Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Reads II

"City of Light" by Lauren Belfer is one of the books I picked up at the Half Price Bookstore - which by the way if you don't already know it is moving next to Kohl's on University where the card store used to be.
I am a great fan of period literature. This book is set in Buffalo, NY in 1901 as that city prepares for the Pan-American Exposition - the World's Fair. It was also during the time when great power plants were being built to harness the power of the Niagara Falls to generate electricity. When the chief engineer of the turbines and generators used in the powerhouses is murdered suspicion falls on a radical group that wants the river and falls to remain undeveloped so all may enjoy their original grandeur.
I think the reason I like historical novels is because every time I read one I learn something new about the past - it feeds my love of history. This was Belfer's first book, published ten years ago. Her second book is due out in June. "A Fierce Radiance" is already on my 'to read' list - set at the beginning of WWII when penicillan was new.
M.C. Beaton's "The Witch of Wyckhadden" is another Agatha Raisin mystery set in England's Cotswolds. Mrs. Raisin is such an irrepressible romance-hungry amateur sleuth bumbling into one murder after another, I can't help but like her. This is the third or fourth book I've read of at least twenty starring Agatha Raisin. I know our library doesn't have them all, but I'll read as many of them as I can get my hands on.
"Brava Valentine" by Adriana Trigiani is the second book in the Valentine trilogy. I remember the first time I read Trigiani. I was delighted with "Big Stone Gap" and although I had not heard of the author, I thought she had major potential. Her growth as an author is evident in "Brava Valentine" - it is a wonderful book. I'm not even going to try to describe it. Just get a book by Trigiani and read it!
Emilie Richards has written a series of Shenandoah Album books which all have a quilting theme and are named for quilt patterns. "Endless Chain" is the second one I've read. I like the way Richards combines modern day Shenandoah Valley with some of its history. As I do anytime I find a new author I like, I read all the books they've written that I can find.
While visiting in Tucson last month, I made a list of books and authors recommended me by my friend Kristina. One of those was Anne Perry - especially the ones with the William Monk character. Today I finished my first Anne Perry Victorian Mystery, "The Face of A Stranger". For all the reasons I like Laurie R. King and Robin Paige mysteries, I like Anne Perry.
In "The Face of A Stranger", Monk awakens from an accident with no memory of who he is or what happened to him. Nurses tell him his name and that his only visitors have been policemen. Until his superior from the Metropolitan Police visits and tells him he is a policeman, Monk fears he may be wanted by the police.
As he struggles to regain his memory, he is put in charge of the sensational murder case of a Crimean war hero and younger brother of Lord Shelburne. When he realizes his superior on the police force wants him to fail, Monk has to be even more guarded as he tries to solve the murder while learning about himself.
This is the first book in this series. I really can't wait to read more.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Sixteen Candles Make a Lovely Light.....


But not as bright as your eyes tonight.
Blow out the candles, make your wish come true,
For I'll be wishing that you love me too."
Luther Dixon and Allyson Khent
This song has been running through my mind since I heard that Johnny Maestro died last week. He was a member of the Crests when they recorded this song and it went to #2 on the top hits chart in 1958. I was only 15, but dreaming of being 16 which is the age I was when this picture was taken.
Even then I was interested in photography (and apparently posing). I made my little sister take a bunch of pictures of me in various outfits and locations all the time telling her where to stand and how to hold the camera. (I still do this with Bud when he is taking pictures with me in them.) This one is on the back of Ron's '51 Plymouth convertible. My dress was green and white checked with a matching cummerbund belt. And note the farm-themed background - Dad's John Deere tractor and Grandpa Ridnour's Dodge pickup.
After the Crests broke up, Maestro went on to form the 'Brooklyn Bridge'. In 1984, 'Sixteen Candles' was used as the title of John Hughes' coming of age film with Molly Ringwald. The 'Stray Cats' performed the song for the movie's soundtrack.
Hughes, who directed many more films, including 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' was only eight years old when 'Sixteen Candles' was recorded. He died August 6, 2009 at a young 59 years of age.
Other than being old enough to drive by myself (if my folks would trust me with the '55 turquoise and cream Plymouth) and old enough to date (that didn't happen until four months after I turned 16 [see "Sweet Sixteen blog]), I don't remember much about my 16th birthday. And the diary from that year is lost.
What I do have is the diary from the year I turned 17. It solves one of the questions my friend Donna & I have been asking for a long time: "What was the name of that guy we kidnapped?" The folks trusted me with the car that night. Maybe they shouldn't have.
From the diary: "Donna (Hall) came home on the bus with me. Bonnie (Harvey) came up about 5 p.m. Ellen (Sullivan) couldn't come. We went to Lenox, then to Stringtown about 9:30. Bob Lockhart (Donna's old flame) and two others came out. Bob got in with us. At one point we turned around in a cornfield."
I can still remember that night. I think the poor guy wondered if he was ever going to see his friends again. I think he was afraid we were going to leave him out in the middle of nowhere to find his way - and he had no idea where we were. Such a silly thing to do - but so hilarious at the time. And something Donna & I still remember sixty years later. (Even if we can't remember the guy!)
Oh, to be sixteen.......

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lunch Pail

I have been searching the antique stores and garage sales for many years looking for a lunch pail like the one I first took to school in 1949.
Grandma Ridnour gave me my lunch box. It was green and white plaid, with two handles like the one above except it was oval and the handles were thinner.

In fact it looked very much like this one except for the color and that it had two handles. When Betty started to school two years after I did Grandma gave her one just like mine except it was red and white instead of green and white.
I know at least one lunch pail like mine exists because I saw it in the early 90's. Unfortunately it was not for sale. One of my friends from work was remarrying. It was at a shower for her at her sister-in-law's that I saw the twin of my lunch pail displayed.


I only carried my little lunch pail for three years before getting a new rectangular one with a thermos. Lack of a thermos was one of the faults of my oval pail, the other was its small size.
I know I wanted a Dale Evans lunch box, but they were too expensive.



