox...The doctor comes in and stands admiring her *ahem* legs, and proceeds to tell her that she has charming which Patience blushes.
Him: do you always blush when you get a compliment?
Her (being matter-of-fact): I don't know...I've never been complimented. How's the weather?
I'm amazed at her sangfroid...sure, she blushes (who wouldn't?)...but there's no stammering or turning away, Patience meets the compliment and ensuing embarrassment head-on. A thaw finally sets in - coinciding with Miss Murch's improving health..Patience is finally able to go home and change her clothes! That evening brings reflections to Patience, Dr. van der Beek AND Miss Murch. By bedtime Patience was missing the doctor quite badly, in return, Dr. van der Beek and Miss Murch are both missing Patience.
When Patience returns to work, Dr. van der Beek starts noticing how depressingly she dresses...he imagines her dressed in blue or a soft silvery green...PAGING DOCTOR van der BEEK! PAGING DOCTOR van der BEEK! Consultation needed in room #1...Symptons:
  • noticing what a girl is wearing
  • imagining new wardrobe for said girl
  • missing said girl when she goes home for a day or two
  • realizing her worth as a general factotum
Hmmm....we'll moniter the patient and get back to you. Meanwhile, Patience answers the phone - it's a woman and she says it's urgent. Patience gives the phone to Dr. van der Beek in the study...he comes out furious with her, for disturbing his well paid for peace and quiet with a non-urgent call. As he is ranting at her, she cuts in - sounding like a kindergarten teacher calling the children to order...and tells him not to get so worked up - how is she to know what is an urgent call? It could have been his wife, children, mother, etc....Him: I have no wife, no children to the best of my knowledge (What?!? Head down, breathe deeply, count to 10....)and my family lives in Holland...Her (with a forgiving smile): I didn't know that, did I?" Patience/Wonder Woman is some kind of of her super-powers is a defensive shield against uncalled for snubs. All this propinquity is leading us up to....Patience sorting his mail! And now we finally find out our RDD's first name. Julius. Dr. Julius van der Beek (hereafter to be referred to as "Julius") has to go up to London for a few days for a spot of heart transplanting. While he's gone, Miss Murch decides it will be a good time to clean his study. Cue Patience cleaning his study, then sitting down at his desk. Cue Julius getting grumpy when he sees her...Cue Patience ably defusing his anger. Patience keeps busy with her general of the duties she assigns herself is filling vases with whatever flowers she can find. After placing a bowl of primroses in Julius's study he writes a note, "I like the primroses, keep the bowl filled." Julius offers Patience a bump in pay if she will type up his manuscript( more Earl Grey for the aunties!), of course she will. A new symptom for the doctor...he instinctively knows when Patience has left a room...hmm...this is starting to sound serious. During one of Julius's increasing frequent trips to London, Patience sits in her bed (totting up sums on the back of an envelope) and thinks of him...oh dear, whatever the doctor has seems to be contagious. Meanwhile, Julius thinks of Patience. More to-ing and fro-ing from London...(must have been a boom in the heart transplant business). Patience is the answer to Julius's prayers. What was he praying for? Evidently a nanny. What? Our girl is no nanny. Julius thinks she likes children. Really? On what do you base you opinion, Dr. van der Beek? Is this yet another symptom? By the way, the great aunts can come stay at their old house while we're gone.
London Interlude:
