My Life In France

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” 

Julia Child 

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She’s so funny!

Julia Child wrote this book about the three things she was most in love with; her husband (Paul), France, and cooking; she had the time of her life when she and Paul moved together- in 1948- to France, where she studied at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris…

Born and raised in a well-to-do family (with hired cooks) in Pasadena, California, Julia met the love of her life in Kandy (Sri Lanka) where they were both stationed in the Office of Strategic Services. Here’s what she said about their marriage:

“We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”

Their love story is unconventional, unexpected, and undeniably appealing. He loved photography, and was a decade older than she was. She was taller than him, and delightfully real. I really enjoy the photos of the two of them, which are sprinkled throughout My Life In France.

In ‘la belle France’ she really ‘found herself’ as an individual. Her words:

“I had come to the conclusion that I must really be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact. I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.”

Her inspiring story of coming to herself in a foreign country is fascinating to me because I, too, love going places and learning how other people look at life. I feel like I want to take these treasures of perspective and keep them in my pocket until they rub off on me, as she did.

“It seemed that in Paris you could discuss classic literature or architecture or great music with everyone from the garbage collector to the mayor.” 

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Of course it was learning  French cooking, and bringing this skill home to America, that made Julia Child so famous that we’re reading her books over 60 years later!

The story of how this masterpiece came about is mind-boggling! She was so intense; I can’t fathom the countless hours she spent experimenting, practising, and perfecting recipes. Even just translating them into available-in-America ingredients that would work out well was a huge job. But, as she said “…nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”

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She was totally absorbed by learning to cook. It seemed to give her endless supplies of energy, and her dedication to this new passion makes me want to do a lot more of the things that make me lose track of time; passions that just swallow me up for as long as I can stay wrapped up in them.

“I suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food- the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.” 

Saying that, let’s remember that this woman cooked on her TV show, and it went on the air- with her mistakes included! She was no stranger to human error, and she didn’t pretend otherwise! That’s one of the reasons people love her.

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”

Have you ever read any of Julia Child’s cookbooks? I still (loosely) follow her delicious recipe for stovetop beets. Just so good.

I hope you enjoy reading this post, and that you’ll leave me a comment and follow my blog! 

Thank you for reading with me, 

Leah 🙂

The Mysterious Affair At Styles

“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.”

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This is the book that began it all… Agatha Christie’s first ever published novel!

She wrote it during World War 1, and after being turned down (hard to believe!) by more than one publisher, it finally made its way into bookstores early in 1921. Since then, Agatha Christie became the best selling novelist of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible. Plenty of time for those who’d refused her to regret that decision!

In the little Essex village of Styles St Mary, we first meet Hercule Poirot… a Belgian refugee, who’d been a great police detective there before fleeing to England with countless others early in WW1. Poirot is hilariously renowned for his devotion to ‘order and method’ in criminal detection.

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.”

He’s recruited to help solve the murder at Styles Court by Arthur Hastings, an officer in the British army who’s on leave recovering from a battle wound. Hastings is a highly likeable character (more than a little bit like ‘my dear Watson’ to the great Sherlock Holmes) He and police Inspector Japp of Scotland yard are to become regular fixtures in the many Poirot stories that followed this one….

And now, for the mystery! Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy older woman is poisoned.

Suspects include her new husband Alfred, who is decades younger than her, John and Lawrence Cavendish (Emily’s stepsons from her first marriage), Mary (John’s wife), as well as the victim’s’s paid companion, Evelyn Howard, and a family friend, Cynthia Murdoch; all of whom were living at Styles at the time of the crime.

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Alfred is suspicious for more than just the obvious reason of his sudden marriage to such a rich woman so much older than himself. He’s not very popular with John and Lawrence, who naturally wish their own father’s fortune to have been left more to them than in the power of their stepmother and her new husband! Mary seems to be (understandably) resentful of their financially dependent position, and Cynthia is working at a WW1 medical dispensary, so she has access to poisons! Even Evelyn Howard, who is generally  considered a good sport, but who is clearly not impressed with her employer’s second husband, isn’t above suspicion.

“They tried to be too clever—and that was their undoing.”

Of course you can be sure of satisfaction among the twists and turns of this clever plot, and if you haven’t read Agatha Christie before, there’s no better place to start than here- at the beginning!

