Two by Rumer Godden

Two by Rumer Godden

I’m on a new Rumer Godden kick. Or at least, I’m reading those of her books that I’ve had sitting on the shelf for a while and thinking of ordering up another one or two. So far neither of the two I’ve read has been quite as good as In This House of Brede; but that’s the problem in general with reading an author’s most famous work first. Generally it’s her best stuff and everything else is just a little bit less. Nonetheless, they’ve been good reads.

An Episode of Sparrows is a beautiful little tale set in post WWII London. It’s a sort of The Secret Garden meets Big Night. The novel centers around Lovejoy Mason and Tip Malone who steal dirt in order to plant a small garden in the rubble of a bombed-out Catholic church. They are perhaps an even more unlikely pair of gardeners than Mary Lennox and Colin Craven and much more likeable. (I was never able to like Mary quite as much as I liked Sarah Crewe.)

And then there’s George Crombie, or “Vincent,” the chef and sole proprietor of a restaurant that is far too fancy for the neighborhood. He’s a victim of his own pretensions and exceedingly high standards. Lovejoy has been abandoned by her singer mother and lives with Vincent and his wife, the garrulous Mrs. Crombie. 

Lovejoy and Tip (and, to a lesser degree perhaps, Vincent) are the sparrows of the novel’s title. Overlooked by many, until they are caught stealing the dirt, still their suffering is seen and noticed by at least one witness, Miss Olivia Chesney.

Olivia and her sister Angela are spinsters. Angela is the head of the Garden Committee and responsible for prosecuting the children when they are caught stealing dirt. She is one of those women who is always busy with good works. When Lovejoy’s mother disappears Angela arranges for her to be taken in by the Anglican St. Botolph’s Home of Compassion. And yet Angela is curiously lacking in true compassion. The sensitive Olivia is shy and retiring and never joins Angela in her charity work and yet she is the one who truly sees the sparrows and feels compassion.

My favorite scenes were those in which Lovejoy, who has been raised with no religion, ventures into the Catholic church. I love her interactions with the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Godden manages to capture the simultaneous strangeness and homeyness of the Catholic church perfectly through the eyes of a child.

The Greengage Summer is the story of an English family who travel to France for a summer. Upon arriving, the mother of the family falls ill and is hospitalized leaves her five children in the care of an unknown Englishman who is staying at the hotel.

The story is told from the point of view of the second daughter, thirteen year old Cecil, and is a sort of coming of age tale, focusing on the loss of innocence. The children are first enchanted by Eliot, the Englishman who has made himself responsible for them; but soon it becomes clear that Eliot is not quite who he seems to be. They learn that growing up does not mean leaving one’s character flaws behind.

I liked the way the story unfolds, you know almost from the beginning that something terrible is going to happen because Cecil jumbles her narrative and sprinkles all sorts of references to the event and its aftermath. When you finally arrive at the climax, the story just ends. I wanted to turn back to the beginning and start reading again so I could piece together from the hints what happens to them after it’s over.

There’s one more Godden book to read, The Dark Horse, but I’m having trouble getting into it. I read the first chapter or two and then put it down. It’s set in India and centers around horse racing and neither the place nor the subject matter really draws me. Still, I’m sure once I push past the beginning it will be as good a read as the others.


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  • Here’s one I didn’t think I needed until…I needed it:  A manual breast pump.  I was planning to breastfeed exclusively and be a stay at home mom, so I wouldn’t need a breastpump.  Then, my firstborn had a tremendously difficult time getting latched on, and I got terribly engorged, which made it all the more difficult for the little guy to latch on.  The lactation consultant recommended getting a manual breastpump to just “take a little off the top” and soften up the engorged breast so my little guy would be able to latch on easier.  That helped with the latch-on, and we also fed the pumped milk to him via syringe until he really go the hang of nursing.  I never used the pump much after that, but it was a life-saver during the first week after birth.

  • Here are a few things not already mentioned the we’ve reaaly found useful:

    Sling: Try on several to find one that works for your body.  You can do this at Babies R Us or by asking friends with kids if you can try theirs.  I found an excellent one at Kangaroo Korner on the internet; it was an excellent buy despite the high price. 

    Play mat: we have a play mat with mobile and dangly things – Alex loves it!

    Bouncy chair: useful for parking the baby while you cook or bathe.  We have one given to us by a friend that vibrates.  I never would have thought that the baby would like it, but he does!

