Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, November 4th
Hilltop Tryst
Veterinarian locum (turned stalker), pretend engagement, chasing a burglar down the street while wearing a dressing gown.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cooking With Betty

Betty Anonymous sent us an email this weekend - and now I want to go buy some raspberries and whipping cream and stroopwafels!


Went to a different supermarket, yesterday, and what did I see? Stroopwafels! So today, Betty A. polished off very creamy raspberry ice cream, home-made, and stroopwafels!!! I would have shared with you, Bettys, honest, I would.

Raspberry Ice Cream

300 g / 10 ½ oz           frozen raspberries
200 g / 7 oz                 whipping cream (fluid oz = same difference)
100 g / 3 ½ oz             sugar (scant ½ cup)

Process with your food processor or hand blender.

For frozen yogurt substitute yogurt for whipping cream

I microwaved the stroopwafels for a few seconds.

The Little Dragon - Reprise

Twenty-eight years ago this morning I was lying in a hospital bed, while Dr. van der Stevejinck was holding our third child.  I scanned this picture this morning as proof.  Proof that Dr. van der Stevejinck must have been a child prodigy because NO WAY does he look old enough in this picture to be the father of three children. Also, why did I never insist on having a hairbrush on hand so that I could tart myself up a bit before pictures?  Missed opportunities, that what I say.  
I'm not missing an opportunity to post a gratuitous picture of Prince George along with his doting parents.
Kate Middleton, Prince William Bought Baby Prince George a $2,350 Stroller

Speaking of pictures, sometimes I forget to really take a good look at the awesome cover art on these older books from the canon.  Betty Barbara made a comment about this one having a 'disembodied head'...and yup, there it is.  

 When Betty Debbie and I sat down to divvy up reviews there were a few titles that we fought over. Caroline's Waterloo was hers, Winter Wedding was mine, The Little Dragon was...Elbows might have been thrown, Bettys. We both love it.

Constantia Morley, 26, has to recite the Hippocratic Oath backwards, forwards, standing on one leg, in Latin, in one continuous burp, in a house, with a mouse, here and there, anywhere...to daily prevent herself from lifting her patient, Mrs. Dowling, a gilded, diabetic butterfly earthworm, and pushing her over the ledge of the window to meet her death some three stories below.  So, yeah.  You might say the job is no peach and she escapes when she can.
It is on one of these smiling-so-hard-her-cheeks-hurt excursions into the city that she comes across Mrs. Dowling's doctor who is speaking with Jeroen van der Giessen, 39.
So, they go on a speed date.
Forest, trees, etc...
Sure, there's no timer or basket of pretzels or hoards of anxious singles but in less than two minutes she knows that he has a battered sheepskin jacket and a more battered Fiat (which all indicate that he's still paying off his student loans) and he knows that she is cheerful and charming and The One for him.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, he manages to annex her scant half-days, filling her lonely hours with the liveliness of a houseful of children (three--on loan from his sister) and the invigorating joy of each other's company.  (That's a main vibe from this book.  They are bursting with good humor and mutual appreciation.)  They meet for tea at his house--a magnificent old mansion...owned by a relative. (Constantia paints in the details--he's an elderly Uncle with more money than sense.) In no time they are firm friends even if Constantia has a bit of a one-track mind on the subject of The Unrelenting Awfulness of Rich People (maybe she's writing a thesis).
The only doggy-doo-doo in this paradisaical garden is Mrs. Dowling--making her pungent accusations ('You're out to get him.') and biting insinuations ('Him--he hasn't any money.').
Editorial NoteMrs. Dowling is the reason, for me, that the whole plot works.  While it is no surprise that her disagreeable nature (even in the face of outrageous luxury) exacerbates Constantia's irritations with wealthy people (thus supplying the reason for all of Jeroen's subterfuge), she is also the reason (I think) that Constantia fails to see Jeroen in a romantic light.  Over and over again she crudely twits Constantia about chasing Jeroen--putting the ugliest construction on the relationship--so that it isn't any wonder that Constantia responds by defending her good, noble and passionless FRIENDSHIP.  She is so busy insisting that it isn't the crass relationship of Mrs Dowling's fevered imagination that she fails to allow any romantic feelings to cross her mind.  
Finally, the caramel chocolates hit the blood stream (so much more tasty than 'the rubber hits the road', no?) and Mrs. Dowling has a diabetic tantrum (sure it's a medical possibility...) and fires her nurse.  (When she says, 'I shall go into a coma,' you really wish she would already.)  Well, you know the rest.  Constantia with the broken purse straps in the ghetto...
Enter Jeroen with a really lovely idea.  
She decamps to his house and plans to take some of the crushing work load off of his daily help.  (How does that woman keep everything clean and cook for a sizable group each day?)  She is worried that she'll be another mouth to feed.  (Okay, if you have major problems with this plot than I'll hand you a little bone:  I agree that it is silly beyond permission that she thinks he is that poor based on an old coat and an affordable car.)  She and Rietje (the cook) get along like a house afire and Constantia potters around, making beds, getting the children off to school and feeling (for the first time in a long time) as though she isn't a rootless orphan.  Sealing the deal, he teases her gently about being a kindly little dragon in his home.
Editorial NoteI know, here, some Bettys will take issue with my conclusion but I'll refer you to my handy chart.  (See right.) 
Jeroen is quick to assure her that she will meet the awesome uncle whose sumptuous bounty she enjoys eventually and allows her a few details about him.  'He's a rather lonely man...'
Eventually her passport is found, causing no small degree of consternation to the Professor. (Oh, did I forget to mention that?  So did Jeroen.)  And you feel really sorry for him.  There he is with the love of his life acting like a Donna Reed-ian prop and mainstay and he's got Rietje and Tarnus (Oh, did I forget to mention him?  So did Jeroen.) ferreted away in the garret like members of the Dutch Resistance (coming out at night to scour the mansion from top to tail) and he's weaving a carpet of lies that could cover the ballroom floor.  It's a wonder that he doesn't take to smoking.
So he does what any red-blooded male would do--he proposes a marriage of friends (not of convenience--she doesn't need to stay in Holland anymore and he won't need help with the kids for long but he doesn't want to let her go and he's not going to rush her into future-tense conjugal relations).  After a remarkably short dithering time (like two minutes!) she agrees.
They travel to England.
Editorial Note:  I generally don't like thetiny don't-invite-the-family weddings of Neelsdom but in this case it's enormously thoughtful.  He has a massive family (she has none) and she's in a foreign country.  He asks her to name the church and they get to skip the awkwardness of having the chapel filled with his family and his friends and no one at all for her.
While there they have a darling little honeymoon.  He takes her out to a fabulous hotel and wines and dines her and drags her into an expensive boutique.  She's terrified that it'll wipe out his bottom line while he is relieved to finally let go a little bit (restraining himself mightily from endowing her with all his worldly goods).
'And thank you too, Jeroen, for quite the nicest wedding day any girl would have.'
Her hand was in his and just for a moment his grip was so fierce that she winced...
I imagine that he had to duct tape himself to a chair leg all night to prevent himself from flinging himself at her.  

