Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Reads II

With all the cold, snow and ice January brought, I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. On the other hand, the weather was quite conducive to reading. Since January 13 I have read: Three 'Agatha Raisin' mysteries by M.C. Beaton. These are entertaining, quick reads set in England's Cotswold District. Agatha is a 50's something woman retired from the London PR rat race. She vacillates between loving the charm of village life and being bored by it. Missing the fast paced work world may explain her penchant for solving mysteries. One way or another, Aggie is involved in murder and mayhem. The three titles are: "The Murderous Marriage", The Wizard of Evesham" and "The Fairies of Fryfam".
Meg Rosoff is another London author new to me. "The Bride's Farewell" tells the tale of a young woman in 1850's England who flees home before dawn on the day she is to wed her childhood sweetheart. Pell joins the stream of humanity on the road to Salisbury Fair hoping to find work. She has sworn to never marry, to never bear child after child and become the drudge she saw her mother to be. Her experiences and the outcome of the book make for an entertaining read. Rosoff is a Carnegie Medal winner for "Just In Case". I would like to read that as well as her two other books, "How I Live Now" and "What I Was".
I had to wait three months before finally getting Kathy Reichs' "206 Bones" from the library. This is her twelfth Temperance Brennan novel. It took me a few chapters to get into the book and at first I didn't think it was as good as her previous eleven books (all of which I've read). The story line explores what could happen if a forensic colleague sabotaged work in the lab. 206 bones refers to the number of bones in the human body. I still find Reichs work fascinating and will continue reading all her novels and watching "Bones" on t.v.
In keeping with one of my New Year's Resolutions to read some non-fiction, I read Martha A. Sandweiss's "Passing Strange" the biography of Clarence King. King was a nineteenth-century scientist, geologist and author who helped survey and map the American West after the Civil War. Much is known of King's public life, of his friendship with Secretary of State John Hay, and his membership in many of New York's finest men's clubs but very little is known of his secret marriage to Ada Copeland, a black woman and former slave and of their five children. It is this secret life which history professor Sandweiss attempts to uncover. And while at times "Passing Strange" almost felt like a novel, I still found myself slogging through to finish it.
"Souvenir" a first novel by Therese Fowler completes my January reads. "Souvenir" is a "what might have been" story of a young woman who chooses family responsibility over her own desires. In order to save her parents' farm, she marrys for money instead of marrying her childhood sweetheart. Seventeen years later when she is confronted with her own mortality, she once again has to make choices.
When these seven books go back to the library tomorrow or the next day, I am going to try really hard not to bring seven more home with me - opting instead to read a few of my own books - including Mark's xmas gift, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog".

Saturday, January 30, 2010


By definition, a hobby is a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in for relaxation. I guess that is a pretty good description of my photography. If I could have combined wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a photographer into a successful career, that is who I would have been.
I can remember Mom letting me use her Kodak Box Camera a few times. My own first camera was probably a Kodak Brownie 127 - something I bought to take pictures of Doug when he was a baby. That was replaced by a Kodak Instamatic which I had for many years. Having a 35 mm camera was always a dream but not a reality until I was in my 40's and had grandchildren. Spending a hundred dollars on a camera was beyond my budget until then. My first 35 mm was a Pentax.
One of my daughters-in-law joked that the grandkids only knew me as "that woman behind the black box". I do have lots of grandchildren pictures!
Right around the turn of the century I used my xmas bonus money from work and splurged on a Canon Rebel 2000/EOS 300. It felt quite extravagant to spend $400 on a camera. I was still taking lots of pictures of grandchildren, but more often I was trying for artistic scenery shots. (Like the ones above.)
Two years ago I decided to join the digital age and bought a Canon PowerShot A550. I wanted to learn to use it before we took our three week tour east of the Mississippi. I took both Canons on the trip. The size of the A550 made it easier to take along if we were hiking any distance but I still took several rolls of film on the Rebel 2000.
Photography will never be more than a hobby for me. It is one I enjoy tremendously. I seldom go anyplace without a camera - usually both of them. The few times I do leave them home I will invariably see something I wish I had my camera to take a picture of.
Now if I could just make myself go through all those boxes of pictures and write on the back of them where they were taken and when and who/what of and why......

