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Category — Romance

The Twinkler Twins and Erica – The trouble with not belonging…

Tea: PG Tips with Milk

Music:  Handel’s Water Music

I was recently asked to write a guest blog on http://www.manana-mama.com, regarding my confusing status as a Eurifornian, or Calibritish.  Am I Californian?  British?  Both?  Or neither?  With a little help from the Twinkler sisters and Elizabeth von Arnim, here is what I decided…

As both Californian and British, never fully comfortable calling myself one or the other, I have always related to the tale of Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim.  Nicknaming themselves Christopher and Columbus, the Twinkler twins, orphans of an English mother and a German father, find themselves shipped off to America during World War One.  They were “refugees, castaways, derelicts, two wretched little Germans who were neither really Germans nor really English because they so unfortunately, so complicatedly were both.”  Despite von Arnim’s customary wit and charm, there is also a forlorn sadness to the twins inability to belong.  It is perhaps not surprising that Von Arnim, herself, was a refugee of sorts.  Born in Australia to British parents, she married a Prussian aristocrat, and lived in both Germany and England, before ultimately ending up in Charleston, South Carolina.

Although I love nearly all the works of Elizabeth von Arnim, I have always identified with the Twinkler twins.  Unable to define themselves to one specific nationality, they are always at a loss when asked if they are British.  Their standard reply of “Practically” results in “surprise, reflection, and then suspicion.”  Unable to fit neatly into any particular box, they alienate and confuse any new acquaintances.

Born in England, but largely raised in California, I, like the Twinkler twins, always have a hard time telling people where I’m from. I tend to give a long, drawn out, complicated explanation that leaves everyone, including myself, confused.  And perhaps the truth is that I am confused by my own nationality.  I would like to be British, but despite a love of baked beans on toast, and Cadbury flakes, I don’t always remember to say lift instead of elevator, or biscuit instead of cookie.  And yet, I don’t feel entirely Californian either.  I’m not blonde.  I don’t surf or skateboard.  I don’t eat healthy.  And I’m terrible at sports.

Although the twins tell themselves that they must decide what they are, they never do.  They are constantly in limbo, neither one nor the other. Their German soul inspires them to love Slush(excessive sentiment), while their British soul tells them to mock it. And I must admit to the same hypocrisy in many of my own opinions and preferences.  I love both the British and American office, Steve Carrel and Ricky Gervais being equally brilliant in my transatlantic eyes.  I despise the undemocratic nature of the British aristocracy and yet romanticize William and Kate.  I’d be hard pressed to say whether I prefer a good Sunday Roast or an all American bbq.  Roast pudding and hamburgers being equally delicious and decadent.  But, I always prefer my tea with milk.  And I love clotted cream and jam on my scones.  So I guess when it comes to tea, I am well and truly British. The other areas of my life will have to go undefined.








June 27, 2012   1 Comment

Dust & Gossip: What would Elizabeth Von Arnim tell a moralizing busybody?

Tea: Peppermint Tea with Honey
Music: Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Dear Erica,

My husband’s widowed aunt is staying with us for the next two weeks, and she is driving me mad. Although she never had children of her own, she’s constantly commenting on my children’s terrible manners. And although she doesn’t cook, she can’t help but criticize my slightly browned (or burnt as she calls them) yorkshire puddings at the dinner table.  As you can tell, there is very little I do right in this woman’s eyes. I know I’m not perfect, but God help me, how am I going to bear her for the next fourteen days???


Exasperated in Essex

Dear Exasperated in Essex,

Your aunt reminds me of the meddlesome Mrs. Morrison in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight. She needs to learn how to mind her own business. Or as Elizabeth Von Arnim so eloquently puts it,

“There is a great virtue in sweeping out one’s own house and trimming its lamps before starting on the house and lamps of a neighbour; and since new dust settles every day, I know not when the truly tidy soul will have attained so perfect a spotlessness as to justify its issuing forth to attack the private dust of other people.”

You could try slipping a bookmarked copy of Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight in your aunt’s room to give her a hint. Or you can tell her she is “altogether impossible,” but as Priscilla found, that sort of honesty usually leads to more trouble than it’s worth. Unfortunately, I think your best bet is to grin and bear her as best you can. People like your aunt and Mrs. Morrison never change. Practice counting till ten, find yourself a good book, drink lots of tea, and soon the two weeks will be up, and you can enjoy your ill-mannered children and burnt yorkshire puds in peace.



May 18, 2012   No Comments

Wedding Blues: What would Jane Austen say about the common cupcake?

Vintage 40's Vogue Wedding Pattern

Tea:  Earl Grey with Milk

Music:  Antonin Dvorak: Russalka: Song to the Moon

Dear Erica,

I am planning my wedding for June, and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed.  We are paying for it ourselves, and cutting corners on the flowers, and the food, and any number of details.  I want the day to be memorable and special, but I fear that people are going to think it’s cheap(my mother-in-law has certainly implied as much).  Cupcakes just don’t cut it in her book.  Not that she’s helping out in any way of course. Any words of advice?

Engaged in England

Dear Engaged in England,

Has your mother-in-law ever tried a cupcake???  She sounds like she’s a miserable old boot, so I’d ignore anything she has to say and remind you what Jane Austen says about Emma’s wedding to Mr. Knightley.

