Browsing Archives for September 2009

Epistolary Books Part 1

September 22nd, 2009


Early this Spring, I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  It is an excellent book and has everything that a good book must have.  It is set on an island in the English channel during an war-time occupation.  There are vivid characters and a fashionable heroine who  is dating a very rich, exciting and handsome man.  This rich man wants nothing more than to marry the heroine, but she is a writer and after she stumbles upon the Island of Guernsey, stories start popping up in all their various sad, tragic, joyful and absurd permutations, including an feisty orphan, a recalcitrant pig farmer and the discovery of a valuable treasure!  The heroine is completely unable to leave Guernsey until she finds her happy ending and the reader never wants to leave the Island of Guernsey because it is a perfect book and they are so HARD TO FIND!






 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is a epistolary book, meaning it is a book of letters.  The various characters write to each other and this is how the story unfolds.  When I came to the end of this book, I was sad to discover that Mary Ann Shaffer, the author of this wonderful book died before her book was published and she never wrote another book.  Her niece, Annie Barrows, finished the book for her aunt and saw it through the editing and publishing stages. 

Two other books immediately sprang to my mind as I was reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  They are also epistolary books and I love them as ferociously as I love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.






The first book is Daddy Long Legs.  Over the course of my childhood and teenage years,  I probably read and re-read  Daddy Long Legs twenty times.  I loved this book, and I always thought that it was a true story.  The copy that I read as a child had photographs in it… black and white photographs on slick pages and I honestly believed that they were photographs of the main characters of the book.  I was sure that ‘Judy’ or Jerusha Abbot was a real orphan who was sent to a real college by an actual rich trustee of the John Grier Orphanage where she grew up.  I thought that Judy’s letters to her ‘Daddy Long Legs’, (the person who was anonymously paying for her education) were real letters and that someone had placed all the letters and photographs in a book to tell people about this wonderful story.  I believed this my entire life until a few months ago when I ordered a copy of Daddy Long Legs and discovered that a woman named Jean Webster wrote this book and she was neither an orphan nor the benefactor of an education by a long-legged trustee of The John Grier Home!  There was no Jerusha Abbott!  There was no Daddy Long Legs!  There were no orphans in blue gingham suits, no trunk full of surprise ball-gowns, and no gas house where Jerusha burns her first novel after it is rejected!  It was all a story!  A made-up story!  But the letters!… the letters!… the letters were so real!  It was like discovering that there was no Santa Claus… no Easter Bunny!  I am still trying to deal with this shocking news, but I did find a bit of information with which to comfort myself.  Because Jean Webster the author of Daddy Long Legs… the book I so loved as a child… WROTE OTHER BOOKS TOO!  






So I ordered all of them!  And I have made it through most of them.  So far, all of her books are as wonderful as Daddy Long Legs … so maybe there is an Easter Bunny after all.  

A bit about Jean Webster the author of Daddy Long Legs

Jean Webster’s mother was a niece of Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.  Jean’s father was Mark Twain’s business manager.  The business and personal relationship between Jean’s father and Mark Twain was a successful one for both parties for a while, but it eventually began to erode causing Jean’s father to take a leave of absence from his job and a few years later, he committed suicide from a drug overdose.  Jean became an accomplished writer early in her life, but due to this sad history, she never talked about her famous relative.  

Jean came from a family that was always interested in social reform especially temperance and suffrage.  Jean herself became active in penal and orphanage reform during college and remained active in these issues her entire life.  Her two most well-known books (Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy) revolve around orphans, orphanages and people who work to make their lives better.  

The Book, Daddy Long Legs has been re-worked into plays, musicals, Japanese, anime’, and foreign television series.  It continues to inspire adaptations to this day.  I watched the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron musical version of Daddy Long Legs, recently and was horrified by the whole thing.  It is so far removed from the actual book, that I don’t see how it could possibly be related.  The only similarities are that the main character is an orphan and an anonymous rich guy pays for her education. Everything else… well… not even the dancing of Fred and Leslie can make up for this silly story that in no way resembles the great book that supposedly inspired it.