Friday, January 29, 2010

Things I Remember Hearing About....

Without a doubt, the most influential thing I remember hearing about during the time I grew up was "The Great Depression". Not only did I hear about it, I lived with parents and grandparents who had survived it. And while we are experiencing trying economical times right now, they pale by comparison to what our parents went through during the '30's. There were no FDIC or unemployment compensation benefits.
I remember Doug's Grandpa Botkin saying they would have lost their farm SE of Prescott if he hadn't had a Banker's Life (now The Principal in DM) insurance policy he could borrow against to make his loan payments.
I remember my Mom's habit of saving everything because "you never know when you are going to need that". Instead of jeans with holes in the knees being a fashion statement, we wore jeans with patched knees. When a garment was finally worn out, Mom would save the zipper, buttons and any good material from it. The material would be incorporated into a patchwork quilt or joined with other bits to make an apron. (Her thrifty habits rubbed off on me. I became almost as much a 'saver' as she was.)
Shoes with holes in the sole were taken to Ashenfelter's Leather shop to be re-soled. If the heels were worn, they would be re-heeled or a metal plate might be nailed on the worn side to build it back up. (I remember having metal replacements put on high heels and how they tap, tap, tapped as I walked.)
I remember Dad talking about working for 50 cents a day picking corn for Ira Bosisto. I also remember Ira (we called him Irie) as an old man living with our neighbors, Glenn & Etha Shearburn. They did not have a phone so when he wanted to use a phone, he walked up to our place.
One night when Grandma Lynam was babysitting us we were sitting around the kitchen table playing games. The folks must have been out with Dean & Crystal Firkins because their son, Norman, was there with us. Ron & Normie were always picking on Betty and me. That night they were trying to scare us by telling ghost stories. I thought I heard something. When I looked up at the east door, there was an awful face looking in. I screamed...and screamed....and pointed.
Ira had opened the outside porch door and walked in. He hadn't knocked, or we hadn't heard him. Grandma opened the inside door. He asked to use the phone. I was embarrassed about screaming, but I had been REALLY scared - sure it was the boogeyman.
I remember hearing about The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. November 11 began with unseasonably high temperatures - 60 degrees. Kids were out of school for the holiday. Sportsmen were in marshes or on islands in the Mississippi River hunting ducks and geese. A strong wind came up driving waterfowl before it. Hunters didn't want to leave the sudden bounty. Rain began falling, quickly turning to sleet then blinding snow. More than 160 people lost their lives, many of them duck hunters. I don't know if anyone my folks knew died, but they did often talk about the Armistice Day Blizzard.
I also heard stories about the "winter of '36" - how cold and snowy it was; how many weeks they were snowed in, unable to go to town for supplies. The bad winter was followed by a dry and hot summer. I wonder if that is what is ahead for us this summer after our cold and snowy winter?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are You Going To Salisbury* Faire?

"Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme,
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.." (*Scarborough Fair-Simon & Garfunkel)
Salisbury Faire began as a fund raiser in the courtyard area at Salisbury House in Des Moines. Kari & I attended the first one. It was small, but eventually grew to a large, well attended space in Waterworks Park. Crossing the footbridge over the Raccoon River added to the ambience of their Renaissance Faire. The top picture of Kari, Doug and me was taken at one of those faires.
I was introduced to my first Renaissance Faire at what remains my favourite - the Minnesota Renaissance Faire - by my daughter when she was still a resident of Minneapolis.
I had no idea what to expect. She told me I could wear my jeans or "dress up" which is what she did. We arrived before the opening and waited in line. It was a lovely fall day. I still remember heading toward the information booth and being encountered by a nice looking man in olde tyme attire. "Ah, my fair lady, how art thee this fine day?" He continued flattering me suggestively. I hadn't been flirted with for a very long time. "Hm-m-m....maybe I still have it," I thought.
Kari was enjoying all this immensely. When we walked away she just had to burst my bubble. "You know that's part of his job, don't you?" Drat.
We stayed at the fair the entire day; viewing all the shows (including seeing Gallowglass several times. Little did I know one of that trio, Ken Larson, would be my future son-out-law) and staying for the closing drumming/dancing ceremony.
I have attended many Renaissance Faires since then - several times in Minnesota, once at the Kansas City Renaissance in Bonner Springs, almost all of the Salisbury Faires in Des Moines, twice at the Iowa Fair campgrounds and twice at the new permanent Renaissance grounds in Des Moines near Sleepy Hollow.
As Kari introduced me to the fun, so have I introduced my grandchildren. The bottom picture is of Doug, me and Kari in back and my granddaughters, Kathryn and Deise in front. We were on our way to the Minnesota Renaissance. I have also taken Alyssa, Katrina, Zachary and Dominique to various faires.
After my first experience, I began dressing up. It adds to the fun. I still haven't been able to get the "talk" right and my knees no longer allow joining in on the Scottish dances, but I'm always up for going to "Scarborough Faire" wherever it is being held.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maam Cross