Life as a married woman is delightful and she soon meets Jeroen's sister Gina (one of the most likable siblings in the canon), mother of the kids, and more of his other relatives, all of whom are 'completely uncurious'. Things float along like this for a bit, the lies are piling up like sausages at a beer-fest and they do a spot of comradely first-responder-ing at a whirlwind-struck factory...you know, just your standard getting-settled-into-married-life faire.
And then one day, after being married less than a month, they attend a dinner party hosted by the kind of woman who only reinforces Constantia's feelings about the Dread Wealthy.  She corners the new bride and begins an inquisition.  My, how lucky you are. (Yes, she is. Constantia knows she loves her husband by now.  Being crushed by him during the whirlwind knocked some sense into her.) You have snagged a baron.  And he's a m...Gina dumps her coffee down the woman's back in a move that, to a shocked Constantia, was clearly intentional!  (I nominate her to come to every family reunion I have to attend...ever.)
You'll need a stiff drink after I tell you I'm loaded...
There isn't a fight.  When Jeroen gets his bewildered and angry wife home he takes his medicine like a man:
Yes, I am a baron.
She was going to say millionaire.
Her hurt is beyond anything a yelling match would solve and so she dashes upstairs to cry her eyes out and pack her clothes. 'You let me shop and answer the telephone and dust and put the children to bed...'
It helps that as she strives to write an appropriate 'Liar, liar pants on fire' letter the next morning he is surelybusy in his surgery.
But he isn't...and don't call me Shirley.  He has a partner.  (Oh, did I forget to mention that?  So did Jeroen.)
His castle of lies comes crashing down and in the rubble a new truth rises like a phoenix from the ashes.
The Baron is occupied.
The End

Rating:  Though I understand that it doesn't find favor in all quarters, I really, really love this one.  It's got a great title and a memorable plot line.  Granted, the grand mansion of our novel is constructed on a flood plain of lies (wicked lies) but if you can swallow the fact that their relationship is built on a tissue of falsehoods and also believe the reason for them, then you're good to go.  (Which I do and I am.)
Friendly dragon?  Why, yes.
The principles have such an affection and appreciation for one another--it drips off the page practically (don't dribble)--and I'm one of those that think that his repeated use of 'dragon' is an endearment of the most personal kind.  (He can't call her sweetheart and darling so this will be the next best thing.) A very close reading bears out that she never takes exception to the name and it's always delivered with grins and smiles and good humor all around.  (So if you want to go a few rounds of fisticuffs on the grounds that it's unforgivable and always insulting to call a woman 'dragon' then I'm afraid your beef is with The Great Betty and not with me...)
Anyway, it's a great novel that rarely has to stoop to the contrivances of flinty-eyed, bony-chested tartlets flinging their arms around the hero or some flirtatious long-hair mucking up the landscape to provide drama.  (Instead, we get every moment of tightrope-walking as the well-run household has to make its machinery invisible that has all the makings of a very British bedroom farce.)
Lashings of Whipped Cream for me.  (It's easily in my top five.) Go ahead and rip away in your most well-bred way, dissenting Bettys. 

