Thursday, December 31, 2015

My December Reads, 2015

Another year of reading in the book - book as in this notebook where I keep track of what I read each month and how I rated them as well as enough about each book to recall it. I read eight books in December which gave me a total for the year of 98 books read. September was my lightest reading month with only five books completed. March and November tied for the most with twelve books read each of those two months. Most months I stayed around the average eight.

Some good books read this month - 2) 3.5's; 4) 4.0's and 2) 4.5's. Three of the 4.0's are pictured above in the last group of books this month. They are:

William Kent Krueger's 14th in the Cork O'Connor series, Windigo Island. (Note to library: It is easy to say Windingo instead of Windigo; I've done it myself, but come on, you are a library staffed with librarians. Why is this book listed as Windingo Island in your system?) (No. I have not yet made peace with the library!)
I love Krueger's books and am a big fan of the O'Connor series, however, this book seemed a little less 'complete' to me than the others. Not necessarily hurried, but less fleshed out. Which is a funny way of saying it since this book is about the problems of sex-trafficking on the reservations of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Cork's oldest daughter is brought in to help her dad in this case of finding a missing girl and a love interest is introduced for her. Looking forward to seeing how that goes and reading the next in the series.

Ruth Rendell has been a favorite author for some time. Her books are classified as psychological thrillers and while The Girl Next Door was certainly psychologically interesting, I wouldn't call it a thriller. Sixty years after a group of children discover and play in a series of tunnels in their neighborhood outside London, a box containing the skeletal remains of two hands, one male, one female, is discovered in one of the tunnels during the construction of a house. The group of children, now in their 70's is brought back together to help police in identifying the possible murder victims. The reunion results in some interesting revelations about their pasts.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey sounded so familiar to me I was sure I had already read it or at least one of Livesey's other books, but I do not find that I have. Gemma Hardy is an orphan girl from Iceland. Her mother's was from Scotland which is where her uncle takes her to live. After his death, Gemma becomes a servant to her aunt and cousins. Winning a scholarship to a boarding school seems like the perfect out for her, but again she is little more than a servant, earning her keep at the school while trying to keep up with her classes.
Gemma's life is one of hardship set in Scotland during the 1950's and 60's. She leaves school to become a nanny, falls in love with the little girl's guardian, leaves them when that doesn't work out, faces more hard luck and ultimately does not 'find' herself until she returns to Iceland and learns more about her parents and their deaths.

The final 4.0 book was one recommended to me by my daughter, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. Author Laurie R. King also had this book on her list of books she was giving as Christmas gifts, so I really expected it to be outstanding. It always bothers me when I'm not as impressed by a book as the person(s) who recommend it - I assume I'm 'missing' something that they got but I didn't. Which is not to say I didn't like this book, I did. It is based on a real woman (Constance Kopp) and her sisters who stand up to a ruthless factory owner and his 'enforcers' and win in the early 1900's - a time when women were still considered property of their husbands and if no husband was on the scene, then they had to be under the protection of a brother, father, uncle, etc. I did admire the pluck of these women and like that the book brought my attention to this little known part of history.

3.5's - Kathy Reichs' latest Temperance Brennan forensic crime solving novel Speaking In Bones and Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride.

Bones is the 18th Temperance Brennan novel, this one a little better than the last two or three I've read. A 'web-sleuth' brings Brennan a recording of a girl obviously being tortured and tells Temperance that she believes the girl is one of Tempe's unidentified bodies. Brennan begins investigating that possibility which seems as an excuse for her to keep postponing returning to Montreal and answering Ryan's marriage proposal.

I've been catching up on the Margaret Atwood books I had previously disregarded. I read two this month and Robber Bride was my least liked, not because of the writing which is excellent, but because of the subject matter. Three women friends are each betrayed by a fourth - a woman who steals their husbands as well as takes their money and trust.
Interesting to me was that this was the third book I read this month which mentioned the Babylon Project - a super gun commissioned by Saddam Hussein and designed by Canadian artillery expert Gerald Bull. I'm sure it was in the news at the time, but I totally did not register it or have forgotten about it. I always find it fascinating when these coincidences (more than one 'happening' about the same subject) occur in my life.)

Louise Penny's latest Inspector Gamache mystery The Nature of the Beast (#11 in the series) is built entirely on the Babylon Project. Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are now retired to the village of Three Pines. When a young boy, the teller of tall tales, is killed in what was meant to look like an accident, Gamache realizes it was murder and becomes part of the investigation along with his old team. When a super-sized old artillery gun is found disguised in the forest it becomes obvious the young boy had found it. Was this the reason he was killed? Excellent story-telling; one of my 4.5's. I do not think the good Inspector is going to be retired much longer.

