This is something that ties two tasks together, so here we go:
My grandma kept baby / early childhood diaries for her children (including my mom) -- and my mom continued the tradition when I was born. She started to write it about three months after my birth and kept it going until I was kindergarten age.
The final entry in volume 1 of this diary (there are two volumes in total) concerns a fright that I gave her when I was 2 1/2 years old, shortly before we moved from Berlin (where I was born) to a village just south of Bonn (where my mom's parents were living at the time, and where I would come to spend the biggest part of my childhood):
"You now enjoy playing with the neighborhood kids, [and] alone, too, in the street. One day, however, you suddenly vanished and walked all alone to [your favorite playground on a nearby square]! I spent 1 1/2 hours looking for you! You'd almost gotten run over on [a large boulevard on the way]. So I am glad we are moving away from big city life now."
The playground in question commanded so much of my particular attention because it featured an honest-to-God decommissioned steam locomotive that I absolutely adored "steering". According to the story as orally elaborated on by my mom later, I had apparently (and unbeknownst to her) memorized the way to the playground, but not the way back home, and after having played blissfully and to my heart's content for a while, had started to panic when it had dawned on me that I was lost. By chance, a passing neighbor had recognized me and taken me back home. How I'd managed to slip away in the first place, nobody knew -- usually the mothers of the neighborhood kids took turns supervising us when we were playing outside (or even all came out to watch us), and there was never any word about anybody being recriminated for not having been on their guard. So probably there was just a moment's distraction ... which turned out to be enough, however, to let me indulge in a sudden spark of instant gratification and walk away to play at being a steam engine driver, rather than continue playing with the other kids in my street. -- Since nobody had actually watched me walking away, the "almost gotten run over on the way" bit was possibly my mom's very understandable fear talking (if that had really happened, I'd likely have been taken back home immediately without ever reaching the playground -- I did know my home address; it was one of the first things my parents taught me to say once I'd learned to speak, and I loved repeating it, so it's likely it would have popped out if I had been asked), though of course this may have been what prompted the neighbor to recognize me when I was trying to find my way back home.
The (in)famous steam engine
(Door 7, Task 2: Share a story about yourself, or a story about your family that’s survived the generations, or share a particular tradition your family has passed on from generation to generation and if there’s a story behind why, tell us about it.
Door 11, Task 1: If you have kids or pets, tell us about something “bad” they did that was so funny you couldn’t help but forgive (“pardon”) them. If you have neither kids nor pets, was there such an event in your own childhood – or with kids or pets in your family or circle of friends?)
I was mildly disappointed that it wasn't a book of Christmas stories, but only very mildly. Lots of Laura and Tony, which I find hilarious and poignant. The last story has Laura going to London to shop during wartime. I think I mentioned elsewhere that I didn't like Thirkell so much during wartime: she depresses the hell out of me. So Laura is going to London, and the train is cold and other people smoke in the non-smoking car, and there's this enormous list of things they need and the department store where she has long been a customer doesn't have any of those things...and it was depressing as hell, but I was nearly done with the book, so I finished it. And now I am charmed because most prosaic Christmas miracle ever (it's not specifically set at Christmas, but I am highly susceptible to titles apparently).
I may have to reconsider the earlier decision to avoid the wartime books.
And an aside, how beautiful is that cover?
Quindlen has long been a favorite. She notices the details and captures them, then ponders what they mean, but without pomposity. She doesn't pretend to have expertise, just some experience. There is humor to her writing, much self-deprecating, although mostly not jokes. Years of writing have gone into creating a natural, casual style that seems like no effort at all.
Here she is waxing wise about grandparenting: how it has changed over time as families have, how to do it well, how to get along with your child's beloved. Good, practical stuff intermingled with the charming details of her interactions with Arthur, her first grandchild. It's very sweet for the most part, although juxtaposed with just a few of the ways it could not be, such that it never becomes complacent.
This will likely be a very popular gift for women crossing that border for the first time.
Unrelated to my consideration for the text, I do have a issue with the book as an object:I really hate whole sections in italics. Two lines may be my limit. It feels weird to me, and I can't stop being aware of it. Forty-five years on the sans serif font of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, still bugs me, so of course, YMMV.
Harriet is the daughter of the worst professor at Cambridge, a man who doesn't mind teaching her Latin, but won't even consider the possibility of her attending university. Her aunt, Louisa, keeps house for them and is the cheapest person ever, so were Harriet to hack them to pieces with an ax, no one would be surprised. fortunately, Harriet is offered the opportunity to join the corps of a ballet troupe headed up the Amazon for an extended stay among the insanely wealthy rubber barons of 1912.
It's a delightful book. Just as in [book:A Countess Below Stairs|714569], the heroine isn't brilliant at everything, but she is charming and kind. The hero is a good man, which we know because of his efforts to protect a native tribe (or two). Sure he's a colonial making a fortune, but he treats his workers well, and cares about their long-term interests (if not their land rights).
In addition, we are treated to the amusing characters of the ballet company, a buffoon of a suitor for Harriet, an entrancing young boy, a scheming Scarlett O'Hara type, and quite a lot of natural history. Fleas get their due, as does a coati.
The magic of the book is that Ibbotson tells an Edwardian love story in a way that mostly feels authentic and also progressive. Perhaps it's because when the author brings in a <i>deus ex machina</i> she proclaims it as such. Maybe it's because our leads are enjoying everything unabashedly. I don't know, what the magic is, but I bet you anything you like that Ibbotson had FUN writing this book.