Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"

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July - September, 2022

CHAWTON

September 11, 2022

               Since Thursday, Queen Elizabeth and England have been on our minds as well as on the news, haven’t they. I’m especially struck by the depth of our fondness for the woman whom one commentator called “the grandmother of the nation” and our fondness for the enduring idea of England. I heard myself reciting Shakespeare’s “This sceptred isle . . . This precious stone set in a silver sea . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
               Lately two books have taken me to England.
               When I was browsing in the audiobooks section of the library, a title grabbed my attention: Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner. The back of the CDs box told me: “The author of The Jane Austen Society returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of postwar London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world. Bloomsbury Books is a quiet tradition-bound London bookstore . . . But in 1950, it’s a new world, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans.”
               Bloomsbury! When Don and I were living in Suffolk, this was the part of London we visited most often, staying at our favorite B& B in Bedford Square. So of course I took out the audiobook. And I listened happily. It’s not a spoiler to say that Jane Austen and her Chawton home are part of the book’s story. How had I missed Jenner’s earlier book?! (I bet many of you have read it?) When I returned Bloomsbury Girls to the library I looked for an audiobook of The Jane Austen Society, nope, so I went into the stacks and there found a hardcover copy, which I’m now reading. More happiness.
               I’ve mentioned before that in 1990, when Penny and I spent three weeks in the Cotswolds visiting gardens, we made a pilgrimage from Chipping Campden down to Chawton, Penny driving heroically on a rainy day. Here are some excerpts from my journal, which I titled “The Doan Sisters Go to England.”
               “[Jane Austen’s] Chawton home is an L-shaped brick house, the left-hand part in a big garden that provides the privacy the front lacks . . . There was an attempt to make the house itself more private; the front has an odd appearance because one large window overlooking the road was blocked up by Jane’s brother Edward, who gave the womenfolk this house on the Chawton estate he’d inherited from a relative. Blocked windows aren’t an uncommon sight in England, for a window tax at one stage in the past caused a lot of houses to choose darkness, but this one is big and disconcerting. Though a broad wink doesn’t suit Jane, too blatant, her house seems to be doing just that . . .
               “The house feels smaller within than it looks from without, especially when you imagine the skirts the women were wearing . . .
               “The shock of actually being here had overwhelmed me. Then as we moved on into the Dining Parlour, I realized its wallpaper was the same Laura Ashley as our bathroom’s [in our Chipping Campden ‘self-catering cottage’]! This got Penny and me laughing and counteracted all the emotions of seeing the tiny round table at which Jane wrote. It was bare but looked hardly big enough to hold two pieces of paper and pen-and-ink equipment.
               “The guidebook says ‘The Austen ladies had their meals in this room . . . Jane would have prepared [breakfast] since that was her main chore. She was also in charge of the tea and coffee that was kept locked away in the cupboard next to the fireplace. She would have boiled the kettle on the hob on this original fire grate . . . After breakfast Jane used to stay on in this room, to write her novels at the little table near the window . . . ’
               “The famous creaking door, which alerted Jane to visitors so she could hide her manuscript, is labeled that. A man said, coming down the stairs as we started up, ‘With these floorboards she hardly needed a creaking door.’
               “ Jane and Cassandra shared a bedroom. No bed now, but a patchwork quilt under gauze protection hung on the wall. It was made at Chawton by Jane and Cassandra and their mother . . . The original fireplace was here, with an armchair beside it and a description of how niece Caroline last saw Jane sitting there, too ill to be visited long.”
               After Penny and I left the house and explored the garden, we walked over to a tea-and-gifts shop across from the house. It was called Cassandra’s Cup. In my journal I wrote that we ordered sparkling mineral water and chocolate cake and “sat looking across the street at the house. The sun came out.”

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

WINTER'S WISDOM?

September 4, 2022

             Everybody is saying they can’t believe that Labor Day Weekend is here already—“Where did the summer go?” I’m saying it, too.
In Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden Daybook (“with pictures and illuminations by Childe Hassam,” beautiful blossomy paintings), she starts off September by quoting from her “Already” poem:

       Already the cricket is busy
                          With hints of soberer days,             
              And the goldenrod lights slowly
                           Its torch for the autumn blaze.

       O brief, bright smile of summer!
                           O days divine and dear!
              The voices of winter’s sorrow
                            Already we can hear.