Food:  Mrs. Dowling becomes very disagreeable over not being allowed to consume Vienne snitzcels and eclairs, ODs on a box of chocolates with caramel centers and is anxious to have escalope of veal ('followed by a diabetic coma,' responds Constantia...).  Constantia thoroughly enjoys the substantial teas at Jeroen's home with bread, butter and jam.  She compares Jeroen's Moselle to her aunt's parsnip wine, and enjoys (post-marriage), lobster soup, millefeuille.

Fashion: Jeroen's old sheepskin jacket and beautifully tailored suits.  Constantia wears a Marks and Spencer sweater, a brown corduroy pinafore dress with a pink woollen blouse, a sapphire velvet skirt with matching waistcoat, and her wedding dress is an 'already owned' tweed dress with a new hat (which I think she limits herself to so that she could pay for Jeroen's wedding ring--which I just adore her for), he pops for a pale coffee jersey skirt and blouse and a crepey and pleated dress (his words) in dim strawberry.  She also gets a pearl grey (I love that on this blog I don't have to remember which way American's spell grey/gray and that either way I do it will be correct.  (Yes, I know it's American/gray.)) organza dress with tiny pink embroidered flowers and a little white mink jacket.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Betty in the Wild: West Coast, USA

So, back from Alaska, where apparently I missed an anonymous Betty, I found Seattle awaiting my return with all kinds of delights in store.  First, my 80-something godmother is living in a high-rise for the elderly with sweeping views of Lake Washington.  I gotta get me some of that, though I suppose when the day comes I may feel a pang.

That's Bellevue over on the other side of the lake -- stay tuned.  Cruise ship somewhere to south.

Betty Ter Ophetmeer moved to Seattle in the 50s, in her 20s, after seeing a travelogue on the Pacific Northwest at an East Coast US movie theater.  She took a train west and checked into the YWCA, got a job and a home and a husband and five sons, in more or less that order.  I gave her Betty Beth's cast-off Cassandra by Chance to leaven her usual reading of Flannery O'Connor and Langston Hughes and such.  She reports enjoying it and finding another Betty book somewhere around the place.

Note fog.  More in a minute.  Cassandra may stumble into a lake given the low visibility; Benedict is not troubled by fog.
Right!  Betty Beth!  We met in Bellevue for dinner, and she gave me the scarf you see below and a bag o' books to distribute as I see fit.  Army Betty, I'll be home in a week or so.

Cocktail is mine, all mine, and I had to eat the extra brandied cherry so Betty Beth (l) would not risk driving Mr. Beth's car while under any sort of influence due to wheels.  Wheels within wheels, that is.

 Did I mention that, Seattle being Seattle, on my first morning there we had a torrential rainstorm, with the unusual added feature of lightning and thunder, and that on my second morning there the fog was so thick I could barely see my balcony railing?
Lake Washington, out there lurking.  Look out, Cassandra!
Lovely visit.  Betty Debbie could not join the Betty dinner because she puts family first or some such thing -- how Betty of her -- and she had a son visiting whom she hadn't seen in two years.  A great big grown-up boy like that; how much could he have changed?

In case Olivia needs a fall-back occupation and likes the look of the PacNW, as who would not?
But southward ho, and Betty Keira is next to provide a bed for the night, a fab dinner (rub the potatoes with olive oil and roll in kosher salt before baking; oh so yummy) and a charming family.  Plus, I met Betty Kylene!  Squee!  But none of us had the presence of mind to snap a pic.

The Demon Baby having declined to do the honors, we used the camera auto-timer.  The book is A Summer Idyll, as it features the worst house guest ever, which I am not.  Though awfully good at inviting myself...
Betty Keira recommended heading more-or-less straight west before turning south along the Pacific coast, and she spoke with authority.  That route took me to the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Not Gouda, but probably cheddar, as in Gorge.

I choked down an ice cream in Cordelia and Army Betty's honor.
 I'm pretty sure this is an Oregon ocean view, but it might be northern California.  Either one is well worth a visit if you have the chance.  The Oregon ones especially are chilly and windy enough that someone might propose to you there.
Octavia's cruise ship off to the west somewhere.
This is definitely a California beach, and those are elephant seals unless Betty AnoninTX says otherwise.
Amabel and Oliver visit the seashore, though he doesn't propose there.  In Betty's yet-to-be-discovered 136th novel, they show up as crossover characters, with an abandoned seal pup in the back of the Bentley.