Jean married Glenn Ford McKinney in 1915 and the two of them honeymooned at McKinney’s cabin near Quebec.  Former president Theodore Roosevelt visited the honeymooners and he is quoted as saying, “I’ve always wanted to meet Jean Webster. We can put up a partition in the cabin.”  Within a year, Jean became pregnant and entered the hospital to have the baby on June 10, 1916.  She passed away one day after giving birth to her daughter who was named Jean as well.  

Jean’s books are upbeat, full of wit, breezy and yet steeped in the important issues of her day.  It is this combination of a writer pointing to how to make the world better, while writing with such vivid settings, quirky characters, wit and optimism that make her books uplifting and fun to read even to this day.  

Now who would like a Jean Webster Book!



I ordered several copies of Daddy Long Legs for a giveaway, but I quickly realized I was not going to be able to give them all away.

Each copy that arrived in the mail, was a little different.  Clearly, I can not give away this one with the sweet book jacket!

Blue and gold… with a heart and roses!  I can’t give away this one!




Plain red cover and kind of blurry… I can probably give away this one…

And I eventually got two copies of the green cover with the red roses, so I guess I can part with one of those.
To enter to win one of these two copies of Daddy Long Legs, leave a comment.

You may answer this question if you like in the comments…

Do you think the art of letter writing is dead?

Winners will be chosen at random on Friday September 25, 2009 around 9 pm.

Building A Butterfly House

September 19th, 2009

Yesterday, at work, I found the above pictured caterpillar in a flat of ground cover plants.  He had already nibbled the leaves off of three plants and was rapidly mowing down a fourth.  

I bundled him up with instructions from Cassie and Darla at work on how to care for him and brought him home with enough ground cover to feed him for a while.





Jack and Drew helped me assemble a little house for our caterpillar to live in.






We put three plants in a large glass container.




We added a few sticks for the caterpillar to hang from when he (she?) is ready to build a cocoon.











We put some window screen material over the top of the container for a lid.






And tied it on with some twine.






There’s our guy!  I hope we didn’t freak him out too much.






We think he is a swallow tail.  It will be fun to watch what happens.  

And now I have something other than the ceiling fan at which to stare.

During our recent trip to Europe, the Country Doctor and I were paralyzed by the cost of food in London and Paris.  

Thankfully, in London, we were staying with Pete and Ilona and scrounging as many meals off of them as we could, but Paris was a different story. We already knew that the hotel bill was going to be outrageous, but we were not prepared for how much food was going to cost.




We quickly discovered we could breakfast cheaply on chocolate croissants, cups of fruit and stiff cups of coffee or juice for the kids from the gorgeous patisseries and boulangeries that occupy every street corner in the city, but lunch and dinner was a different story.





Paris has a lot of rules when it comes to dining. If you are willing to stand at the bar that is inside the cafe to eat, you are charged one price. If you choose to dine at a table inside the restaraunt, you are charged a higher price. However, if you want to hold court on the lovely sidewalk veranda outside the cafe, under a cheerful striped awning, seated at the coolest bistro chairs and tables you have ever seen and watch the Paris parade go by, you are charged an even steeper price.  




At one point, the Country Doctor bought the boys some ice cream at a little sidewalk cafe. He stood at the bar to make his purchase and then with ice cream cones in hand, he walked over to a table to sit down. The cashier briskly followed him waving his hands, frantically saying, “No… no… no sir… I must charge you more if you sit down!”

The Country Doctor decided not to sit down after all.





We only had one genuine sit-down meal the entire time we were in Paris. The rest of the time we either purchased food from street vendors or we found little grocery stores and subsisted on bags of chips, cans of soda, fruit and candy bars.





One night we found a take-out pizza place a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. We sat down for a picnic in the shadow of the tower.  


I did learn a few French phrases before I left for Europe. I had read in several different books, that the French appreciate people who at least attempt to speak their language. When you step into a store, you should say Bonjour! I had practiced saying merci! with the kids and au revoir! I had all the confidence in the world that I could at least carry on a five second conversation in French with anyone.  

But then reality set in.