       Recently Penny, my sister, sent me a quotation from one of her calendars: Oscar Wilde, “Wisdom comes with winters.” I Googled this and found various interpretations, such as “winter” means “age” and “winter” means “hard times.” But the quotation reminded me of what I’ve always said to keep my spirits up when winter approaches: winter is the time to concentrate. For me that meant more uninterrupted time for writing, especially during the twenty-seven years of our little caretaking business when the buy spring-summer-fall seasons were over.
But still, there’s dread. The other day I saw one lone red leaf on the front lawn under the still-green maple tree. As I’ve written about before, Penny and I always remember how Ernie (our mother) would howl with horror at her first sight of a red leaf. So I imitated Ernie with an “Oh, no!” However, the leaf was a pretty red, and there are “already” other pretty autumn sights, such as the first display of pumpkins outside Heath’s Supermarket in Center Harbor.
       This display reminded me of how last month my friend Kay pointed out that Thanksgiving is only three months away. And my thoughts turned to—you guessed it—winter’s comfort food. In summer I crave salads. In winter, bring on the hearty meals, with their memories of childhood!
       Recently on a rerun episode of the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, the contestants were three “celebrity chefs,” each with a sibling to help cook. They were asked to make “A Childhood Favorite.” One duo decided on Chicken Parmesan, another on Spaghetti and Meatballs, the third duo on Spaghetti Casserole, and they all did gussied-up versions of these favorites. The Chicken Parmesan won.
       I began wondering what my childhood favorite had been. The brook trout that Dan (our father) caught and Ernie dipped in cornmeal and sauteed? Ernie’s creamed salt cod on baked potatoes? Ernie’s Salmon Wiggle? Penny doesn’t like fish, so when I consulted her about a childhood favorite we settled on Ernie’s meatloaf. What if we’d been asked to choose a favorite childhood dessert? Ah, Ernie’s Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook’s chocolate layer cake with Seven-Minute Frosting.
       And on the subject of desserts: Last Wednesday’s senior lunch at the Sandwich community center was great fun, fish and chips, brownies for dessert. At our table we all got talking about a dessert from a previous Wednesday, squares of a coffee-cake type of cake made unique by the addition of crushed pineapple. One woman described a favorite and very simple cake she makes by adding crushed pineapple to an angel-food cake mix. We found this a wonderful idea.       
       I learned on the New Hampshire TV news that The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting “record-breaking cold” this winter. A time for concentration and comforts! And wisdom? Deep thoughts, deep snowdrifts?

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

VANITY PLATES

August 28, 2022

             Several years ago our summer neighbors from Maryland remarked to Don and me that they’d never seen so many vanity license plates as they did in New Hampshire. We thought they were probably exaggerating.
             This past week, in the September issue of New Hampshire Magazine I read on the “Contents” page: “Granite Staters Celebrate Their Vanity Plates; Part Word Game, Part Entertainment, These New Hampshire Plates Deserve Recognition,” by Darren Garnick. Were our neighbors right? I eagerly turned to the article.
             Darren Garnick begins, “Whether you are stuck in traffic or strolling through a supermarket parking lot, you are far more likely to see vanity plates—also known as personalized license plates—in the Granite State than anywhere else in New England. According to the New Hampshire Department of Safety, 13% of motorists, or one out of every eight registered vehicles here, currently has a personalized plate. Per capita, that’s twice as common as Maine, and nearly 10 times as common as Massachusetts.”
             When Don and I bought our first Subaru, we splurged on vanity plates for it so that we could identify our car amid the multitude of Subarus in town. Tales abounded about folks getting into each other’s cars by mistake when coming out of the post office, etc. We learned that our vanity plates were also useful for finding our car in supermarket parking lots and elsewhere, and this caused Don to splurge on vanity plates for his nondescript pickup truck.
             Garnick continues, “So for local drivers who like word games, that means an ongoing stream of entertainment. Vanity plates have their own unique language . . . Because of space limitations, vowels are often deleted and certain numbers are interchangeable with letters.” However, you can’t use every word you might want to use. New Hampshire has some restrictions. “These censorship rules are a sharp contrast to neighboring Maine, which up until very recently allowed obscenities on customized plates.” Ah, Maine!
             Garnick quotes “host of the PL8 Story podcast, New Yorker Trista Polo [,who] interviews license plate owners across the country, exploring the psychology behind their choices.” She said, “‘You think it’s just a license plate, but it turns out that it’s really a window into someone’s soul.’”
             Garnick puts “the spotlight on six motorist and their backstories.” My favorite is the head librarian at the Marlborough library. She said, “I love helping people discover new authors or series. Even the most simple things can make someone’s day. Sometimes we’re the only social connection people have each day. That makes our role a sacred task.” Her vanity plate: LBRYUN.
             The article concludes with a list of vanity plates that have been seen on New Hampshire roads. Here’s a sampling:
             &TIQUES
             BOSSLDY
             CRMDGN
             HEBGBES
             L8AGN
             NH-HIKA (My father, author of hiking books, should have had this one—though I don’t think he ever considered getting vanity plates. I do think I can hear him quoting Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity”!)