Finally, the other 4.5, Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. Another novel based on a true happening. A young servant girl in 1843 Canada is accused of being an accomplice in the murder of her employer and his housekeeper. She is found guilty and condemned to hang but her sentence is commuted to life in prison. The book goes back and forth in time, relating Grace's early life as a poor Irish emigrant, her mother's death and her father's alcoholism, how she obtains a job as a servant girl, loses track of her siblings, and ultimately lands in prison.
The other voice in the book is that of a young psychiatric doctor who is attempting to help her remember what happened the day of the murders and perhaps clear her of her part in the crimes. His own mental instabilities lend an interesting twist to the book. I found this Atwood book much more satisfying - again, it all has to do with the subject matter.

I'm look forward to another great year of reading in 2016, starting, hopefully with my brother's latest installment in his time will tell series, In One Basket, as well as re-visiting a couple of well-liked books from a few years ago and all the new ones that come across my radar.
Happy reading in 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Talent For Building

I've never understood where my oldest son, Douglas, got his talent for building, his passion for creating, his ability or imagination to see something and then create it.
Perhaps this quote from Charles Dickens holds a clue: "The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists."

Doug has built many houses over the years, including this authentic salt box in the woods near Des Moines:
Some of my very best Christmas and birthday presents from my son have been items he has made, like this garden gate and fence for my 60th birthday:

Not only has he built many homes, he has also remodeled many more. The one he currently has almost ready to go on the market is in West Des Moines. He told me about the wide pine floors discovered and brought back to life. I hope he takes pictures of those.

I imagine they will be just as pretty as the ones in this house in Redfield he completely remodeled a couple of years ago. 

He has also built boats, and kayaks for himself...


...as well as for his wife, Shelly. This one as he was working on it - 
-- completed, is a very pretty teal blue. (And he built the shop wherein he builds.)

He built grandson Rodney's cradle in the shape of a boat.

This year as he strove to overcome cancer and the effects of the treatments, he wasn't always able to complete the larger tasks which is possibly why he turned to a new, more manageable type of construction. I already showed the canjo he made granddaughter Lily for Christmas. 
This is a picking stick he constructed, related to a dulcimer, I believe. By the way, the desk it is on was also something made by Doug.

This is one of his latest box guitars. (cbgitty.com is his favorite source for supplies)

Another view. I think he said he has made a half dozen cigar box guitars so far. The history of these instruments goes back to the 1800's and were important in the rise of jug bands and blues. The depression era saw another increase in popularity as people could not afford real instruments.

Final view of Doug's box resonator guitar. I believe he said he got the box from his sister-in-law, Sally. It looks like it was once a jewelry box with the lock and key mechanism still part of the finished piece. I'm looking forward to hearing one of these instruments played.

The more I think about my son's talent for construction the more I think that Dickens quote is right - for Douglas, it is about the love which exists before a piece is created.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Another Unplanned Holiday Get-together

Maybe because of there was no holiday stress since we had our Christmas in July, perhaps due to the mild weather, whatever the reason(s) this low-key Christmas season was one of the best I've had in quite awhile.
There was the Festivus lunch last Wednesday and then Sunday morning Doug called to say they were coming down.

I neglected to take a picture of Doug and Shelly at the brunch table, but here is one from Christmas in July with Kari peeking around her sil's shoulder. That glass in Doug's hand denotes one of the last times he was able to swallow anything, from then until the end of October his nourishment was via feeding tube. Today he gets that tube and his port taken out. Hooray!

This may look like Doug saying hooray, but it is his impersonation of his granddaughter, Lily, saying, "No pictures! No pictures!" She does not like having her picture taken and there was a cute video of her a few days before objecting to her uncle's camera.


Speaking of the little diva, this photo shows her Christmas morning with the canjo her Grandpa Doug made for her.

Here's a photo of it in progress as Doug was making it. The one string picking stick is just part of Doug's current creations. More about that tomorrow.

Shelly brought us a plate of whipped shortbread. I had seen her recipe for this on Facebook a few days before and thought "I'll bet that is really good." And, oh my, is it ever. It really does literally melt in your mouth. The recipe is here if you're interested.
The ones with the mini chocolate chips were for Bud; mine are the plain ones. (He had already eaten two of his while I still had four of mine left when I took the photo.)