My trip to Ireland in 1994 was a dream come true. I had thought about it so many years. I had a list of places I "had" to see. Connemara was on that list.
In my desire to see as much of Ireland as possible in two and a half weeks, I did not have advance reservations. I drove as far as I wanted, took as many side trips and stopped at as many spots that caught my eye as I wanted. When I was ready to stop for the night, I looked for a B&B sign. I never had any trouble finding a bed for the night. The only time I did not stay at the first B&B I stopped at was in Oughterard. I did not like the "feel" of the first B&B so went on to another.
That turned out to be a lucky move. The next morning at breakfast I overheard some other tourists talking about going to a horse sale at Maam Cross. It was a rainy morning; not the best for walking around outside as I had planned. Plus, stopping at a horse sale would give me a taste of everyday modern Ireland.
On the way to Maam Cross I saw the bridge where one of the scenes from the 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara movie "The Quiet Man" was filmed. I also had my picture (top) taken in the doorway of the 'typical' Irish cottage that had been constructed for the movie.
When I arrived at the horse auction in Maam Cross I walked around looking at all the horses for sale. I saw the people from the B&B and talked with them. They had purchased Connemara ponies in the past and shipped them to the United States where they raised them to sell. Apparently my being seen with them marked me as a possible buyer because I soon had the man on the left in the bottom picture trying to sell me the yearling colt he had brought to the sale.
The biggest problem against him convincing me his horse was the best for me to buy, other than the fact that I wasn't there to buy a horse, was my inability to understand him. County Galway is one of the largest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas in Ireland. The gentleman was speaking English but with such a heavy Irish accent I had to keep asking him to repeat himself. I did finally make out that his horse wasn't yet gelded and that if he did not get it sold that day for the price he wanted, he would have to take it home and incur the additional expense of the gelding. I finally convinced him that I wasn't there to buy; just to look.
That doesn't mean I didn't find a horse I would like to have bought. I had read a book about a Connemara mare sometime during my impressionable years and ever since had dreamed of owning one. The middle picture is of the Connemara Mare I picked out that day at the Maam Cross horse sale. She and the colt at her side sold for 650 pounds - about $975 at that time.
I figured it would cost much more than that to have the mare and her colt shipped to Iowa or another of my Irish dreams might have come true.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Powell Gardens

The first time we saw Powell Gardens located about twenty miles east of Lee's Summit, MO along Highway 50 was in 1992. We took Mom to visit my brother Les and family in Warrensburg. At that time Powell Botanical Gardens were just beginning to be developed. The area where Bud posed with the rabbits was in a picnic area across a small lake from the garden area and gift shop. The parking area was limited, but uncrowded. It only took an hour to see all there was to see.
Fifteen years later during a weekend visit with my brother, I toured an entirely different Powell Gardens. The parking area was huge. Shuttles were available to take visitors from their cars to the visitors' center. If the rabbits hadn't still been there, I would not have been able to orient myself.
The top picture is of the Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel. It is across the lake from the visitor's center, gift shoppe, cafe, conservatory and education buildings. A dinosaur exhibit was featured during the August weekend Les and I were there. With map in hand we set off to see if we could find all the different species. The path led across the lake via the island garden then on to the rock and waterfall garden on the other side. While it was fun to find the dinosaurs and watch little kids doing the same, it was more interesting to me to see all the different flowers and plants.
We did wait for a trolley to take us over to the Chapel. (I think it was more than a mile to walk there.) We stopped at the perennial garden on the way back before taking the trolley to the new fountain garden to end our tour. We were there several hours, but in no way saw everything.
I highly recommend visiting Powell Gardens in person if you can. But until you do, you can get an idea of them by going to: You won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Twas the Month After Christmas and All Thru......