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

2022 GOLDEN CIRCLE LUNCHEON

August 21, 2022

              Recently I went to one of the Keene State College Golden Circle Luncheons, which were canceled when the pandemic began and have resumed. The Golden Circle Society consists of alumni who graduated fifty or more years ago, and the luncheons are held on different days in different parts of the state, Concord, Meredith, and Exeter. This was the 25th summer of these get-togethers.
              Don and I always went to the luncheons in nearby Meredith, held at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant. I’ve written before about this dear old restaurant of great renown, about how we remember when it was simply a family farm with turkeys meandering around—as they still were when the restaurant opened; rather disconcerting while you dined but, well, authentic. Nowadays, the visible turkeys are only what’s served on platters and plates. Delicious. And on the walls is what Hart’s menu says may be the most extensive collection of turkey plates in the world, colorful plates decorated with turkey images.
              When I went to the luncheon for the first time after Don died, to my surprise it was the hardest place I’d had to walk into alone during these “firsts.” If I’d realized it would be, I would have invited a guest to go with me. This August my friend Wanda accompanied me, and I’m very grateful to her.
              In August 2017 I wrote here about the luncheon, starting off by explaining our Keene background: “Don attended Keene Teachers’ College (as it was named in those days) from 1955 to 1957. He spent the next two years in the Coast Guard, then returned to Keene. With me in tow. After attending Bennington from 1957 to 1959, I transferred to Keene to be with him, and we set up housekeeping in the married students’ barracks. I got to experience two very different colleges.
              “So all these years later we were at this summer’s luncheon . . . Outdoors the temperature was eighty-four degrees; indoors at the buffet I piled my plate with mashed potatoes, squash, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and yes, the turkey that was being carved. Thanksgiving in August!
              “The luncheon is always fun, as are the chat and memories. But this 2017 luncheon was especially interesting because beside us at the Class of 1961-62 table were seated two young men who would be part of a post-dinner presentation about the college. They were great: outgoing, funny, genuinely curious about the college back in our day, treating us oldsters like real people, not relicts. When the subject of men’s and women’s dorms came up, they found this separation hard to believe (I must confess that my reaction to coed dorms is still EEK!), and I egged Don on to tell the tale of the riot of 1957 when the girls were locked in their dorm and some jumped out of windows. [This riot inspired my first novel, which I wrote my senior year in my spare time. It didn’t find an agent or a publisher, but it led to my next and first-published novel, The Lilting House. And decades later I recycled an idea from it into the Snowy sequel, for Tom and Joanne.] I told the young men about the married students’ barracks. Talk about coed dorms!”
              Now in 2022, Wanda and I enjoyed the company at our table and the August turkey feast, complete with apple crisp for dessert.
              And speaking of desserts, on Maine’s WCSH’s “Morning Report” last Thursday I learned that August 18th is National Ice Cream Pie Day. When the hosts discussed the differences between ice cream pie and ice cream cake, I realized I don’t think I’ve ever had either. Two more items for the bucket list! In honor of this important day, the “Morning Report” Stumper was: What state eats the most ice cream? (a) Maine; (b) New Jersey; (c) Vermont; (d) California. I guessed Maine (including the fictional Quarry Island Ice Cream that I invented for the Snowy Series!). The correct answer: California.y Series!). The correct answer: California.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

AGATHA AND ANNIE

August 14, 2022

                As I wrote last week, I had heard on the news that August is National Dog Month  and I’d thought of Annie Laurie, Snowy’s and my family’s Shetland sheepdog. This Tuesday I heard that August 9th is National Booklovers’ Day. And I thought of Agatha Christie.
                I’ve mentioned before that I think of her as my transition from children’s and young-adult books to adult novels, a transition that began when I picked up my mother’s paperback of Three Blind Mice and Other Stories—and went on to read my mother’s other Agatha mysteries.
                In the July 11th issue of Publishers Weekly there was a review of Agatha: An Elusive Woman, by Lucy Worsley, to be published in September by Pegasus Crime. The review began, “Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was a modernist, an iconoclast, and a ground-breaker, according to this excellent biography from Worsley (The Austen Girls). Worsley argues that Christie’s public image as a quiet Edwardian lady who happens to scribble mysteries was a ‘carefully crafted’ persona, made in order to ‘conceal her real self’ and her unconventional and oft-daring life.”
                In “The Real Agatha Christie,” an accompanying Q&A interview with Lucy Worsley, one of the questions was: “You cover many misconceptions about Christie. Which has been the most pervasive?” She replied, “People’s dismissal of her mental health issues. We need to believe what women say. Nobody took her seriously when she explained that she had suicidal thoughts when she disappeared in 1926. They said she disappeared to frame her cheating husband for murder. I would like to put this right. Like a lot of other people in the 1920s, after WWI, she had terrible mental health issues: people couldn’t keep the trauma down.”
                The last question was: “What surprised you most about Christie’s life?” She replied, “How involved she was in archeology because of her second husband. You don’t want to say ‘My wife bought my career,’ but that was effectively what happened. Proving that was a wonderful paper chase, and I found killer documents that showed her covering his salary. Then there’s the fact that when I read her letters, I found her surprisingly exuberant and joyful. She enjoyed life, and there are little jokes in her books. She had a buoyancy of spirit. Hers is a story about second chances and redemption.”
                Since writing last week about Annie Laurie, I’ve been singing the “Annie Laurie” song. Eventually I went to the music section of our bookcases to fetch my old piano songbook, Fireside Book of Folk Songs (published in 1947!), and checked my memory about the lyrics.
                The book has a note explaining the background: “The original poem was written by William Douglas of Fingland, 1685, who was in love with Annie Laurie, the beautiful daughter of Sir Robert Laurie, first baronet of Maxwellton. The song with the version of the poem used here was published in 1838. It was immensely popular with the British troops during the Crimean War.” I’ve Googled and found different descriptions of the song/poem’s history, but I treasure that one in my old book.
                Here’s the first verse:

              Maxwellton’s braes are bonnie,
              Where early fa’s the dew,
              And it’s there that Annie Laurie
              Gave me her promise true.
              Gave me her promise true,
              Which ne’er forgot will be,
              And for bonnie Annie Laurie
              I’d lay me doon and dee.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

NATIONAL DOG MONTH

August 7, 2022

                Last week I learned that August is National Dog Month, and I thought of Annie Laurie.
                In The Cheerleader I wrote that Snowy “opened the storm door and the inside door into the kitchen and crouched to receive Annie Laurie hurtling at her. When Snowy had announced that she wanted a dog for her twelfth birthday, a collie like Lassie, her parents had said a collie was too large and suggested a cocker spaniel; Snowy outwitted them by going to the library, getting a dog book, and discovering small Shetland collies. Laurie had a pert foxy face and soft golden fur, and Snowy chose her name from a piano songbook.”
                Yes, Laurie isn’t a fictional dog. She joined the Doan family in 1951 when Penny was ten and I was twelve. The family had moved from an apartment to a house with a big yard and woods and a brook; it was time to get a puppy! Ernie, our mother, had grown up with a beloved collie. But when I was younger I had been chased home by a big dog and afterward had been afraid of them. She decided that a small Sheltie was the solution. And when the puppy arrived and needed a name, I suggested “Annie Laurie,” a Scottish song I played on the piano.
                Dan, our father, built a spacious pen beside the back porch, perfect for a puppy—or so we thought. But Laurie hated being left alone in it. She barked and barked, letting the entire neighborhood hear her displeasure. So whenever she was in the pen, one or more of us would go outdoors and sit in the pen on lawn chairs to keep her company. And Laurie went on to live a long and bossy life.
                When Don and I decided to get a dog, we chose a border collie—“a real-size dog,” said Don. But Penny, after having a mostly-golden-retriever, chose another Sheltie, whom she named Thistle.
                Last week Maine’s WCSH-TV’s “Morning Report” celebrated National Dog Month with this Stumper question: Which is the most popular dog breed in the U.S.? (a) golden retriever; (b) Labrador retriever; (c) poodle; (d) French bulldog.
My first thought was: golden retriever. Then I remembered that I’d heard somewhere that French bulldogs have become very popular. So this was my guess. Two of the “Morning Report” hosts guessed Labrador retriever and one guessed golden. The correct answer: the Labrador.
                In the July 11th issue of Publishers Weekly there was a starred review of The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves by Alexandra Horowitz, to be published in September by Viking. The review says, “Horowitz (Our Dogs, Ourselves), head of Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab, charts the first year of a puppy’s life in this splendid dog behavior explainer. Aiming to ‘keep the lens firmly on the puppy’s point of view,’ Horowitz offers a week-by-week milestone breakdown that starts with puppies as just a ‘splodge of fur’ whose hearts beat 220 beats a minute . . . Along the way, Horowitz describes how dogs and humans coevolved to meet each other’s needs (the animals, for instance, ‘show more attachment to the people who adopt them than the mother who birthed them’) . . . Animal lovers will eat this up.”
                And in my mind I’m sitting on a lawn chair in Laurie’s pen, reading, keeping our puppy company.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

THE CHEF'S TRIANGLE

July 31, 2022

             Last week I heard on TV a term that was new to me: “chef’s triangle.” I got the general idea, but to be sure I checked on Google. A description on the Stroud Home site said, “The idea behind the layout, which is also called ‘the golden triangle’ or ‘the working triangle,’ is work efficiency and convenience while cooking. It is planned around the three main essentials of one stove, the fridge, and a sink . . . Most commonly the design takes the form of a galley or U-shaped floor plan, containing the fridge and stove on one side and the sink opposite.”
               Well! I started laughing, looking back on the arrangements in our various apartments and our present home. They were more like a chef’s rectangle or a chef’s mile-long hike.
               I told Penny, my sister, about the chef’s triangle, and she remembered how a family friend had to put the refrigerator in the living room because there was no room in the apartment’s kitchen.
               When Don and I moved into our Sandwich house in 1976, the ell was heated by the kitchen’s big cooking range, a woodstove converted to oil. The only space the right size for the fridge was directly opposite it. So our refrigeration and our heat source were staring at each other, so to speak. Not exactly efficient, but there was no choice. Some years later we replaced that range with the old Magee cooking/heating stove I’ve written about here. Yes, an upgrade, but the same damn problem. And no triangle.
               Our tiniest kitchen was in our basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston. Everything was within easy reach, but maneuvering was cramped.
We had the best arrangement our house in Farmington, NH, our first house, a prefab log cabin with a small galley-style kitchen. However, there was hardly any counter space, and I marvel now, looking back, at all the canning and freezing of our big garden’s vegetables I managed to do there.
               Speaking of food—and, as Penny and I always say, when are we ever not?—the other day as I was trying to organize various stacks of my notes and memos, I came upon the list I began a year or so ago, which add to occasionally (usually when I’ve been watching the Food Network). It’s sort of a food bucket-list, which I titled “Foods I’d Like to Try Before I Die!”:
          Chicken and waffles
                              (I’ve had them separately, of course, but never together)
               Shrimp and grits (Ditto)
               Empanadas
               Chimichangas
               Pierogies
               Chocolate Lava Cake
               Macarons (I’ve loved macaroons since childhood)
               Rugelach cookies

