Friday, August 12, 2016

Eleventh Birthday Interview With Mr J

I'm so thankful for this boy.  He loves birthdays and every year, it's just that little bit more fun to spend the day celebrating him. 

His eleven years have been wild and crazy. Not every newborn boy has the privilege of putting up with older twin brothers, or keeping up with them as he grows. Mr J has made an excellent job of both, and he's survived!

What is the adventure you would most like to have?  I would love to go on the adventure from The Hobbit book, just like Bilbo. And I’d like to go into a forest to camp and survive in the wild.

What would you like to do when you grow up?  I’d like to be a farmer who grows vegetables and has chickens and goats.

What do you think that will be like?  It will be fun and peaceful.

What's your favourite meal?  Hobbit food (sausages, eggs, bread & jam, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, chicken, apple tart and seed cake). I also like fish and chips from the chip shop.

What's your favourite cake or pudding?  Chocolate banana cream pie, baked lemon cheesecake.

What's your favourite book[s]?  The Hobbit, the Rangers Apprentice series, Lord of the Rings, anything adventurous.

Who do you enjoy hanging out with?  My family.

What do you enjoy doing with me?  Learning to sew with you, playing games with you.

What do you enjoy doing with Dad? Playing card games and board games with him. I like going out to eat with him and going bowling and playing mini-golf. 

What do you enjoy doing with Coo?  Making miniature hobbit houses, playing Lord of the Rings, playing with Lego and Playmobil together. 

What do you enjoy doing with Lefty?  Going outdoors with him, shooting bows and arrows, playing with figures with him.

What do you enjoy doing with Righty? Building Lego together, going outdoors with him.

What's your favourite thing to do on your own? Play the ukulele and the guitar, play with figures and cardboard footballers, sew, write stories and draw.

What's your favourite family day out together?  Hiking and camping.

What makes you happy?  Music, seeing other people who are happy, creating something, being with my family, playing games, seeing Riaan smile. [our friends’ eight-month-old baby]

What makes you sad?  People dying, people getting hurt, people having miserable days, when I break things or call people names.

What do you enjoy learning about the most?  Maths, history, languages, zoology.

If you could choose any time in history to live in, when would that be?  When Jesus lived on earth.

Is there anyone famous that you'd like to meet?  
Newton Faulkner [musician], Wayne Rooney [footballer], the Queen.

If there were any imaginary/pretend things you could choose to do, what would it be?  I’d like to fly, or be a hobbit. I’d also like to be able to jump really high, above the trees.

Mr J was born at home and you can read his birth story if you like.

You can read Judah's tenth birthday interview here. Our birthday interviews were an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures. They're a great way of seeing the changes that take place as our kids grow older, as well as noting the things that remain the same!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Seventh Birthday Interview With Coo

photo credit: Anna Frederick

This little girl is seven! She loves pretty dresses, fairy gardens, chocolate, dancing, and colouring. She loves her brothers intensely but holds her own among them with a fiery intensity. She loves being outdoors, reading and being read to, and "doing crafty things". Most of all, she loves it when we take time to slow down and listen to her quiet but strong voice.

What is the adventure you would most like to have?  
Go back to Wales.

What would you like to do when you grow up?  
Have a fruit shop.

What's that going to be like?  
I can eat all the fruit I want.  I’ll have extras and I’ll eat them.

What's your favourite tea?  
Cheese quesadillas with salsa, refried beans, and green salad.

What's your favourite cake or pudding?  
All of them.

What's your favourite book[s]?  
Roxaboxen, Laura and Mary series, Paddington series, Grandma’s Attic series, Children of the Forest.

Who do you like spending time with?  
My family.

What do you enjoy doing with me?  
Making cakes and puddings.

What do you enjoy doing with Daddy? 
Playing games in maths.

What do you enjoy doing with Righty?  
Having tea parties.

What do you enjoy doing with Lefty?  
Playing Lego.