Niece Rosy is a handful, but luckily she doesn't mind that Patience doesn't speak Dutch...Rosy is well able to go to sleep with Patience singing all the songs she knew, ending with "My old man's a dustman". (After listening to that song, I fell even more in love with Patience). Julius's symptoms seem to be getting worse (call 999!!)...he finds himself obsessed with her, he's concerned about her, he is always aware of her presence....and he has to resist an urge! (no, not that kind of urge, he wants to buy her a new wardrobe at a fancy boutique). Because of these symptoms, Julius starts acting a little aloof...Patience doesn't know what's causing the change in him, so she starts avoiding him, which intrigues Julius even MORE.
Niece Rosie has a nightmare and is inconsolable, that is, until Julius comes in and calms her...which is when Patience realizes she's in love with him (frankly, falling for a man who has a way with fussy children is pretty smart of Patience - and should come in handy...but I'm getting ahead of the story). Julius has to go off to Northern Ireland for a spot of heart surgery and when he gets back, it's time for a conspiracy of his own. He plans on taking Patience to Holland with him...just to help with Rosie for a week or two. Psst! Hey Sis - how about asking Patience to come to Holland for a week or two? Shhh...It'll be our little secret....
And Now to Holland!
Besides taking care of Rosie, Patience gets to visit Julius's house and meets the beautiful Mevrouw Plot Device. Insert gratuitous scene involving a donkey named 'Pretty'. The Mevrouw invites herself to lunch - wherein Julius pretty much ignores her and Rosy sticks her tongue out at her. Julius may not be interested in her, but when the beautiful Mevrouw tackles Patience in town a few days later, Patience is subjected to some verbal poisoning...but before that really has a chance to work, it's back to Jolly Olde England! Julius meets her at the airport and drives her back to Themelswick where dear Aunt Bessy greets her with the outrageous, "You're looking marvelous, dear - and plumper. I always thought you would be improved with a nicely rounded bosom..Hello Dr. van der Beek." Mr. Solicitor makes another appearance to inform Patience that the family house has been sold...Julius says that the aunts can stay at the family home for the time being...Patience goes back to the terraced rental to get some old photo albums out of the attic. Our hero shows up to lift her down as soon as she sticks her shapely legs out of the attic. I love you, the aunts can stay in their old house since I bought it, will you marry me? What about Mevrouw Plot Device? It was never her. It was you - you are beautiful and clever and my heart's desire. Some delightful snogging. The End.
Rating: This book really improved on re-reading. I knew that it was one that I liked, now I like it even better. Patience is just my type of heroine - calm, matter-of-fact, straight-forward, plenty of common sense and she can cook! It was awfully fun to watch the progression of falling in love - Patience and Julius had time to get to know each other and appreciate each other. The aunts didn't bother me a bit. Yes, Patience was working to support them - but not because they complained or whined - she was doing it because they had taken care of her. I give this book a solid boeuf en croute with a generous helping of queen of pudding for afters.
Fashion: pleated tweed skirt, short woolen jacket, winceyette nightie, 'useful' grey cardigan, fushia and blue pleated skirt, fushia blouse that looked silk (but wasn't), caramel and cream jersey dress, cotton jersey in a dashing shade of pink, imaginary wardrobe.
Food: Lots of onion based dishes - onion soup (twice), onion tarts, cheese and onion pasties, sandwiches with Gentleman's Relish, a couple of casseroles (one described as 'substantial' - the other is a chicken casserole), homemade bread, egg custard, treacle tart, creme brulee, tarragon chicken, apple tart with cream, mousseline of lobster, spring lamb with a garlicky sauce, petit fours, gingerbread, cheese and cauliflower soup, Paxo stuffing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spanish Omelette