I'm almost certain my new lunch box was a plain color - green, I think. Although these red plaid ones were popular in the early 50's and I do remember some like this lined up on the lunch pail shelf at Jasper #2. By the time my children were in school there was such a wide choice of lunch boxes - Jetsons, Scooby-doo, Princesses, etc. Even though they mostly ate lunch at the hot-lunch program at the schools they attended, I think they had lunch boxes, too, for the days they did not like what was being served at school. Do they remember their lunch boxes? Probably. But I don't.

In the book I am reading now, a minister has more than a hundred lunch boxes displayed around his house. He explains their presence: "My mother and father worked hard for everything they had. There were three children, me and my brother and sister. We had everything we needed, but if we wanted something our parents saw as a luxury, we never got it. Lunch boxes were a luxury."
He goes on to tell of a time when as adults the three siblings were trying to top one another with terrible stories from their childhood. He related the lack of a lunch box as his worst memory. For Christmas his brother and sister each gave him a lunch box. From there the joke spread and everybody started giving him lunch boxes.
As a minister he used the lunch box story with youth groups - "I tell them how much sweeter it is for me to have these lunch boxes now, that waiting for them made them that much more special. Sometimes you can't have everything you want the minute you want it, so you have to wait. And when you do? It means more."
It seems to me this is a lesson few learn in this instant gratification world we now live in. We no longer have to save up to buy something we want/need. We can charge it. If there is one good coming out of the current recession it is that more people are learning to think whether what they want to buy is really necessary. And they aren't automatically giving their kids everything the kids want, either.
I don't do much antiquing or garage saling anymore. I don't want to be tempted to begin collecting again after parting with most of my 'treasures' before moving from the farm. And I definitely do not want friends and family to begin giving me lunch pails --unless you find a little green and white plaid oval one with two handles..........

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grandma's 'Grandma Aggie'

Agnes Georgina Hull Richardson was my Grandmother Bessie Lucille Duncan Lynam's Grandmother. That's my Great-Great Grandma Aggie in the top picture and my Grandma Bessie with her in this picture. There is no date on these pictures, just the note "taken at Lloyd's". Lloyd would be one of Grandma Bessie's brothers, Lloyd Duncan. By guessing the age of the little girl on the left below, I would say this picture was taken around 1940. Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Ruby were living on a farm NE of Quincy (Adams Co. IA) at that time.
Grandma Aggie died before I was born but I remember hearing alot about her. She and Grandma Lynam were very close. Grandma's own mother, Flora Richardson Duncan, (Aggie's daughter) died at age 60 which may have contributed to their closeness.
Grandma Lynam used to say her grandmother came from England, but I believe it was her grandmother's mother (an Edwards) who came from England. I have the Hull's traced back to Vermont. I am quite certain Hull is also an English name. (I give these English ancestors credit for my love of tea.) I know Grandma Aggie, her parents and brothers & sisters all came to the Corning and Fontanelle areas. But Agnes was married to John Richardson in Wisconsin. I do not believe he came to Iowa with her. I think she came with her little daughter, Flora, to be near her family.
What ever happened to John Richardson has been the big mystery of my family tree. When I visited with Grandma Bessie's first cousin, Lottie Hull Scott when she was 90+ years old around 1980, she told me that when they were children and asked whatever happened to Aunt Agnes's husband they were told: "He fell down the well." Being children, they took the explanation as factual until years later. My Aunt Leona, Bessie's daughter, and her cousin, Carolee Duncan, tried to solve the mystery of their Great Grandpa Richardson, with no luck. Aunt Leona and Carolee are both deceased now. I harbor faint hopes of discovering the mystery before I die.

The two girls in this picture with their Great, Grandma Aggie are Carolee Duncan on the left and Shirley Duncan on the right. Carolee was the daughter of Lloyd Chapman Duncan and Ruby Elmira Hickman. Shirley was the daughter of Ralph Duncan & Pearl ? (They moved to Washington State & we saw very little of them. Ralph was Grandma Bessie's youngest brother.) The little boy in the picture is Ralph Hickman, Jr. His father and Carolee's mother, Ruby, were brother and sister.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret?"

"I've known a secret for a week or two
Nobody knows, just we two

Listen, do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell, whoa, oh
Closer, let me whisper in your ear....."
Paul McCartney & John Lennon

Mom taught me at a very early age the importance of being able to keep a secret. I don't even remember the precise way in which it happened. I just remember her imparting the necessity of being trustworthy.
Of course, once I started school and was around other kids, I soon understood what she meant about not telling a single other soul if someone told you something in confidence and asked you to keep it secret. e.g., I had a crush on a boy, I told one of the girls I thought I could trust and made her promise not to tell which she did promise. By the next recess everyone was teasing us - not because she told everyone, but because she told one other person she trusted and that person told one other and so on.
Secrets and gossip seem to go hand-in-hand. Once a secret is heard it takes a mountain of will-power not to repeat it. "I know something you don't know, nynha, nynha, nynha." It gives the secret sharer a certain amount of power. I think the majority of people can't resist telling just one more trusted person.
Shortly before I left the Graham Group to move back to SW Iowa, I witnessed some inappropriate behaviour between two people we all thought might be having an affair. In our minds that was the only thing which could account for the favouritism shown by the man (our boss) to the woman. I KNEW I should not tell anyone what I had seen, but there was one other woman I was close with whom had been hurt by the way our boss treated her even though she was on the same level latterly as the other woman. I thought if I told her what I'd seen which more or less confirmed our suspicions, it might make her feel better. I swore her to secrecy, she promised not to tell anyone else. In a few days, other employees were asking me about what I'd seen. The sharing of a secret added to the gossip.
Just as secrets and gossip are partners, so are secrets and trust. Would I ever again fully trust the little girl from grade school or the woman from my office? No. Nor would I expect anyone to trust me again if I've shared a secret they told me. There have been very few people in my life I truly trust. One of them is my spouse. He is undoubtably the most trustworthy person I've ever known. And when you think about how much one partner could hurt the other, even by sharing seemingly inconsequential knowledge, you realize how important trust is.
Which is why I feel so sorrowful for Sandra Bullock and what she is going through right now. It might not be so bad if not for her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes when she credited her growth in her acting ability to Jesse James and "for the first time in my life, knowing someone has my back." I wonder what was going through his mind as he nodded to her and acknowledged her tearful, heartfelt tribute? Probably something like, "I just hope she doesn't discover my secret." Will she ever be able to trust anyone again?
Do I have a specific secret which brought on this blog? No. I have secrets. Some which I will never tell another soul. Some I would only share with the two or three people I do trust. In the grand scheme of life, I would rather be trustworthy than popular.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Goodbye Scilla, Hello Saoirse

