Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 2013 Reading List

Three 5.0 reads for me this month! That is a record. Perhaps I rated them a bit high for some readers, but for me they were all books I would read and enjoy again. First up:


I have been a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver books since the early 90's when I read her Pigs In Heaven, The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams. The only book of hers I didn't care for was The Poisonwood Bible. Flight Behavior is set in Appalachia. The underlying theme is climate change. The title refers to monarch butterflies. There's a whole lot of science, faith, struggles of rural existence and finding personal identity in this novel. I loved it.


Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite authors. Life After Life is a stand-alone novel set in both World Wars. It begins on a cold, snowy night in 1910 when little Ursula is born, dies and then born again. What I thought was going to be a book about reincarnation is instead about a duality of lives; a 'this is what happens if she dies, this is what happens if she lives". It took quite a few pages before I was comfortable with what was going on - switching from scenarios and times. The parts set during the Blitz of London in WWII were riveting. Amazon rated it the best book of the month for April and a top 10 book of the year (so far). I have to agree. Amazing book.


And for my third 5.0 book, another Kate Atkinson - this time featuring her favorite (and mine) former policeman, former private investigator, Jackson Brodie. This is the second in the series. I've also read #'s 1 and 4. Now I have to get my hands on # 3. I love Jackson. Jason Isaacs plays him in the BBC TV series - the second of which I'm hoping is on later this year.
One Good Turn takes place during the Edinburgh summer arts festival. For me the hallmark of Atkinson's writing is the way she can deftly knit together so many divergent story lines (and characters) into a satisfyingly cohesive tale.


I admit it - another book I picked up because the cover was attractive to me. Love Letters from Ladybug Farm is the third in a series by Donna Ball. This one deals with the foibles of the three women who have purchased and renovated a broken-down mansion in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and what happens when they decide to rent out their property and become the planners, caterers and set designers for a posh society wedding. (Hint: mayhem ensues involving a goat, a tornado and an unwelcome former husband.) This is a cute little book, an easy read. I gave it a 2.0; probably won't read the first two in the series unless I'm just in the mood for cute.

The other four books I read this month all garnered 3.0's. They are:

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier - the story of a young Quaker woman, Honor Bright, who, after being jilted at the altar, decides to join her sister emigrating from England to a Quaker community in Ohio where the sister is to be married. The sister dies before they get there and Honor soon finds her would-be brother-in-law anxious to have her married and out from under his roof.
Honor marries into a family afraid to help runaway slaves, but she is determined to get involved helping in the underground railroad being conducted by other Quakers. A good read and interesting look at what life was like for a single woman in 1850.

To Be Sung Underwater is a story of first love - a love that doesn't last when the girl goes off to Stanford and the boy stays home in Nebraska. It is a story of "What if I went back? Would it, could it, be like it was before?
Tom McNeal is a Nebraska writer. I liked the way he described our neighbor to the west as well as how he related what it was like for the teen age girl to be raised by her father instead of her mother after her parents separated. My friend Kristina sent this book. She described it as "an indulgent read". I am going to enjoy discussing it with her and delving into just what she meant by that.

Christina Schwarz is the author of The Edge of the Earth. In 1898 a well-bred Wisconsin woman upsets her parents and the man they intend for her to marry by marrying someone else. They escape the criticism of friends and family by moving to California where the new husband takes a post as a lighthouse keeper in a remote coastal area. She becomes a self-taught marine biologist and stays on as lighthouse keeper after her husband dies.

Ann Hood's latest novel, The Obituary Writer, chronicles the love affairs of two very different women in two very different times. It moves between post 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the election of JFK in 1960. Toward the end of the book you begin to get clues as to how the two women are connected.
I really liked this novel - enough so that I am going to read the others our library has by this author.



