Tidy Tidbits: Fall Memories, Reading & Viewing


It’s September, the first day of fall is upon us, and everyone who’s going back to school is there by now.  I always liked going to school and happily anticipated the end of summer, the cooler days of autumn, and the challenge of new subjects, new teachers, and sometimes even new friends.  And while it’s still summery here in Florida, the official change of season reminds me of some incidents from elementary school.

  • In grade school, going back to school meant the purchase of a new dress, at first just for me and then later for me and my two sisters. These dresses had full skirts, short sleeves, and were almost always plaid.  I recall fondly one green and red plaid with a separate red belt that I thought was particularly smart.
  • plaid-dress
  • From kindergarten through second grade, I walked several blocks to school. It seemed like a longer walk than I’m sure it was.  One morning I arrived to find the school door tightly locked.  I knocked vigorously several times and then in tears walked back home.  My folks had not realized it was a school holiday.
  • My father’s job called for him to be transferred to another town about an hour away. Before I left for school one morning, my mother told me the name of my new school was “Seward,” and that I should tell that to my teacher.  I don’t know why she didn’t write down the name, but she spelled it for me and said she was sure I could remember it.  All the way along the sidewalk, I went, chanting, “s, e, w, a, r, d, s, e w, a, r d,” until I reached my classroom.  I have no recollection of actually giving Miss Rosa the name nor did I at that point have any idea who William H. Seward was.
  • Even when I went there, Seward School was an old building (constructed in 1911 and long since torn down) with a basement that was dank and dim and a bit scary.  Mr. and Mrs. Steimle, older German immigrants, were the school janitors.  Always cordial to the students, they assisted with any drills.  When we had air raid drills, a regular occurrence in those years, we had to wind our way down the stairs to that dusty basement and kneel along the wall with our heads down.  I don’t think most of us realized what we were preparing for or the potential seriousness if such a drill were for real.  It was just another drill, like a fire drill, only we stayed inside instead of exiting the building.
  • Seward School had classes through 6th grade before we moved on to one of the three high schools in town. Graduation from 6th grade was a big deal—white shirts and ties for the boys and for the girls fancy dresses, and probably stockings.  For many of us, this was the first time we had worn stockings.  In this pre-pantyhose era, that also meant garters to hold them up.
  • Sixth grade is also when I had my first male classroom teacher. Mr. Loretan was a young good-looking, capable teacher—liked by all of us, especially the girls!


The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


I received this book, on the bestseller list for some weeks, as part of my First Editions book club membership.  After aging it for a few months, I brought it out of my stack and read it over several days.  The four Plumb siblings, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice, are somewhat at war with each other over the money they are due to inherit from a family trust in several months.  The problem is that their mother has given or loaned a significant portion of said “nest” to Leo, who had a car accident while drunk and caused serious injury to his passenger.  Each of the siblings has financial issues of his or her own and has been counting on the money.  They collectively gang up on Leo to make him do the right thing, but aren’t sure he will.

Often novels about dysfunctional families, and this lot qualifies, are downers and downright depressing.  This novel is actually frothy and fun, despite everyone’s problems.  I even found myself liking some of them!  This reflection of Leo’s on life after sobriety captures his personality:

However he parsed it, his future in New York could only be a diluted reflection of his before, a whiter shade of pale.  Evenness defined his present, the by-product, he often thought, of small minds and safe living.  In his new after, there would be no ups and downs, no private jets…or walking home from a riotous evening under a pinkening sky.  It wasn’t luxury he missed, it was surprise.  The things money could buy weren’t the reward; the reward was to feel lifted about everyone else, to get a look at the other side of the fence where the grass was rarely greener but always different and what he loved was the contrast—and the choice.

For some insight into this first-time novelist, check out this brief interview in the LA Times.


Thanks to my friend Mary for recommending the Netflix series, The Time in Betweenwhich I just finished watching.  Set in Morocco, Madrid, and Lisbon between 1937 and 1941, it’s the story of a talented young Spanish dressmaker who ends up being a spy for the British and infiltrating the German community in Spain.  It’s subtitled and the pace, compared to most American productions, is measured—at least until the last few episodes when tension builds and events race to the climax.  Adriana Ugarte as Siri is beautiful and the clothes she creates are gorgeous, part of the fun of watching this series.  The novel of the same name on which it is based was written by Maria Duenas.