Dear Spanish Omelette,

Where have you been all my life? You are beautiful. Your ingredients are simple and obtainable. Your taste...subtle. Your heartiness? Divine. I'm not convinced that you are good for me, and yet I still ♥ you.

Much love,
Betty Debbie

As my family can attest, I am not fond of eggs. I never have been. As a child I stealthily fed my scrambled eggs to Sam (the family dog). If he wasn't available, I hid them. I'm not proud of it, but I really hated eggs. Fast forward 40 years...I have an uneasy truce with eggs. I still can't abide scrambled, fried or boiled eggs (I can tell you exactly when and where the last time I inadvertently ate a slice of boiled egg in a sandwich was - 5 years ago next month - in Paris, at a sidewalk cafe on the Champs Élysées). I can, however, manage an omelette. If I make it myself. And it's hot.

The ingredients to a Spanish Omelette surprised me. Very simple and very heavy on the potatoes. In fact the Spanish name for this dish is 'tortilla de patatas' - potato tortilla. I admit that I don't know much about Spanish cuisine - the only dish I could think of that was distinctly Spanish is paella - and that's a rice dish. Who knew potatoes were popular in Spain? Potatoes are the main ingredient in this dish. The eggs serve mostly as glue...

I found the recipe I used here: . It easy to follow except for the amount of potatoes. Instead of "40 oz each" I did a total of 40 oz of potatoes (that was seven smallish ones for me). I also used canola oil instead of olive oil (I didn't have enough olive oil). Flipping it wasn't that hard - although it was too hard for me. I had Dr. van der Stevejinck do it just like it said to in the instructions. You need to have more wrist strength than I currently have.

Verdict: Dr. van der Stevejinck and Alex found it a little bland...nothing a little bacon, green peppers and cheese wouldn't fix. I agree that bacon and peppers would be good, but I didn't really miss them - the garlic and onion were great. Next time, and there will be a next time, I will offer optional toppings.
Spanish Omelettes can be found in Dearest Love

Question of the Week

Deborah (of Waiting for Deborah) meets Sir James Marlow and within moments thinks, "He was a giant of a man, nearer forty than thirty, she thought, and handsome with it, his fair hair already silvered, his eyes a clear blue half hidden under heavy lids. She smiled--here was someone she could talk to..."

Not love at first but she's established the following:
  • He won't rat her out to her employers.
  • He'll listen to her.
  • He'll pick up hitch-hikers...(no, not really)
  • He will care enough to help out.
For his part, he has decided, with only the briefest glance that she has something she is bursting to say.

Executives say ten minutes is the amount of time it takes for them to form an opinion of job seekers during interviews, according to a survey by Robert Half International. (I'll bet dollars to donuts that it's after the first sweaty handshake.)

The question is, what were your most decided first impressions? Any that turned out to be wildly wrong? What about the husbands/boyfriends?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Word of the Day

Prig: noun
A person who demonstrates an exaggerated conformity or propriety, especially in an irritatingly arrogant or smug manner.

Use: I have flung myself in front of your great, socking Bentley so that I can seek medical advice on behalf of my patient because her relations are out to kill her. I dearly hope this doesn't make me sound like a prig.

Americans would say goody-two-shoes. Potty mouths could say tight-[REDACTED]. In Mormon-speak we might call that up-right square a Molly. Any way you slice it, it isn't a compliment.

Which, I admit, presents a problem for those who want to do the right thing. I like how Anne Shirley puts it:

Anne Shirley: Fred is... extremely good. (read: a prig)
Marilla Cuthbert: That is exactly what he should be! Would you want
to marry a wicked man?
Anne Shirley: Well, I wouldn't marry anyone who was really wicked,
but I think I'd like it if he could be wicked and wouldn't.
Marilla Cuthbert: You'll have better sense some day, I hope.
Isn't that just like our RDDs? Someone who could be wicked and wouldn't...

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Upcoming Reviews

Monday, May 31st. Hannah. Famous paediatrician, divorced Dutch Doctor, 'poor little me' mother, unfilial feelings, swimming in a borrowed swimsuit.

June is Weddings with Betty Month...all month we will review books with weddings starting with...

Thursday, June 3rd. Matilda's Wedding. Another 'poor little me' mother, flu epidemic, an actual planned wedding with all the trimmings.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Last Chance - Re-name Those Books!

Today is the last day to enter our "Re-Name that Book!" contest.

All you need to do is come up with a more descriptive/memorable title for one or more of the following books (all of which have already been reviewed - I've linked to the posts if you need a little reminder/or don't know the plots):

The Grand High Poobah Arbiters of Everything will make their decisions tomorrow morning, with results posted just as soon as I get around to it.

Here's what we have so far:

Always and Forever: (Betty JoDee) Amabel's Ffolly or Yucking it Up in York, (Betty Barbara) There's a Fforde in your Ffuture.

Dearest Love: (Betty Keira) Sparks and Sparkplugs, (Betty Barbara) The Doctor and the Mousy Plumber, (Betty JoDee) From Handyman to Harrods or How to Fix a Fuse to Hook the Hunk.

An Unlikely Romance: (Betty Barbara) Beatrice and the Endocrins or Trixie's Dense Dutch Doctor, (Betty JoDee) Crying for Krijn or Gleeful for Glands Rather than Adoring Andre the Architect

Which ones are your favorites?