Saturday, June 29, 2013

Connecting the Dots With Nasturtiums


When Kari and I had lunch in the Gathering Barn at the Country Life Center last week, we both chose the same items from the menu - the Spring Greens Salad with Rhubarb Vinaigrette and the Vegetable Tart with Asparagus, Sorrel, Spring Onions, Swiss Chard, Mushrooms and Goat Cheese. 
As Jill set our plates before us, she said, "I'm sure you know the nasturtiums are edible." Yes, I did know that and have for a long time. BUT, I had never tried eating them before. Kari was hesitant about eating flowers. I decided if I was ever going to try them, now was the time. I chomped down. My first reaction was  WOW!, "These are so good!" Kari said, "Really?" How to describe the taste to her? "Sort of peppery?" She bravely tried her's and agreed, "Nasturtiums really are good to eat." (But she couldn't say the same for the goat cheese. I ate all mine, but it isn't something I care for either.)


Now, the nose twist from yesterday's blog title - in Latin, nasturtium means nose twist - because of its peppery taste, I assume. The leaves are also edible. One site suggests chopping the flowers and leaves and adding to softened cream cheese to use as a sandwich spread. It also lists medicinal uses for the plants.
I used to plant Nasturtiums just because they were so pretty, easy to grow and I liked their delicate fragrance. I wanted to go right home and plant some to have to eat!
Jill also mentioned that the vegetable tart crust was made from buckwheat flour milled at Panora, Iowa. More about that later, but first, more about Jill.........


From the moment she seated us and handed us our menus, I thought our waitress looked familiar. I told Kari I thought she was the woman that ran the antique store in Lorimor. I could remember her last name, but could only remember that her first name contained four letters. I told Kari I was going to ask her name, but before I could, when she came to take our order, she looked at me and said, "Don't I know you? I'm Jill Alexander." Aha! "I had just been telling Kari I thought I recognized you."

I asked if she still had her store in Lorimor, but she sold the building a couple years ago. It was the neatest shoppe, located in the old bank building. She made very few changes to the interior, so the old photo I found online looks very much like her store did - just picture the tellers cages with antiques artfully displayed. She even had old pieces arrayed in the vault in the back.

I first met Jill around 2001-2. The Lorimor Bank was robbed September 25, 2000 and closed shortly thereafter. I don't know exactly how long it was before I first noticed a sign outside it: "Life's A Journey" - a quote close to my own beliefs. I wondered what kind of store it was. When I saw it was antiques, I stopped to look around.

You've experienced meeting someone for the first time and feeling like you've met a long-lost friend? That is how my visit with Jill went that day. We made so many connections - like when I lived in West Des Moines and used to shop at the Lagniappe in Valley Junction - where she used to work; even how we had both dreamed of buying an old building and turning it into an antique shop, only she was making her dream come true. Jill is an amazing woman - she even remembered some of the items I purchased from her store. It was good to see her again.


I don't remember being overly fond of the connect the dot worksheets we had in grade school, but I do believe all things are connected. Jill's mention of the buckwheat milled at Panora led me to search for it online which led me to Early Morning Harvest.


The way my mind works, once I discover something new, I follow that to another new thought, location, connection. The Early Morning Harvest site led me to where their products are sold which led me to Panora's Square Fridays - where every Friday in July and August there's a Flea and Farmer's Market.
Guess who's planning a road trip to Panora next month - all because of a nose twist.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Almost President, Nose Twist & Mis-conceptions


One week ago today, on the last day of my daughter's week-long visit from Portland, OR, we had lunch in the Gathering Barn at the Wallace Country Life Center. This is the birthplace farmstead of Henry Agard Wallace. I have made several trips to the farm enjoying the beautiful flower beds, walking the path through the native prairie, seeing the sculptures and admiring the vegetable gardens. (Wallace.org)
Kari and I had planned to walk around after our luncheon, but it started to rain so we headed for the gift shop inside the farm house.


I am always struck by how much this house reminds me of my own childhood home. It was while we were in the house that I related to Kari a mis-conception I had formed in my youth. In grade school I had learned that Henry A. Wallace, the one-time Secretary of Agriculture as well as Vice-President of the United States had been born near Orient, Iowa.


I attended an area youth fellowship meeting in Orient one Sunday. When we went past this stately home just west of the town, I got it in my head that this must have been the Wallace birthplace. Wouldn't a man of such stature have been born in a beautiful home like this? It was a long time before I knew he was born in that simple farm house which has now been restored.
(The above house is now a Bed & Breakfast known as Special Moments.)