 A random river in California, except this one gets a roadside scenic viewpoint, unlike most.

Gijs's first wife ran off with an American!  Maybe to a random California river!
Santa Barbara, California, is a great place for unsuitable girlfriends and former fiancees to find better matches, or for unsuitable first wives to meet untimely ends.

It is always summer in Santa Barbara!  Big Slice, Tishy!  Plus, those dark dots are frogmen.  Why do no Betty heroes scuba dive to the rescue?

Random stranger in Santa Barbara agrees to pose with Tishy and Jason.  He little knows...

Former Army Corps of Engineer turned civilian builder of Anchorage parking garages, now resident in Seattle.  You see how it all ties together?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 28th.
The Little Dragon
Diabetic patient, deliberately spilled coffee, and lies...lots and lots of lies.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Summer Idyll--Reprise

Good Evening, Bettys!
 Aunt Kate of A Summer Idyll is sure a piece of work.  She's a baddie of epic proportions.  I mean, sure, she donates all of her estate to charity but to specifically mention a young relation (you know, the one who showed up for the cool hand on the fevered brow routine in your hour of dire necessity) only to cut her out of it is in poor taste.  And The Great Betty did NOT do poor taste (unless it was to point out that some of our heroines had a crummy wine palate).
Anyway, as long as we're on the subject of unexpected wills, what would you imagine any of our heroines would do with a sudden windfall? (And don't say buy a wild horse and live depressingly alone in the country all winter.  That's taken.)
 Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

For some reason, the plot to A Summer Idyll is very easy for me to remember:
  • Phoebe Creswell (22) is a nurse in training.
  • She's been on a few dates with Houseman Basil even though he is flashy and she is plain.
  • Basil takes her to a party wherein she drinks something that tastes like 'sugared petrol'
  • Basil ditches her so that he can go clubbing
  • Phoebe runs into him at the hospital a couple of days later, he insults her, she slaps him silly. It's official, I like her.
She considers dropping out of her training and starting again at a different hospital, but before she has time to put that plan into effect, Aunt Kate calls Phoebe's boss and demands that Phoebe come and take care of her in her time of need.

Dr. Pritchard channels his
inner stalker.
Phoebe is under no illusion as to how fun this will be (not at all), but it solves her problem rather neatly, so she heads off to Woolpit (yes, Woolpit) the very next day. Aunt Kate makes Attila the Hun seem warm and cuddly.  She has a 'young whipper-snapper' of a doctor.  Dr. George Pritchard (32) may be hot and Phoebe may be plain, but that doesn't stop him from falling for her. She likes him quite a bit, but that's all - as far as she's concerned, he's way out of her league. He, on the other hand, has taken to watching for glimpses of her out his surgery window.

And then Aunt Kate dies.

Even though Phoebe was her only living relative, even though Phoebe was the only one to come and nurse her in her final days...Aunt Kate leaves all of her worldly possessions to charity.  All.  She does mention Phoebe in the will...just to reiterate the fact that Phoebe is to get nothing. No. Thing.

For some reason Basil the Houseman shows up on the doorstep the day after the funeral. Phoebe shuts the door in his not-as-handsome-as-Dr.-Pritchard face after informing him that Aunt Kate didn't leave her any inheritance at all, including the house. Dr. Pritchard watches from his surgery window. Gears are turning in his head - if Phoebe isn't to live in the house, where will she go?

With a few weeks grace period (before the house is sold), Phoebe arms herself with some nursing magazines and starts writing application letters. Before the spit is dry on the stamps, Dr. Pritchard proposes! Editor's Note: I'm going to give him a pass on this MOC. He's in love and doesn't want her tangled up in nurses training somewhere else, possibly far away.

"Thank you George, you're a saint!"
He divulges the fact that he's 32 years old, half-Dutch and his first name is George. Hmm. George.  That brings to mind another guy named George. St. George. You know, that guy who killed a dragon. George Pritchard is not called upon to kill a dragon, but he does wallop a leather-clad biker who is stealing the silver and threatening Phoebe with a flick-knife. Yes, a flick knife. Best fight scene in a Neels, ever. Phoebe even gets a kiss.

Did I mention the implied future conjugal relations? George suggests that they take it slow and get to know each other for a month or so...
Phoebe: After we're married?
George: Yes. I'm quite sure we'll be a happily married couple pretty dang soon.
Happily married couple? George is sure thinking ahead. He proves his foresight again when they go shopping in Cambridge. He practically shoves her into an expensive lingerie shop and tells her to buy three of everything. He's got a twinkle in his eye (probably their firstborn...if you get my drift).