I would walk into a cafe, a store, a little shop and I would freeze up. I would see the lovely croissant, the cold drink, the ice cream cone, but I could not summon the courage to use any French words. Instead I became a deaf mute. I could only mutter and make moaning sounds. I could only gesture and hold up my fingers to say one… or two. I could only shrug and shake my head and speak in louder and more broken English with each attempt to explain what I wanted. Then I would get nervous and embarrased and start to speak in rudimentary Spanish, or in English with a goofy French accent. I basically turned into a raving lunatic every time I tried to purchase something in Paris. I think I might be the principle reason that the French hate Americans so much.



At one point, as we were walking around the city, I saw some glass coke bottles on a table in a restaraunt. I thought it might be nice to have a French glass coke bottle as a (cheap) souvenir.  I stepped up to the lady at the register to see if I could buy one. I pointed to the bottles in a fridge beside the bar and said, “Sil vous plait…two cokes… por favor.” The lady behind the register pointed me towards the bar. I stepped over to the bartender and again attempted to place my order, “Two cokes please,” I said.

The bartender looked at me with confusion.

I pointed to the bottles of coke in the nearby fridge and said, “Two cokes… two cokah…. dos cokahs… por favor?”

The bartender handed me two cans of coke, “No, ” I said,  ”Two bottles... dos bottles… two cokah een leetle glass bottles por favor.” I continued stammering realizing that my newly invented language of one third broken English/one third fake Spanish and one third complete nut-job was not going to help me in this situation.

The waiter said, “Two cokes?”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, “Two bottles of cokah… por favor….in glass bottle. Si vous plait, for please to put the bottle of cokah in my handee now.”

The waiter moved the cans of Coke closer to me, but I pointed again to the glass bottles and said, “Cokee bottle. Give Cokee bottle to me.  Thankee por favor!”.  I moved over to the fridge and reached to open the glass door but the cash register lady saw what I was doing and she began to shout,”No! No! NO!”

What followed was a slow, painful pantomime with the cash register lady, the bartender and myself acting out a parable whereby I finally discovered that the glass bottles of Coke were reserved for the patrons seated in the sidewalk tables.  The standing bar-fly riff-cheapskate people got the cans. When the light of understanding clicked on, I sheepishly paid for my pathetic cans of coke and fled. 


When we arrived back at our hotel after sightseeing for a few hours, the man at the front desk waved me over and asked to see my key. Oh, I thought, this must be some kind of security thing.  I hauled out my key and showed it to the man at the desk, but he didn’t want to see my key, he wanted my key. 

Me – “But we’re not checking out yet.”

Desk – “No… you leave key here.”

Me – “We are staying two more days.”

Desk – “You leave key here when you leave.”

Me – “Okay… when we check out we will leave the key here.”

Desk – “No… when you leave, you leave the key… when you come back you take the key.”

Me – You want my key?

Desk – Yes… give me your key.

Me – But I need to get in my room.

Desk – When you leave the hotel, leave your key.  When you come back to hotel, you pick up your key.

Me – Ohhhhhh!

I finally understood that I needed to turn my key into the desk when I left and pick it up when I returned.

It made me feel kind of weird… leaving my room key behind every time I left the hotel. All my stuff was in that room and I was essentially locking myself out of it, but once we adjusted to the system, it was not a problem.




We walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe straight down the Champs Elysees – one of the world’s most famous and most expensive streets.





Along the way we got hungry and sat down at a sidewalk cafe. As we looked over the menu, it slowly dawned on us that a pizza and six drinks was going to cost us almost two hundred dollars.

We quietly arose from our seats, and stumbled back towards the Arc De Triomphe, our bellies rumbling the entire way.



When we got back to London we rented a car. We were all hungry from three days in Paris of subsisting on coke, chips and chocolate croissants, so we were anxious to find a place to eat.

Finally… after a few hours of driving… on the horizon… like a beacon shining in the night… we saw a sign for a gas station/food and grocery store.





We got closer…




and CLOSER!!!








Food we could afford! Food we could understand! And food that understood us!  


What more can you ask for in a meal?