Topics of conversation were far-ranging but when they turned to Doug's current passion for making cigar box guitars I started wondering if I still had any adaptable boxes. I remembered one old cigar box but couldn't immediately put my hands on it. (It's in a box somewhere in the garage. At least I remember what the box I'm looking for looks like. Ha!)

I brought in this old box for him to consider. It is one I got from the country church I belonged to. It is handmade and so old instead of hinges on the lid it has leather straps. At one time it had a leather strap for a handle but the handle is gone and only pieces of it remain. Two little hooks on each end kept the lid closed.

The interior of the box was divided into two compartments. I wonder what this box's use was? I don't remember if there was anything inside it when I found it in the church basement and asked if I could have it. (I always did have a thing for old wooden boxes.)

On the inside of the lid you can still read CB&Q, the railroad (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) that once traveled through our area. I know that many things were re-purposed and made from railroad shipping boxes. My Mom had a blanket box that her Dad had made from a CB&Q shipping crate.
We made out the stamped lines to read "6 - 6 lb. boxes almond chocolate(s)".  It will be interesting to see what this box guitar looks like when Doug finishes it.


One final photo, this one of two books Douglas brought me. Does this boy know his mama, or what? A mellow, stress free, happy holiday season after all.















Sunday, December 27, 2015

Taking A Sunday Drive #8

The first time we set foot in Washington State it was just so we could say we'd been there in order to cross it off the list. We were on our way home from visiting Kari and Ken in Portland. They had told us about the Washington Stonehenge so we knew just where to go. We crossed the Columbia River on Hwy 97 toward Maryhill and followed the signs to Stonehenge Drive.

The Maryhill Stonehenge, made of concrete, was commissioned by businessman Samuel Hill as a memorial to Klickitat County soldiers who died in WWI. The full-scale replica of England's Stonehenge was completed in 1929.

The next time we visited Washington State was again on our way home from Portland in late September last year. This time we decided to take the Washington side of the Columbia River in order to see some new sights as well as hook up with I-90, the 'northern route' as we called it.

We left Kari & Ken's in morning rain. The clouds were hanging low over the Columbia River Gorge.

Phoca Rock seen from the Cape Horn overlook. This landmark was noted and named by Lewis and Clark during their Expedition (November, 1805). It has also been called 'Lone Rock' and 'Sentinel Rock'.

Not long past Cape Horn, the sun began to break through resulting in this rainbow seen out the back window as we drove down Hwy 14.

I believe this picture was taken near Wishram, WA, named for the Wishram tribe of Native Americans who once lived along this side of the Columbia. What the structure is on this little spit of rock I have no idea. I want it to be something to do with the Wishram descendants and their catching and drying of salmon.

Turned away from the river now and headed toward Yakima and then Spokane. Bud got this amazing view of Mount Rainier off in the distance.

No photos of the eastern side of Washington, the landscape of which is so very different than the western side. I could not help but think of one of my favorite reads.....



.....East Of The Mountains by David Guterson. I passed my copy of this book on to a classmate who lived in the area and reminded me of the book's protagonist. It is a book I plan to re-read after my next trip to the library.




There is an area of Washington I would still like to visit - again after reading about them - the San Juan Islands.

It is an area my son has talked of sailing. If there was any way I could afford it, after the year he has had vanquishing cancer, I would give Doug a trip to sail the San Juans. We'd make it a family adventure, picking Kari up in Portland and taking her along.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

It's That Time of the Year

And now it comes, the time of year between Christmas and New Year's when all seems at a standstill - the old year done - the new yet begun.


Christmas is over and with it all the hustle and bustle and stress; the preparations - gift buying, wrapping, baking, sending greetings, family tensions, spending too much, the searching for that perfect gift - trying so hard to make every detail just right for everyone else while neglecting one's own needs.

Ah-h, time to relax, to reflect, to contemplate the New Year's Resolutions! (Lose weight, be a better person, organize that closet, be kinder, volunteer, take a class, etc., etc. etc.)

When I was still a working woman, i.e., gainfully employed, it seemed like the week between Christmas and New Year's was a dead space. Often the head honchos took the entire week off; very little actual work got done.
I was working for Edwards and Kelcey Engineering, a New Jersey consulting firm doing a feasibility study for the Iowa State Highway Commission, when the above photo was taken in December 1973. My 30-hour a week job was considered part-time, so I may have had much of that week off. My 'bosses' weren't in town very often anyway.

