Saturday, October 31, 2015

My October Reads, 2015

Seven books read in October, three 3's, a 3.5, two 4.5's and that promised 5 I mentioned at the end of my September reads review.
When Preston and I went to Corning to visit some of the favorite places of his childhood, the public library was one of those places. It was nice to be back in the library where I spent so many hours before moving to Creston. I couldn't help but browse the new books shelves and there was one of my favorite authors, Adriana Trigiani! I had wondered before that day if there was any way I could still have a Corning Library card even though I'd moved so I decided to ask. Could I? And what would it cost? I could. And it didn't cost anything. Yay! The Trigiani came home with me as well as the Lowell.

All The Stars In The Heavens is the story of Loretta Young and Clark Gable and the affair they began during the filming of The Call of the Wild. By the time Loretta discovered she was pregnant the affair was already over. Besides, Clark was still married. Ms. Young decided to hide the pregnancy, have the baby and later adopt the little girl whom she named Mary Judith; to be called Judy.
There were insights into old Hollywood as well as Young & Gable, but I did not enjoy this book as much as I usually enjoy reading Trigiani. The book reminded me of another recent read by Kate Alcott, A Touch of Stardust which was about Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. There were many similarities which made me wonder about the timing of the two books. This is one of my 3.0 ratings.

Elizabeth Lowell is a new author for me. Perfect Touch is set in and near Jackson, WY. It is a romance/mystery. Art dealer/designer testifies for a ranch owner over some paintings his former step-mother and half brother are fighting him for. Writing was okay but seemed like any other book of this genre; nothing special about it. I gave it a 3.0.

As a rule I adore Alexander McCall Smith's books about Isabel Dalhousie. The Novel Habit of Happiness is the 10th book in this series. I have always liked Isabel's philosophizing and amateur sleuthing what she refers to as her interferences but for some reason this book just didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm tiring of the character or perhaps the author is? This one is the third of the 3.0's.

Before leaving on our trip I went to the Creston Friends of the Library book sale and stocked up on some books to take with me. That way I didn't have to worry about damaging or losing a library book during our time away. Pictured are four of those I bought.

William Kent Krueger is a favorite author of mine for his Cork O'Conner series, though I also like his stand alone books of which The Devil's Bed is one. Most of Krueger's stories are set in Minnesota, as is this one.
FLOTUS (First lady of the United States) Kate Dixon returns to Stillwater to be with her father (a former V.P. of the U.S.) after he is injured in an accident. Secret service agent Bo Thorsen suspects the accident was part of a trap to lure Kate home and then to kill both her and her father.
In-fighting among the various agents and departments charged with protecting the two leads to more problems for Bo. Then he is set-up as the murderer of his own boss and has to operate undercover and on his own to catch the real culprit. Rated 3.5.
Krueger is a fine mystery writer. I am happy to discover Corning library has a complete set of his Cork O'Conner series which I will now read my way through completing the ones Creston library doesn't have.

Josephine Tey was a Scottish author I had heard of but never read. At the aforementioned book sale I saw a half dozen books by her, all of them the Scribner paperback versions in pristine condition. I picked out two that sounded good: The Franchise Affair published in 1949 and Brat Farrar Copyright 1950. I can't help but think that as I was learning to read these marvelous mysteries were being published. Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh, considered one of the great mystery writers of all time. She died in 1952.
 Alan Grant was a series regular. The Scotland Yard Inspector does appear in The Franchise Affair though he is not the one to solve the crime a mother-daughter pair is accused of.
Brat Farrar is a stand alone book about a young man tempted into posing as someone long thought to be dead in order to claim an inheritance and estate.
Both these books were lovely mystery reads and I gave them both a 4.5 rating. Oh how I wish I had purchased all those Tey books at that book sale!