Notes:  Header art: www.clipartix.com; plaid dress:  www.etsy.com; Sweeney’s photo from Harper Collins author web page



Tidy Tidbits: Movies & Medical Mystery

This week we got to two new films and I finished a long and totally absorbing historical novel, The Gilded Hour, set in NYC in 1883.


Florence Foster Jenkins

I will go see Meryl Streep in almost anything and this is a good, not great, movie.  Florence was a real person and Streep is wonderful while Hugh Grant is debonair and perfect in the role of St. Clair, Jenkins’ husband.  The first 10-15 minutes of the film are a bit flat (it looked like someone nearby was snoozing), but it gained life after that and tells an engaging story.

You wonder how someone could sing so poorly and screechily and not know it and be so eager to perform for her friends.  But Madam Florence did and, with the artful persuasion of her husband, convinced a young pianist to accompany her in practice and for her performances.  There is an intriguing back story here, but since I don’t like to be a spoiler, you won’t get it from me!




I was hesitant about seeing this film as I thought it might dwell on scenes of the terrifying water landing.  But there’s much more to it.  I found Tom Hanks very believable as Capt. Sully Sullenberger of the seemingly doomed flight 1549 and liked that the film portrays his emotions and reactions in the hours and days immediately following the landing.  The NTSB hearings with him and his co-pilot were eye-opening about the panelists’ skepticism regarding Sully’s cockpit decisions.    I should note, however, that several recent articles have cast doubt and even aspersions on the way the NTSB panel is portrayed, particularly the head of the panel.  The film is directed by  Clint Eastwood with Laura Linney as Sully’s wife.  Whether this is a faithful accounting of events or not,  it’s a film you won’t easily forget;  images from it haunted my mind before sleep.


The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

In the past I’ve noticed novels by Sara Donati on bookstore shelves, but had never read any of her work.  She’s a former academic (with a PhD in linguistics) turned historical writer.   This novel, The Gilded Hour, appealed to me for several reasons.  First, it was set in New York City in 1883, a city I know and a time period (19th century) I find fascinating, and, second, it concerns two female physicians, one white and the other mixed race.  Running to more than 700 pages, it is a tome, an old-fashioned linear story of characters both fictional and historical.

Anna and Sophie Savard, the physicians, deal with women’s medical problems when not only abortion, but also the use of contraceptive devices, is illegal.   Anthony Comstock, who appears here, is the U.S. postal inspector who doesn’t shy away from using devious methods to entrap those he considers offenders of the law.  Add to this the search for the missing brothers of two orphaned Italian girls, the mystery of why well-off women are dying from botched abortions, and two parallel love stories.  Donati did an impressive amount of research and her depiction of life in the 1880’s, of the streets in the West Village, the practice of medicine, and the treatment of the poor is comprehensive and precise.  I found it all totally absorbing.  And everything isn’t resolved—a sequel is in the works!


Header photo:  Bad hair day for the ferns cJWFarrington

Great White Egrets

Tidy Tidbits: Latest Viewing & Reading

We have returned to hot and humid Florida and that means late afternoon trips to the pool, an occasional film, catching up on our favorite TV series, and more reading.  It’s too hot to linger outdoors!


We went to see Indignation on Labor Day afternoon and the audience was all seniors with a few exceptions.  Perhaps because the film is set in the early 1950’s or this audience is familiar with Philip Roth’s work.  In any case, this story of Marcus, a young Jewish guy who leaves New Jersey and his father’s butcher shop for a small college in Ohio, has some surprising twists and turns.  At first, I thought it would be just a classic young love story—unsophisticated boy meets beautiful, worldly girl, becomes enamored of her, and then she dumps him.  Instead, you have a much more complex situation involving sex that Marcus finds confusing and somewhat troubling and encounters with a dean who invents issues where there are none.  The pace is measured and almost deliberate until the final coup de grace.


We’re working through our backlog of recorded programs.  We plowed through several Midsomer Murders 2-parters (some really weird), finished the last (really the end, sigh) of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and have started Dancing on the Edge.  This series is set in early 1930’s London and concerns a group of rich sophisticates, some of whom actually work, and their jazz band leader friend, Louis Lester, who is black.  A murder in the fancy Imperial Hotel sets the press abuzz and unsettles Music Magazine co-editor Stanley and his friends.