Two years later, 'official photo',  same dress, different job - Director of Public Relations and Alumni Affairs at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. (Now Des Moines University.) The faculty and students were gone for the holidays. Did we shut the whole campus down? I don't remember. If I did go in to work there wasn't much that had to be done.

I remember buying this outfit specifically for job interviewing. I would have sworn it was for the one with The Graham Group, but the photo is dated on the back as September, 1987. That means I was still at Wright Tree Service in West Des Moines, even though I had begun looking for a new position.
Wright Tree was one job where there was plenty of work to do between Christmas and New Years. In addition to the month-end accounting tasks, there was also moving the previous year files into storage boxes and making up file folders for the new year. Some management personnel might have taken the week off, but most of the clerical staff was present and busy.

The following February I did wear the above outfit to an interview and got the job at The Graham Group in downtown Des Moines.

Instead of a cubicle, I had an honest to goodness office with four walls and a door. I got to decorate my space as I pleased. This was the last place I worked in the big city. It was my favorite place of employment. I was there for almost eight years before moving back home to be near and help out my Mother.
End of the year at Graham Group was very quiet once the office party was over. Most of the executives did take the week off or only came in for part of the day. The policy there was you could not hold over any vacation time, you had to use it or lose it. I rarely had any vacation time left, so to work I went. It was actually a very mellow time to be in the office. I know I used the time to make up new files for the coming year and any other tasks of that ilk. I had seven different sets of books, therefore seven different sets of file folders and computer binders.

Now there is very little I have to accomplish during this week after Christmas and before New Year's. I just have to remember to send my youngest grandchild's birthday card and be sure to get a new calendar for the coming year. Easy-peasy compared to years gone by even though it still seems as though this week is one of limbo.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Festivus Celebration

December 23 - the day of a "Festivus for the rest of us" and because as a family we now celebrate Christmas in July, today's small, impromptu luncheon was perfect.

We did not have the traditional Festivus "airing of grievances" but we did have much laughter and teasing when the two youngest grandchildren began telling on one another.

Gifts were not to be exchanged, but daughter-in-law Shalea brought us some homemade goodies as well as this Star Wars helmet containing a Star Wars t-shirt for Bud.....

.....and these Bath and Body Works products and a very pretty Swarovski Elements bookmark for me.

Not sure what Devin was doing here, trying to read his Mom's tea leaves?

What are the crossed arms poses of Grandpa and Grandson telling us? One body language site says crossed arms can indicate the person is feeling comfortable and relaxed. These two had been having some really good 'guy' conversations, so yeah, comfortable and relaxed.

 No question that Dominique loves her Grandpa Bud. These two share a love of running. Bud is proud that Dominique is in her freshman year of running for Cornell College and Dominique is proud of her Grandpa for running seven miles on his 70th birthday last month.

Shalea with her two youngest. Devin is a senior in high school, 18 years old next week and will be the last to 'leave the nest'.
It is always fun when the family gets together, but Bud and I both agreed that having just the three here was very nice. We were able to visit more with each one - something you can't do when there is a crowd.

We will be having a quiet Christmas Day, but perhaps see all the family over New Years. In the meantime, today's non- commercial Festivus celebration, lacking in any family tensions*, was perfect.

(*Unless you count Dominique's telling some of Devin's secrets.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Preparatory to tomorrow's luncheon, I was baking a cake this morning. After I put it in the pan I banged it on the counter a few times before putting it into the oven.
From the other room: "What's going on out there? Are you making something?" "I'm baking a cake." "What kind of cake are you making with all that noise?" "A pound cake." Ha! Ha!

"Actually, it is a caramel cake and I'm just making it the way I was taught to make cakes - banging the pan on the counter to settle the batter and get any bubbles out."

"Heavens to Murgatroyd! Isn't this the way you make cakes?" First of all, Bud doesn't m(b)ake cakes - don't know if he ever has. And secondly, where did that 'Heavens to Murgatroyd' exclamation come from? It has to be something I heard my Mom say or even one of the Grandmas.

Googling the phrase tells me that it dates to the mid-20th Century, first being spoken by Bert Lahr in a 1944 film Meet the People. So, it is possible I heard it as a young child. More likely I am remembering it from a TV cartoon.

 Snagglepuss was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character introduced in 1959. He was a pink mountain lion whose catch phrases were "Heavens to Betsy" and "Heavens to Murgatroyd" - both exclamations of surprise and "Exit, stage left!" when he needed to escape or leave the scene quickly.