What do you enjoy doing with Mr J? 
Jumping on the trampoline. 

What's your favourite thing to do on your own? 
Sit and read, play paper dolls.

What's your favourite family day out together?  
When we lived in England and we went to National Trust houses. In America when we walk to the cave at Spring Mill state park.

What makes you happy?  
Having a birthday. I love birthdays.

What makes you sad?  
Sometimes when people don’t listen to me.

What do you enjoy learning about the most?  

If you could choose any time in history to live in, when would that be?  
When there were pretty, pretty queens about.

Is there anyone famous that you'd like to meet?  
Darcey Bussell.

If there were any imaginary/pretend things you could choose to do, what would it be?  
I would have a real, talking bear like Paddington Bear, who I would love and cuddle.

You can read Eve’s sixth birthday interview here.  Our birthday interviews were an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures. They're a great way of seeing the changes that take place as our kids grow older, as well as noting the things that remain the same!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Charlotte Brontë: a life (book review)

Published in the US as Charlotte Brontë: a fiery heart, this new biography by English writer Claire Harman surpassed all my expectations.

I've long possessed a keen interest in the Brontë sisters, not merely because of the unusual books they endowed to posterity. As a group of writers their ability to decipher human emotions and psychology is astonishingly acute for women whose lives offered very little in the way of human society. How did they grow into this and what influenced them? I was keen to find out and excited about reading this new book. 

Claire Harman has delved deeply into the entire Brontë catalogue of research, particularly the hundreds of surviving letters that passed between Charlotte Brontë and her closest friends. She spent hours at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, immersing herself as much as possible in the world of the Brontës, their home as well as the drearily beautiful surroundings of the rugged moor and the "strange uncivilized little place" in which they spent most of their short lives.

Charlotte Brontë and her sisters existed in a world --an entire culture of dependence-- that is almost completely forgotten in today's Western society. The reliance of women on the benevolence of their fathers and brothers was absolute, unless they were able to receive an education or marry. Fortunately for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, their father was a Church of England vicar who was unusually well educated for a man who had been born into poverty in Ireland.  He made his way to England and never looked back, possessing a will to forge ahead and compartmentalise. This indomitable will kept him going through his wife's early death, pushed him to educate his children himself away from the "uncivilized" world of Haworth, and probably influenced his elderly manipulation of his surviving daughter Charlotte.

The pre-Jane Eyre part of Charlotte’s life makes for a dark preface to her future success. After being cocooned in a home environment that was marked by the oddly detailed creation of imaginary worlds with her siblings, she goes to Brussels with her sister Emily to round out her education. Experiences incurred here influence her writing for the rest of her life.

Upon her return home from Brussels, she and her sisters Anne and Emily embark on an almost feverishly intense quest to publish their writing. Here Jane Eyre comes into being, written in a fury. The three sisters finally publish their first books under gender-neutral aliases: Acton, Currer, and Elliot Bell.

One of my favourite scenes in this book is the one in which Charlotte reveals her true identity to her London publisher, Mr Smith. Chased by rumours that "all those Bells" were actually one and the same author, Anne and Charlotte set out to disprove the gossip by visiting London in person to prove their identity.  Wisely, Harman allows Charlotte to relate the story herself through a letter to a friend. After she tells Mr Smith she is Currer Bell, handing him a letter from himself to confirm it, he "looked at it-- then at me--again--yet again-- I laughed at his queer perplexity-- A recognition took place--. I gave my real name--Miss Brontë..."

What would pass for a cute "mistaken identity" anecdote in today's society was a profound shocker in early Victorian England.  What a triumph for these Brontë women who were so ahead of their time!