               

               When I mentioned the list to Thane, my niece, she said that we can cook our way down it!
               A few months ago I checked off one item on it: Needhams. I’ve written about how whenever Don and I were in Maine we kept a lookout for this chocolate candy made with Maine potatoes. We never found it. But recently I did at last, in New Hampshire, at the Center Harbor supermarket’s “impulse purchases” spot near a checkout counter. I exclaimed to everyone within earshot, “NEEDHAMS!” and grabbed a handful.
               So I can report that Needhams are, as we say in Maine and New Hampshire, wicked good. 

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

LIBRARIANS AND LIBRARIES

July 24, 2022

             In addition to the Edith Head autobiography I wrote about last week, Penny brought me the latest two issues of Maine’s Working Waterfront newspaper. I saw in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the June issue this letter from Constance Silverman of Tenants Harbor, with the newspaper’s caption, “Librarian sleuth solves mystery”:
“To the Editor:
             “The void, the impenetrable wall, the mental dead end—even youngsters suffer the torture of drawing a complete blank. Usually the elusive factoid—who wrote Moby Dick? What was Beyonce’s first hit?—bubbles to the surface after a few deep breaths. If not, there’s always Siri.
             “Unfortunately, there are those mental tabula rasa moments that persist, when whatever has slipped the mind seems gone forever. This is exactly the state of empty-mindedness that Beckie Delaney, co-director at the Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor, saved me from recently. I had been struggling for 20 years to remember the title of a book I read and loved back in 2002.
“I read the long-lost book while renting a cottage in Cushing. Naturally, the end of my vacation presented me with a terrible temptation to tuck that little volume into my suitcase. I did resist . . .
             “The summers that followed I searched in Maine’s many used book stores, but the hunt was complicated, as I couldn’t remember the title or author, only the plot.
               “When I stopped into the library with a list of recommendations by Maureen Corrigan, ‘Fresh Air’s book critic on NPR, Ms. Delaney made short work of my list. She was so efficient, I decided to lob my standard question about the mystery book with my well-practiced plot synopsis: ‘Girl in the 1800s stays behind while everyone else in town heads to the Ohio territories. Against all odds, she survives a Maine winter alone.’
             “Without batting an eye, Ms. Delaney turned to her computer and tapped out a request to her colleagues at surrounding libraries. Within the hour I had my answer. Here I Stay, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, published 1938. Thank you, Ms. Delaney.”
             Hooray for librarians and libraries!
             I can’t recall from its title and synopsis if I ever read Here I Stay, but I did read many of Elizabeth Coatsworth’s children’s books. And years later Dan (my father), who admired her writer/naturalist husband Henry Beston’s Outermost House, corresponded with him. I was very impressed.
Elizabeth Coatsworth and Henry Beston lived in Maine. And in summers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dan and Ernie (my mother) rented a cottage on Deer Isle in Maine. One summer Henry Beston invited Dan to stop by for a visit on their way! They did.
             I’ve written here before about memories of Laconia’s library, of holding Ernie’s hand as we went up and up and up the sets of stairs on the library’s little hillside. What joys waited in the library—including Elizabeth Coatsworth’s books! In Off Shore, the sequel I’m working on, I mention that Snowy’s favorite movie is An American in Paris. And now, remembering that climb to the library, I can hear in my head a song from the movie: “Stairway to Paradise.”

