fiction, marriage and relationships, short stories

Short Story Review: The Bachelor

The Bachelor, by Joseph Epstein. Posted at Standpoint Magazine Online, July/August 2018 edition. Read the story in its entirety here.

One of the literature and arts websites I subscribe to is Prufrock, which is published by the Weekly Standard. This short story was included in the latest edition sent to my inbox. Because it is a short story, easily read in 20 minutes, it would be really enjoyable to me if any of you inclined to click over and read it would come back here and share your thoughts.

The Bachelor is written as a first person narrative whose titular character is of course, a bachelor; a lifelong one. At 52-years of age, he is a successful attorney thoroughly enjoying his freedom. The minor things that most of us marrieds have concluded are well worth sacrificing for our beloveds and the families we’ve built are no longer minor sacrifices to the bachelor, and life is good.

Despite the fact that he genuinely enjoys women, he simply hasn’t found one worth the trouble of giving up his autonomy. That is, until he meets Laura Ross.

That’s as much as I can offer without spoiling the story, so click over and read it.

I liked it.

Content advisory: It’s a clean story in so far as it is free of any gratuitous sex or language, but it’s a very adult story and our bachelor is living the life of a healthy, red-blooded, secular bachelor. It’s not a Christian morality tale.

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coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, just for fun

In which I don’t contemplate the Rule of St. Benedict.

This post isn’t going to be nearly as deep as it starts. I figured I might divulge that lest anyone expects profound wisdom. However, you just might find it if you click on the references linked.

If you’ve read here any length of time, You know that I am quite a fan of Joshua Gibbs. Gibbs, a teacher who leads students through a tour of the great books at a Christian classical school, authors a blog called The Cedar Room at Circe Institute. He recently authored a book which I’ve yet to read although I plan to. When I do, I’ll review it here. Almost everything he offers regarding the intersection of education, faith, and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning resonates with me, and I always look forward to reading what he has to say because it inspires me both as a teacher and as an aspiring writer.

Tonight is a rare date night, so as I was soaking my feet in preparation for the  softest possible result, I decided to catch up on his most recent posts. I often read educational inspiration on Fridays, as this is when I self-flagellate while re-examining the week behind me; from my time with my students at home (my children), to the students I teach at school. I was working backwards from today’s post to the first of the week, as I often do. Between a welcome opportunity to contemplate the rule of St. Benedict  (seriously, go read that!) and the role of the “sage on the stage”,  Gibbs drops in this ditty which sends me off on a mental rabbit trail, which may or may not be of worth at some point. I’ll have to ponder. Note the bolded part, which is where I’m about to park:

Students made eyes at one another, mouthed little conversations to one another, flirted with each other, and studied the six dozen pencil pouches and other gear (why everyone must have a water bottle these days is beyond my reckoning— were children of my generation dying of dehydration in math class and I simply never heard about it?) which filled the table. I found myself constantly working around the additional distractions the table created, and neither did I find conversation richer around the table than inside a classroom wherein all were oriented to the front.

And with that simple, unimportant, yet astute and accurate observation, my contemplation of the deep things concerning education and life was derailed as I wondered: Why DO we all send our kids off to school and every where else, with a big, reusable, and often expensive water bottle in tow? I carry one as well but I know why, and the answer startlingly simple and vain: If I drink more water, I eat less food, and my fabulously caramel skin stays hydrated, staving off the wrinkles a wee bit longer. Surely, your average six-year-old spending his days shuffling between an air conditioned classroom and a covered playground harbors no such concerns.

Our 10-year-old has already lost one $19 water bottle this school year, and she almost lost a second except this time we had the presence of mind to write her name on it. When she left it on the playground a while back, I got a call from another mother to inform me that she had taken possession of the water bottle and would reunite it with us on Monday.

Mr. Gibbs asked the question concerning those of us who were students in years gone by: were we all suffering from the dehydration we all seem so intent on sparing our children? I doubt it highly, but it still leaves me wondering. Usually with a little thought, a book and a few clicks, I can connect the dots and ascertain some idea of how particular cultural and parenting tics gained a foothold in our daily lives. The water bottle obsession, however, eludes me.