They are married by special licence.
Is there such a thing as too much pink?
Not in Neeldom.

Maybe it was the way he encouraged her to buy unmentionables...maybe it was his heroic gesture in regard to the violent biker...whatever the reason, Phoebe starts imagining a future in which they share the big bedroom at the back of the house.

Two days after the wedding, things start going south.  I mean east. They head off to Holland for 10 days.  They should have gone to Stourhead...relationships are forged and strengthened at Stourhead. Stourhead. Word.

What's that strange hissing sound? It's a snake in the grass named Corina. Corina. I can't say enough bad things about Corina. She monopolizes George - acts like she's his one and only. She flings herself on him at every opportunity. What does George do about it? Nothing. He passively allows Corina to push his brand-new wife away.  It's Corina who puts the beginning seeds of doubt in Phoebe's mind, but I blame George for allowing those doubts to fester.

The one good thing about the trip to Holland is that Phoebe realizes she's in love. And with that realization begins to allow George's cousin, Kasper, to flirt with her. Aargh! I just get frustrated at the amount emotional manipulation going on here. Phoebe is fascinated by Kasper - and blushes whenever his name comes up.  Like she has a guilty secret - which she doesn't! She does cast her good sense to the wind and encourages Kasper a tiny bit when George allows himself to be monopolized by Corina. Again.

A few badly chosen words and Kasper is invited to visit them in Woolpit, come June.

Woolpit(!) is lovely in early summer, George and Phoebe are settling in and finally starting to get to know each other...when here comes Kasper! Oh, and he's brought Corina with him. With enough luggage to stay a month! 

Corina does her best impression of a wolf hunting down a straggling caribou and goes after George with unparalleled single-mindedness. Gone is any chance for Phoebe to have time by herself with George.  Corina has dug herself in for a long spell of trench warfare. Phoebe fights back with strict breakfast hour rules. Seems kind of weak in the face of Corina's blatant artillery, but that's all she's got.  Luckily for her the village of Woolpit experiences it's own little measles epidemic. Corina and Kasper flee the scene.

Time for a happily ever after? No, George suggests that they should drive up to London and have dinner (and dancing) with Corina and Kasper. Phoebe prays for someone in the village to need some urgent medical attention...a fractured femur would be providential. Too bad for Phoebe that the entire village happens to be disgustingly healthy and un-accident prone. The dinner is just as bad as she thought it would be. Corina once again monopolizes George...she is left with Kasper...again.

Back in Woolpit things start to get back to normal...Phoebe sits around knitting, George reads the paper and takes naps in the sun when he's not working. I can see them sliding into Mr. and Mrs. Barcalounger.

Phoebe has time to contemplate the state of the union...now that Corina was gone there would be time for her to get closer to George. She had no idea how to go about it - because she had no sexy little tricks. (To quote The Princess Bride, "I do not think that means what you think that means...")

Time now for a happily ever after? That would just be silly...because just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it's The Return of Corina.

Not every book in the Canon has an unforgivable line...but many do. In A Summer Idyll it's when George asks Phoebe to apologize to Corina.
Corina was perched on the rent table, with her legs swinging. That she had been talking about Phoebe was obvious from the look of triumph she shot at her as she went into the room. She said at once in a little girl voice: "You see, George, how cross Phoebe looks. She doesn't want me to stay - she said she hadn't invited me..."

He looked up briefly: "You've already said that, Corina, and I'm quite sure that if Phoebe did say that she didn't mean it. My wife would never be inhospitable to our guests." His voice hardened. "And if she did, I'm sure it was inadvertent and she'll apologize."

Corina then proceeds to stay and monopolize George FOR A WEEK!!! She is finally dislodged by a quartet of poisoned kiddies and a missed trip to Cambridge.

After George FINALLY escorts Corina off the premises, all's well that ends well.
"Happen they be in love?"
"Happen they are." Mrs. Thirsk smiled broadly. "And high time too."

A couple of laps around the lake would give
those crazy kids enough time to sort themselves out.
The moral of this story? Visit Stourhead first!