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

CLOTHES AND CAKES

July 17, 2022

               I mentioned last week that Penny, my sister, has given me a book published in 1959, which she’d found at a used-books store: The Dress Doctor: “A star-studded autobiography by Paramount’s Fashion Chief and a complete guide to WHAT TO WEAR for every occasion,” by Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore. I’ve now read it, and oh, did it transport me back to the Fifties and even further into the past!
In her first chapters Edith Head wrote about her background: Her stepfather was a mining engineer, and her early memories were of living in Nevada mining camps. Sometimes she visited her father in El Paso. Then came a trip to New York. It was, she wrote, “my first brush with the real world of fashion . . . I must have been eight, and I’ll never forget Mother taking me shopping—buying me a blue serge Peter Thomson dress with a high neck and elbow-length sleeves; it definitely was my entrée into the haut monde.
               After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley and getting her master’s degree in French at Stanford, she became a French teacher. But when searching  for a summer job, “I answered a want ad by Howard Greer, head designer at Paramount, who was looking for a sketch artist.” She couldn’t draw, but she went for an interview. Her audaciousness outdid her ineptitude; she got the job. And she found her true career: “The only reason I didn’t [go back to teaching] was that I was beginning to discover what to me is magic—that you can actually change someone with clothes . . . To convey character by dress was something with which to experiment . . . I became fascinated with my experiments.”
The next chapters are about Hollywood stars and their clothes: “Mae West taught me all that I know about sex—clotheswise. ‘I like ’em tight, girls,’ she said.” “Ginger Rogers is apple-pie American. She puts on a costume like a girl getting ready for a high-school prom.” “Barbara Stanwyck is extraordinarily honest, brutally frank, and absolutely loyal.” “Elizabeth Taylor at seventeen was my guide on the teen-age point of view.” “No one can drop a mink more elegantly than Bette Davis.” Audrey Hepburn “loves to design, and we worked like a team on the Sabrina clothes . . . [She] is one person off stage and on. The charm that made her a star is the same charm she uses when buying a loaf of bread: it’s her own personality.”
               There’s a chapter about men’s clothes. It begins, “To look lovely, a woman will suffer. She’ll wear a waist cincher that squeezes her, boned bras that dig her, heels that tilt her to the sensitive balls of her feet, earrings that pinch, skirts too tight for walking, belts too tight for breathing. No man will do it. Only one thing matters to the gentlemen . . . COMFORT.”
               The book closes with an Appendix: “Do-It-Yourself Dress Doctor.” In “What Clothes Can Do for You,” I hurried to the “Too Short?” section. I learned: “The first principle for the small woman is the use of one color.” Aha! Of course! Queen Elizabeth!
               Penny brought me the book when she and Thane (her daughter) and Thane’s husband, James, and their son, Hamish, were here celebrating Penny’s and Thane’s July birthdays. What a celebration, a cake on each birthday! For Thane’s Fourth of July birthday, James made a July Fourth icebox cake from a red-white-and-blue “Flag Cake” recipe in the New York Times. The unique ingredient is saltines, used as layers between fillings of whipped cream stabilized with cream cheese, one layer tinted pink-red with  raspberry puree, one remaining white. The top was decorated with raspberries and blueberries. For Penny’s birthday later in the week, Hamish decided on a Swiss roll. He made a sponge and lemon curd, added the lemon curd to whipped cream for a filling; the other filling was blueberry preserves. (He served it after he and Thane made an English-tea lunch of little crustless sandwiches—cucumber, of course, and cheese and chutney, ham and cheese. And a pot of tea. Fun!)

               Both cakes were sheer bliss and so was my family’s stay in New Hampshire.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

PORCH READING

July 10, 2022

               Isn’t reading on the porch (or the deck or the lawn) one of the great pleasures of summer! Right now I’m in the midst of Susan Cheever’s Louisa May Alcott, lent by a friend. Next I’ll be into a book my sister recently found in a used-books store: The Dress Doctor, by Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore, “A star-studded autobiography by Paramount’s Fashion Chief and a complete guide to WHAT TO WEAR for every occasion,” published in 1959 by Little, Brown.
               As I’ve said several times before, I see many books in the Publishers Weekly reviews that I’d like to read but the review itself will have to suffice. One such book is also about fashion. Reviewed in the June 6th issue, it’s Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, to be published in September by St. Martin’s. The review begins: “Journalist Chrisman-Campbell (The Way We Wed) takes an entertaining and insightful look at the evolution of the skirt across the 20th century. . . Highlights include . . . controversies surrounding tennis star Suzanne Lenglen’s shedding of the sport’s long skirt and petticoats for the mobility of a calf-length skirt in 1919, Coco Chanel’s liberation of women’s formalwear with her ‘little black dress’ in 1920, and Diane von Furstenburg’s capturing of the feminist and sexual revolutions with the wrap dress she created at her dining table in 1973.” It concludes: “Exquisitely detailed and evocatively written, this stylish history casts an underappreciated garment in a rewarding new light.”
               While reading on the porch I listen to the birds in backyard and occasionally look up to chide a couple of squabbling chipmunks under the nearby lilac bush. (Reading Louisa May Alcott beside that lilac bushreminds me how, of her other books besides Little Women, I especially enjoyed and reread and reread her Under the Lilacs—and Eight Cousins and, my favorite, Rose in Bloom.) I also look at the picnic table, the site nowadays of my garden: pots containing tomato plants, a pepper plant, rosemary, basil, dill, cilantro—and, grown from seeds I bought via Amazon thanks to suggestions from readers, my beloved summer savory.
In the April 18th issue of Publishers Weekly there was a review of The Healing Garden: Cultivating & Handcrafting Herbal Remedies, by Juliet Blankespoor, published in April by Mariner. It said, “Blankespoor, founder of Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, brings her 30 years of experience ‘as a plant-human’ to the page in this information-packed debut. As she writes, ‘gardening is medicine for our spirit, mind, and body,’ and she makes a case that growing remedies at home is a way to ‘tread more lightly on the earth.’ She starts with soil basics . . . Then she digs into making medicine . . .                There are recipes for teas, tinctures, syrups, and oil infusions; elderberry syrup can be ‘taken throughout the winter months to boost immunity and increase circulation,’ a ‘Weedy & Wonderful Soothing Salve’ works to ‘soothe and heal dry, chafed hands and feet and chapped lips’ . . . Lush photographs accompany Blankespoor’s practical advice.”
               I won’t be making remedies, but at mealtimes I step off the porch carrying a little basket and decide which herbs I want to have. Cilantro in the taco? Dill in the potato salad? Summer savory in everything?!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

CHEESY!