Any of us who have some familiarity with the Brontë saga are aware that their era was plagued by high mortality, caused by disease, lack of access to clean water, and poor nutrition. Anne, Emily, and Charlotte endured the sorrow of losing their mother when they were small children, and less than a year later their eldest two sisters died in short succession after virulent attacks of tuberculosis. Their one surviving sibling, Branwell, wrote brilliant poetry and attempted portrait painting but could not control his addiction to opium and alcohol. He died not long after his sisters' initial writing successes. Within months of his death Emily and Anne both died of tuberculosis, leaving Charlotte to care for her elderly father.

Claire Harman writes carefully and honestly about this time in Charlotte's life, adroitly avoiding a sense of melodrama that has pervaded other accounts of the Brontë family. The grief that controlled Charlotte's existence and the immutability of her beloved sisters' deaths is obvious without being overdone. Charlotte also had to endure critics who did not recognise her sisters' genius, in a total misunderstanding of the nature of their novels. In her newfound status as a bestselling author, she wrote biographical prefaces to new editions of Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey in the hope that they would not be forgotten.

For Charlotte the next four years were marked by constant writing, most notably a rewrite of her first novel, The Professor (published posthumously) and her usual personal correspondence with friends. Shirley, published right after Anne's death, did not possess the brilliance of Charlotte's first novels. She was clearly feeling a profound sense of loss. I find this a telling clue that Charlotte's own creativity was fed and fanned into flame by the close proximity of her sisters, their ideas and intensity. I wonder what different novels we might be reading today if not for the fact that their writing burst from a creative bubble that collectively enveloped the three of them. 

In the final year of Charlotte's life, she married her father's curate after an intense period of emotional manipulation by her father, who preferred that she take care of him rather than marry. The marriage was finally agreed to under the condition that the newly married couple live with him in Haworth.  Just months after Charlotte's marriage, she died abruptly of what Claire Harman surmises was "hyperemesis gravidarum" --an unusual condition of pregnancy that causes the sufferer intense sickness: in the 1850's, virtually a death sentence.

As in the case of Jane Austen, I've always wondered: what would Charlotte have written had she lived into old age?  

"Of all the subjects I have written about, hers is the most unquiet ghost," Claire Harman says of Charlotte Brontë. 

And as much as I enjoyed this biography, indeed, I finish reading it with a sense of "unquiet".

Charlotte Brontë: a fiery heart@ Barnes &

Charlotte Brontë: a life @

Related post: read my review of 2011 Jane Eyre film

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tenth Birthday Interview With Mr J



What's the adventure you would most like to have? 
Go camping in the woods.

What is one of your favourite things to do right now?
Make up stories about Mr Sacksall. He's an imaginary person I made up a while ago. He drives a little van and is about five inches tall. He reads adventure books. He goes rafting and has lots of adventures.

Which books are your favourites?
Pilgrim's ProgressWhere the Red Fern Grows, and the Paddington books

What are your favourite things to play with right now?
Lego, Playmobil figures, cardboard footballers [a game our boys devised with handmade football players and goal]

What is your favourite colour?

What's your favourite animal?

What do you like about dogs?
They're fluffy, cute, playful, and I just love them.

What are the names of the people that you enjoy spending time with?
You and Daddy, Coo, Lefty, Righty.

What do you like to eat?

What makes you happy?
Playing with dogs.

What makes you sad?
When dogs and people die. Like Max [dog] and Solomon [little brother].


What do you like to do with Lefty and Righty?
Play tennis and football. [soccer]

What do you like to do with Daddy?
Play card games.

What do you like to do with Coo?
Play Playmobil.

What do you like to do with me?
Listen to you reading aloud, hug you. 

What do I do all day?
Make soap and cook food.

What does Daddy do all day?
Helps us learn math, breaks his toes. [J is referring to Daddy's recent numerous foot injuries]

What do you do all day?
Play, eat, and imagine.

Mr J's ninth birthday interview can be found here.  The birthday interviews we do are an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Southern Wedding

My youngest brother, alternately known as Uncle Nathan, was married last week.  

Mr J, Coo, Righty, and Lefty were thankful that Nathan and his bride, Anna, opted for a dessert reception and partook enthusiastically. 