Scilla, my 1993 Ford Escort Wagon has been a real sweetheart. Together we logged more than 70,000 miles in a little over ten years. I found her at Tom's Used Autos in Des Moines in January, 2000. I am really happy about my new car, but I'm also really sad to say goodbye to Scilla.
I've always been a believer in things happening the way they are supposed to. A couple weeks ago I test drove this car; liked it, but wasn't sure because I have had it in my mind for ages I wanted a Ford Focus hatchback. Then we went to DM and I drove a 5-spd Focus 3-dr hatchback. I came home still undecided.
Thursday was a gorgeous day. I drove past the used car dealer just to see if the car was still there. It was. I decided to ask to see the Carfax. After reading it, I asked to drive the car again. By the time I got back, the dealer had appraised my wagon and told me what it would take to trade. I told him the amount I was thinking of offering and we split the difference. Two minutes later a father and son came in to test drive the car. If I had waited any longer, it might have been gone.
Saoirse (pronounced seer-sha) is a 2003 Saturn Ion 3 with not quite 60,000 miles. Unfortunately she is an automatic instead of 5-spd, but I will try not to hold that against her if she behaves otherwise. And check out the sun roof. Alyssa had a car with a sun roof and loved it.
Saoirse is an Irish name which means 'freedom'. I already know I will be going further afield with her. (I was getting nervous about getting too far from home in Scilla.) So freedom seems like a good name. I'll let you know where we go on our maiden voyage.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Day of Spring?

The ice is off the pond. Ducks have been swimming around and our resident pair of Canadian geese have been checking out their nesting site. Today is the vernal equinox (spring) and look what we woke up to! Des Moines had six inches. I would say we were close to that. The poor little robins don't know what to do. It certainly felt like spring Thursday.
Next to the sundial shoots of daffodils, iris and lilies were peeking through the ground. Anyone who has lived in Iowa sixty-six years knows that the calendar may say spring, but that doesn't mean the snow and cold are over.
The spring snow storm I remember the most was the one that began Sunday, April 8, 1973 and lasted into the 10th. Not only did we have 10+ inches of snow, the wind blew the snow into huge drifts.
We were living on the acreage NW of Urbandale then. Our lane was drifted completely full. Huge drifts formed behind the house - which the kids enjoyed playing on. I was unable to get to work for three days which my boss couldn't understand. The warmer temps and sun melted the snow off the plowed streets and roads very quickly. My lane looked more like the picture above.
I was finally able to get a neighbor to come with his tractor and scoop to dig us out. The snow in the lane was so deep he couldn't get through it. He made a track for us further out in the yard where the snow wasn't drifted as deeply.
What hurt me the most about that storm was the number of livestock lost. The neighbor who rented the farm ground around our acreage had just started getting baby calves. They had been so cute frolicking around the pasture. I know he lost several calves including some that were born during the blizzard. It seems I remember a farmer near St. Charles losing an entire herd when the cattle sheltered in a swale and were all smothered by the snow. Which puts these few inches in proper perspective.
Des Moine's six inches placed them at #3 on the all-time snowiest winter list. Just a few more inches and they will set a new record. Looks to me like they have a very good chance what with the rest of March and all of April yet to get through.
Spring? Bah. Humbug.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Allergies, A Cold or H1N1?

Achoo! Achoo! And one more time; achoo! Is it spring allergies, a cold, or the flu? I'm one of those people who never had allergies until I was older. Until I started having them I always thought if you were allergic it showed up in childhood.
My first problem was a skin allergy. It took years and many tests to finally find something to clear that up. (Crotty's Special Cream from Dr. A) Then in the spring of the year I began having watery, itchy eyes. I mean BAD watery itchy eyes. I was already taking generic claritin when almost at the end of allergy season two years ago I switched to generic zyrtec. Within two or three days my eyes cleared up. But I didn't know if it was because of the zyrtec or because of the end of allergy season.
Last year I had no problem with my eyes and so far this year, no problem. Is it the zyrtec? Or because I moved off the farm? I have to wonder if I was allergic to pollen from the cedar trees? Because that is the only tree we had there that we don't have here. I guess I could quit taking the zyrtec and then I would know.
I remember when Grandma Ridnour always had her spring cold. Now I wonder if it wasn't allergies instead of a cold.
I have heard that one of the reasons the H1N1 flu wasn't as bad as predicted this winter was because of all our snow and cold - people stayed home, schools were closed because of the snow and ice - the flu didn't spread.
We did have flu shots for the seasonal flu and then later for H1N1. Somewhere I heard that we old folks weren't getting the flu as bad as younger people because of a virulent flu that went around in 1959. So many people had it then and developed an immunity to a similar current flu. Whatever the reason - flu shots or old immunities - I haven't had the flu for many years. Nor do I get many colds anymore. (Just watch, I'll probably come down with one or the other!)
The H1N1 was expected to become a pandemic. It was feared it could be as bad as the "Spanish Flu" which killed more than 50 million people world-wide in 1918. Two stories I remember hearing about that flu: 1) My Uncle Bus (Leslie Duncan) was at Camp Dodge in Johnston north of Des Moines training for WWI duty overseas when the flu struck there. More than 10,000 of the soldiers stationed there became ill with more than 700 deaths. I remember that the Armistice was signed before Uncle Bus had to go overseas; I don't remember if he had the flu.
One of his sister's figures in my other flu story. When I first moved back to SW Iowa in '78, I drove the senior citizens bus for Area 14 Agency on Aging. One day I picked up a client to take him out to the medical clinic. Upon hearing who I was, he said, "I knew your grandmother. I could tell you a story about her: she was engaged to be married and the man died in the flu epidemic. Later she married your grandfather." Now that was a story I had never heard! I wondered who her first fiance had been. I asked Mom, but she had never heard that. Grandma Lynam was still alive then, but I did not feel that I could ask her.
Then I started figuring out the dates. Grandpa George & Grandma Bessie were married in 1914. The flu epidemic was in 1918. I finally decided the guy had my grandma mixed up with her younger sister. That made more sense.
I'm pretty sure today's sneezes were due to allergies. At least I don't have the watery, itchy eyes. Yet.