July 3, 2022

               Happy Fourth of July tomorrow, everyone!
               I’ll be celebrating it with Penny, my sister, and Thane, my niece, whose birthday it is. Thane will be grilling cheeseburgers that she’ll make her favorite way, using a combination of gooey American cheese and tangy Cheddar or Swiss.
I’ve recently learned about the history of American cheese. In the June/July issue of Reminisce magazine there’s an article that grabbed my attention. Written by Emily Tyra, it is titled “Golden Moments in American Cheese: Melty wonder is a go-to for everyone from WWI soldiers to backyard grillers.”
               Golden Moments! The moments begin: “For these uniform squares and their melty alchemy, we can thank James Kraft. In 1903, he landed in Chicago [from Canada] with $65 and began experimenting with a Swiss method of canning cheese. Kraft eventually mixed cheddar scraps with emulsifiers to produce the mild, shelf-stable product now labeled ‘pasteurized process cheese food.’ J.L. Kraft Co. sold blocks of its products in tins, patenting it in 1916.” The cheese was “ideal for U.S. troops serving in World War I.”
               A big breakthrough came in 1950 when “Norman Kraft, brother of the founder and head of research at the company, devises a method of slicing molten process cheese by cooling it and rolling it out. As a result, Kraft debuts De Luxe Process Slices, which come in a stack of peelable squares.” In 1956 “At Pennsylvania’s Clearfield Cheese Co., Arnold Nawrocki patents a process for enveloping slices of American cheese in plastic, marking the greatest advancement in process cheese since sliced American cheese: the individually wrapped single.”
In my youth, my mother was more apt to have rat-trap Cheddar cheese in the fridge than American cheese. And one Christmas she was given (by my cousin or my aunt, I seem to recall) a gadget called a Toas-Tite. Have you ever had one in your life? I’ve Googled and found that it’s still available all these decades since that Christmas! After that Christmas the Toas-Tite became my favorite way of making a cheese sandwich, toasting it over a stove burner, melting the Cheddar within; I loved this method even more than grilled cheese.
               I’ve written here before about my fondness for the small stove Don and I had in our apartment in England, with its little broiler pan under a burner. I could make cheese toasts so easily! Years later I read S. Blyth Stirling’s very funny Naked Scotland: An American Insider Bares All; in it she wrote about “Things Scottish People Like,” with instructions about making “Cheese on Toast/Roasted Cheese/Toasted Cheese: Place thinly sliced cheddar on slices of bread and put it under the grill [broiler] until the cheese is bubbly and the bread is just slightly browned on the edges. It sounds so simple, but it’s the perfect comfort food for a chilly climate. It’s delicious on its own, but I highly recommend kicking it up a notch with Branston pickle (a pickled chutney). Leave it to the inventive Scots to get something so simple, so right.”
The other day I watched on the Rachael Ray Show an appearance by Christina Tosi, whose new memoir/cookbook is titled Dessert Can Save the World. There’s a thought! Well, I know what dessert will be tomorrow after our cheeseburgers: Thane’s birthday cake!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

RDM titles collage

CURRENT ENTRIES

Chawton (September 11)
Winter's Wisdom? (September 4)
Vanity Plates (August 28)
2022 Golden Circle Luncheon
(August 21)
Agatha and Annie (August 14)
National Dog Month (August 7)
The Chef's Triangle (July 31)
Librarians and Libraries (July 24)
Clothes and Cakes (July 17)
Porch Reading (July 10)
Cheesy! (July 3)

Archives Index
2022

The Summer Book (June 23)
Bears & Goats & Motorcycles ...(June 19)
Tuna Fish (June 12)
Laconia (June 5)
More Publishers Weekly Reviews (May 22)
Shopping, Small and Big  (May 15)
Ponds  (May 8)
The Lakes Region (May 1)
TV for Early Birds; An April Poem    (April 24)
Family; Food; Fold-out Sofas (April 17)
Solitary Eaters (April 9)
National Poetry Month (April 3)
Special Places—Popular Cakes(March 27) Neighborhood Parks ( (March 20)
More About Potatoes—and Maine (March 13)
Potatoes (March 6)
Spring Tease (February 27)
Pillows (February 20)
Our Song (February 13)
Undies (February 6)
Laughter  (January 28/30)
A Burns Night  (January 23)
From Keats to Spaghetta Sauce (January 16)
Chowder Recipes  (January 9)
Cheeses and Chowders  (January 2)