The history of the Wallace family in Iowa is an interesting one - the first Henry Wallace was a co-founder with his sons, Henry C. and John, of Wallaces' Farmer magazine. He also helped establish Iowa State College as an important agricultural research institution.
Henry C. was a professor at Iowa State and the founder of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1921 until 1924.

Henry A. was Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940 when he became FDR's Vice-President from 1940 to 1944. Roosevelt dropped Wallace in favor of Harry S. Truman as his running mate in the '44 elections. So Truman became president when Roosevelt died in 1945 instead of Wallace. However, in 1948, Henry A. Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Their platform called for national health insurance, a guaranteed minimum wage, equal employment opportunities for women and equal pay for equal work. What would our country be like if he had become president?


Henry A. Wallace began experimenting with corn while still in high school. After college he continued his work developing hybrid corn and founded the Hi-Bred Corn Company - now known as Pioneer Hi-Bred - a company which now encompasses almost the entire town of Johnston, Iowa.

Wallace is such an interesting person I plan to get his biography, American Dreamer, the next time I go to the library.  -- and tomorrow more about the Nose Twist of today's post title.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Poison Iv-y-y-y-y, Poison Iv-y-y-y-y

"You're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion, you'll be scratchin' like a hound the minute you mess around with poison iv-y-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y...." those are some of the words to a #1 hit by the Coasters when I was a teenager in 1959. I assumed the song was about the three-leafed danger Mom had warned us about as children: "Leaves of three, let them be." But if you read about the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stollar penned hit, you discover it was really about a girl named Ivy and her reputation. I was so naive.

Leaves of three, let them be.
One evening last week I caught just a bit of a news blurb on one of the local Des Moines TV stations. It was something about a local company which manufactured and sold the only product that really worked to treat poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. I heard the newscaster say, "It works, but it is expensive."


The product they were talking about is something called Zanfel. And I would consider it expensive at $40.00 for a one-ounce tube, but if it works it would be a small price to pay to eliminate two weeks of misery. Also it says it has a 10-year shelf-life if some is left over. It claims it works because it is the only product known to remove urushiol - the toxin responsible for the reaction to contact with poison ivy. I hope I never have to find out if it works - some of those online pictures of poison ivy rash and blisters are appalling.


A young Ruth Ridnour

Hearing the story about Zanfel on TV reminded me of two poison ivy stories from my childhood - the first related by my Mom about her own childhood. It seems she was upset with her mother about something. She decided a way to get even with her was to go roll in a patch of poison ivy. How that was supposed to punish my Grandma, I'm not sure - maybe so she would have to take care of Mom? So the young Ruth rolled around in the poison ivy - and nothing happened! She did not react to it; hope she realized how lucky she was.

My little sis, Betty Lynam
The second story is from my sister Betty's and my childhood. One of our favorite places to play in the hot summer weather was in a big concrete culvert under the gravel road a half mile east of our farm. It was easily accessible by walking down the lane to the pasture. It seemed there was always some water inside the tube and it was much cooler in there. We would splash around awhile, watch the swallows flying in and out feeding their babies in those cup-shaped mud nests and swing from some heavy wires stretched between the sides of the culvert.
One time instead of walking home in those well-worn cow paths in the lane, we decided to walk home on the road. Part-way home Betty decided she had to pee and couldn't wait until we got to the house so she squatted in the weeds in the ditch where she would be partially concealed if a car went by. The next day she had an awful poison ivy rash all over her bottom. I remember Mom taking her to old Doc Fry, but there wasn't much he could suggest except calamine lotion. Too bad Zanfel hadn't been invented yet because Betty did have to experience two weeks of misery.

"A common cold'll fool ya, and whooping cough'll cool ya, but poison ivy, Lord'll make you itch! Poison iv-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y......"




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Royal Tara Since 1953 & 1993 & 2013


Royal Tara Fine Bone China has been made in Galway, Ireland since 1953. I really thought it had been in business longer than that. Had I known about the Royal Tara gift center (above) when I was in Ireland in 1994 and went through Galway City, I would have stopped. The gift center is housed in the 18th Century Tara Hall, the family home of the Joyces, one of the fourteen tribes of Galway. I would have loved wandering through the house and grounds as well as seeing all the china for sale.