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.
(A child's rope skipping rhyme from 1918)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Reads I

It is looking like the number of books read in March is going to be as thin as those read in February.
I picked up Rita Mae Brown's "Full Cry" while in Southern CA so I wouldn't run out of reading material on the way home. The book is the third of seven in her "Sister" Jane Foxhunting Mysteries. I bought the used book because I have been reading some other novels by Rita Mae Brown and have enjoyed them. I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed learning about fox hunting. The murder mystery was secondary to my enjoyment of the book. Gibson Memorial does have some more books from this series. I plan to read them in the future.
While in Tucson, Kristina shared the names of some of her favourite authors and books. When I got home I was able to find one of them in our library: Carol Shields's "Unless". Shields won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for "The Stone Diaries" which I had read.
"Unless" is the story of a successful wife, mother, author who has known very little unhappiness in her life. Then her eldest daughter drops out of college to sit on a street corner, silent except for a sign around her neck which reads "GOODNESS". The book tells of the family's struggle to help and understand as well as deal with their own changes as a result.
The book was a bit slow-going for me. I couldn't seem to concentrate on the story or pick up all the underlying nuances. It is probably one of those books I will have to read again when I am in the 'right' mood.
Charlaine Harris's "Grave Secret" is the fourth of her 'Harper Connelly' Mysteries. And the fourth one I've read. I like this character. I also like Harris's 'Aurora Teagarden' and 'Lily Bard' Mysteries series. I have not read any of her very popular 'Sookie Stackhouse' novels yet though our library seems to have all of them - getting on the popularity of the vampire genre bandwagon.
After being struck by lightning as a teenager, Harper Connelly develops the ability to find dead bodies and see how the person died. She and her step-brother travel around the country using her talent to help grieving families and law enforcement agencies. Her one hope is to someday discover what happened to her older sister who disappeared on her way home from school several years before.
That mystery is finally solved in this fourth book in the series. As it has been the one constant thread in this series, I'm wondering if this will be the last 'Harper Connelly' or if Ms. Harris will continue writing about her. These mysteries are quick, entertaining reads - what I needed after "Unless".
Yesterday I finished Janice Law's "The Night Bus". Just as I learned about fox hunting in "Full Cry", I learned alot about music in this book. The book begins with our heroine, Cath, running away from her life. She has a one way ticket on the night bus to Florida. Law does a good job of letting us see how disoriented Cath is without telling us why. By the time the police find her on a Miami street following a mugging, Cath no longer remembers who she is or where she is from. The muggers took her purse. She has no identification.
After a nationwide bulletin is sent out, she is identified and her sister-in-law comes to Florida to bring her home. She tells Cath her name, that she is married, that she is a musician and singer, none of which Cath remembers. It isn't until she arrives home and recognizes the house as her Aunt Elizabeth's that she begins to slowly regain her memory. And although she finally remembers her husband, she can't remember why she stabbed him; why she took the night bus. She begins remembering more and starts putting pieces together, but not in time to save her from a deadly confrontation.
The jacket cover says Ms. Law is also the author of the critically acclaimed Anna Peters mystery series. Gibson Memorial does not have any of those so next time I am at the Half Price Book Store I will look there.
Speaking of which, my trip there last week was a costly one - a little under $50 worth of books came home with me. I guess I was in a weakened condition that day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Strange Coincidence & Stranger Dream

How often does it happen that we think about something or someone we haven't thought about in a long time and in the next day or two what/who we thought about is heard from or seen?
Yesterday the phrase "Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" went through my mind. In what context I can't even remember. But it had been so long since I'd heard that phrase I wasn't even certain I was remembering it correctly. I made a mental note to google it to see what the exact phrasing was and its meaning. Of course, I forgot to do that, too.
So this afternoon I'm comfortably ensconced in my reading corner, reading away when this line appears: "And then she thought that since she'd gone so far -- in for a penny, in for a pound, as Aunt Elizabeth liked to say, or, more ominously, as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb -- she might as well request a photograph of Jane Henkel, too."
It's an old English proverb dating back as far as 1678. It's a justification or excuse for going on to commit some greater offense once one has already committed some minor one. It can also mean that once one has already become involved in some incident or affair, one might as well commit oneself entirely.
Now if I could only remember why I thought of the phrase in the first place......

I lived on an acreage NW of Urbandale from May, 1969 until May, 1978. Kari was born the day after we moved there; Preston was born while we lived there; Denny & I were divorced while we lived there and I continued living there with the kids until a week after my Dad died.
Over the years I have dreamed that I moved back to that acreage. The dreams have all been different, but they have all been unsettling - like there's something strangely menacing about being back in that house; something not right.
Last night's dream involved two plane crashes - the first one to crash into the kitchen-breezeway-garage part of the house was like a 727. Everyone on board was killed, but I/we survived. The next plane was one of those jumbo jets that holds 300 or more people. It crashed further out - around where the barn used to be and into that field. Again, everyone was killed.
Then it was like I was describing the crashes to someone - a homeland security agent or some such. Both crashes were replaying as I described them but we were hidden in some bushes in the grove as we watched. It was obvious they were terrorist attacks and that we were in danger of being caught by terrorists on the ground.
That's when I awoke. I wonder why my dreams of that place are always so unsettling. Do I have an unconscious guilt about something that happened when I lived there? Do I feel I left something unfinished there that I have to keep going back? Why is it always that house and none of the others where I've lived? And are the saying and dream anyway related?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ides of March