    Nursing pillow: this really helps and allows one to do one handed or even temporarily no handed nursing. 

    The best baby stuff that we have was given to us by another mom who is finished with baby/toddlers and was clearing out unneeded stuff. 

    My other recommendation is that it’s worth the trouble to find a good second hand baby stuff store in your area.  It’s amazing how much like-new baby clothing etc. one can get for a song. 

    Good luck!

  • One more thing:  If you need storage, one nice thing to have is an over the door shoe holder (the kind made of fabric with lots of little pockets).  This is awesome for storing socks, hats, onsies, burp cloths, bibs, or anything small in. 

  • One thing I see on every single baby registry is a baby bathtub, but I’ve never used one.    Baby goes right in the kitchen sink.    Can’t say if that’s better or worse than the bathtub.

    I also have gotten a good deal of use out of exersaucers.    For me, once a baby is too heavy for the Baby Bjorn, containing the baby in there is the only way I can prepare food, help an older child with schoolwork, etc.

  • I’d like being able to suggest a book, because you really feel like it’s essential to have one around when you have your first baby and you feel so inexperienced and full of questions… Unfortunately, I’ve never found one I truly like. The What To Expect book for the first year was useful as a reference guide for medical and developmental information, but I really disliked the “parental philosophy” of the book. The one about the toddler years is even worse (but again, I found useful the parts about medical issues and nutrition.)

    I think the problem with many parenting books (even by Catholic authors) is that they make it hard for a first-time mother and father to realize that there is not just one way of doing things right. I mean, you happen to read a certain book and you’re lead to believe that’s the way to go. Then you read a different one, or talk to a mother who has read something else, and you either think they’re crazy because of what they believe, or you feel guilty because you think you got it all wrong. For me, it’s confusing and frustrating. It can also lead to a lot of uncharitable talk – we mommies are so passionate about the topic wink

    What works for me is a reliable reference book that helps me with the “scientific” side of parenting (illness, nutrition, development, etc), but I’m very skeptical of “parenting style books”.

    I don’t mean to imply that I don’t have anything to learn, quite the opposite! I realize that educating our children is such an important (and sometimes overwhelming) “job” that we don’t want to make mistakes – a book to guide us seems such a wonderful idea, especially if it comes with a reassuring “Catholic” label.

    As far as I am concerned, I’m like Melanie – I love to read lots of Catholic mothers’ blogs: that way, you’re exposed to a variety of real-life experiences and discussions that is hard to get from a book. 

    Just my opinion… I don’t mean to start one of those heated discussions about parenting styles! wink I just wanted to explain why I can’t reccomend a book, even though I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do anything without consulting books first!

  • GB, I’m with you completely.    Those What to Expect books were helpful for the medical information, but really are just guilt inducers.   

    Now, that I’m older and more experienced and don’t care what other people think, I find I’m more honest and open with my pediatrician and other moms, e.g. “Oh, my babies sleep with us for the first six months or so, then I let them cry it out.”  I never would have admitted that with the first two.    And just where oh where are these husbands who go to the crib and bring the nursing baby to mom all night long?    Don’t those men have jobs to go in the morning?  It always worked best for both my husband and me if the baby was right next to me where he needed to be to eat.  Every mom has to find her own parenting style.    I find mine even varies among my own children depending upon their personalities and what’s going on in our family.

  • As I predicted, I thought of a couple more essentials when I was driving to the grocery store this morning: a nursing pillow and a rocking chair.

    I love, love, love my Boppy pillow. Yes, I have also used couch cushions and bed pillows, but they really aren’t as supportive.

    We got a used glider rocker from my brother-in-law’s sister when I was pregnant with Bella and it was great but got broken in the move. It was so important to me that I absolutely had to replace it. I am so glad my parents volunteered to get me a new one. It wasn’t in our budget and yet by then I’d learned that it was important to me to get the very best rocker we could find and not just a second-hand one.  Good back support is essential when nursing. I sat in all of the rockers at Babies R Us and found one that had a high enough back so that my head and shoulders were supported and high enough arms so that my elbows were supported.

    It was also totally worth it to get the ottoman. My feet were so swollen both in pregnancy and after the birth that to be able to put them up was essential. And now Dom sits on the ottoman while I sit in the rocker when we gather in Bella’s room for bedtime prayers.