2021

The Roaring Twenties (December 26
Christmas Traditions (December 19)
Trail Cameras (December 12)
Cars and Trucks(December 5)
Return? (November 28)
Lipstick (November 20)
Tricks of the Trade (November 12)
A New Dictionary Word (November 7)
A 50th Reunion (October 31) "
Sides to Middle" Again
(October 23)
Pantries and Anchovies (October 1i7)
Fairs and Festivals (October 10)
Reunions  (October 3) A Lull  (September 26)
The Queen and Others (
Sept. 19)
Scones and Gardens (Sept.12)
Best Maine Diner (September 5)
Neighborhood Grocery Store; Neighborhood Café (August 28)
PW Picks of the Week (August 21)
A Goldilocks Morning_and More (August 15)
Desks (August 8)
Sports Bras and Pseudonyms (August 1)
Storybook Foods (July 25)
Rachel Field(July 18)
The Bliss Point  (July 11)
Items of Interest  (July 4)
Motorcycle Week 2021 (June 27)
Seafood, Inland and Seaside  (June 20)
Thrillers to Doughnuts (June 13)
National Trails Day  (June 6)
New Hampshire Language (May 30 )
Books and Squares(May 23)
Gardening in May (May16)
The Familiar (May 9)
Synonyms (May 2)
"Bear!" (April 25)
Blossoms  (April 18)
Lost Kitchen and Found Poetry (April 11)
More About Mud (April 4)
Gilbert and Sullivan (March 28)
St. Patrick's Day 2021 (March 21)
Spring Forward (March 14)
A Blank Page (March 7)
No-Recipe Recipes (February 28)
Libraries and Publishers Weekly (February 21)
Party; Also, Pizza (February 13)
Groundhog Day (February 6)
Jeeps (January 31) Poems and Paper-Whites (January 24) Peanut Butter (January 17)
Last Wednesday  (January 10)
Hoodsies and Animal Crackers  (January 3)

2020

Welcome, 2021December 27
Cornwall at Christmastime( December 20)
 Mount Tripyramid ( December 13) 
New Hampshire Pie ( December 6)   
Frost, Longfellow, and Larkin ( November 29)
Rocking Chairs ( November 22)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( November 15)
Election 2000 ( November 8)
Jell-O and Pollyanna ( November 1)
Peyton Place in Maine  (October 25)
Remember the Reader  (October 18)
Sandwich Fairs In Our Past  (October11)
Drought and Doughnuts  (October 4)
Snacks (September 27)
Support Systems, Continuing (September 20)
The 85 Best Things to Do in New England (Sept
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 3
Poutine and A Postscript(August 23)
Pandemic Listening and Reading (August 16)
Mobile Businesses (August 9)
Backyard Wildlife (August 2)
Maine Books (July 26)
Garlic (July 19)
Birthday Cakes (July 12)
A Collection of Quotations  (July 5)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
Hair (June 21)
Learning (June 14)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Laconia (May 10)
Results (May 3)
Singing (April 26 )
Dining Out (April 19 )
Red Hill (March 29)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
Food for Hikes (March 8)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Books Sandwiched In   (February 9)
Mailboxes February 2)
Ironing (January 26)
The Cup & Crumb  (January 19)
Catalogs  (January 12)
Audiobook Travels  (January 5)

                        2020

Christmas Weather  (Dec. 29 )
Christmas in the Village  (Dec. 22)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again  (Dec. 15)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York  (December 8)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving.  (December 1)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again.  (Nov. 24
Louisa and P.G.  (November 17)
The First Snow  (November 10)
Joy of Cooking  (November 3)
Over-the-Hill Celebration  (October 27)
Pumpkin Regatta  (October 20)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Spice  (October 6)
Wildlife  (Sept 29)
Shakespeare and George  (Sept 22)
Castles and Country Houses  (Sept 15)
New Hampshire Apple Day  (Sept 8)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking  (Sept 1)
Reunions  (August 25)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar  (August 18)
Old Home Week  (August 11)
Summer Scenes  (August 4)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Out of Reach  (July 21)
This and That, Again  (July 14)
The Lot  (July 7)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
The Big Bear (May 26)
It's Radio! (May 19)
Archie (May 12)
Department Stores  (May 5)
Spring Is Here!  (April 28)
Dorothy Parker Poem  (April 21)
National Library Week, 2019  (April 14)
National Poetry Month, 2019  (April 7)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Our First Date (February 17) 
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Home Ec (February 3)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Kingfisher (January 19)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Squirrels (January 6)

                    2018

Clothesline Collapse   (December 2)
Thanksgiving 2018
(November 25)  
Bookmarks
(November 18)
A Mouse Milestone (November 11)
Farewell to Our Magee   (November 4)
Sistering (October 28)
Sears (October 21)
Love and Ruin (October 14)
A New Furnace (October 7)
Keene Cuisine September 30)
A Mini-Mini Reunion (September 23)
Support System  (September 16)
Five & Ten  (September 9)
Dining Out Again  (September 2)
Summer Listening (August 26)
Donald K. MacDougall 1936-2018  (August 19)
Update--Don (August 12)
Telling Don (August 5)
Don's Health (July 29)
Seen and Overheard (July 22)
Donald Hall  (July 15)
Fireworks (July 8)
Off Season (July 1)
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (June 24)
2018 Motorcycle Week (June 17)
Springtime Sights (June 10)
Seafood at the Seacoast? (June 3)
Lilacs (May 27)
Going Up Brook, revisited  (May 20)
The Weirs Drive-In Theater  (May 13)
The Green and Yellow Time, (May 6 )
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing (April 21)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (April 14)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Old Country Store (March 25; First  FB entry)

Earlier: :Ruth's Neighborhood
(multiple entries, 2011 - 2017)