Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Twitterature– The Kitchen House

the kitchen houseWOW! One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Historical fiction in early 19th-century Virginia, on a plantation. We witness the dynamics between the family in the “big house,” the house “servants” (It was so uncouth to use the word “slave”), the field hands, the overseer, and the protagonist, a little white Irish girl whose parents who had indentured themselves to pay for passage to America, then died on the voyage over. She lived somewhere between the worlds of white and black, of Kitchen House and Big House.

I had to peek at the end to avoid heart failure… the tension was so great!


5 stars book

Twitterature- book reviews with Modern Mrs. Darcy


Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of… English Country Quaint

The Modern Mrs. Darcy has challenged us to share a book we love that perhaps everybody’s missing, because they’ve never heard of it! I can give you a whole opus I bet you’ve never heard of!

Miss Read, pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint, was an English schoolmistress and novelist. She lived almost 100 years and passed away last year.

She was most well known for her 2 series set in tiny English villages, Fairacre (20 books) and Thrush Green (13 books). She also wrote an autobiography, children’s books, a cookbook, and some others not in her 2 main series.

“Saint’s novels are wry regional social comedies, laced with gentle humour and subtle social commentary. Saint was also a keen observer of nature and the changing seasons.” (Wikipedia)

Her books remind me of the novels of Jane Austen and Jan Karon. They are easy reading, sweet, books that explore characters and relationships. No tawdry sex scenes, car chases, or foul language here! Plus, if you get the right edition, they feature sweet illustrations by John Goodall.

And if you’re like me, once you find a book you like, you want to read a lot by the same author… These will last you a while!

Click here for a full bio and bibliography.


The Best Book You've Never Heard Of | Modern Mrs Darcy


Twitterature– Princess Elizabeth’s Spy


Here’s what Anne, AKA Modern Mrs Darcy, says about her Twitterature series:

Welcome to the Twitterature link-up! For the lowdown, head over here, or try this Cliff Notes version: this is the place to share short, casual reviews of books you’ve been reading.

She reviews several books each month, but here is my second in 6 months.  Whoo-hoo! (That’s okay. I live to be the poster child of doing the best I can and not being condemned by comparisons and perfectionism!) (Here’s my first.)

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Maggie Hope got her start in espionage in the months leading up to WWII as Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. In this second installment, the War has started and she is training to go behind enemy lines. Her excellent command of German and French makes her a prime candidate, but she can’t master the physical training, so she ends up as a tutor for Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle. (that’s the Queen, for you non-Royalty freaks lovers) She is disappointed insulted by having to “waste her skills as just a governess” but soon discovers a hotbed of intrigue and danger within the Castle walls!

A wonderful, light read, with a bit of insider info on the Royal Family and enough history to be interesting but not too heavy.

4.5 stars

Visit MMD’s Twitterature Linkup here!


Twitterature– Out of the Silent Planet


I recently discovered Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog and fell in love. Truth to tell, I’m a wee bit jealous– she reads multiple books and blogs every week, writes regularly for not one but TWO blogs, works part time, and oh yes, mothers FOUR small children. I can only wish I had the kind of energy to fit all that in. *sigh*

This year she started a monthly reading link-up and I have finished ONE book so far this month! (Yay me! Every little helps, you know!) The reviews are styled after Twitter- short and informal, though she doesn’t hold you to just 140 characters. Visit her and get some reading ideas, then join up with your own reviews!

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Narnia for adults. Part of the 3-book “Deep Heaven” or “Space” trilogy. Obvious Biblical allusions if you know your Bible, just a fascinating story with rich characters if you don’t.



Photo from “Adding Bliss”, drawing by Don Phillips, Jr.

I love to read!

Auntie Em has been a great reader for many years- and I’m so happy that all my children are, too. When they were preschoolers, the library was our excitement for the week! They all checked out the maximum number allowed- I think it was 7– and oh boy, did we read.

(Indulge me a mom-story here– When one of the Harry Potter books came out, Sis, who was in college at the time, pre-bought it, got the wristband, and went to the bookstore to await the midnight release. She stayed up and read it through, then The Boy read it through, then handed it to Sunshine, and she read it through! They are all much faster readers than I am, and they can stay awake!)

Anyway- I’ve read hundreds- probably thousands- of books, mostly fiction, and mostly just for fun. Long ago I decided not to buy a book unless I wanted to reread it regularly, or it had some special significance; I’ve outgrown closets and bookshelves and had to donate to the library far too often! Now I try to borrow them from the library or somebody else, and if I can’t get what I’m looking for that way, I buy it then donate it immediately.

But several books have stood the test of time, and I come back to them again and again. One of my most visited is Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. Written in 1955, when Anne was 49, having been married to the aviator Charles for 28 years.Just a little background about her- the Lindberghs’ first child was kidnapped and murdered as a year-old baby in 1932. Subsequently they had 4 more children. Anne was a published writer of poetry and prose, but when Gift came out, it spoke so clearly to women’s hearts, that it became a bestseller, spending 80 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and 47 of those weeks at #1! It sold 5 million copies during its first 20 years in print.