We missed the first episode, but got engaged quite easily with the second one.  Viewers will recognize Stanley, played by Matthew Goode, as Mr. Talbot from Downton Abbey.



Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I thought Cleave’s first novel, Little Bee, was superb and I found Incendiary compelling.  Gold, about two Olympic competitors, was good, but not outstanding, and seemed to be geared toward a more commercial market.  His latest, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, is set during the Second World War, and concerns the evolving relationships between four protagonists:  Mary, who signs up for the war and is assigned to an elementary school and later works with problem children not evacuated; Hilda, her best friend; Tom, superintendent of schools and Mary’s boss and later fiancé; and Alistair, an art conservator who enlists as a regular soldier and experiences the brutality of life on the front.

Mary and Hilda ultimately become ambulance drivers rescuing people whose streets have been bombed during the Blitz.  All four are privileged individuals.  Their initial view of the war as something of a short-lived lark is challenged and molded by the carnage they witness.  The tone of the novel is both ironic and off-putting (probably deliberately so) and while the seeds of the novel came from real events in the author’s family, I didn’t feel it totally came together.  Nonetheless, for those of you who are wondering, I did finish it!

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

I’ve had mixed success with Erdrich’s novels.  Some I’ve admired and enjoyed like The Round House; others have left me indifferent.  I was prepared to like her newest novel, La Rose, and the opening chapters were intriguing.  In a hunting accident, a man shoots and kills his neighbor’s young son so he and his wife give their son to be raised by the bereaved parents.  I read 120 pages or about a third of the book, but eventually realized I didn’t care much for most of the characters and was tired of being bogged down in the minutiae of their daily lives.  Ergo, I abandoned the book.  I take some comfort in the fact that blogger Deb of The Book Stop  included it in a short list of books she also didn’t finish.



As someone who appreciates the tactile quality of paperbacks and hardbacks, I was pleased to learn that paper books are read more often than e-books. This from an article in the New York Times print edition (get that emphasis) of Sept. 5 entitled, “The Internet Hasn’t Won…



Cover photo © JWFarrington;  other images colored by her (some rights reserved)


Howling Hermine: Day 3

This is the first time in more than 10 years that a hurricane has made landfall in Florida. We are now into Day 3 of Hermine and we are fortunate that we are nowhere near the worst of this storm.  In fact, we’ve been on the eastern edge and have only been deluged with rain and occasional periods of strong winds.  But nothing of true hurricane strength.  That said, I’d gladly be elsewhere if we were going to be in the area of a direct hit.

Thursday, Sept. 1

Rain total for our county for all of August was 13.30 inches; Hermine alone dumped 7.76 inches as of yesterday and it’s still raining this morning.  And the wind, which was supposed to die down overnight, picked up again this morning after 6:30 am.  It was preceded by a wicked lightning and thunderstorm that went on for about  a half hour.  No time to be outside.

I suggested the Chief Penguin wait to go out for the newspapers.  Initially, they weren’t there, but after the let-up he ventured out and despite having been blown around a bit, they had arrived.  I guess the newspaper delivery guys subscribe to the mailman’s creed—“neither rain, nor snow… appointed rounds.”  Thank goodness for plastic bags too—not green, but the papers were only slightly damp!


Friday morning, Sept. 2
Friday morning, Sept. 2

Yesterday I watched as high tide washed up mounds of dirt and debris through the mangroves that protect us from the waters of the bay.  Like ring around the collar, the water is gone today, but the line of debris punctuated with plastic cups and other non-natural detritus remains.  Mid-morning, I noted the resident raccoon scampering about.  It usually isn’t out and about until late afternoon or dusk.

Later, I was  fascinated by a lone egret (where were his compatriots?) who strode tentatively along the mound trying to decide what to do and hesitating when it approached puddled water and not debris.  Ultimately, it scooched under the vines and mangroves.

Then, a wood stork happened along.  Much more confident than the egret, it picked and poked in the low water assumedly grubbing for food.  We don’t see these storks as often and they are usually alone.  Wild weather brings strange bird and animal behavior.




Lastly, here is a sample of the sound of Hermine out our front window this morning.  Not exactly howling, but you get the idea.


All photos and media by JWFarrington (some rights reserved)