"Beware the Ides of March" - I wonder how many young people of today have even heard that expression? Do they know it refers to March 15? Do they know the saying comes from the slaying of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.? Legend tells us a soothsayer had whispered to Caesar to "beware the Ides of March" because there was an assassination plot against him. Ever since then the "Ides of March" has held a sense of foreboding. Do highschoolers even have to memorize the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech anymore?
I have to admit it was awhile before I realized every month - not just March - had an ides. The word simply means middle. In the ancient Roman calendar for the months of March, May, July and October, the ides were the 15th. For all other months they were the 13th.
Personally, I do not remember anything awful happening to me on March 15. It is just another day - two days away from St. Patrick's Day and five from the Spring Equinox - much more meaningful dates.
I am more troubled by the idea that my grandchildren aren't learning about the Ides of March than I am worried about something sinister happening on this day. Is it important in the grand scheme of their lives? Probably not. Not any worse than learning the difference between 'their' and 'there' and 'they're' or 'too' and 'two' and 'to' or 'your' and 'you're'. With today's spelling shortened to the symbols of texting, the ability to spell doesn't seem to matter.
Last week there was a segment on the local television news about how well current college students could spell - that with "spell check" on their computers, they didn't worry about spelling when writing a paper - they rely on "spell check". Only two students out of the sixty tested spelled every word correctly. I don't use spell check though I probably should. I'm sure more errors than I would be comfortable with slip through my writings. If I am in doubt of the spelling of a word, I refer to my trusty Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, copyright 1971. Not only do I check the spelling and meaning of the word in question, I read the words and meanings of several entries around that word. I just plain love words or etymology if you will.
The Pisces New Moon also occurs today. Does that add even more portent to the Ides of March? Pisces is the sign of the fish. Could that mean water might be involved with what happens? Perhaps the flooding we've been hearing about for the past week or so will finally occur?
So far today, the only bad thing that has happened to me is losing at Cribbage. On the positive side, Rodney if four months old today. And Dominique is eight months away from getting her driver's permit.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rafael Mendez and Me


I never learned to play a musical instrument. My Mom told me at a very early age, "You couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket". So I never tried to sing in any choirs either. My grade school friend, Virginia, sang beautifully. I assumed she was born with talent even though I knew she took voice, accordian and piano lessons. I didn't realize you could 'learn' how to sing.
I am glad Kari & Preston were both in Valley H.S. choirs. They had a wonderful instructor in Mr. Clark. And I'm glad my grandchildren are learning to play musical instruments.
When I was a junior in highschool in 1960, the famous trumpeter, Rafael Mendez, came to our school to give music clinics to the band members and practice with them in preparation for a concert.
The following year, my senior year, he came back for a repeat of the year before. I was a staff member of the school paper. My assignment was to interview him and write an article for the paper. I know I didn't fully appreciate who he was nor his talent. I remember some of the girls in band being very excited about performing with him - almost swooning with excitement.
I might not have known anything about music, but I wanted him to see me as a very mature, competent interviewer. I wanted to ask intelligent questions. I know I was trying to hide my nervousness which I'm sure he saw, but he very quickly put me at ease and we had a pleasant time while I asked my questions and he answered. At least I had a pleasant time; I hope he did. He probably wondered why he was being interviewed by a non-musical dork.
I had attended his concert the year before as well as the student concert that afternoon where he talked about the embouchure accident which had almost ended his career. In 1932 while warming up at the Capitol Theatre, his trumpet was smashed into his face when a door was carelessly thrown open. Up close, I could see how scarred his upper lip was. I don't remember if we talked about that during the interview. I do remember trying not to stare at it.
Mendez was born in Mexico. He began learning the trumpet at age five because his father needed a trumpet player for the family orchestra. After playing for Pancho Villa in 1916, the Mendez Orchestra was conscripted into the guerilla leader's army for a few months. When the rest of the family was finally released, Villa kept Rafael as his personal trumpeter for a time longer.
In 1926, at age 20, Mendez moved to the United States, first working in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana and then in the Buick Company plant in Flint, Michigan where he could play in the company band. After winning an audition for the Capitol Theatre orchestra, he moved to Detroit and began playing with other orchestras in the area.
While touring with the Rudy Vallee orchestra, he fell in love with southern California. He and his wife and twin sons moved there in 1937. As a member of the MGM Orchestra, he played on movie soundtracks as well as live performances. He was signed to a twelve record deal by Decca Records. In 1950 he began working full time as a trumpet soloist working with symphony orchestras, concert bands and big bands in the United States and Europe. He also began appearing regulary with two of my favourites - Dale Evans and Roy Rogers.
What an amazing career this man had. I wish I had understood that when I had the privilege of talking with him one-to-one 49 years ago.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dressing Appropriately


The idea for this blog topic came to me at the Y last fall. I usually finish my routine before Bud and have a few minutes to wait. On this particular day, as I waited in the row of chairs next to the track, a young woman was being interviewed for a job. She and the interviewer were sitting just a few feet away; I couldn't help overhearing them.
I listened as the woman talked about her move from California to live in Creston with an aunt "for a change from big city living." She listed her work experience and love of working with children. I thought she sounded like a very good job candidate.
The one thing I could not help but notice, though, was the way she was dressed - shorts, t-shirt, flip-flops. "Whatever happened to dressing up for a job interview?" I wondered. (I have never seen her at the Y since, so I assume she was not hired or works different hours than when I am there.)
It may be a generational thing, but I cannot imagine going for a job interview in anything less than a suit, dress or a dressy pantsuit. There were interviews I even bought a new outfit for - not only to be dressed appropriately but to give myself the little bit of extra confidence which can come from a new outfit.
This picture, taken at Tuck Corner in 1980, reminds me of another time of dressing (in)appropriately. We were still living on the acreage NW of Urbandale when Mom came up for a weekend. She had never been to Living History Farms, so we planned to take her there. The kids got ready and so did I - wearing the above outfit. Mom said, "Is that what you're going to wear!" with the tone and emphasis of disbelief. "Shouldn't you wear something else?" with the tone and emphasis of impropriety. I wasn't thinking about propriety. I worked inside all week long. Weekends were the only chance I had to work on getting a tan. I was going to wear as little covering as possible.
I know my Mom was embarrassed for me - at least embarrassed to be seen with me. I didn't care that particular day. Since then I have wished I'd had the sense to change my outfit.
Mom also disapproved the first time she saw me in a skirt above my knees. It was in the mid-60's when I still lived and worked in Corning. Betty lived in Omaha then. I had spent the weekend with her and we went shopping. I bought a beautiful, yellow, three-piece suit. The jacket was almost as long as the skirt. It wasn't a mini, but it was well above my knees. Mom said she was in town when she saw this young woman walking across the street about a block away. "She had on the shortest skirt! Then I realized it was you!" Mom later related to me. She thought I was scandalous; I KNEW I was in style.
I don't think I have been shocked by anything my daughter or granddaughters have worn. But then mores have relaxed so much in the last fifty years. About the only time I dress up anymore is for weddings and funerals; even then I just swap slacks for my usual jeans.
One thing for certain, even if I still had the figure, I wouldn't wear cut-offs and a halter top to anything I was going to with my Mother.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kari & Grandpa Louis