Just maybe, when I figure that one out, I can revisit the sage on the stage and the rule of St. Benedict.

Y’all have a great weekend, now!

children's books, fiction, Uncategorized

Nurse Matilda

nurse matilda

Nurse Matilda, from Nanny McPhee, the collected tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand. Originally published in 1964. I read the first story in the book, which was 132 pages. The entire volume (published in 2005) is 384 pages.

The past couple of weeks have been a little hectic. How hectic? I haven’t even made it to the library hectic. When coupled with the fact that I was spending far too much time imbibing the sensational, depressing and slightly infuriating news of the day, I decided what I needed was a good, funny children’s book. I don’t really need to go to the library to find a book, since I haven’t even read all of these yet:

wp-1470260885827.jpg

Given that there are shelves and shelves of books here, many that I haven’t ever read, I decided to poke around and find something cute and funny, and landed on this collection of beloved stories by Christianna Brand. They  are the stories on which the Nanny McPhee movies our family enjoys were based on.

Nurse Matilda is an ugly nanny with a magic stick who is called in by parents whose children are naughty beyond anything anyone else has been able handle, and the Brown children are the worst the nannies of their town have ever seen. Every group of nannies and nurses who run screaming from the Brown house after little more than one day on the job offers the Browns this advice: “You need Nurse Matilda!”

The Browns not only have children who are naughtier than most, they also have more children than most other families which makes their plight all the more lamentable. They don’t know who this Nurse Matilda is or how to reach her, but thankfully she mysteriously shows up at their door one day ready to tackle the task.

The children try as they might to rattle Nurse Matilda, but to no avail. They are no match for her, as she is able to handle all of their hysterical antics with aplomb, emerging victorious as she helps the children learn to be more obedient and mannerly. Along the way, the formerly ugly nanny becomes more and more beautiful to everyone in her midst as the children become better behaved.

I enjoyed this story’s slight twist on the ending that most people are familiar with from the movie, as it did surprise me, and I fully appreciate why Nurse Matilda is a beloved character. She was just what the doctor ordered for me this week.

4 out of 5 Stars

Reading level: This book can be quite enjoyable at the 3-4 grade independent reading level. As a read aloud, children as young as 1st grade would find it quite funny. Especially the baby.

coming from where I'm from, Els' Rabbit Trails, just for fun, Uncategorized

Tiny Task Tuesday

I borrowed this idea from Bayboxwood, and you can click over to her blog to see from whence she acquired it.

Reading is always happening, but the life that it fits in between often slows me down. Factor in homschooling, homekeeping, and taking the opportunity to write when I can and most days there is more life than reading. One of the things I picked up a while back from Bayboxwood is the idea of Tiny Task Tuesday. Today’s task isn’t exactly tiny, but it’s Tuesday and I getting ti done today, and I like the alliterative ring of “Tiny Task Tuesday”.

Today I am tackling the task of deep cleaning the master bathroom.  There are some things we all do in our bathrooms on a regular basis. We clean the sinks and countertops. We clean the toilets. we spray down the tubs. We sweep the floors.

What I haven’t done in a good long while is go behind the toilets, under the vanity, or into the vanity drawers. Lastly, the tile needs a scrub with a brush rather than just a light mopping. So Like I said, it’s not a tiny task. It is however, a task being done on a Tuesday.

So I’ll go finish it now.

Latest book review forthcoming.

Happy Tuesday all!

books for women, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, politics

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.

politically incorrect guide

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, by Carrie L. Lukas. Copyright 2006. Hardcover, 221 pages.

The wonderful thing about books and literature is that there are few subjects which haven’t been covered by someone at some time. I read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism at least 5 years ago (maybe more), and I hadn’t thought much about the book in two or three. Whenever I purge our bookshelves, I keep it tucked away on a shelf because I want it to be available for my daughters to read.