I’m not a fan of gruesome or graphic crime stories, but these ones are classy. The writing is all about the brilliant detective using logic and awareness of human nature to solve mysteries. Plus, it’s fascinating to go back to this old time and far-off place and hear how people thought and spoke. I can never get enough!

Do you like reading mystery/detective novels?

Which are your favourites, and why?

Thank you for reading with me, 

Leah 🙂

p.s. I hope you enjoyed my post today… If so, please leave me a comment, follow my blog, and and feel free to share it with someone else who might like it, too!!

 

Haiku

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Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

I’m an avid Happier podcast listener! Sometimes it’s practical and helpful, other times merely interesting, but always funny.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a weekly conversation between two sisters; one who lives in New York city and writes books about human nature and happiness, and the other who lives in Los Angeles and writes TV shows.

In one episode, they introduced the idea of making up a daily haiku as a little mindfulness moment.

And… if you’re not familiar with haiku, it’s a breathtakingly simple Japanese form of poetry that can also be done in English.

Often about nature, a haiku is simply a thought expressed in 3 little lines; the first line is 5 syllables; the second line is 7 syllables; and the third line is 5 syllables again.

That’s it.

Here’s an example by Gretchen Rubin, one I heard on that podcast episode:

Central Park in bloom.

This year, I made sure to go.

Spring passes too fast.

Here is a link to the podcast notes for that episode.

And if you want to check out some haiku by other Happier podcast listeners, take a look at this hashtag on Twitter!

The idea isn’t to write a masterpiece, just to compose a thought in a mindful way.

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Inspired by this, I found this lovely little haiku book at the library…

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What’s interesting about this tiny volume is the way it brings together the works of traditional Japanese poets (translated into English), and throws in a few classic English poets.

Here are a few I liked from Japanese poets.

Today’s moon;

Will there be anyone 

Not taking up his pen?

-Onitsura

 

This ramshackle house, 

And me just the same as ever-

The first day of spring.

-Issa

 

My life,-

How much more of it remains?

The night is brief.

-Shiki

 

Along this road

Goes no-one

This autumn eve.

-Basho

 

In the icy moonlight

Small stones

Crunch underfoot.

-Buson

And here are some haiku-like lines written by western word artists…

 

I will touch 

A hundred flowers

And pick not one.

-Millay

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(me touching, but not picking a flower 😉

A violet

By a mossy stone

Half hidden from the eye.

-Wordsworth

 

not seeing 

the room is white

until that red apple

-Virgil

 

I was puzzled by the way the haiku poems collected in this anthology  are so loose in their ‘syllables per line’ structure! I wondered if it had something to do with the translation…

Then I read (in the foreword) this explanation by Peter Washington, the editor:

“Everyone is familiar with the notion that haiku have seventeen syllables, arranged in a pattern of 5-7-5. What matters more is the combination of subtlety, force, economy, and technical refinement…”

That clarifies for me how great poets can get away with having a very fluid relationship with the rules. I think I’ll just stick to the standard form. Maybe one day I’ll graduate to the level of haiku composition that can afford to flout the rulebook, but not yet! I may not have a professional grasp on subtlety, force, economy, and technical refinement, but I can make up a symmetrical little poem with 17 syllables. Here goes:

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fresh green fir branches

reach out friendly hands to me

earthy smelling woods

-Leah

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That’s from Sunday afternoon; it’s a sweet and easy way for me to remember my walk up the riverbank trail with my husband.

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Have you ever tried making up a haiku?

What else do you like to do for little moments of mindfulness on busy (or slow) days?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 😉

EscApril

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A Spring Sonnet

~William Shakespeare~

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Sonnet 98

~William Shakespeare~

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

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In this little poem, the writer is lamenting the absence of his loved one; the poor guy finds that spring doesn’t feel like spring without her loveliness and company to breathe life and beauty into the blossoming white lilies and red roses…

When I was about 10, my family moved from B.C. where spring was green and beautifully blooming by April, to Alberta, where we don’t dare plant our gardens until mid-to-late May! My birthday is in early April, and there’s no reason not to expect blizzards just then. It’s happened more times than I can count. So I can relate to the sentiments expressed in this sonnet; feeling like spring is missing something. (A beloved person in his case, greening weather in my case.)