I love the memories pictures evoke. I love this picture of my Dad & Kari. Kari is around one in this shot which means Dad was about 53. They were both born in May and I think this was taken in April or May of 1970.
Denny and I had rented a metal detector for the weekend before driving down to my folks.
We went into the football field (still down at the fairgrounds racetrack infield then) and found a few coins and lots of pop tops.
Dad suggested we drive down to Hawleyville to the old rodeo/fair grounds there. The field he directed us to hadn't been used for that for years, but had attracted large crowds in the past.
Romantic that I am, I was just certain we were going to find a lost ring or some rare old coins. Of course, we didn't find a thing, but we did have a pleasant outing. And I learned where the much heard about Hawleyville Rodeo Grounds were.
There is a picture similar to this one of Dad & Kari perched on an old tree trunk at the Hawleyville location. Then we came back to the folks and I took this one out in their barnyard west of the granary. Dad looks so healthy in this picture even though his health was in decline and he would be dead eight years later. Kari looks so happy to be standing on the big log with her grandpa.
What I don't remember is the large tree trunk. I think there were once elm trees along the north hog lot fence which were replaced by maples after the dutch elm disease killed all the elms. Now I need to find a picture of the barnyard and hog lot to refresh those memories.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Putting Her in Her Place"

Lorrie, Carston & Bud on the front patio of Kevin & Lorrie's home in Peoria, AZ.
"Aunt Jamona" & Lorrie in her gorgeous backyard. (The little tree on the left was recently replaced with a Brazilian Pepper Tree - don't think those grow in Iowa!)

Aiden, Erick, Bud, Lorrie & Kevin strolling through the campus of Christ Church of the Valley in Peoria. (Kevin is one of the ministers of this community. The campus grounds and buildings are huge and beautiful.)
Usually when someone talks of "putting someone in her place" they are speaking of rebuking someone for something they've done wrong or reminding them they are out of order. For me it can mean seeing where and how someone lives - especially those I care about. Which is why our visit with my niece Lorrie & her family in AZ last month meant so much to me.
I had been to Lorrie's in AZ once before at their 'old' house when the twins were small. Two years ago they moved to a new house in a new development farther out of the city - so far out they have a mountain behind them and hear owls and coyotes. Their beautiful home is only a short walk to the boy's school. It was wonderful to walk with them, noting all the flowers and landscaping along the way.
Spending time with my niece also allowed me a look into how she is doing in her life, not just in her surroundings. It gave us a chance to laugh together and to cry together - something I think we both needed. And she helped me look at a problem I was having with an entirely different perspective - very wise for such a young one.
As much as I wanted to see Aiden, Erick & Carston - to see how they've grown and know what they are like at this stage - I wanted them to know who I am; not just a picture but their great aunt Ramona who loves them.
A few days after leaving Peoria, we visited with friends in Tucson. Kristina and I had a discussion about how "place" affects who we are - or grow to be. Lorrie has the midwestern values she learned growing up in Iowa; now she is growing and blooming where she has been transplanted.



Monday, March 8, 2010

The Hotel Del Coronado

If the San Diego-Coronado Bridge were the only way to get to Coronado Island, I would never have seen The Hotel Del Coronado nor walked on Coronado Beach. Between my fear of bridges and heights, I would have to have stayed on the San Diego side. It's hard to get a picture of just how high and long this sweeping bridge is. It's actually lovely from a distance - as long as I don't think about crossing it.
Luckily it is possible to drive on 'The Silver Strand' via Hwy 75 from Imperial Beach to reach Coronado.

The Hotel Del Coronado was opened in 1888. It is one of the few remaining examples of the wooden Victorian beach resort. Somewhere in my life I had become acquainted with this famous hotel. I assumed I had seen it in a movie, though none of the movies listed as having been made there are familiar to me.
The movie, "Somewhere In Time" was based on the book, "Bid Time Return" by Richard Matheson. He wrote much of the book while staying at the hotel, but when the movie was made in 1980 it was actually filmed at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
In the 1960's, a new owner planned to demolish the old hotel in order to develop the area. Instead he decided to refurbish the rooms and add on to the original hotel. Since then two other subsequent owners have upgraded "The Del".

There is something magical about walking on any beach. The Coronado Beach looks as though it has been strewn with gold dust which certainly adds to the magic. Other beach goers didn't seem to be trying to scoop up the golden sand, so I assume it was mica.
It would seem "The Golden Strand" would be a more appropriate name than "The Silver Strand" - though not as alliterative. Plain old Hwy 75 works for me; just so I don't have to cross that bridge!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Barringer Meteor Crater

This meteorite piece weighs 1400 lbs.