I began reading it in my “early mom” years, when I had 3 children in a little over 4 years. When the only places we went were church, the grocery store, and Walmart, life was pretty calm, but when they got in school and I went to work, the pace quickened, and my stress level skyrocketed. Gift helped me to see and appreciate the season of my life, and to give me hope that it would settle down one day! Now, with my nest empty, it seems like those other seasons just flew by.

Let me tell you just a bit about it- I hope you will borrow it or buy it this week and read it yourself! She talks about simplifying life, and how the many distractions we have can that tear us apart. (What would she think about Facebook, Twitter, streaming video, etc??)

For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals, and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!

… [this lifestyle] is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads… to fragmentation… it destroys the soul.

She compares different stages of a woman’s life to different sea shells: Channeled whelk, moon shell, double-sunrise, oyster bed, and argonauta.

The Channelled whelk is simple, bare, beautiful, and deserted. Anne admits her life is “messy” and determines to live the art of “shedding; [to see] how little one can get along with.” She will ask how little, not how much, can she get along with. To ask– is it necessary?– when she is tempted to add another possession or activity.

The Moonstone represents solitude. In this chapter she discusses how women naturally “pour themselves out,” and how we must find a way to refill. For herself, she spent a week at the beach every year, but realized that that wasn’t an option for some. She used the German word zerrissenheit, which translates roughly “torn-to-pieces-hood.” When I saw this term for the first time, I felt absolutely understood! The moonstone Women must “consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today.” Here’s another metaphor that really stuck with me: a woman must be as still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of all the activities.

The Double-Sunrise represents the exclusivity of an intimate relationship, the honeymoon stage of marriage, before children, jobs, houses, and bills cloud it up. She talks about the threats to this relationship, of mothers forming other double-sunrise relationships with each child as it’s born, and husbands giving themselves over to careers. She counsels readers to deliberately take time away, alone with their spouses, whether it’s a weekend trip, or just a cup of coffee in the morning.

The Oyster Bed represents a woman’s life in the middle years of marriage, when all the children are around and the sheer volume of dishes, laundry, places to go and be, can be overwhelming. It is a shell with many small shells attached to it, like “the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life– here a sleeping porch for the children, and there a veranda for the play-pen, here a garage for the extra car, and there a shed for the bicycles.” She talks about not fighting the impending specter of aging, but embracing it, as a time of new opportunities.

The Argonauta (paper nautilus) is a cradle for argonaut eggs; they float to the surface where the young hatch and float away. It represents the freedom for personal growth in middle age, coming of age. The marital relationship that has evolved through the ecstasy of the Double Sunrise and the chaos of the Oyster Bed now matures into the beautiful, free Argonauta:

… There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand, only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back– it does not matter which, Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.

In the “Gift from the Sea Re-Opened” section at the end of the book, Anne expresses surprise at how relevant the book seems to be to women still, even though the world had “totally changed in the twenty years” since the book’s publication! Now, FIFTY-SEVEN years later, the world has changed even more, but people haven’t. Women still pour themselves out for our husbands, children, and careers. Life is still messy. And we still have to learn how to navigate through the seasons of our lives.


My Girl Maeve

It seems like all Auntie Em has been talking about is cooking! But I promised to share some good books too. I love to read, and if I don’t get to read before bed I feel like I’ve been sadly mistreated.

Maeve and her husband, “Dear Gordon” Snell. Photo courtesy of

One of my all-time favorite authors, the Irish novelist Maeve Binchey, died last week. Maeve has been part of my life since I discovered her when my children were little. She wrote about interconneted communities of people, and her characters were flawed but honest and sympathetic. While reading her books, I normally have to keep a Kleenex handy because at some point I’ll cry. And she always dedicated her books to her husband, “dear Gordon.” (There is quite an unexpected love story there if you read it, too!) It always seemed like you would be able to sit down over a cup of tea with Maeve and start talking like you had known her forever!

This was on the front page of her website, which I think is very telling about the kind of person she was.

The happiest moments of my life are connected with family and friends. There is a great comfort about being with people who knew you way back when. There is a mental shorthand, an easy-going feeling that life doesn’t have to be explained or defined; we are all in more or less the same boat. To have a community around you in a changing and unstable world is invaluable and nothing can beat the feeling that there will always be people out for our good.

She wrote some collections of short stories, but my favorites were her thick novels spanning years or decades in the lives of a small circle of people. Circle of Friends was probably the best known, as it was made into a movie. (I didn’t see it.) Her last one was Minding Frankie and I loved it! In it, a young man, gets custody of his child which he didn’t know existed, due to the mother’s death, and the rallying around of his friends and family to show the child welfare worker what an able parent he is.

Her books would probably be rated PG to PG-13. There are some “adult themes” but no explicitness or poor taste. Mostly, though, she presents a kind look at flawed people.

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