Posts Tagged ‘Anne Shirley’

pei sandstone cliffs

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

pei north rustico harbour

On our recent return to PEI, the hubs and I stayed in a tiny village on the Island’s north shore. We were just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in one direction and the harbor (above) in the other. And though we did a bit of driving around the Island (lunch in Summerside one day, dinner in Charlottetown another night), we spent most of our time as close to the water as possible.

“You’ve made a beach bum out of me,” J said recently. I laughed and pointed out that I didn’t do anything: our trips to San Diego and PEI are wholly responsible for that change. The red beaches of PEI’s north shore, in particular, have completely captured our hearts.

pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

The Island’s north shore is quieter than the south; there are fewer towns, more long, unbroken stretches of beach. These comprise plenty of soft red sand (the Island soil contains so much iron that it oxidizes on contact with the air), and an occasional outcrop of sandstone cliffs (as in the photo at the top of this post).

I love visiting both the sand shore and the rock shore that L.M. Montgomery writes about in Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, but for spending an afternoon, the sand shore is my favorite. The sky is wide and open, the far red cliffs topped with lush green. As for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I have to quote Jane Stuart: “I never thought anything could be so blue.”

gulf of st lawrence beach pei

We took a guided kayaking trip around the north shore one night, which was exhausting but wholly enjoyable, and a couple of late-evening walks to watch the sunset. But mostly we sprawled out on the sand with our books, getting up occasionally to splash in the shallows or toss the Frisbee. We came home with sand in the folds of our shorts and tote bags, but I didn’t mind. Those hours on the north shore, walking through the foamy waves and sinking into the sand, restored my soul.

katie pei beach

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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anne books blue chest

Like many young girls, I read the Anne of Green Gables books over and over when I was growing up. My mom put the first three into my hands, and I devoured them, then went on to read the other five books in the series. I later came to love L.M. Montgomery’s other novels: The Story Girl, Jane of Lantern Hill, the three books featuring Emily Byrd Starr. And I was thrilled, a few weeks ago, to return to the land from which they sprang: beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward Island.

My husband was a good sport about touring Green Gables when we first visited PEI in 2014. I loved every second of that visit, but I wanted to explore another Anne-related site this time (there are several on the Island). So we drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner.

silver bush anne of green gables museum pei

This house was owned by some of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives. As you can see in the photo, she dubbed it “Silver Bush” and used it as the setting for several books (Pat of Silver Bush, The Story Girl, and their respective sequels). Like Green Gables, it has been lovingly maintained, and it is full of artifacts from Montgomery’s life. I could just imagine Maud and her cousins, or the clan of King children, popping popcorn by the parlor fire or gathered in the kitchen after dinner.

Maud was married in Silver Bush’s parlor in 1911, and it looks much as it might have then:

silver bush parlor anne of green gables museum pei

(I love the geranium on the side table, which reminded me of Anne naming the flowers and trees at Green Gables, including a geranium she called “Bonny.”)

There are also bookcases stuffed with beautiful first editions of Montgomery’s books:

silver bush bookcase anne of green gables museum pei

The whole house is filled with similar treasures: letters, linens, china from New Moon Farm (!), photographs and newspaper articles related to the Montgomery/Macneill families and the time period. It felt as though Maud herself – or Anne – might come around the corner at any moment.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is at the top of this post: a stellar collection of Anne books, in editions old and new, sitting on the actual blue chest from The Story Girl.

The chest’s contents are on display upstairs, but seeing the chest itself – the one I’ve read about so often – gave me goosebumps.  I half expected to see Sara Stanley perched on top of it, peeling potatoes as she regaled her cousins with the story of Rachel Ward’s handsome, dissolute groom who never showed up to their wedding. Maud changed the names and a few details when she wrote about it, but as with so much of her writing, the inspiration was drawn straight from real life.

Silver Bush and the blue chest reminded me – again – that this woman whose work I love so deeply was real. Her characters are longtime friends of mine: their words, after so many readings, live deep in my bones. They were real to her, too, as she notes in this journal entry about Anne:

anne quote silver bush pei

We finished off our time at Silver Bush with a stroll through a woodland path near the farmhouse. Perfection.

birch path woods silver bush pei

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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dish rack kitchen

Well, let’s tackle this pile of greasy plates and look as if we liked it.”

“I do like it…I’ve always liked washing dishes. It’s fun to make dirty things clean and shining again.”

“Oh, you ought to be in a museum,” snapped Nora.

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

I thought of these lines last week as I pulled on my rubber gloves to tackle yet another sinkful of dirty dishes, pots and silverware. Even with just the two of us at our house, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of time I spend in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing and rinsing. (The hubs usually dries and puts away.)

With a full-time job, lots of other things on my mind and no dishwasher, there are definitely times I empathize with Nora Nelson, above. (Though she and Anne Shirley were tackling the aftermath of a big wedding supper – which isn’t on my usual to-do list.) But even if I start out grumbling, I’ve often come around to Anne’s perspective by the time I turn off the hot water. There’s something tangible and satisfying about this work: scrub, soap, rinse, fill the dish rack. I’ve even been known to turn to it as a form of stress relief, like Pacha’s wife in The Emperor’s New Groove. (“I gotta go wash something!”)