Ta-Da! At the bottom of the pile my highest rated book - the first 5.0 I've given since February - Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, also purchased at the book sale. Even though our library still has this novel on its shelves, I'm so glad I bought this copy. You see, I purchased a highlighter pen just so I can re-read this book and mark all the beautiful passages therein. Something I hardly ever do. (Usually I just write down significant passages or share them on Facebook.)
I had just started this book before we left on our trip. So confident was I that I would finish it in my usual two to three days that I took three other books along with me. (I didn't get to any of them. I was savoring this one book instead of gulping it.)
When I did finally get to the last pages shortly before we got home, I said, "Bud, just so you know, I'm going to cry." I don't think it was even the story-line(s) (this is a novel within a novel, within a novel [one of them science fiction]). Perhaps it was because it was the story of two sisters, one whom dies at a young age. Mostly I think it was because of the beautiful prose.
"Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the river-bank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red. It's the first week of October. Season of woollen garments taken out of mothballs; of nocturnal mists and dew and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs; of snap-dragons having one last fling." Imagine reading that passage the first week in October and seeing sumacs along the roadsides, many with their candles the color of old blood.

The narrator of the book is an old woman remembering the days of her youth and that of her sister. It is told by weaving the three stories together and going back and forth in time. One of the final passages is especially significant today, All Hallows' Eve: "You'll knock. I'll hear you. I'll shuffle down the hallway. I'll open the door. My heart will flutter. I'll invite you in. You'll enter. I wouldn't recommend it to a young girl, crossing the threshold of a place like mine, with a person like me inside it -- an old woman living alone in a fossilized cottage, with hair like burning spiderwebs and a weedy garden full of God knows what. There's a whiff of brimstone about such creatures: you may even be a little frightened of me. But you'll also be a little reckless, like all the women in our family, and so you'll come in anyway."

5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 5.0 - This book is going to be so yellow from all the high-lighting.

Friday, October 30, 2015

30th Anniversary Celebration Trip

End of September, first part of October a trip of more than 3,500 miles for two equally important reasons: 1) to see our son and his partner in New York; 2) to cross those last few states off our 'lower 48 list'. Somewhere along the line we decided this nearly two-week-long trip would also be dubbed as "celebrating our 30th anniversary" - even though that's not until November 19.
It might have been while we were in Niagara Falls when we decided to call it that, which reminds me of this photo of Canadian money I received in change while there. The $5 note is Canada's smallest bill and feature's the likeness of former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier (1896-1911). What is so interesting about their 'paper' money is that it's not paper. It has a plastic-like feel and is almost indestructible (and washable). How long before the U.S. catches on to this? The shiny part to the right is a hologram of the PM and a building on Parliament Hill (Mackenzie Tower). The coin on the left is a Loonie ($1) and on the right a Toonie, or Twoonie ($2).

After leaving Gettysburg we drove back down into Maryland to scenic I-68. It was while on this road I saw something I'd never seen before - the opposite side of the interstate was closed down due to:
an oversize load. This photo is of two other large loads we saw - like to know what was under those wraps. The one that closed the interstate was MUCH LARGER and had all kinds of official vehicles escorting it. Traffic behind it was at a standstill for miles. Would really like to know what was being transported that was so important to close an interstate in the middle of the day and command so many highway patrol cars as escorts.

Because we did not know how long we would stay at Gettysburg, we hadn't pre-booked a room for the night. Finally decided to stop in Morgantown, WV and found a room at an older, but nice, Best Western. It didn't have a hot tub but it did have an indoor salt water pool - a first for me.
Leaving WV and headed back into PA for awhile. Morning mist rising from the hollers.
Back in WV again, crossing the Ohio River at Wheeling. Did you know part of Wheeling was built on an island? Neither did I.
Last night on the road. Settled in to our suite and enjoying a glass of wine. The points we had earned with my Choice Hotels membership were enough for a free suite at Comfort Inn & Suites in Urbana, IL. We are used to free breakfasts at our hotels while traveling but this was the first time we had ever been told there was a complimentary light supper for guests. And we had a hot tub and pool - a nice way to end our trip.
Beautiful sunrise as we left Urbana. Only 373 miles to home.
Crossing the Great River Bridge over the Mississippi and into IOWA. So glad they replaced the old Highway 34 bridge into Burlington. It was scary to cross.
HOME. One of the sweetest words. Looks like the impatiens survived. 30/100's of an inch of rain in the gauge while we were gone. Time to unpack, do laundry, grocery shop - adjust back into the real world.
What a wonderful trip it was - high on the best trip list.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Can I Say About Gettysburg After Learning My 3XGreat-Grandfather Fought and Was Wounded There During Pickett's Charge?