Rating: I really really like the first half of this book - which made the second half much less enjoyable. The second half could have benefited from more bikers and less Corina. I liked George much better in the first half when he was actually doing something.  Once he and Phoebe get married, he turns into just about the most passive hero in Neeldom. He allows Corina full reign to do her worst...public kissing, private rides home, monopolizing a newlywed, etc. His seeming approval of Corina's actions is what drives Phoebe to  allow Kasper to flirt.  Drove me crazy. Of course Phoebe doesn't help matters along by inviting Kasper to visit. I'm as baffled as Phoebe when George says, "I was always under the impression that a girl knew when a man was in love with her - you're the exception to the rule." Really? Did he read that in a book? A girl knows when a man is in love with her? How was she supposed to know? 
The first half of the books is a Queen of Puddings for me.  The second half merely rates a Cheese Board.  I'd say it averages out to a helping of Mince Pies
Food: A drink that tastes like sugared petrol, tiny sausage rolls, tiny vol-au-vents, smoked salmon on slivers of brown bread and butter. Aunt Kate has fish in milk, egg custard and coddled eggs. Mrs. Thirsk is famous for her rabbit stew with dumplings. For her first dinner party, Phoebe makes watercress soup, ribs with little cutlet frills covering the charred ends, saffron rice and pavlova. Mrs. Thirsk prepares lunch that includes tomato soup, lamb chops and a 'green salad ice cream' for afters. I couldn't find any recipes for green salad ice cream. I'm wondering if it was a punctuation error. 
Fashion: green jersey separates bought at the January sales, worn with a velvet jacket - it was the wrong outfit to wear to a party where all the other girls were wearing slinky black dresses with deep vee necklines and no backs worth mentioning.  A grey wool dress that did nothing for her, a dull brown dress that wasn't any better. Shopping trip to Cambridge where she not only gets a load of new lingerie, she also gets pink satin high heel bedroom slippers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Betty in the Wild: Alaskan Interior

Fairbanks, Alaska, seems to like to bill itself as the 'Farthest North'... whatever. Farthest North Bridge Club, Farthest North Girls Scouts Council and Harley Davidson Farthest North Outpost are three quick examples from the interwebnet.  It gets way chilly in winter, as low as 60 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale, which I believe equates to about -50 degrees Celsius.  Gracious, that's brisk!  However, as one bartender who'd only been living there since June, and hence had experienced nothing colder than around the freezing mark told me, "It's a dry cold."

If you ask me, Fairbanks is worth a visit.  It has a hot springs resort, a strong possibility of a Northern Lights sighting and some great places to hike.  It also has:

A corporate lobby with a display of native artwork, including the bag made from a moose's bladder on the left in this photo;

A group of statuary celebrating the contributions of American and Russian pilots, male and female, to the Allied victory in World War II, including plaques describing elements of those contributions in some detail (one thinks of The Great Betty's contributions at moments like this); and

A very nice coffee shop where you can get afternoon tea, consisting of a large mug of tea made from a bag and a slice of excellent pumpkin bread.

Plus, if you head outside of the town's main area, you might see a moose.  If you are worried about missing your flight, you might not take a photo with your distance lens, nor add a Betty book to the scenery.  Ah, well.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, October 21st.
A Summer Idyll
Petrol-flavored drinks, Leather-clad biker, unwanted houseguests.

Monday, October 14, 2013

An Independent Woman - Reprise

Let's talk greeting cards.

Julia Gracey, besides being an expert needlewoman, writes verses for greeting cards.  An Independent Woman is actually the second book in the canon that has a character in the greeting card industry.  Mrs. Pagett (Marrying Mary) designs whimsical Christmas cards.

I am actually one of those old-fashioned people who send greeting cards.  Not necessarily as often as I think I should, but I am generally pretty good about sending birthday cards and Christmas cards.  I have been known to buy Christmas cards up to a year in advance (well, I did...once...), but then, I have fairly simple and somewhat specific requirements for Christmas cards.  Here they are:
  1. Absolutely must be beautiful. 
  2. Well crafted (let's not talk about the year that I made and sent Christmas cards - only to find out that the special glue I used ...um...failed.  The cards reached their recipients in pieces.  I was mortified and vowed never to make Christmas cards again!)
  3. Prefer (but do not require) a good religious scene,(Madonna and child, wise men, shepherds...)- but only if the first two requirements are met. I can also be swayed by a cards with a vintage vibe. 
It occurs to me as I'm writing this, that I really should start keeping an eye out for this years Christmas card.

Birthday cards are a whole 'nother kettle of  fish.  They require a different set of parameters:
  1. Must be humorous, but not crude in any way.  This is hard - and each year it seems to get more difficult.  When I do find funny/not crude cards, I will often buy two - one for me to send, and one for Doctor van der Stevejinck to send to someone in his family.
  2. Really, #1 covers it.
How hard can it be to write funny/not crude cards? I mean really...
The sun is shining, the morning crisp,Fall is in the air.To the dentist I am heading today,....er...something, something, rare.
Sadly, it looks like I don't have what it takes to write humorous cards.  But since I really do have a dentist appointment this morning, I'd better get going.

-Betty Debbie
Jack Kennedy famously said, of a diplomatic trip to France, 'I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I enjoyed it.'  Time magazine quipped, of the visit, 'There was also that fellow who came with her.'  Dear me.  An Independent Woman was doomed in my estimation to be known as the politician I had to glad-hand in order to get to vivacious elan of The Little Dragon.  At least that's how I remembered it...

(* This clever metaphor breaks down, I understand, over the fact that JFK was not just 'Good-looking for a politician.' (Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations...) but very nearly actually handsome.)