Heavens to Murgatroyd! It looks like I didn't thump all the bubbles out of my cake! Oh well, the frosting will hide them. The cake is cool enough to frost now - milk chocolate frosting on a caramel cake. Doesn't that sound good? We'll find out tomorrow.

As an update to last Wednesday's 'Dreaming A Decision' post, I had the shot in my knee this morning. Is it my imagination? My knee already feels pain free. Do the shots work that fast?

And I won the daily cribbage game.

And WHO-TV used my 'Pink fog in Creston this a.m.' photo on the 12:45 weather cast.

Heavens to Murgatroyd, I'm having a good day. Time to Exit, stage left!

Monday, December 21, 2015

No Indian Summer This Year?

I've waited all fall for Indian Summer. I had learned something new about it that I wanted to share. But I don't think Indian Summer occurred this year. Did it? Did I miss it?
Indian Summer is that period of summer-like warmth after we have a hard freeze. Here that usually happens by late October, first part of November.

My flowers on November 2. Nope. No freeze yet. That was the same day I washed all the windows.

It was November 21 before we had our first snow of the season. Until then we had only had two nights when the temperature got down below freezing - and both of those were 31°.

The pond one week ago - open water and green grass. Two days ago the water was frozen over. Today it is open again.
Winter begins tomorrow. If our weather stays as nice as it has been, can we still have Indian Summer even though it is officially winter?

Oh, that new thing I learned and wanted to share? Another name for Indian Summer is Goose Summer. From Goose Summer comes the word gossamer - a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs wafting on the air, especially on warm Autumn days.

This is the night of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Tomorrow the days will begin growing longer. But this has been such a mild fall, I've hardly noticed the long nights. (It was still 50° when we went to bed last night.)

Nevertheless, I know I will welcome more daylight.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Taking A Sunday Drive #7

I was so happy when my daughter moved from Minnesota back to Iowa, then in 1994 daughter dearest decided to move to Ohio; perhaps not the wisest decision she ever made. Let's just call it a learning experience. However, it did give us a chance not only to see her but also part of Ohio.

We went the first part of June. I was so excited to take Kari's birthday presents to her. She was collecting blue glass at that time in her life and I had found some neat pieces for her at an auction. She seemed happy with them.

We had planned to camp while there but after one night of camping on the way out we changed our minds - the temperatures were unseasonably HOT - more like July or August than June, so we opted for a motel with air conditioning and a swimming pool in Troy which was about ten miles from where she was living.


I remember one of the first things I noticed about Troy was the beautiful fountain in the middle of downtown - and the fact that the water was PINK.
When I told Kari about it she was perplexed. She had been there and the fountain wasn't pink.

Later we learned that the fountain had actually been much brighter, strawberry red in fact, the weekend before for their annual Strawberry Festival. The light pink was the remnant of it going back to normal.


It was too hot to do much walking around so much of our sightseeing was done by car. Unfortunately I did not record what this building was.
I liked the area because the buildings were obviously so much older than in Iowa.




This neat old water tower caught my eye.



As did this old cemetery along the road between Covington and Troy.






We did spend some time touring Bear's Mill near Greenville. It was built in 1849 and still operates as a working grist mill. I remember bringing some of their flour home for my mother.


The four-story mill is situated along scenic Greenville Creek.
Part of the first floor of the Mill is an art gallery featuring local artists as well as housing the Market at Bear's Mill featuring gift items and the meals and flours ground there.
(You can see many more photos on the Bear's Mill Facebook page.)



Before leaving town for home, Kari took our picture at Greenville Falls on the west edge of Covington.

Then we stopped in Englewood, a suburb of Dayton to visit with relatives, Gladys and Joe Stearns. Gladys' father, Roy Gray, and my grandfather, Joe Ridnour were first cousins. I grew up knowing Gladys' mother, Nellie, and brother, Don quite well as they came to Iowa at least once a year and we visited them in Plainville, IL.

I was very happy when Kari decided to move back to Iowa. Surprisingly the people who had rented her apartment when she left had moved out and we were able to move her back in. After only a few months away, she was right back where she started from - just down the street from me - slightly older and quite a bit wiser.

Thanks to Kari we saw a part of Ohio we would not have otherwise seen. This morning on CBS's Sunday morning ending segment, "We leave you now..."

Hocking Hills State Park in Southeast Ohio was featured. I've already put it on my "if we go back to or through Ohio 'want to see' list." Any time of year would be fine with me, but the winter scenes like this one of 'Old Man's Cave' have a beauty of their own.