When Bud and I did our first big trip 'East' in 2008, we planned on visiting several Civil War battlefields and even though we got as far north as Antietam I didn't care about going another 47 miles to Gettysburg. I wasn't interested. Everyone goes to Gettysburg.
Then when we began planning our trip to the Northeast I wanted to see if I could find any information about my great-great-great grandfather, John P. Hull, who I knew from his tombstone in Corning had come from Vermont.
At least I knew he had served in a Regiment of Vermont Volunteers. It hadn't even occurred to me that he might have been in the Civil War but when I googled his name I found a website with a slightly different middle name but which matched all the other details I had. And on that website I learned he had been at Gettysburg, PA July 2 & 3, 1863 and was wounded in the fighting during Pickett's Charge.
I did find the name of the town he lived in or near in Vermont (Cambridge) but that no longer mattered; I wouldn't go there, I would go to Gettysburg National Military Park.
We arrived at the Museum and Visitor Center around nine Tuesday morning. I thought they might not even be open yet but the main parking lot was almost full. It must be crazy around there during the summer months and on weekends.
I was asking Abe his opinion of the current presidential candidates vying for his party's nomination. He didn't have much to say about Trump. Well, to be honest, he didn't have much to say, period.
After touring the museum and book store (which, heads up, is where I purchased my gift for next year's Christmas game [I can name at least three who would love it]), we decided to do the self-guided auto tour. I took 80+ pictures mostly of monuments and vistas from both sides.
The Virginia Memorial depicting General Robert E. Lee mounted on 'Traveller'. This statue is on Warfield Ridge overlooking
this field across which 12,000 Southern soldiers attacked in what is known as "Pickett's Charge".
View of "Devil's Den" and the "Slaughter Pen" from Little Round Top on the Union side.
It was while on Little Round Top we happened upon living historian Mike Reetz in his role as Brigadier General Horace Porter, aide-de-camp to General U.S. Grant. Not only did he pose with me for a photo, he directed us to the Vermont Memorials by pointing out this large monument far in the distance:
and saying the Vermont monuments were nearby. The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest of the state memorials. It stands along Cemetery Ridge, the Union battle line on July 2, 1863.
I spotted this spire and said, "That's got to be the one. It's made from (Vermont) marble." Sure enough it was the 14th Vermont Volunteers monument. I was so excited to have found it. I had Bud take a number of photos of me. Then we got back in the car and I thought, "I'd better make sure I had the right regiment number." I had written it down before leaving home. Wrong monument. We needed to find the 13th Regiment.
 Which wasn't hard, it was just down the line. And behind it and the fence was this smaller stone:
showing the 13th VT positions under Colonel Francis V. Randall. The story about Lieutenant Stephen F. Brown shown atop the state monument is here:
on one of the four bronze markers telling the story of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The 13th Vermont Regiment was a nine-month volunteer unit. Their enlistment was almost over when they were ordered to Gettysburg. Most of its time was spent in the defense of Washington, D.C. in and around that city.
Ten days after they fought to repulse Pickett's Charge which was the turning point at Gettysburg, they were back in Brattleboro, VT. They were mustered out July 21. I do not know how badly my 3x's great-grandfather was injured or if he suffered any lasting effects from his wound. The average age of the Unionists at Gettysburg was 23. Grandfather Hull was 43. His daughter, my great-great grandmother, Agnes, was 12 when he went to war. Her little sister, Alice, was two.
Visiting Gettysburg is one of the best experiences I've had. If you ever get the chance, GO.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Times Square, 30 Rock, Lunch @ Junior's

