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Posts Tagged ‘L.M. Montgomery’

anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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garden of small beginnings

How is it July already? (I seem to be asking that question every month lately.) Here’s what I have been reading, in a summer that has been fast and full so far:

Girls in the Moon, Janet McNally
Phoebe and Luna Ferris have grown up in the shadow of their parents: musicians whose band broke up when their marriage did. Luna’s trying to make it as a musician in NYC, while Phoebe might be a songwriter – she’s not sure yet. A trip to Brooklyn to visit Luna (and track down their dad, Kieran) gives Phoebe a chance to seek answers to her questions. A music-soaked, beautifully written, bittersweet YA novel of sisterhood, first love and trying to find our places in the world. Recommended by Leigh.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Veronica Henry
Julius Nightingale’s cozy bookshop in the Cotswolds was his lifelong dream. But after his death, Julius’ daughter Emilia struggles to deal with her grief and save the shop from financial ruin. A lovely, honest novel about moving forward, being brave, and (of course) books. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan lost her husband, Dan, in a car wreck four years ago. She’s pulled it together, working full-time and caring for her two little girls (with lots of help from her sister). But when Lili’s boss signs her up for a gardening class, she finds she might be interested in the instructor, which terrifies her. A clever, warmhearted novel studded with gardening tips and hilarious one-liners. I cracked up every few pages. Also (highly) recommended by Leigh.

Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery
I started rereading this book on the red sand beaches of PEI – the perfect place, since it follows Anne as she marries Gilbert and moves to Four Winds on the Island’s north shore. I love watching her come into her own as a married woman, and I adore the supporting cast at Four Winds: Miss Cornelia, Captain Jim and Leslie Moore. Plus the descriptions (always Montgomery’s strong suit) are exquisite.

Cicada Summer, Maureen Leurck
Alex Proctor has taken on her biggest home renovation project yet: a beautiful historic house with a million problems. She’s also still trying to move on after her divorce, and care for her young daughter. A sweet, predictable but enjoyable novel about second chances and rebuilding (both houses and lives). To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

Blue Iris, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and this collection might be my favorite yet: it is full of quietly stunning flower poems, perfect for this time of year. Some favorites: “The Sunflowers,” “Poppies,” “Peonies,” “A Blessing.” I’ve been lingering in it for weeks, not wanting it to end. (Found at Three Lives. I often buy poetry there.)

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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daffodils succulents florist

After the first week the girls of Patty’s Place settled down to a steady grind of study; for this was their last year at Redmond and graduation honors must be fought for persistently. Anne devoted herself to English, Priscilla pored over classics, and Philippa pounded away at Mathematics. Sometimes they grew tired, sometimes they felt discouraged, sometimes nothing seemed worth the struggle for it. In one such mood Stella wandered up to the blue room one rainy November evening. Anne sat on the floor in a little circle of light cast by the lamp beside her, amid a surrounding snow of crumpled manuscript.

“What in the world are you doing?”

“Just looking over some old Story Club yarns. I wanted something to cheer and inebriate. I’d studied until the world seemed azure. So I came up here and dug these out of my trunk. They are so drenched in tears and tragedy that they are excruciatingly funny.”

“I’m blue and discouraged myself,” said Stella, throwing herself on the couch. “Nothing seems worthwhile. My very thoughts are old. I’ve thought them all before. What is the use of living after all, Anne?”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I turned back to this exchange between Anne and Stella recently, while slogging through a stretch of cold, grey days. I’m fighting a head cold (as Anne does elsewhere), and my very thoughts, like Stella’s, have felt old. It might not be November around here, but biting winds and swirling snow in early April are just as depressing as a cold fall rain.

Despite my gloom, I smiled as I read Anne’s reply to Stella: “Honey, it’s just brain fag that makes us feel that way, and the weather. A pouring rainy night like this, coming after a hard day’s grind, would squelch any one but a Mark Tapley. You know it is worthwhile to live.”

I know in my bones that Anne is right: this life, with its myriad frustrations and joys, is entirely worth living. It’s full of things to savor and enjoy. But I’ve still been feeling more like Stella: “Oh, my mind agrees with you, Anne. But my soul remains doleful and uninspired.”

I’m falling back on all my tried-and-true lifesavers: daffodils for my desk, daily trips to Darwin’s for chai and chitchat, sweet clementines peeled and eaten mid-afternoon while I take a break from work email to catch up on blogs. But I’m also remembering what Stella says a few lines later: “I begin to feel that life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

For that laughter, I’m relying on my people: my snarky coworkers, my goofy husband, the silliness that ensues when we gather around a friend’s table on Sunday nights. (Full disclosure: I’m also cracking up at James Corden’s Crosswalk musical videos and the occasional episode of Modern Family.)

When the skies are grey and the to-do list is long, I’m trying to remember: life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it. That laughter – even if sometimes it comes perilously close to crying – is what’s saving my life these days.

What’s making you laugh in these early spring days? (And when will the sunshine come back?)

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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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jane of lantern hill book tulips

Can I help you?” said Jane.

Though Jane herself had no inkling of it, those words were the keynote of her character. Any one else would probably have said, “What is the matter?” But Jane always wanted to help.

—Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately, partly because I’ve been rereading Jane’s story again. It is the perfect early spring book: the story of a young girl discovering, and falling completely in love with, a new life on Prince Edward Island with the father she never knew.

I love watching Jane come into her own as she goes, like Dorothy Gale, from a black-and-white existence in Toronto (where her imperious grandmother rules the roost) to the Technicolor world of the Island, where new friends and experiences are waiting around every corner. (The hubs and I drove to PEI a couple of summers ago, and it is as gorgeous as I always imagined, from years of reading L.M. Montgomery’s rapturous descriptions.)

Jane is a dreamer with a kind heart and a wide practical streak, who takes a deep delight in the joys of everyday life and work. In the scene quoted above, she hears a neighbor girl crying and goes to investigate. Elsewhere in the book, she pitches in to help her neighbors with everything from arranging flowers to shingling the barn roof. But when I reread this scene, it struck me that Jane’s attitude is key. She always wants to help. And she asks if she can help.

I am still settling into a new work routine, and some of my responsibilities are clear, while others are more ambiguous. Sometimes I get nervous about stepping on my colleagues’ toes, or figuring out exactly where I fit in the scheme of things. But most of the time, when I ask if I can help with a story or project, my colleagues respond with gratitude – sometimes even delight. (I tend to respond the same way when someone asks if they can help me.) The key, so often, is remembering – and being brave enough – to ask.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m too wrapped up in my own frustrations (or too overwhelmed by the demands of the to-do list) to think about helping other people. And often I am the one who needs to ask for help. But I am trying to take a leaf out of Jane’s book and remember to ask. Because I want to be a person who helps.

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