...attach the bottom to the top.  Iron.
Julia Gracey is on the floor with a curtain trying to magic a lovely/passable evening gown out of it using no money, no time and probably wrestling with one of those gorgeous vintage Vogue patterns that assumes she took four years of Home Ec. in high school. Happily, Julia is a top-notch needlewoman and she's not going to let a little thing like shoddy materials get her down.
Her sisters, Ruth and Monica, are beautiful and a little helpless and often leave all the crushing, spinster-ensuring details in life to Julia (moving them to their home in London, hooking up the phone, paying the bills, showing a little cleavage to the butcher so they can get cheap cuts...etc.) while they busy themselves with little jobs and little romances. Monica has George the Vicar and Ruth has Thomas the Doctor and Julia...Julia has the booby prize.  What else would you call Oscar the Junior Executive at a greeting cards firm?
A knock on the door won't interrupt her work--and work it is.  She'll have a job turning this tatty fabric into anything worth wearing and all the cat hair will have to be...
'It looks like a curtain.'
That's Professor Gerard van der Maes, 36, come to drop off a package for Ruth from her Thomas.  He's handsome and larger than life and there she is, grubbing on the floor with a paper pattern.  
And his was not a passing comment.  (Well, it was to him.) It somehow manages to be a mandate on her life, her circumstances, her miserable excuse for an 'admirer'...She hates him.
Editorial NoteI hated her instant antipathy the first time I read it but this time I tried to understand her feelings a bit more.  When I was in high school my backpack broke.  Instead of asking for a replacement (our family motto might have been: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.), I employed a strappy airplane carry-on bag to do the job.  I lacked the elan to carry off really quirky fashions but it sort-of looked right. Things had been going along nicely for a week when a boy in my German class said, 'Is that an airplane carry-on bag?'  That's all he said.  No teasing, no nothing.  I was mortified--In a way only a self-involved teenager can be when they think everyone spends all their free-time thinking about the social mis-steps of their peers.  I loathed that boy.  Such are the feelings of Miss Julia Gracey.
A short time later finds our heroine stepping out of a taxi in front of a hotel in the Drapery.  She looks well--well enough for Oscar and a room full of greeting card sellers (her co-workers.  Her job is writing verses for the inside of the cards along the lines of, 'Gee, I think that you're so sweet and I'm sorry we couldn't meet.  Hope you had a lovely day.  That is all I want to say...'  (Top of my head!)).  It's just too bad that the Professor with his Panzer division of What-Not-To-Wear camera people are waiting in the lobby.  'I can't say I agree with Oscar about your dress, but then I know it's a curtain, don't I?'  He was sorry the moment he had said it; for a moment she had the look of a small girl who had been slapped for no reason at all...   
He wants his own face slapped is what he wants.  Can I even begin to list the depth of caddishness in that remark?  Not properly.  Sufficient to say that the dinner he takes her out to afterward doesn't come anywhere near to making up for that.  The night isn't a total loss for her.  She's dumped Oscar (which bodes ill for her continuing employment but well for her future happiness) and ate really well.  
Attempting to write 'humorous' 
cards would be difficult but writing 
LOLCats cards would be impossible...
Sure enough, a short time later she receives her pink slip in the mail along with a short note explaining that the firm will be following market trends into the upsetting land of Humorous Cards.
Her sisters both get married.  (I know I'm skipping great swaths but it isn't as interesting as it could be.)  So, Julia has to:
  • Arrange and execute two weddings. (A task that has her swimming in sausage rolls)
  • Find lodgers who don't smoke, drink beer, drive by Brighton or give her the heebie-jeebies. (Very difficult post-1985.)
  • Nurse her sister back to health from the brink of...a low-grade fever.
Ruth has the flu which is always hard but...um...she has no responsibilities.  Her husband can look after himself quite well.  There are no little nippers playing King of the Hill on her abdomen.  There is no angry boss demanding TPS reports...(Do I sound irritated?  I once had a vicious 24 hour flu that attacked on the very week my youngest son discovered stairs.  Mijnheer had a code dump that night.  The only way to prevent death was to park the ottoman in the doorway, flop down on it (while my eyeballs blazed way in their sockets), let myself act as a human jungle gym and pray for death...Any one of you could probably tell a similar tale.) Julia goes along as a companion, making fast friends with Gerard's old Nanny (who has the gift of Second Sight where her former charge's matrimonial prospects are concerned), and then returns to London and sells her house.  What?  Why would she do a thing like that?  It's her only asset!  See, Ruth wants a down payment and Monica wants central heating...I know.  They don't make her do it.  They don't even ask her to do it.  Still, they do plenty of talking behind her back (listeners never hear any good of themselves) and the whole thing bugs me.
The Professor, returned to England just in time to do a spot of rescuing, asks her to go to Holland to watch the cottage (which already has a gardener and a daily woman) while Nanny is in the hospital.  So off Julia goes to Holland!--to put fresh flowers around the cottage and visit the hospital (for this she draws a salary!).  She meets Gerard again who, despite being awfully in love with her, still can't manage to be pleasant and courteous. Here, I have fashioned a dramatization of that event.
Mothers and wives first.  Shapely spinsters to follow...
She returns to London determined to forget him.  He returns to London and chains himself to his desk in a futile effort to keep his hands off her.  (This is when, for me, it finally gets good.)  He allows himself, once he has achieved an air of casual disinterest (three weeks of deep meditation finally pay off!), to go to her and ask for a night out.  For his pains (all the climbing down off the RDD pedestal the world has mounted him onto and the carefully studied nonchalance), she hands him his hat.  No I can't go.  I'm leaving London. No, you may not have my forwarding address...  She's all but burned down her house and brushed away her tracks.  But Gerard (In a part I love.) pours over back-issues of Lady to figure out where she is.
Speaking of burned down houses...The manor house that she works at catches fire.  Gerard flies up (he's a pilot! Discuss.) and I was hoping he'd manage to pull her from the burning roof but alas, some hours later he muscles his way past an officer with the 'My future wife was here' routine and bundles her out of the area and back to Ruth's.
Whatever else was going wrong, knitting would make it right.
From here she decides to rise from the ashes as a small business owner.  (They get a lovely date or two as well.) And I really like this part; Julia scouts locations, consults a solicitor, dips into her capital (from selling the house), rents a shop, orders from wholesalers, and organizes fittings and furnishings in no time at all.  That she is desperately lonely she does not consider.  That she doesn't want to own a woolen/embroidery shop doesn't come into it. She's going to do it...and for a minute (until you realize that this is a Betty Neels book and there's not a prayer she's going to make it) you really believe she will.
The takings are slim and though Julia's organizational talents are savant-level, her marketing talents are nil.
Gerard, anxious for her to succeed but antsy to make her his, lets her have three weeks (he has a biological clock set at three weeks, okay?) and then appears out of nowhere amongst her woolens. He takes her off to Stourhead (another Official Betty Neels Pilgrimage Site?  I think so.) and they enjoy a magical day of near-perfect amity. 
The knock on her door in the wee hours of the next morning herald a new dawn of Interdependence for them both.  He's come to ask her to marry him at last.
The End  

