For the Creative Book Club….

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Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience:  this is the ideal life.        ~Mark Twain

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a book review for Keeping the House by Ellen Baker.  If you’re looking for some creative ways to make your book club discussion of this book fun and interesting, I have gathered some ideas to make it festive!

As a member of a book club that has been meeting for 15 years, I know that sometimes finding a good book for discussion can be a challenge.  So, that’s why I’m suggesting this book as your next selection.  You will be talking about a wide variety of things…. The role of women in the early-to-mid 1900’s; the impact of both World Wars at home and abroad; the way small town life can be a blessing as well as a curse; the importance of communication in a marriage; and the way things have changed as well as how they have stayed the same!

First of all, head over to Ellen Baker’s website for some excellent background of the book including great discussion questions as well as some fun recipes from the book.  I think the recipe for Dolly’s Lacy Raisin Wafers would be perfect! In fact, take a look at these free recipe-card printables. Wouldn’t it be fun to print out the recipes on these cards and give them as favors to your guests?

Dolly brings these cookies to her first Ladies Aid gathering to try to make a good impression…

¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ teasp. baking soda
½ teasp. salt
¼ teasp. nutmeg
¾ cup light or dark raisins
½ cup salad oil
¼ cup water
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teasp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cups uncooked rolled oats

½ cup chopped nuts

Sift flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Rinse and drain raisins; mix with salad oil, water; mix in sugar, vanilla, oats, nuts, then flour mixture.  Refrigerate 1 hr.  Start heating oven to 350 degrees F.  Drop dough by teaspoonfuls, about 2” apart, onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 10 to 12 min., or till crisp around edges.   Makes 3 ½ doz.
From the Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 1949

Are you feeling extra crafty?  Perhaps you could get some of these cute clothes-pins from Etsy, or make some using this tutorial,  and add a magnet to the back so your guests can display their recipe cards at home. How darling would these be, holding your recipe cards nestled next to your table settings?

When it comes to setting the table, there are so many great options. Aren’t these dishes great?  You can pick up lots of retro dishes at thrift stores, of course.  Perhaps your relatives have some to borrow. I know my mom has some really great pink melamine coffee cups and saucers. (I wonder where they are….)  These lovely ones are available online.

I have a co-worker who collects vintage tablecloths, and once in awhile I run across one at a thrift store for a good price, but they are a little hard to come-by.  Maybe you have one waiting for a good excuse to show it off!  (Since Dolly is a member of the ladies’ sewing circle working on a quilt throughout the novel, you could also cover the table with a quilt!)  One of my favorite bloggers, Dottie Angel, is a master when it comes to finding and re-purposing vintage linens.  I wish I had this one for book-club!  In fact her blog is full of inspirational ideas that would be perfect for this book-club gathering!  Her dishes, her linens, her aprons… Go visit her site now!

I can’t think of anything more fun than having each book-club member join-in the theme by arriving in a vintage-inspired apron.  The cover of paper-back version of the book, with its colorful apron, is so charming!  Most ladies will have a lot of fun finding an apron to wear to book-club.  Check out the inspiration for vintage aprons like this one.

Finally, I adore the idea of using graphics for display that include cover images of the magazines and journals quoted in the book.  If you can get color copies of covers from Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping, place them around the house along with some of the quotes from the book that you type-out and print on vintage inspired paper. I just love this picture of a ladies sewing circle from a vintage magazine.  It looks almost exactly how I envisioned it in the book.  Or how about this picture of a wife happy in the kitchen?  I found it on an article entitled: From a 1950’s high school home economics textbook, teaching girls how to prepare for married life.    Take a look at the suggestions given, and find a way to print them out and incorporate them into your creative book-club gathering!

My favorite?  #7 Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Finally, in the novel, Dolly was so determined to be the perfect wife that she ended up resenting the fact that she couldn’t follow her dream to fly an airplane.  By the end, we are happy that Dolly will fulfill that wish.  Encourage your book-club members to follow their dreams and “fly” by giving each one a mini-charm to remind them that they have wings!

The sky’s the limit (no pun intended) with your creative book-club for Keeping the House!  If you try some of these ideas, please send me a note and a few pictures of your festive gathering!

Book Review: “Keeping the House” by Ellen Baker

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“A house, exactly like a dog, must be loved before it will show the best side of its nature.” -Popular Home Decoration 1940 (from Keeping the House by Ellen Baker)

First  of  all, I selected this novel because I liked the cover (yes, I am prone to do such things) and I really have a little bit of a house-fetish. I love houses!  I love looking at them, dreaming about them…. Just like the main character of this novel, Dolly Magnuson.     Dolly is a young housewife in the conformist 1950’s and the details of her life are most-likely accurate, but absolutely entertaining in their “antiquity.” Readers will be amused at how drastically expectations have changed for married women, yet will be shocked at just how many things have remained the same.  Like many modern day wives, Dolly wishes her husband were more complimentary of her cooking; she wishes he would paint the bathroom like he promised, and she yearns for him to spend the day with her instead of going fishing with the guys.

Dolly’s sense of angst in her role as wife and member of the Ladies Aid Quilting Circle only fuel her fascination with the beautiful, grand home perched on a hill overlooking her small town.  She imagines that if only she could live in this house her life would suddenly be different.  The object of her desire is the former home of the wealthy Mickelson family. Now, however, the house sits abandoned and neglected.  Slowly, Dolly learns snippets of the Mickleson’s story as she suffers through afternoon quilting sessions at the home of the town busy-body who has lived next to the Mickelson home for decades.  Dolly’s boredom compels her, via a broken window, to enter the home and begin uncovering not only its secrets, but also its faded glory.

Woven alternately with Dolly’s story are chapters highlighting the plight of the Mickelsons. We see the arrival of Wilma Mickelson as a new bride to her lovely new home on the hill, and we marvel at how Wilma’s story closely parallels that of Dolly.  We follow the heartbreaking stories of the Mickelson children and grandchildren as they endure war, betrayal, and ultimately love.

A few moments are slightly over-done and mildly far-fetched, but are forgivable in what ultimately resonates as a compelling family-saga. The shift from past to present is done well and adds to the story, while small moments of suspense kept me eager to find out more.  Furthermore, there were times when I was particularly captivated by Ellen Baker’s writing.  Notably at the end of a chapter, she would sum up the situation or events in a way that was strikingly beautiful, and I found myself re-reading small sections just to enjoy her words and descriptions.  This book feels like a slice of small town America.  If you’re craving a wholesome book that is not all fluff, you will enjoy entering the complicated, yet hopeful, worlds of these characters.

Happy Reading!