For my 50th birthday in 1993, my brother Ron and his wife, Ruthie, gave me a Royal Tara teapot in the Trellis Shamrock pattern. Then for Christmas, hubby dearest gave me the two teacups and saucers to go with it. I also have a vase and a trinket box in this pattern.
I'm one of those people who doesn't use the good china - afraid of breaking it, I guess. But after owning it for almost twenty years I decided it was time to finally make a pot of tea and enjoy these treasures.


My daughter Kari and I both love hot tea. So even though the weather was rather warm while she was here from Portland for a week, she helped me finally christen the teapot and cups. Now that I've used them for the first time, I hope I'll be more relaxed about using them again and again. I just wish I had made a pot of tea to have with Ruthie while she was still alive - a good reminder to enjoy what we have while we can.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thirty-Three Father's Days


I don't remember celebrating my first father's day with my dad - I was exactly seven months old - June 18, 1944.


The first time Louis Lynam celebrated Father's Day as a father would have been about six weeks after his 23rd birthday. His first child, my brother Ronald, was born the day after Dad's birthday (May 7) in 1940.


No date on the picture. Probably 1953. Mom made our skirts. She had one, too. At this point I didn't mind being dressed the same as my little sister. And I thought my Dad "hung the moon."


Family reunion 1957, a month before my 14th birthday. L to R: Betty, Ron, Me, Dad, Mom and Leslie in front.


Mom and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary, October, 1962.


Dad & Mom around 1964, I think.


This is a favorite picture of me and my Dad. Fall of 1960 just before I turned 17. I don't have specific memories on any Father's Day with my Dad. The one I remember best is Father's Day, June 18, 1978. I was exactly thirty-three years and 7 months old. My first Father's Day without my Dad. He had died three and a half weeks earlier, May 24, 1978 - two and a half weeks after his 61st birthday. It gave Father's Day a whole new meaning for me.



Friday, June 14, 2013

Grandma's Tater Fork

I was peeling potatoes for lunch when I got this sudden vision of my Grandma Lynam doing the same thing. I remember the paring knife she used. It was so old and worn down from many, many sharpenings, there was very little blade left. I would have been old enough to offer to help, but as I've mentioned before Mom taught my sister and me to peel potatoes using a peeler and I was not adept at peeling them with a knife.
The closest I could come to a picture of what that paring knife looked like is this one I found on Etsy:

 Paring knife similar to Grandma's second from left.

After the potatoes had boiled for a while Grandma would test their  'doneness'  with a three-tined fork  like the ones above.
Grandma Lynam's Tater Fork

I don't have Grandma's paring knife but I do have the fork she used not only for testing the potatoes but also for turning meat as it fried. In fact it looks very much like the far right fork in the Etsy photo. Somewhere along the line the tip of the left tine must have been broken off. It is shorter and very sharp. I have used this fork a few times but keep it more for sentimental reasons. I wish I had her paring knife, too.

Summer of 1953, Betty, left, Grandma L.  and  me on right.

Some of my fondest memories are of summertime visits at Grandma's acreage, sitting with her on the front porch, climbing on the corn crib roof and picking mulberries, walking down to the creek at the bottom of the pasture and going out to the garden and smelling that beautiful mock orange just inside the garden gate.

I don't need tangible items like tater forks to prompt memories of my Grandmother, but I do appreciate holding something in my hand that she once used every day. And now that I've pictured it and written about it, maybe my kids or grand kids won't be so quick to throw it away when they someday sort my stuff.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Twenty-six Cents

There was a time when I knew all the country western songs and artists - thirty-some years ago. I haven't kept up. The radio station my car radio is set to right now is one that plays an eclectic selection of music including older CW.  I heard a song this morning that I didn't recognize, but felt immediately. It was 26 Cents by a Canadian CW group - The Wilkinsons.  If you want you can Google them and hear the song, but here are the lyrics:

Wilkinsons - 26 Cents Lyrics


She sat alone on a bus out of Beaumont
The courage of just 18 years
A penny and quarter were taped to a letter
And momma's goodbye in her ears

She watched as her high school faded behind her
And the house with the white picket fence
Then she read the note that her momma had wrote
Wrapped up with 26 cents

When you get lonely, call me
Anytime at all and I'll be there with you, always
Anywhere at all
There's nothing I've got that I wouldn't give
And money is never enough
Here's a penny for your thoughts
A quarter for the call
And all of your momma's love

A penny and a quarter buys a whole lot of nothing
Taped to an old wrinkled note
And when she didn't have much she had all momma's love
Inside that old envelope

When you get lonely, call me
Anytime at all and I'll be there with you, always
Anywhere at all
There's nothing I've got that I wouldn't give
And money is never enough
Here's a penny for your thoughts
A quarter for the call
And all of your momma's love

Oh its been years since momma's been gone
But when she holds the coins she feels her love just as strong

When you get lonely, call me
Anytime at all and I'll be there with you, always
Anywhere at all
There's nothing I've got that I wouldn't give
And money is never enough
Here's a penny for your thoughts
A quarter for the call
And all of your momma's love

Here's a penny for your thoughts
A quarter for the call
And all of your momma's love


And here is the picture which goes with the lyrics, at least for me. It was taken in September 1987 and shows my daughter Kari in front of her dorm at Macalester College in St. Paul. Why did she have to choose a school so far away? Just before I took the picture she had said, "Mommy, can I go home with you?" We both kind of treated the question like she was kidding, and I reassured her it was going to be fine, put a smile on my face, waved and drove away. I made it as far as the Mississippi River a few blocks away before totally losing it. I cried all the way to Farmington and only stopped then because I was meeting some people for lunch. The separation wasn't quite as painful years later when she told me she was moving 1700 miles away to Portland, OR, still ........


So the song was almost over; I was thinking about my daughter and how good it will be to see her in just a few days when the line Oh it's been years since Momma's been gone, was sung. That caused me to see the song from the other side. Now not only was I missing my daughter I was missing my Mom. A quarter wouldn't buy you a phone call anymore and with the internet those miles of separation from my daughter aren't as bad, but oh, how I miss talking with my Momma. She would definitely get her penny's worth!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A One Year Anniversary

"Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again." (Herman Hesse)

I often dwell upon thoughts of how we are all connected - how we can touch someone else's life, perhaps even make a difference and maybe not ever know that we have. And, conversely, how someone else can affect our lives and never know it. Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of such a person.

Ken, Lojo and Michael - Gallowglass 

I can't say I really knew Michael. I only knew who he was because of my daughter. She talked about this amazing trio of performers at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and how she wanted me to see them. So in the early 90's I went to my first renfest with Kari and saw the Gallowglass group she had such a crush on. I had to admit, I did like their music. Each time we went to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and every time they played, we were there - a couple of groupies. Eventually the trio went their separate ways.

Ken, Michael and John
This picture was taken about five years ago - the last time I went to the festival and the last time I saw Michael. By then Kari and Ken had been together several years. They were back in Minnesota for a visit and I met up with them there. Ken had his bodran with him and sat in with Michael and John.

When Kari told me Michael had started a blog (The Unintentional Expert) about his journey with bladder cancer I started following it. But a little over a year ago, I had to stop reading. I could see where his life was going and I just didn't have the courage to follow it any longer. I cried when he died.

And I've cried several times since. His blog is still up and occasionally his brother or his mother post something on it. It is when his Mom posts that I cry - as I did again today when I read her poem

Every time I read one of her posts I want to reach out to her - to let her know I feel her pain, her loss. Maybe it is because I almost lost one of my sons. (Which I wrote about here.) Perhaps it is because I feel connected to her in that way.
Her community of supporters, those who knew and loved her son, doesn't need to include me, but I still hope I get to meet her one day.