Rating:  I remember really not liking this one--for reasons I could not wholly articulate, mostly revolving around the fact that Julia, the alleged Independent Woman, seemed like nothing of the sort.  But after this much closer reading (which is not how an ordinary read, getting the overall vibe and missing the details, would go) I am prepared to admit that the book is nowhere near as objectionable as that.  It's a nicely written if sad book; Julia spends her time wishing that she and Gerard could just get along with one another (but not really striking the right kind of sparks off of each other), Gerard spends his time saying exactly what pops into his mind (which you should never do until after the wedding...) and there are some tantalizing dead-ends (he had a heartbreak a year ago which provides the entire foundation for his grumpiness toward women (which we never hear about!) and a woman with a first and last name is supposed to be chasing him at the hospital (but we never see hide nor hair of her).  Also, the actual number of days the two spend together are very small.
But Julia is quite plucky--she organizes her sisters into wedded bliss, finds gainful employment (who would have expected a fire?), and marshals her resources into a failing start-up. With a few more years of grinding perseverance (which she is entirely capable of) she could be the next Steve Jobs of her own Woolen/Embroidery empire! What a shame Betty Neels had her already marked down for occupational ruin! 
I think I'm also a bit bummed about the failure of the set-up to materialize.  Three sisters of marriageable age living together--it sounds like a great fairy tale--but the two sisters get bundled away with all the romance of a load of laundry.
Still, The Great Betty was, like, ninety when she wrote it and there are some wonderful moments, particularly post-DR from the hero's perspective.  (Is that as mind-blowing to you as it is to me?) 
So, this is somewhere between a Madiera Cake and a Treacle Tart for me (way, way up from the Tinned Soup of my memory).  In other words...the book is passably handsome...for a politician.

Food: Cheese souffle, sole Meuniere, cornflakes (so she can become wand-like), steak pie, sausage rolls for the first wedding, Kaas broodje, buttered bread and tea, new potatoes, lamb chops, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, game soup, roasted parsnips, lemon tart, potato crisps in a hot bath and a stone, cold egg because her temporary landlady is a shabby-genteel Machiavelli.

Fashion: She fashions a curtain-dress, wears a magnificent shawl, and a pleated skirt with a tweed jacket. A pair of elderly trousers and a turtleneck sweater make him fit the Dutch cottage he owns.  She wears a denim skirt and buys (just in case!) a high-necked and long-sleeved amber silk chiffon dress over a silk slip.