You may have read these poems, by Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Ralegh; I learned them in my first year university English class. The first one is pure sentiment; the second one, more than a little bit cheeky. They always make me smile.

The Passionate Shepherd To His Love

The Nymph’s Reply To The Shepherd

So, just for funsies, here’s my response to Shakespeare’s sonnet, and to the month of…

#escapril !

Sonnet 3

I miss the soft and gentle western land
Of soft green grass beneath my free bare feet.
When April comes and warmth is not at hand,
I wonder why I’m here in snow and sleet.

Long gone are February days
With welcome sunshine pouring from the sky.
Why am I here, far from those melting rays?
Wrapped up in wool, I can’t get warm; I try!

When Easter comes, at last I head back west,
Vacation in the place I love the best!

~Leah~

 

 

One Reason I Read.

Reading is a magical experience; the pages of good books pull us in like magnets, and only the stern necessity of sleep can persuade us that it’s time to re-emerge.

As beguiling as it is to wander, and to linger in the other realities created for us by clever authors, do you ever wonder what makes it so?

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World Travel!

~Travel~

Where do I dream of going…?

When would I love to see…?

There’s no place or time I can’t experience by slipping in between the covers of a good book.

I once saw a fancy bathtub ad in a magazine; a woman luxuriating in a glamorous soaker tub silhouetted against a huge window. The caption to this alluring image said,

“Therapy is expensive and vacations are scarce. Choose your tub wisely.”

Being the kind of person to have cold feet from about October until May each year, I am a proponent of relaxing in a hot bath before bed. But I almost never immerse myself in that happy place without a book. It would be akin to arriving at an airport without a passport; an exercise in futility. Naturally, my books become rather wrinkled from the steam but this hardly matters. They’re fulfilling their destiny.

I’m not alone in seeing books as passports for world travel, tickets into steam-filled booths for transporting myself to other places and times.

Consider Lucy Pevensey, C.S.Lewis’ fearless character from The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe…. Millions of readers have turned the pages, stepping with her through the doors of the magic wardrobe into the fantasy land of Narnia.

How about J.R.R.Tolkien’s Hobbit? When we crack the cover of his epic tale, we are passing with this very relatable character through the round door of his cozy abode ‘in a hole in the ground’, and onward to the ends of Middle Earth.

And… that’s about the end of my fantasy repertoire.

On to real places and times…!

Honestly, I find it far more tempting to hop on a train with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or to step through the sombre doors of a manor house swathed in mystery and mourning with Agatha Christie’s intrepid Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

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I can never resist the appeal of trekking across field and farm with Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Fanny Price between country estate dwellings a couple centuries ago.

I don’t even try to avoid following Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit into debtor’s prison, any more than I’d consider failing to accompany Lucie Manette across the English Channel to find her long-lost father in Revolutionary Paris between the leaves of A Tale of Two Cities.

I’ve even endured the hopelessness and terror of having stepped up the gangplank with Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on a whaling ship after the notorious Moby Dick, borne the seemingly endless struggle to survive after drifting ashore with Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and journeyed back and forth between the mansions of aristocratic Russians and the battlefields of Waterloo in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

(In all honesty, I can’t recommend the last three very highly. I made myself read them because I wanted the education, even if it occurred in a bathtub rather than a lecture hall. But, to each her own.)

I held on tight, (too scared to do otherwise) while scaling the city walls of Paris with Cosette on the broad back of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s incomparable Les Miserables. I even went willingly into the ancient sewers with him, so intent was I on being there to witness the impossibly heroic rescue of her beloved Marius…

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Do tell…! Which of these stories have you read, (and which ones did you actually enjoy? 😉

Also, which other books have provided you with such exhilarating travel opportunities?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

Why do we love to read?

“Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again.”

-Louisa May Alcott

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Written words have a magical power to transport us to places and times we could never otherwise go, or can never otherwise go again…

This is a photo of my grandparents’ farm, where I lived as a small child. Generations of us played on these “green and golden” 32 acres, this place imprinting itself on our souls; becoming a part of who we are and the narrative of our lives.

When I was first introduced to Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill in a high school English class, you will easily understand the chord it struck in me. His words, written so many years before my life began, reverberate with me every time I read his immortal poem.

 

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Books, poems, stories; what written words bring you back to your childhood?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