Bud & I have gotten hooked on the Science Channel's "Meteorite Men" this winter. I can't decide whether I like Steve Arnold better or Geoff Notkin; though Geoff does wear a P. Skeets Navajo ring like mine and his last name is only one letter different from Doug's. They make a good team. Would we have stopped at Meteor Crater were we not fans of the show? Maybe. But we've been past it before and never stopped.
Meteor Crater aka Barringer Meteor Crater is located six miles south of I-44 west of Winslow, AZ. We overnighted in Winslow on our way to Lorrie's near Phoenix, so the Crater stop was an early morning one. It was COLD on those viewing platforms outside - strong NW wind really dropped the windchill factor - but there was plenty to see on the inside.
An early geologist investigated the sight and concluded it was the result of a volcanic explosion. In the early 1900's, Daniel Barringer, a mining engineer, theorized it was an impact crater. He formed a company expecting to get rich from huge iron ore deposits. He did find a large piece of the meteor which kept his investors from pulling out. But in 1928 when a new mine shaft hit water in quantities that could not be pumped out by equipment on hand, Barringer sought additional investors. By then too many other learned men had debunked Barringer's theory of a large quantity of iron ore and his board of directors suspended all further mining operations.
Meteor Crater is approximately a mile across and 550 feet deep. You can hike the rim, but not into the bottom. From a viewing platform you can look through a telescope and see the remains of mining operations as well as a picture of an astronaut. During the 1960's, NASA astronauts trained in the crater for the Apollo missions to the moon. The Crater is believed to have been formed 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. It is an interesting and worthwhile stop I recommend to everyone.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Deserted Desert Dessert Spoon

It started its journey looking like this - a Wm. A. Rogers A-1 Plus Oneida Ltd spoon in the Lady Stuart pattern from 1949.
With a little cleaning after I got it home, it looks like this.

The back before cleaning.
On Hwy 95 between Quartzsite and Yuma ten or so days ago, we were stopped for an extended time by road construction. While Bud visited with the fellow from the RV stopped behind us, I walked out into the desert looking for interesting rocks. (Imagine that!) I have become extremely selective about rock collecting after having to leave behind a pile of such treasures when we moved. So while I left the rocks in the desert, I did come home with this old spoon.
Why? Because I wanted time to hold it and imagine its story. Where has it been? Why was it abandoned in the desert? Whose lips ate from its bowl? Did it spoon soup or medicine into a sick child?
I wanted it to be older than it is (according to pattern) so the story could be about an old prospector crossing the desert to search for silver or gold in the Castle Dome Mountains. He had used the spoon to scoop beans out of a can for his supper. The next morning he didn't notice the spoon fall out of his pack as he led his mule onward.
Had it been an early 30's pattern, the story could be about dust bowl travelers heading to California. No, they would most likely have been following The Mother Road, Route 66.
I have decided the spoon was part of a set belonging to a "full-timer" parked in the desert for the winter months. The couple had originally lived in Cleveland. The husband's asthma worsened. His doctor advised moving to a dry climate. They lived in a rented apartment, had never earned much money, so in order to buy a small camper, they had to sell most of their possessions. The one thing the woman couldn't part with was her mother's silverplate flatware.
For a nominal fee, they could park the Volkswagen bus that had become their home as well as transportation on BLM land for six months. During the summer months when temperatures were more than 100 degrees in Quartzsite, they moved to the cooler air of the Mogollon Plateau near Flagstaff. The desert air did help the husband's asthma for a few years. By the time he died, the wife was so used to her nomadic way of life, she continued spending the winter months parked in the desert.
Ice cream was one of her favourite treats. The freezer compartment of the little camper frig didn't allow for much ice cream storage, so she could only buy a pint once in awhile. It gets cold in the desert when the sun goes down. A nightly campfire was a must. She was sitting before the fire, eating her ice cream, contemplating her long life when she died. By the time some nearby campers found her, they didn't notice the Lady Stuart spoon that had slipped from her fingers.
'The deserted desert dessert spoon.'


Friday, March 5, 2010

From 12F21 to 322-4425


"Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!" Those were reputedly the first words spoken by Alexander Graham Bell into what he called the telephone. That was in 1867 - a good 85 years before I first used the phone which looked like the one pictured here.
Our phone hung on the south wall of the kitchen to the left of the window. It was a hot place to stand and talk during the winter months when the old wood burning stove was in the kitchen. One had to stand behind the stove to reach the phone.
Our phone number was 12F21. I don't know what the F stood for. The 12 meant we were on party line twelve out of the Corning telephone office. The 21 meant our "ring" was two longs and a short. If we wanted to call someone on our party line we just rang their number - if their number was 12F13, we rang one long and three shorts. It was possible, even then, to misdial - a long might sound like a short and vice-versa. Or a neighbor might hear it that way and answer even though the call wasn't meant for them. You talked to them anyway.
If you wanted to talk to someone on another line or in town, you cranked the phone in one continuous motion - maybe two or three times around - until the operator answered, "Number please?" You told her the number and she placed the call for you. Grandma Lynam's number in town was 117. Grandma Ridnour's was 71 on 7 through Guss. That meant calling her was long distance and even if you got through, you couldn't hear very well. Guss's lines were maintained by the subscribers and not everyone kept up their lines as well as Grandpa did.
It seems like there was a way to call everyone on your line if you needed help, but I don't remember that for certain. But it was certain that everyone on the line knew when someone else got a call because they could hear the ring, too. If it was late at night or early in the morning, others on the line would listen in to see what the call was about, suspecting bad news because of the time of day. The same thing sometimes happened during the day if a neighbor was nosy and just wanted to know what was going on.
I never liked talking on the phone. I don't know why. Even when I was in high school if I needed to talk to a girlfriend, I called, discussed what I called for and said goodbye. There was one girl who would call me and talk for an hour. Mom would be motioning me to get off the phone and I would try, but she would just keep talking.
Over the years I have tried to figure out why I don't like to talk on the phone. It must go back to something which happened early in my childhood, but what? Maybe I'll remember some day.
When I worked at the light plant (Municipal Utilities) in the mid 1960's, we answered the phone for a fire call so we could blow the whistle to alert the volunteer firemen. I'll never forget the day I answered the fire call and it was Mom on the other end calling for a fire truck. She sounded so scared. She had always had such a fear of fires. I blew the whistle but it was a while before I found out the tractor had caught on fire when Dad was refilling it. Mom was afraid the gasoline barrel was going to blow up, but it didn't. Thank goodness.
I've forgotten most of the phone numbers I have had in all the different places I've lived. The last ones on the farm were 322-3088 for Mom and 322-4425 for us. I know in time I will forget what our's was, but I'll always remember Mom's number.
I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think of today's cell phones? And texting? And taking and sending pictures? Did he have any idea what his invention might lead to?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beginning to See a Pattern?