Dan and I were happy about the coffee bar.  I still feel a sense of relief that the only Maley family damage done was a brief fire due to a spilled candle at the table where the boys were doing justice to big plates of cake.

We attempted a family photo but not all family members wanted to participate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sixth Birthday Interview With Coo

What things would you like to do when you are big like Mummy?
Make pies

What do you love the most?
Listening to music and watching a ballet like Sylvia, or every single ballet in the world. [See Coo as Sylvia]

Which books are your favourites? 
Brambly Hedge stories, The Little Red Hen, Bob Books

What are your favourite colours? 
Pink, blue, red, black, green, yellow, white, chartreuse

Who are some of your favourite people?
You, the boys and Daddy, Hannah, James, More Hannahs, all my other friends in England, my friends in America. I like everyone.

What do you like to eat?
CAKE! Also cupcakes and bagels.

What makes you happy? 
Going to the cinema to see "Paddington"

What makes you sad?
When I don't have a bedtime snack and when someone dies.

What's your favourite thing to do with Righty?
Make blackberry and apple pie.

What's your favourite thing to do with Lefty?
Play with Playmobil.

What's your favourite thing to do with Mr J?
Play with Playmobil, hear his made-up stories about Mr Sacksul, play football with him.

What's your favourite thing to do with Daddy?
Play games like Uno, Hangman, Junior Monopoly, and Noughts & Crosses.

What's your favourite thing to do with me?
Hug and kiss you, and do Eskimo kisses.

Do you have a favourite toy?
One of them is my Tauriel figure, and the other is my baby doll called Baby Sunshine.

Where is your favourite place?
The park. Well, any park with a playground!

You can read Coo's fifth birthday interview here.

The birthday interviews I do with each of my kids are an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Autumn Spice

One of my favourite essential oil blends... this creamy-lathered, long-lasting soap has a hint of cinnamon and cloves but also quite a strong earthy note. All my soaps are 100% vegan, scented only with essential oils, and contain no artificial colouring or fragrances.  

Birth Choices in Indiana

Until two years ago, the choice to give birth at home was virtually impossible for most women in the state of Indiana.  Of course, many families still went for this option, birthing illegally at home either with certified professional midwives [CPMs], lay midwives, or giving birth unassisted.

Home birth was not actually illegal; CNMs [certified nurse midwives] practiced in Indiana legally but the majority of CNMs work in hospitals and choose not to attend home births. In the United States, medical = big business.  Doctors are paid per head for delivering babies, instead of per hour for the time they put in.

Two years ago, after years of hard work by the Indiana Midwifery Taskforce, a large bill legalizing certified professional midwives [CPMs] was passed by Indiana government and signed into law by the governor. This legalisation has allowed women the freedom to easily choose home birth in the state of Indiana.

There has been a definitive amount of opposition to this bill, particularly from the Indiana State Medical Association.  If CPMs, working as highly qualified self-employed birth providers, were legalised with no holds barred, they immediately present a threat to obstetricians working unchallenged in a state that has a high infant mortality rate.  [Home births not included in these statistics.]

1548 is the "fix" needed for two unworkable parts of bill, necessary in order to implement the law the legislature already created two years ago. 

1548 is due to be voted on in the Senate Health Committee within the next 48 hours.  If you are at all concerned about the freedom of Indiana women to choose birth at home with a qualified provider, please call or e-mail members of the Senate Health Committee TODAY!!

Ryan Mishler -, 317-233-0930
Jean Breaux-, 800-382-9467
Frank Mrvan -, 800-382-9467
Mark Stoops -, 800-382-9467
Vaneta Becker -, 317-232-9494
Liz Brown -, 317-232-9807
Michael Crider -, 317-232-9493
Ed Charbonneau -, 317-232-9494
Ron Grooms -, 317-234-9425
Rick Niemeyer -, 317-232-9490