  • Eileen, you wrote:
    And just where oh where are these husbands who go to the crib and bring the nursing baby to mom all night long?

    I had a good laugh! My husband’s sleep is so sound that most of the times he doesn’t even know the kids wake up!

  • re slings/ carriers
    I’ve not tried the Baby Bjorn and wish I could find a place that would let me try it on before I buy. So far I’ve yet to find a baby carrier I’m satisfied with. I got one my sister’s former roomie loved and it’s buckles dug into my ribs. And she’s tall and skinny like me so it wasn’t an issue of different body type. I think an issue for me has been that both girls were born via c-section. For the first two months I don’t want to wear the baby because it puts strain on healing tissues.

    Eileen, Funny about the changing table and how moms can differ so much. I’ve certainly used beds and couches in a pinch but never made it a standard practice at home. Perhaps because of the back issues—bending over really gets to me—but also perhaps I’m just hyper-protective of the handmade quilt on our bed. I’d hate to get baby poop on it.

    I have moved Bella up to the next size diapers before she was the size on the package. Usually they seem too small before she hits the target weight. Which is odd because she’s pretty skinny.

    I actually do use my bassinet for exactly that purpose: setting the baby down during the day while I fold laundry or run to the bathroom. She just doesn’t sleep in it, so I’m not sure its something I’d buy again. I think we’re probably overboard on things to put the baby in. We have the swing, the bassinet, the bouncy seat. We could probably eliminate one of the above. Just can’t quite bring myself to do it as I’ve grown accustomed to using them at different times. Sophia really doesn’t seem to like the bouncy seat, though.

    And, yeah, I worry a bit about using the swing as a sleeping place. But then I can’t bring myself to wait while she cries it out in the bassinet. I know at some point I’m going to have to make the transition; but I’m hoping to put it off till after we move.

    I second the vote for the exersaucer for older kids. Another of those items I’d never have bought but my sis-in-law let me borrow hers. (Bella was timed perfectly between her two kids.) An item I might get for Sophia when she gets big enough, but I’ll look for a used one.

  • oh and with Bella Dom was the husband who got up and changed diapers in the night and brought her to me to nurse. But he was working from home then and didn’t have to get up at a set time. This time around I’ve let him sleep. He has to get up at 5:30 and then sit in traffic for an hour and I couldn’t possibly make him get up with the baby.

  • GB,

    I’m totally with you about baby books. I felt a need to read them and I read a bunch. And most of them left me feeling guilty and stressed out. Like you said a factual reference that doesn’t advocate any particular parenting philosophy would be so nice.

    Which reminds me, there’s a good discussion of parenting philosophies over at the Building Cathedrals blog. Some good book recommends there. The kind of discussion I enjoy—catholic moms hashing it out without any real acrimony. I just discovered the blog and really like it.

  • Well, I would be lost without a Baby Bjorn , particularly once you’re on second and beyond child.    Great for grocery shopping when you’ve got a toddler in the front seat of the cart or even by the hand.  I’ve heard if you use it too much, there’s potentially some problem with the baby’s hips, but I’ve tried the Ergo and I didn’t like it and went back to my trusty old Baby Bjorn, and none of my kids have had any hip problems.    I see moms with the sling, but I like complete use of both arms and the feel of the baby against me.

    I second the swing, we couldn’t afford one for our first, and we didn’t have room when we had our second, but when we finally got one for our next infant, what a blessing it was!

    If you’ve got a bigger house, I’d get some sort of bassinet or port a crib so you can have some place to put the infant when he’s sleeping during the day – even a lie down stroller works for this purpose.

    Here’s a perfect example of what works for one mom, isn’t right for another – our changing table got so little use I actually gave it away to somebody who uses it and absolutely LOVES having one.    We have a big king size bed and at night, I change my babies right on my bed, during the day I change my babies on a blanket on the couch.    In our house, the changing table was taking up too much space for something that was just giving me a place to pile up baby clothes instead of putting them away.    Our house is big enough for one now, but my taking care of baby habits are too well set in their ways.

    I found the car seat/stroller thing to be a waste of money for me.    See Baby Bjorn, above.

    I second, third and fourth the minimal toy thing.  With the Chinese lead paint scare, my natural tendency to weed out baby toys turned into checking which kitchen items were made in Germany so that the baby could gnaw on them/bang them/build with them, etc.  Added bonus of keeping down the clutter.