After witnessing yesterday what can only be described as a national disgrace masquerading as a legal proceeding, I remembered a few things. The first was that in 47 years on the planet, I have somehow never managed to 1) get drunk or 2) attend a party where most of the attendees was getting drunk. This was true even when I was a teenager, and even during the years when I was walking contrary to the Christian faith in which I was raised. It’s amazing what can be avoided when you watch the company you keep.

Secondly, I remembered this book, and how much I appreciated the candor used and the unapologetic way that Carrie Lukas laid out unpalatable truths. A cursory glance at the reviews for the book on Amazon and Good reads demonstrates how offensive many women found the book. I on the other hand, thought it was very well written, filled with objective analysis of  the ways women are more vulnerable. It was filled with what used to be considered universally sound truth rather than attacked as politically incorrect ideology.

Unvarnished truth is a medicine that often tastes bad going down, but if we take it like adults, we just might find healing. At the end of chapter 2, on page 18 Lukas lists what she titled, “Top Ten Things Young Women Need to Know (that feminists won’t tell them)”. I’ll list them here, with the recommendation that you read the book even if you’re not as averse to feminist thought as I am, because the ideas are worth pondering.

The Top Ten Things

  • Flowers, candy, and opened doors aren’t weapons of oppression. Chivalrous gestures show a guy actually respects you and may be interested in a relationship.

  • You’re most fertile in your twenties. During your thirties, fertility declines and many women have trouble getting pregnant after age 35. Plan ahead! [some of this stuff is beyond a woman’s control, of course, but deliberate postponement of marriage is foolish]

  • Discrimination isn’t why women make less money than men. Women make different choices and have different priorities which results in them earning less.

  • Condoms are not a get-out-of-STD-free device; condoms do little or nothing to prevent the spread of several serious STDs.

  • Kids raised by their parents [Els’ translation: mothers] tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than kids who spend long hours in day care.

  • Not everyone is doing it [emphasis mine]. Fewer of your peers than you think are engaging in casual sex- and those who are often regret it.

  • There’s no shame is aspiring to marry- married people tend to be happier, healthier, and better off financially.

  • Divorce doesn’t erase a marriage- it creates a new set of problems for you and your children.

  • You should make goals in your personal life just like you do in your career.

  • Being a woman doesn’t make you a victim. You have choices to make, and choices to live with. That’s what being liberated and independent is all about.

~ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex , and Feminism, p. 18

5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

American history, cookbooks, Food, nonfiction

A Square Meal, pt. 2

a suare meal

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of The Great Depression, by Jane Zeigleman and Andrew Coe. Published 2016. 336 pages.

Read part 1 of this review here.

So…what did people actually eat during the Great Depression?

In reality, a lot of people ate just fine. There were plenty of hungry souls, but the one drawback of this book is that without a working knowledge and full picture of the period,  you’d come away thinking that just about everyone in America was starving. Not everyone was, but as I noted in the first installment of this review, the hungry were caught in the middle of a political tug of war which spilled over into the rest of the country, changed the way the populace viewed economic security, and catapulted FDR into the White House.

The Depression, for both the destitute and those who feared destitution knocking at their door any day, ushered in a culture of extreme attention to thrift. This thrifty attitude was served up on plates of the employed and unemployed alike. Because the home economists and nutrition specialists who worked for the government wanted to make those living on relief as uncomfortable as possible with the prospect, the food allotments were bare bones and bland, as were the recipes they introduced to families as a way to stretch their food.

Recipes that would make most of us turn up our noses in disgust were prepared and received with thanks by people little else to choose from. Even then, according to Coe and Zeigleman, there were times when the lack of calories and necessary nutrients caused even them to complain of the substandard nature of the food they received. They made do dishes such as Ritz mock apple pie, where the buttery crackers serve as a stand-in for the apples:

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 3/4 cups water

Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie

36 Ritz Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups)

Zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces

1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Mix sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Bring to boil on high heat; simmer on low 15 minutes. Stir in zest and juice; cool 30 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out half of pastry on lightly floured surface to 11-inch circle; place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust. Pour sugar syrup over crumbs; top with butter and cinnamon.