(Pictures property of my son-in-law, Ken Larson.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Analyzing Stolen Purse Dream


I had my recurring dream about losing my purse again. It is always such a bad dream because not only have I had my money and credit cards stolen, but also my identification. The latest dream occurred Sunday night. (Technically, early Monday morning.) It went something like this:
I was in a movie theater sitting in a short row by myself. A man came in and sat one seat away from me. Then a friend of his came in and sat next to me. I decided to move, but forgot my purse which I had set on the floor by my feet. (In the dream my purse was a dark green suede rather than the smooth olive green one I currently use. (I'm not sure that is significant except that I gave my daughter the dark green suede one some time ago.)
When I realized I had left my purse I went back to the row behind the two men and saw them going through my purse. I reached over and took back my purse and contents and then moved several rows back. When the movie was over I once again realized my purse was gone. I had no money, no cell phone, no car keys. I had to walk several blocks to the police station where I tried to report my stolen purse. The only people working were cafeteria employees who told me all the cops were at a party. I opened the door to the squad room and barged into their party, but they were all too drunk to help me. (Significance? No one could help me, not even the authorities?) I was going to walk back to my car but then realized that even if I did, I didn't have keys to open the door or start the car. I awoke with an awful feeling of helplessness and loss as well as a feeling of relief - it was only a dream.


As I tried to analyze why I had this recurring dream again - indeed, why I keep having this same lost/stolen purse dream - I thought about what I had been doing the day before. We had gone to a granddaughter's home for a surprise birthday party for her step-mom. I had my purse with me which I quit carrying on a regular basis just because I had been having those dreams about losing it. It was going to be a good time made even better because I would get to see great-granddaughter Lily whom I hadn't seen for six months.


One of the analyses of a lost purse dream is the fear that you've lost or are in danger of losing your identity. When I applied that to my feelings about seeing my grandchildren and two of the great-grandchildren the day before, I began to see what my dream meant: There was a time in my life when those grandkids were little that I was a very important part of their lives. Now that they are grown with families, jobs and responsibilities of their own, I am not a big part of their lives any more. And those little ones - the great grandchildren, Lily and Rodney, Ridge and the expected new one - I will be even less a part of their lives.


I will be a picture they look at and wonder who the old woman in the photo with them is. No wonder I had another recurring dream about losing my identity. I am afraid of not being someone memorable in their lives.


The recurring dreams about losing my purse prompted me to quit carrying it, instead putting my driver's license, debit card, medical cards and one credit card in this little 3"x 4" coin purse which I can slip in my pocket and am less likely to lose. (Ironically I did really lose this a couple weeks ago but luckily found it on the floor of my car after a tense half-hour of searching.)
In my dream, this is what I grabbed out of the hands of the two guys in the movie theater - even this little bit of my remaining identity was being stolen.
Now that I've analyzed what these dreams mean, I wonder if I'll quit having them. Do other people my age have dreams about losing their identities?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Celebrating the Geminis


Yesterday was daughter Kari's birthday and today is daughter-in-law Shelly's. When Kari (on the right) still lived in the Midwest we often celebrated together. One of our special places to go was the Thymes Remembered Tea Shoppe in Perry. That is where this picture was taken when Kari was visiting us four years ago.


Shelly has been a member of our family for almost 25 years. She and Doug will celebrate their Silver anniversary this fall. This picture of Shelly, her Mom, Lee, Alyssa and Doug was taken at Alyssa's graduation from Luther College, Decorah, two years ago.


Shelly celebrates a very special birthday today - her 50th! She wanted to either go fishing or work in the garden but the weather is definitely not cooperating - it's cold, rainy and windy. However she chooses to celebrate, I hope she has a very happy 50th birthday. Here she is holding her first granddaughter in a picture taken last August. Lily will be one year old in a couple weeks.


When I turned 50 (twenty years ago this fall), I took a solitary retreat, staying at Wesley Woods near Indianola. I hiked the native prairie - part of the 344 acres of the Methodist Camp and Retreat Center.


Explored the replica of a homestead sod house and tried to imagine what living in one of those must have been like.


And wandered down to Squaw Creek where I marveled at all the thousands of year old fossils embedded in the limestone creek bed. My 50th birthday was one of journaling, meditation, communing with nature, thinking about the past and wondering about the future.

 I hope Shelly's 50th birthday is as right for her as mine was for me.