  • Here’s a tip I’ve discovered but I can easily see where some might think it’s too pricey to put into use.  Move your baby up to the next size of diapers to minimize and really all out prevent leakage.    My youngest right now is about 24 pounds or so and I’ve got him in the size 5’s which is for 27 pounds plus.   

    p.s. I’ve never tried the Target Diapers (but I will now!) and our Target doesn’t sell its own wipes in bulk, but I use BJ’s and Costco brand wipes all the time for a huge savings.

  • I actually stopped using our swing because Felicity got so used to being swung to sleep she couldn’t sleep any other way. She did love it…..a little too much I think.

    My essentials would be teethers (especially the silent refrigerator kind – can even take those to Church; I even use bath books as teethers), bouncy seat (with this I can take her anywhere in the house and she can sit safely and see what I’m doing whether cleaning, cooking, etc. It is especially helpful when DH is not here to help and DD2 wants to be with us when I bathe DD1; I do like the Baby Bjorn but can’t get as much done if she is in it on me all the time.), Crib/Bassinet (when you need to set her down, you need some place to do it – Melanie uses a swing, I need a crib or bassinet), and bather (I can get away with our towels and washclothes, but I want something soft and secure under her in the sink or tub), thermometer and infant Tylenol/Motrin (always be prepared if a fever strikes!).
    Useful – changing table (I love having everything in one place all organized for my use, esp. when we have one of those diaper emergencies), stroller (we use ours for any malls, vacations, parks, etc. We do use the Baby Bjorn occasionally but don’t want her in it too much and want her used to a stroller which is also helpful when our toddler gets tired of walking and thinks we can carry her cute 25 pound body around for longer than 30 minutes.
    Not necessary – Play yard (UNLESS you have older children, pets or a home in which you NEED a safe, secure, sectioned-off place you can set her), for me, Swing (for us it caused as much difficulty as benefit and I worried about her sleeping too much in the swing which can limit her ability to change positions).

    Sorry I couldn’t get the items themselves bold or underlined. Don’t know why.

  • My absolute biggest piece of advice is to hold off on anything that you won’t need for sure in the first week or two. We specifically didn’t want a carseat/stroller combo since i knew I’d be carrying claire in a sling when i could and I wanted a carseat that could grow with her (good thing too – she would have outgrown the carseat in 3 months with how fast she’s growing). Because of that we were able off on buying a stroller until Claire was about 2 months old and we could find exactly what we wanted on sale. Plus we kept getting gift cards after Claire was born and were able to use them for that stuff. We could have saved them to use for diapers, but diaper prices are so much better away from the baby stores. (we use sam’s diapers – awesome!).

    We don’t have a swing or a changing table since i had heard that some babies just don’t like swings, and I don’t like changing tables since they are so use-specific. We just use the crib we got from Marc’s folks that had been his as a baby (it fits all the current safety regs). Even with the mattress now in it’s lowest position it works great. I just keep the diapers etc in a basket next to the crib. Since Claire didn’t sleep in it until she was 6 months old it was perfect and an extra piece of furniture would have been overkill.

  • When all was said and done, Dr. Sears’ Baby Book and the La Leche League’s Art of Breastfeeding were the two “baby items” that mattered most for our family.  Truly priceless. 

  • I just wanted to mention my experience with baby carriers.    I’m short and no longer skinny, but I found the Baby Bjorn after my first when I was still thin, so it may be more a height thing.

    The Snuggli hurt my back a little, but it is the carrier of choice for my sister, shorter and very skinny.    The Ergo really, really hurt me in my lower back.    The Mobi Wrap came with a video but it was very complex to put on.    I never actually got to the point where I put a baby in it.    It just wasn’t conducive to my lifestyle.    I like to wear my carrier all day and will put the baby in it if he wakes up and I’m busy, after I get to the store, etc.  For me, wearing the baby makes having a newborn in the family a breeze.

  • Maybe a good way to put it to a new mother is this:

    You will need at least two places you can put down your baby and one of those should be where she/he will sleep and one should be portable. These conditions can overlap on a single item and you can have more than two. Which is best: cradle, bassinet, crib, swing, bouncy seat, play yard, walker/exersaucer, etc. will depend on personal preferences and circumstances. But the first sentence, if I’ve thought it out correctly, would be the most solid universal advice I could give regarding all the items later mentioned.