“The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.—”Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it.”—But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.”  Emma by Jane Austen

As wedding season approaches and new brides find themselves overwhelmed by the drama of the details, it is easy to forget that the wedding should be about you, the happy couple, and really that’s about it. Try and remember why you are getting married, and ignore the whinging on the part of cheap and miserable relatives and Mrs. Elton type guests.  None of that matters.  The people who truly love you and care for you will only be thinking about your future happiness, not gossiping about the satin, lace, or God forbid, cupcakes.



April 27, 2012   1 Comment

Motherhood and Middlemarch: Why can’t my sister understand the Joys of Baby Bathtime

Madame Monet and Child


Tea:  Peach Tea

Music: Go to Sleep Little Baby by Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss


Dear Erica,

I just had a baby, and he is the most beautiful, adorable baby boy in the whole world(not biased at all of course!)  My sister is now visiting and meeting him for the first time.  Although I was excited for her visit, I am now feeling really resentful towards her.  She barely gives my son a glance, and unlike my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and best friend, she never offers to help with bathtime or dirty diapers, or anything useful or helpful.  And she is constantly asking me about my old job and our old friends.  Doesn’t she realize that all I care about right now is my beautiful boy?  What do I do?

Bothered in Baltimore


Dear Bothered in Baltimore,

Let’s be frank.  No one enjoys changing diapers, as I’m sure, even you, a devoted mother, will agree!  But you are probably right that your sister doesn’t understand how important your baby boy is to you.  However, I don’t think it’s completely her fault.  As Celia and Dorothea Brooke learn in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, sisters do not always follow the same path in life, and rarely see things the same way.  Dorothea’s passionate and impetuous nature leads her on a tumultuous path of marriage and heartbreak which is a sharp contrast to that of her serene sister.  As Celia settles into a calm and happy married life, she is repeatedly frustrated by her sister’s obvious indifference to her nephew, or Little Bouddha as he is affectionately called by his Mama.  To Celia’s bewilderment, Dorothea doesn’t even care that she will miss seeing Baby being washed!

But as George Eliot writes, “Dorothea would have been capable of carrying baby joyfully for miles if there had been need, and of loving it the more tenderly for that labor; but to an aunt who does not recognize her infant nephew as Bouddha, and has nothing to do for him but to admire, his behavior is apt to appear monotonous, and the interest of watching him exhaustible.”

Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that your sister, loving you, would do all she could for her sister’s child.  But as the baby is well cared for by you, your mother-in law, sister-in-law, bestfriend, and probably many others, your sister probably doesn’t feel particularly necessary.  Unfamiliar with motherhood, she might even feel bewildered by it all, and pushed out by this new development in your life. Remember though, like Dorothea, who eventually turns to her sister for advice once she has a baby, your sister will turn to you, her sister, for advice and understanding, and perhaps some tips on diapers and baby bathtime.



March 26, 2012   1 Comment

Bridesmaid Squabbles in New Orleans: Lessons from Enchanted April

Painting by Hon Lady Mallet

Tea:  Earl Grey

Music:  Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper


Dear Erica,

I am planning my best-friends Bachlorette party, and I’m getting more and more annoyed with one of the other bridesmaids.  I’m the Maid of Honor, and I was the one who came up with the idea of doing the Bachlorette party in New Orleans, but now she has gotten involved, and is taking over everything.  She has organized the restaurant for our big night out, decided what clubs we MUST go to, booked the hotel, without even asking for any advice from me(the bride’s best friend!).  Now, honestly, she has made good choices, but I hate that she has taken it out of my hands.  Am I being petty?  How do I handle it?

Bridesmaid in Boston

Dear Bridesmaid in Boston,

It is totally natural that this other girl’s behavior would annoy you, but the only advice I can give you would be to repeat Lotty Wilkins’ words to Rose Arbuthnot in Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim.  When the elderly and extremely opinionated Mrs. Fisher took over the housekeeping of their rented villa in Italy(a villa that Lotty and Rose had found!), Rose’s initial reaction was resentment and frustration.

But we found San Salvatore,” said Mrs. Arbuthnot, “and it is rather silly that Mrs. Fisher should behave as if it belonged only to her.”

But her friend, Lotty Wilkins, soon puts things in perspective.

“What is rather silly,” said Mrs. Wilkins with much serenity, “is to mind. I can’t see the least point in being in authority at the price of one’s liberty.”

Rather than feel petty resentments at Mrs. Fisher for taking over the houskeeping of their Italian holiday villa, Rose realizes that her friend Lotty is right.   Free of the burdens of day-to-day housekeeping, she can better enjoy her holiday, and I suggest you do the same.  Enjoy the Bachlorette party, and don’t get lost in the little nitty gritty details of the planning.  If you think this other bridesmaid is making a bad decision and the bride will have a terrible time, speak out.  And speak out loudly. Otherwise, allow this other girl to commandeer the planning of the trip, and use the free time you will have to create something special for your friend.  A scavenger hunt, a scrap book with pictures and mementos.  Focus your energy elsewhere, and try for a zen-like attitude, a la Enchanted April.  I know its probably easier to let things go when you are staying at a gorgeous Italian villa on the coast, but I have a feeling the Big Easy will wield its own sort of magic.  Just remember, if you have a wonderful time, you will help ensure that the bride also has a wonderful time!



March 9, 2012   No Comments