I’ve written before about how pottering around the house can lower my blood pressure, or get me out of my head and back into my body after a long day of sitting and clicking at the computer. I am not an immaculate housekeeper and I am fiercely proud of having a career outside the home – which is (still!) not an option for so many women everywhere. Sometimes I find it a bit ironic that I come back to the computer to extol the virtues of housekeeping. But as Kathleen Norris has famously noted, laundry and other household tasks offer instant, visible results – and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Also, crucially, washing dishes is something I choose to do. It is necessary in a sense: we need dishes to eat on, and the dirty plates would eventually take over the kitchen. But I also believe this is part of the work of adulthood, no matter your gender or occupation: making and caring for a home. I chose this life (and these dishes, for that matter) – so I also choose to participate in the work of caring for them.

I’m still not above a hearty Nora-like growl once in a while. But like most people, I love to see the fruits of my labor – and a kitchen full of clean dishes (and, preferably, delicious food) is a pretty good way to do that.

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irises garden cambridge ma

Anne, correcting examination papers in the tower room one mid-June evening, paused to wipe her nose. She had wiped it so often that evening that it was rosy-red and rather painful. The truth was that Anne was the victim of a very severe and very unromantic cold in the head. It would not allow her to enjoy the soft green sky behind the hemlocks of The Evergreens, the silver-white moon hanging over the Storm King, the haunting perfume of the lilacs below her window or the frosty, blue-penciled irises in the vase on her table. It darkened all her past and overshadowed all her future.

“A cold in the head in June is an immoral thing,” she told Dusty Miller, who was meditating on the window-sill. “But in two weeks from today I’ll be in dear Green Gables instead of stewing here over examination papers full of howlers and wiping a worn-out nose. Think of it, Dusty Miller.”

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery

I have felt exactly like Anne this week – with paperwork in lieu of examination papers – as I’ve been in the grip of a decidedly unromantic, un-summery head cold. (Kershoo!) We’ve had gray skies and blustery winds here in Boston, though we were spared the hail that hit West Texas (and filled up my Facebook feed). Despite my cheery Summer Manifesto, I’ve felt as droopy as my balcony garden, which is definitely not getting enough sunshine. (Neither am I.)

However, like Anne, I’ll soon be at Green Gables – or close to it, when we head to Prince Edward Island on vacation later this month. And before then, there’s a bit of sunshine in the forecast, and a few fun social events on the calendar. So things are looking up.

Wishing you a lovely (sneeze-free) weekend, friends. And if you’ve been to PEI, do share your must-see recommendations!

(P.S.: After reading about Anne’s blue-penciled irises, I had to find some of my own. These are from last summer, in the garden next to my office building.)

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shoes book harvard yard

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
I loved Colwin’s Home Cooking, and rereading an essay of hers (the titular one in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant) prompted me to pick up her second collection of food essays. She muses on cooking for kids, catering on the cheap, and the difficulties of finding good bread, with a few recipes sprinkled throughout. Light and fun.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
“Only the true fans can quote Anne lines from Windy Poplars,” Serenity told me once. This fourth book in the series is definitely underrated. I love it – from Anne’s short-lived feud with the Pringles to her musings on pens and silences, to the way she charms “the widows,” Katherine Brooke, Rebecca Dew and the rest of Summerside. Perfect for blustery autumn days (how I envy Anne her tower room!).

Something Borrowed, Emily Giffin
I’m usually a snob about chick lit, but my sister loves Emily Giffin and convinced me to give her a try. Giffin’s debut is both fluffy and compelling, though it made me feel a bit icky because it is about several people who cheat on each other ALL the time. I did like the narrator, Rachel (the consummate good girl), and appreciated Giffin’s musings on the complexities of female friendship. Good weekend reading.

Something Blue, Emily Giffin
After her best friend Rachel (see above) steals her fiance, Darcy Rhone finds herself alone, pregnant (by a different man – again with the cheating!) and at her wits’ end. She moves to London to stay with an old friend, and gradually realizes she needs to make some changes in her life. I didn’t believe Darcy could change, but she does so admirably (though a bit quickly). Fluffy and fun.

Somewhere in France, Jennifer Robson
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to make a difference in the world, but she’s constrained by her place in British society. But when World War I breaks out, she learns to drive, defies her parents, and joins the ranks of WAAC drivers, eventually getting posted to France where her sweetheart, a Scottish surgeon, is working at a field hospital. A compelling war tale (with some gory medical details) and a moving love story, though the ending was quite abrupt. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 31).

Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at a London advertising agency to investigate the death of a copywriter. He uncovers a nest of blackmail, drug-smuggling, jealousy and other fun leisure pursuits. An entertaining mystery, with lots of witty advertising wordplay. (Though I couldn’t believe nobody guessed Lord Peter’s true identity.) So much fun.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading?