Our second day in Manhattan was a little less energetic. It involved walking in Times Square, which evidently did not impress me as I took no photos. It was mostly other tourists walking around and street performers hoping for tips. I think I'd already seen too many live shots and photos of the area to be duly impressed.
Before we ever left home Mark had said we would probably have lunch or dinner with Juliet's parents - possibly causing me the most anxiety other than the driving in NY traffic. I had worries about what to wear, what to talk about if they looked down on us rubes from the Midwest, etc. etc. It turns out the only other person more anxious than I was Juliet - she was afraid we might not like her parents!
It could not have gone any better. We liked them and they liked us. It was a very fun lunch and I would enjoy seeing more of these two totally comfortable, down-to-earth east coast denizens. Juliet's younger sister, Chloe, who is an actress, was also there. Yep, liked her, too. Now the family member I really hope to meet someday is Linda's, Mom, Juliet's Grandmother.
Our lunch was at Junior's in Times Square - noted for their cheesecakes and desserts. Before eating I really planned on having some honest-to-goodness New York cheesecake, but I was too full after eating. Smarter heads prevailed and we got one piece of cheesecake and shared it among those of us who love cheesecake. It was perfect; just enough and I'm so glad I had the NY cheesecake experience.
Rockefeller Center was the afternoon destination. I told the kids I probably wouldn't go up to the top because of my fear of heights. But I also told myself I would try it - maybe!
One of the building's art deco motifs: "Wisdom and Knowledge Shall be the Stability of thy Times."
The bling that caught my eye while waiting in line for the elevator to take us to the top - a several storied chandelier.
A view from the top (69th floor observation deck). That tan building right in the middle is the one that impressed me - so ornate on top. I'm still hoping to discover the name of this building.
Bud's very good photo of the Empire State Building. Our time in NYC was coming to an end. After this we went back to our hotel, bid the kids good-bye, organized our suitcases and loaded what we could in the car ready for leaving in the morning.
Which turned out to be the wildest part of the whole weekend. Bud set Susie to take us to some town in New Jersey - which is REALLY where I lost any faith in Susie - I could have charted a better course out of town. I knew we were in trouble as soon as Susie took us back into Manhattan. Technically rush hour was over but that's when all the delivery trucks take over the streets. After many times of 'recalculating' and redirecting we finally made it to the Lincoln Tunnel and into New Jersey.
That hour plus getting out of New York and into New Jersey almost made me physically ill. It's a nice place to visit when you want to see your son, but I could not live there.

New Jersey was our next to last of the lower 48 states to check off. Technically I had been there once since I landed in Newark on the way back from Ireland in 1994.
We would dip down into Delaware in order to check off our last state and even that turned into an adventure due to less than ideally marked roads. I wish I had taken a photo of the narrow two-lane Susie (her again!) had us following. But we made it. In thirty years we have been to every one of the lower 48 states.
On the way to York, PA to overnight before going on to Gettysburg, we passed many scenic Amish farms. I was most interested in the pulley clotheslines.
One end was at 'normal' height while the other(s) lifted high up on a pole or the side of another building. Does the height help them dry faster? Or just keep them out of the way? It was something I'd never seen before and found it perplexing.
We also saw both boys and girls operating what looked like bicycles that were made into scooters which they were standing on with one foot and pushing with the other. Why don't they just ride bicycles? Ahh, when I google that question I find that some Amish in central PA are not allowed to ride bicycles. And who says traveling isn't educational?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Taking Manhattan" P.M. of Day One

Battery Park is a much smaller (25 acres) bit of green in Manhattan than Central Park. Located on the southern tip of the island, it was our afternoon destination after warming up and filling up. For a small park there was lots to see not all of which I'll write about or show photos of. (Google it. The history is fascinating.)
Just to get it out of the way, the first photo I took in lower Manhattan, the new One World Trade Center. We did not go there. I did not want to go there - my feelings are too complex.