3. Roll out remaining pastry to 10-inch circle; place over pie. Seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in top crust to permit steam to escape. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

The casserole made its debut during the Depression, but it wasn’t the tasty, cheesy, seasoned dish most Americans love in some way, shape or form. No. It was more along the lines of this ditty cooked up from the mind the well-intentioned Eleanor Roosevelt, spaghetti with boiled carrots and white sauce (from Ranker.com):

Made from spaghetti, boiled carrots, and a simple white sauce of milk, flour, salt, and butter, the first step is to cook the spaghetti for a sadistic 25 minutes, which in a sane world means Step #2 is to order the biggest pizza Domino’s will make. But this is the Great Depression we’re talking about, so the idea is to get the noodles mushy so they pair nicely with the boiled-to-death carrots and the pennies worth of creamy sauce. The result? A “vehicle for nutrition and nutrients” that probably made people want to eat their old Flapper hats instead.

The most unusual food stuff I came across while reading this book was the word “milkorno”, which I later learned was a mixture of milk, corn meal and salt that home cooks could use in various ways to stretch and pad their meals adding both a filling experience and superior nutrition. From Ranker:

Mad scientists at Cornell University in 1933 invented a gruel called Milkorno, a mix of powdered skim milk, corn meal, and salt, to help families in need “stretch budgets without sacrificing nourishment,” promising “Meals For a Family of 5 For $5 a Week.” The name comes from combining “milk” and “corn” with the surprised “Oh!” that guests of Eleanor Roosevelt probably made when she explained what she tricked them into eating at the White House later that same year.

There were also Milkorno’s step-siblings Milkwheato and Milkoato.

The recipe which sent me on my search for the content and origins of this “superfood” can be found on page 183 of A Square Meal: Chop Suey with Milkorno:

2 pounds lean pork cut into cubes

2 cups sliced celery

2 cups sliced onions

3 or 4 cups cooked milkorno

salt and pepper to taste

Saute pork; add the seasonings and 1/2 cup water and simmer until tender. About 1/2 hour before the meat is tender add the celery and onions. If desired the gravy may be thickened by adding 2 tablespoons of flour to each cup of liquid. Pour this mixture over hot cooked milkorno, and serve.

Sounds yummy!

From our vantage point, 80 years in the future where food is plentiful, we have access to more variety and flavors of food any era, and more nutrition information than we ever needed, it’s easy to look at these recipes and see them as disgusting culinary gruel. These foods however, served to fill a specific need at a specific point in history. They also, whatever their limitations, illustrate an ability to adapt and make due under far less than ideal circumstances, a skill sorely lacking in today’s Western culture.

For those insights among others, I highly recommend A Square Meal. It exposes the reader to a lot of information and history that has been lost to all but the most avid history buff who would bother to seek it out. It’s not a perfect book, but it does manage to be both engaging and educational without bludgeoning the reader with the authors ideology. That latter alone makes it worth a read.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

American history, cookbooks, educational, nonfiction, politics

A Square Meal, pt. 1

a suare meal

A Square Meal: A culinary history of the Great Depression, by Jane Zeigleman and Andrew Coe. Originally published in 2016. Hardcover, 336 pages.

After dancing around the review of this information loaded book, I finally concluded I could only do it justice reviewed in two parts. This is because the book delves heavily into two subjects, showing how they overlapped during the Great Depression.

In some sections, mostly the beginning, A Square Meal heavily explores the economic and political climate as the soaring, roaring 20s gave way to the austere and lean 1930s. Beginning with the differences in culinary and lifestyle attitudes between rural America and urban America in the years following WWI, these authors take pains to cover every base that contributed to Americans’ approach to food at beginning of a long economic winter that stubbornly refused to loosen its grip.

They assumed, rightly I believe, that it wouldn’t be possible to adequately discuss the latter without giving the reader a thorough understanding of the former. Because of that, I am going to use this part of the review to highlight some of the cultural, political, and economic themes they explore before getting to the ways this informed meals and Depression era cooking in part 2.