I will try and mail out prizes asap - as I will be leaving to go to Idaho on Wednesday. Prizes? I've got copies of Matilda's Wedding, Heidelberg Wedding and The Secret Pool (all to be reviewed next month). Your choice. Already own them? You can donate your book to a Betty in Need (I'm planning on giving Betty Marcy a few to help her get through her upcoming chemo sessions - I'm not giving her The Secret Pool - it might be a bit of a downer for her).

Waiting for Deborah - Discussion Thread

Uncle Oscar likes to play card games. Two-handed patience, bezique and racing demon are mentioned. But it turns out he really, really likes to play chess. Deborah may not be quite his match, but she at least gives him a bit of a run for his money. Face it, he doesn't really want to lose, so the fact that he does so well against her is just dandy. I have never had the patience to play chess. I have no notion of strategy, offensive or defensive...all I'm good for is to explain to kindergarten age boys which way each piece can move. Frankly, kindergartners and first graders are the only people I enjoy playing chess with. [Betty Keira] I'm no Bobby Fisher either. But I am a big fan of chess sets. (I have a really great set of cheap, hand-painted clay figures. The knights are llamas.) Is it somehow false advertising to collect sets if you're not much of a player yourself?

Sir James Marlow was not born a 'sir'. No sir. He evidently earned his knighthood. Besides being filthy rich or obscenely famous, how does one become a 'Sir'?And such a young one two? If you're a Sir's wife, do you still get to be called 'Lady'?

When Deborah is going down to Frog Cottage (Best cottage name ever)[Betty Debbie] I beg to differ..I still like "Ogre's Relish" from Cassandra by Chance better, her trip to the cottage takes a bus, three train connections and another bus. (Good thing he drives her after the first train). I'm not sure exactly how far she's traveling (I can't imagine it being more than 200 miles), but I have to admit that would not be a comfortable trip. Especially with luggage. When I flew to Japan a while back, I took a shuttle to the airport, then the flight, then a train ride to Tokyo, then walked a block or two to another train station, then took the bullet train to the city Dr. van der Stevejinck was in, then had to find a taxi and point at the address of the hotel. At least Deborah would have been reading and speaking her native tongue. Just sayin'.

Let's take a ride on the Obsolete Electronics Express! There is a reference to a 'word processor' in Sir Marlow's office. No, Betty was not referring to Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, Open Office or the like. No, she was talking about a word processing machine...more than a typewriter, less than a computer. It's been a long time since I've seen one of these babies. As the more versatile combination of a personal computer and separate printer became commonplace, most business-machine companies stopped manufacturing the word processor as a stand-alone office machine - Wikipedia My freshmen year of college (1995) I sometimes used a word processor that my roommate had if I needed short papers typed quickly. But even then they were on the out-moded side.

Let's get back to Uncle Oscar. Deborah takes him for walks to the village shop where he purchases 'humbugs'. I've heard of 'humbugs' before, but I never took the time to find out exactly what they were before. According to Wikipedia: Humbugs are a traditional hard boiled sweet available in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They are usually flavoured with peppermint and striped in two different colours (often black and white). They have a hard outside and a soft toffee center. Humbugs are typically cylinders with rounded ends wrapped in a twist of cellophane, or else pinched cylinders with a 90-degree turn between one end and the other (shaped like a pyramid with rounded edges), loose in a bag. I just love the name 'humbug' and the image of Uncle Oscar stuffing his cheeks and pockets with them.

Deborah does not seem cut out for the secretarial life. She takes a course in shorthand and typing (she is advised to drop the word processor course because she is too slow - heaven knows how poorly she would have fared had she signed up for a course in 'computer'). Alas for her, she flunks both her shorthand AND her typing exams. She wasn't the only one. Some of the other girls who failed the typing/shorthand course were pretty cheerful about it. They were very helpful and advised her to do what they planned - they were going to go on the 'dole'. " just sign on - if there's a job going you go and look at it and if you don't like it you say so." No matter how hard up a Neels heroine gets, she never THIS hard up. She works hard for the money... There are several unspoken 'Thou Shalts' in Neelsdom and taking charity when one still had enough small change to feed the heat meter was one of them...