When we went to Charleston, SC in 2014, my one biggie was walking on the battery - just like those Southern Belles I'd read so much about.
It never occurred to me that I would one day also walk on the battery in Manhattan.
Bud waited until the ship was out of frame before he took his Statue of Liberty photos but I wanted one with it next to the statue because of Doug's love of sailing. I want to call this ship a sloop but it has more than one mast. So, a Cutter? A Ketch? A Schooner? A Brig? ?????
Close-up of the circular sandstone wall of Castle Clinton, also known as Fort Clinton and Castle Garden, built in 1811 as part of the defense of New York City during the War of 1812. It was later used as the first immigration station where more than eight million people arrived in America between 1855 and 1890 after which Ellis Island became the immigrant inspection station.
Castle Clinton is now a National Monument. In the past, when it still had a roof, it was used as a theater and an exhibition hall and from 1896 to 1941 housed the New York City Aquarium.
The old aquarium was the inspiration for Battery Park's newest attraction, The SeaGlass Carousel. This picture is Juliet telling Mark, "I want to ride!" The ride consists of thirty glowing fish which rotate, rise up and down and change color.
Some of the rotating fish changing their glowing colors with the trees and buildings of New York reflected in the glass, including......
.....the James Watson House and the Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton across the street. In the late 1800's this house served as a safe haven and way station for young immigrant women, many of them Irish, entering the United States.
"Would you like to see where I work?" Sure. "It's just a few blocks from here. One of those tall buildings around here somewhere. Just another block or two." Uh-huh. Now I'm ready for a car ride again.
Back to Queens and Mark's apartment for dinner. The Manhattan Bridge across the East River.
On a scale of one to ten, our first day in the Big Apple was a definite ten! It had been interesting, fun, informative and amazing that my knee held up. The absolute best part of the day was spending it with Mark & Juliet.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Taking Manhattan" A.M. of Day One

Saturday morning began just as Friday - rainy and cold. Even the pigeons were seeking shelter under the eaves of the St. Patrick's church across the street from our hotel.
I was awake early, looking out the window to see what the day was like when I observed several young men getting into a BMW below. One of them crossed the street to the driver's side of a parked car. He looked around surreptitiously and then began, what looked to me like, trying to break into the car. He kept glancing around to see if anyone was watching. I thought, "he's either jimmying the car door or chancing a $50 fine for a misdemeanor". When he walked away zipping up his jeans, I knew my second guess was right. Yep. I was in the Big City.

When we began talking about the possibility of visiting our son Mark and his partner, Juliet, I admitted to them that I was fearful of the idea.
Juliet said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you" and what a wonderful job this native New Yorker and our former small town boy did. They came to our hotel to get us, arranged a car to pick us up and take us to our most desired tourist  destination - Central Park.

We entered the Park, I think, around 66th Street. I know the kids got us as close as they could to the things we wanted to see because I wasn't sure how much walking I would be able to do.
The first photo I took was of this rustic wood structure. Juliet said she used to sometimes do her homework here. Cop Cot, which is Scottish for 'little house on the crest of the hill' was constructed in 1985 - a reproduction of one of the early wooden structures found in the park in the 1860's.
The Balto Statue, an homage to the sled dogs which delivered life saving antitoxins to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak in the winter of 1925, was one of Bud's must sees. He and Mark took turns posing on the well-polished statue. This reminded me of our trip to Oregon last year where Bud also posed on a dog:
Bud astride 'Ribsy' at the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park, Portland, OR (27 Sept, 2014) Another theme?
Strolling the famous Central Park Mall. Scene of so many movie and TV shots.
My Central Park must see, Bethesda Fountain (Angel of the Waters) and Terrace. I blogged about it here on my birthday two years ago saying it 'almost' made me want to go to New York. Even then I did not believe I would ever actually be seeing this in person.
So many statues in Central Park's 843 acres - this one The Falconer by George Blackell Simonds.
I don't recall having ever seen pictures of this pretty bridge. I assumed because of its color that it was a newer structure. It isn't. The cast iron Bow Bridge was designed in the mid-19th Century. It was seen in one of my favorite movies, The Way We Were. If it hadn't been so many years since I watched the film, I might have recognized this beautiful bridge.
Even on a cold, rainy day there were so many tourists around the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, all waiting their turn for a photo op. I was surprised at how politely everyone took a turn, standing back until it was their turn and stepping aside once their photos were taken.
From here we headed out of the park, ready for warmth and sustenance. We exited via....
....Women's Gate one of the original twenty 'gates' leading into the park located at 72nd Street and Central Park West - across the street from The Dakota. (Which was draped and covered with scaffolding, thus no picture.)
Here we caught a taxi and headed for Mark's surprise lunch location....
....Tom's Restaurant aka Monk's Cafe in the Seinfeld sitcom series. The food was delish and it was good to get warm and dry.
A short walk from Tom's is The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine known among other things for its annual Blessing of the Animals.
Then another taxi or Uber ride to the P.M. of day one. (To be con't.)