As the mid-1920s unfolded, there was something of a tension between the young people who were leaving the rural farms of their youth (particularly the young men returning home from Europe after the war), and the families left behind on farms in rural America who were largely deemed as backwards and inefficient by modern urban standards. There were whole disciplines, both academic and vocational, dedicated to rural reforms and increasing the efficiency of work for farmwives. This disconnect was largely based on the fact that time and productivity in the two places was viewed quite differently:

“In the great urban centers, the pulse of the factory served as a kind of metronome for the city at large. In the urban workplace, where wages were paid by the hour, efficiency was a measure of success. Factory hands demonstrated their worth by completing the maximum number of standardized motions in a given period. After the factory whistle blew, their time was their own. But even at leisure, city dwellers saw time as a resource, like coal or copper. The fear that time might run out, as every resource will, left them with the dread of time wasted.

On the farm, meanwhile, time was not something you stockpiled like firewood. Farm chores took as long as they took—there was no rushing an ear of corn—and the workday stretched to accommodate the tasks at hand. Time was elastic. The minutes and hours that mattered so much to city folk were irrelevant to the drawn-out biological processes on which the farmer depended. In place of the clock, the farmer’s yardstick for measuring time was the progress of the seasons. As a result, his view of time was expansive, focused on the sweeping cycles of the natural world. For city people, time was fractured into finite segments like boxes on a conveyor belt. On the farm, time was continuous, like a string around a tree, one season flowing inevitably into the next.

It was this rural inefficiency that that urban “efficiency experts” tackled with a fierce determination to eliminate. Even when farm wives expressed great contentment with their lives and lot, their passionate letters in response to magazine articles portraying them as “The Woman God Forgot” were ignored. The people who knew better were dedicated to improving their lives whether they felt they needed it or not:

To quantify what they already knew, in the early 1920s researchers from the Department of Agriculture equipped rural homemakers with pedometers, devices pinned to the women’s aprons or strapped to their ankles which counted their steps as they went about their chores. Among their findings was that one Montana woman walked a quarter of a mile in the course of baking a lemon pie!

I’ll leave the irony of pedometers as a tool to measure steps for the purpose of decreasing them hanging there for you to consider. Efficiency apartments with their nonexistent kitchens, the proliferation of delicatessen, and the marked increase in working girls stood in stark contrast to the life of the farm wife.

Once the crash of 1929 took place, a slow equilibrium between rural and urban life began to gradually flow across the country. Initially the urban centers were the hardest hit, as the rural parts of the country were at least equipped to feed themselves with the fruits of their own labor. As the early 30’s began however, a severe drought overtook much of farm country. Hunger and subsistence living became a way of life in every part of the country.

It is at this juncture that the authors spend a fair amount of time discussing the political policies of the day. There was an outcry from many people for food relief, while the federal government balked at the very idea. Fear of creating a people dependent on the “the dole” was a paramount concern at the time. President Hoover was convinced that a combination of public charity and local government was the answer, not federal aid in the form of food relief.

The federal government’s abject refusal to offer aid in the form of anything other than seed for planting -not very useful during a drought- and copious literature with suggested ways to survive on less, cheaper food largely paved the way for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ascendancy to the presidency.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt embarked on what was at the time described as one of the greatest social experiments ever undertaken. Families in his state were given aid in the form of direct food relief, something that hadn’t yet been done beyond the local level and through the Red Cross, which was itself derelict in its distribution of relief to the starving.

Along with the distribution of coupons for a strictly chosen list of staple foods, the women who headed home economics departments throughout the country and in government agencies went to work producing menus meant to be a “living diet” rather than a ‘working diet”. These were complete with recipes for meal ideas meant to stretch the groceries as far as possible. Dishes for example, such as creamed spaghetti with carrots, just one casserole among many that was a popular way to deal with the monotony of ingredients that families were allotted through food relief programs.

That is but one among many culinary developments of the Great Depression with which I hope to share from the book in part 2. This book is a wealth of information and there’s no way I can possibly explore it all, so I do recommend you give it a read if the topic interests you.

I hope to be able to post the second half of this review by Friday.