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“I wish you’d stay home, Anne. I don’t see what you want to go away and leave us for.”
“I don’t exactly want to, Davy, but I feel I ought to go.”
“If you don’t want to go you needn’t. You’re grown up. When I‘m grown up I’m not going to do one single thing I don’t want to do, Anne.”
“All your life, Davy, you’ll find yourself doing things you don’t want to do.”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery


Anne Shirley learned this lesson earlier than I did. As an orphan who was dependent on other families for her welfare, she spent her childhood caring for babies rather than playing with her friends (she didn’t have any) or going to school. Once she came to Green Gables she had more freedom and many new friends, but she still had to do the chores (such as sewing “unimaginative” patchwork squares) that she didn’t want to do. By the time she’s preparing to head off to Redmond, in Anne of the Island, she understands what it is to tackle an unpleasant chore, or to have mixed feelings about a course of action and stick to her decision anyway.

I’ve been remembering these words recently as I (reluctantly) wait on increasingly chilly subway platforms, squeeze onto crowded commuter trains, squint at my monthly budget, or deal with nagging life admin items such as doctor’s appointments. Every day, I find myself doing things I don’t want to do – which would shock eight-year-old Davy Keith. But I do them anyway – sometimes because I have to, sometimes because I know that my life (or someone else’s) will be better if I take care of this or that task. Most of the time, I try not to gripe about it, though I do my fair share of grumbling about bad weather, long lines or high prices.

Anne is one of my heroines not only because of her starry-eyed optimism, but because of her honesty about the small trials and victories of everyday life. She wasn’t complaining when she made the statement above; she was gently chiding Davy, perhaps, but she was also admitting matter-of-factly that life – even a good life – isn’t all ease and pleasure.

Sometimes, on a gray day or one filled with not-so-appealing tasks, it helps to remember Anne’s clear-eyed words, and tuck them into my pocket as I take a deep breath and tackle my next dull or irritating task. Even Anne had to do all sorts of things she didn’t want to do. And she managed to maintain a cheery and hopeful spirit – which means I can cultivate one, too.

(The cover image is from Wilfair. That’s the edition I own, though it always bothered me that Anne is wearing pink – she never wears pink, because of her red hair!)

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widener library harvard convocation

When we left Queen’s we knew everybody and had a place of our own. […] Now we feel as if the ground had slipped from under our feet. I’m thankful that neither Mrs. Lynde nor Mrs. Elisha Wright know, or ever will know, my state of mind at present. They would exult in saying ‘I told you so,’ and be convinced it was the beginning of the end. Whereas it is just the end of the beginning.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I always think of Anne’s words at this time of year, when flapping black robes and colorful hoods appear on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, when nervous almost-graduates have to answer the question “What are you doing next?” for the seventy-sixth time. Families flood into town to watch their sons, daughters and siblings walk across those stages. For weeks, you can’t set foot outside without tripping over a few knots of family-members-cum-tourists, disoriented but excited, trying to squeeze in all the sightseeing and still get everyone where they’re supposed to be on time.

I’m no longer a student, but I have never left the world of higher education. I’ve worked at three universities, and I spent a year in Oxford earning a graduate degree. Last week was my first Harvard commencement, and though I mostly watched it from afar, it thrilled me to be part of a centuries-old tradition, distinctive yet common to universities around the world.

The festivities began for us on Wednesday afternoon, with the Ed School’s Convocation ceremony under a big white tent in Radcliffe Yard. I manned the Class Gift table with two colleagues, and we watched our office’s intern, Evan, present the class gift check to our dean and then deliver her speech, perfectly poised. (She’s a class act and a fellow West Texan – which makes me doubly proud.)

evan speech convocation

The Thursday morning exercises in Tercentenary Theatre (adjacent to Harvard Yard) are always packed, and tickets are hard to come by, so I watched the live stream online with my colleagues (in our air-conditioned offices – it was 92 degrees!). But I did walk through the day before:

tercentenary theatre harvard commencement

I’ve never seen so many folding chairs or college banners in one place. And even when it was (mostly) empty, you could feel the buzz in the air.

On the day, the pomp and circumstance were such fun to watch – as were the quirky details, from President Faust’s crimson shoes to the deans all hugging Oprah (the afternoon’s featured speaker) during their brief times onstage. And the student speeches – one in Latin, two in English – were simply wonderful. My favorite quote came from Jon Murad, a New York police officer who earned a graduate degree at the Kennedy School of Government:

Here’s the secret: Everyone changes the world. Everything ripples. What matters is how we do it.

That is the excitement of commencement, at Harvard or anywhere else: the idea that these graduates will leave campus and begin working to change the world. It is an end, especially for the undergraduates – but it is also a beginning. They are leaving a place where they have become comfortable and known, but they are on the cusp of another grand adventure.

We’re settling into summer mode around here: tying up loose ends from the school year, dodging tourists with oversized cameras, shifting our attention to projects we’d been saving for quieter days. The tents have been folded, the chairs stacked and carted away. But the air still shimmers with the excitement – and uncertainty – of all those beginnings.

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