During our most recent trip to the Southwest, we discovered the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, NM. It is an 81 ft deep, spring-fed artesian well that generates 3000 gallons of water per minute. Its year round temperature of 61 degrees has made it a favourite spot for divers. Blue Hole has been used as a watering spot for thousands of years. Route 66 passed right by the pool which was a welcome stop for weary travelers on their way to California during the dustbowl '30s.
A chance reading of local attractions on a trip to the Hill Country of Texas led to our discovery of Hamilton Pool. Even with directions it was a challenge to find this gorgeous oasis in Travis County. The pool began as an underground cavern thousands of years ago. Eventually the dome collapsed leaving this U-shaped grotto. Of the three pools pictured here, this is my favourite.

Blue Springs near Eureka Springs, Arkansas was a side trip on our way home from South Padre Island, TX. If there were time, I would stop at every park, mill, cave, spring, trail, historic site, nature preserve, waterfall, etc. that was along my path. But then we would never get home.
Blue Springs was one of those lucky stops we did make. The area around this 54 degree natural spring is more developed than the other two. The plantings and walkways are lovely additions although I prefer the naturalness of Hamilton Pool. There is an interpretive center as well as an arboretum.
The Cherokee people knew this spring as a healing stop during their forced removal to Oklahoma Territory on the Trail of Tears. A few miles up the road, on the border between Gateway, AR and Seligman, MO is a small natural spring and pool on private land. I first saw this farm back in the 70's. I fell in love with the stone house, stone barn and spring. It was unmarked back then, but a sign at the spring now identifies it, also, as a stop on the Trail of Tears.
Now that I recognize a pattern, I believe I will begin plotting side trips to blue pools, holes and springs around the country; trying to discover as many as I can.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

February Reads

February is not only the shortest month of the year, it has the distinction of being the month during which I read the least number of books since?????
It also marked the first time I have not checked out books from the Gibson Memorial Library since joining. When I returned the last stack of January reads on February 2nd, I did not come home with a single library book. Don't think that didn't take will power!
Instead, I decided to read some of "my" books. My daughter and I had a discussion about this - how having books from the library makes reading those a priority, while books from our own library can be read 'anytime'.
So here is my short list of February reads: "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery was a xmas gift from son Mark. It is a French book translated by Alison Anderson. It received the following prizes in 2007: The Brive-La-Gaillarde Reader's Prize, the French Booksellers Association Prize, The Rotary International Prize (France) and The French Librarians' Prize for Culture. I don't know anything about those prizes, but it should be an indication of a worthwhile read.
Barbery, a professor of philosophy, uses two protagonists to tell her story. Renee is the 54 year old concierge of an elegant hotel in Paris. She is "short, ugly, plump and cantankerous". She does all she can to keep her secret: that she is a self taught person who furtively devours art, philosophy, music and Japanese culture. In other words, she is smart and doesn't want anyone to realize it.
Paloma is a twelve year old talented, precocious, also smart, girl who has decided to end her own life on her thirteenth birthday because of what she sees as life's futility. She is also hiding her extraordinary intelligence.
I think it is my love of philosophy that makes this book special. I read right through it the first time. The second time I will read it more slowly. There will be lots of underlining and writing in the margins.
"Amagansett" by Mark Mills is a book my friend Kristina passed on to me several years ago. Usually when she gives or recommends a book I read it right away. I don't know why this one languished so long. The setting is The Hamptons on Long Island in the years after WWII. I love to imagine what it was like when the residents were fishermen and working-class people before the wealthy began buying up the area for summer homes.
This book tells the story of one such fisherman and the murder he was caught up in when his net pulls in the body of a beautiful young woman from one of those summer homes. Mills' descriptions help me imagine what the area was like before development.
I love it when 70-year old people publish their first novels and they are hits. (Makes be believe there is still hope.) Alan Bradley says he was writing another book when eleven year old Flavia de Luce hijacked the story and it became "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie".
Flavia is the youngest of three daughters being raised by their single father in 1950 England. She is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. When she discovers a dying man in the garden of her family estate, the once grand mansion of Buckshaw, she is puzzled by his last word: "Vale".
Her father is arrested, charged with murder and hauled off to gaol. It is up to Flavia to discover the real murderer and save her father.
Do I still remember being 10 and 11 in the 1950's? Do I still remember imagining being able to set wrongs right and save the day? You betcha'. Thank goodness Bradley's second Flavia book, "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag" is to come out this month. I just hope Mr. Bradley lives a good long life and we have a whole series of Flavia de Luce mysteries.
My fourth February read was a Patricia Cornwell, Kay Scarpetta mystery: "Black Notice". It was a beat-up paperback I bought at the library's used book sale for just the purpose it served - a road trip book. I've read a few other Scarpetta mysteries. They are what they are: well written, entertaining for we forensics junkies and easy to read. I enjoyed the trip to France to Interpol and the Paris morgue where we met Scarpetta's counterpart and learned they do things a whole lot differently in Paris. I finished the book while at Lorrie's which is where I left it. Seems she is a forensics junkie, too.
Finally, I read Ian Rankin's "A Question of Blood". Dear John Rebus is nearing the end of his career in this one. (I have since read his final book - unless Rankin changes his mind.) I love Rankin's writing and I love John Rebus. He is such a flawed maverick kind of hero. His irreverence kind of reminds me of 'House' and 'Inspector Morse'.
In this mystery, Rebus is under suspicion of murdering his partner's tormentor when two students are killed and one injured in a random shooting at a private school. Rebus dives into the school shooting case only to discover he is related to one of the victims.
Rankin's plot development, red herrings and glimpses into his characters' private lives make for one good mystery book. The Edinburgh settings of the John Rebus books adds to my enjoyment of them.
And that's it. My very short February reading list. Being on the road - on vacation - for 10 of those days contributed to the brevity, I'm sure. March has already begun with a trip to the library......