the little three room house on the old Leatherman Place, a new creature was heard. It was January 25, 1919 when Ruth Voneta Ridnour first stirred. She is in the middle (and cutest) of the three little girls above.) I don't think I ever asked if she was named for anyone or even where the name 'Voneta' came from. Her mother's middle name was Verda (meaning 'fresh'), maybe she made up a name beginning with V so they would have the same middle initial.
By the time this picture was taken, the family of five had moved to a slightly larger house east and north of Villisca near the Middle Nodaway River.
Another move was made before she started school - east and north of Tenville - to an area known as Hacklebarney. So often when I was young I heard of Hacklebarney. It took on a mystical meaning. I imagined it as a magical place. I know it was significant to her. Seventy years later she could still name all the other kids she was in school with, finding and corresponding with one girl who lived in Washington State.
From Hacklebarney the family moved to a place near Guss - the first house south of Maple Grove Cemetery on the east side of the road. I don't think they lived there long before they moved about two miles east of Guss which is where they lived when she attended Mt. Pleasant School.
Mom only went to school through the eighth grade, but she had to take the eighth grade twice because she did not pass math. She always disliked a teacher, Florence Cronwall, and I think that is why. But she also talked of spending the night with her teacher, Mrs. Cronwall, so she could attend the county spelling contest in Bedford. I think she placed first or second for her grade. She was an excellent speller.
Some other things I remember her telling me: she was deathly afraid of going swimming because she had nearly drowned when she was 16; she had a dog named 'Poochie'; she liked the color red, but not blue; she loved to climb upon the barn roof with her sister Lois; she was a pall bearer at the funeral of her little six year old cousin, Macy Juanita Inman; she helped her Dad bring new born lambs into the house so they wouldn't freeze during the extreme winter of '36; she knew how to 'chord' on the guitar and played at a few dances; her older sister, Evelyn, was the seamstress; her younger sister, Lois, liked to be outside helping their Dad, and Mom was the family cook. She began at age ten and loved to cook the rest of her life.
I will always remember my Mom on this day as I will always miss her. Adriana Trigiani expresses my feelings in her book, Big Stone Gap: "No one worries about you like your mother, and when she is gone, the world seems unsafe; things that happen, unwieldly. You cannot turn to her anymore, and it changes your life forever. There is no one on earth who knew you from the day you were born; who knew why you cried, or when you'd had enough food; who knew exactly what to say when you were hurting; and who encouraged you to grow a good heart. When that layer goes, whatever of your childhood goes with her. Memories are very different and cannot soothe you the same way her touch did."
Mom had a way of caressing my brow when I was hurt or when she was putting me to sleep. Over and over from eyebrow to ear she would soothe me. I did the same with my children. Not long ago, my granddaughter, Katrina, told me she remembers me doing the same with her and now she soothes her baby the same way. I love that that little part of Mom is being passed on to her great, great grandson.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Adams County Free Press

The Adams County Free Press, "Serving the Area Since 1882", has always been a part of my life. As it has, I'm sure, for almost anyone who ever lived in Adams County Iowa for any length of time.
During my senior year in high school I was on the staff of the school paper. The Smoke Signal was printed by the Free Press. I had toured the Free Press and watched the paper being set and printed while in grade school. While that was interesting it wasn't until my involvement with the school paper - delivering copy to be set, picking up galleys for proofing, pasting the lay out and finally picking up the papers for distribution - that I became interested in being a writer.
There was a time in the early '60's when I "wrote" the Fairview news for the Free Press. (Each community in the county had a correspondent to report happenings from their area.) It was during that time that the editor, Paul Gauthier, mentioned to me the possibility of my doing some real writing for the paper, but that never materialized.
In 1995 when Bud and I were planning to move from West Des Moines back to the Corning area, I saw an ad in the Free Press for a bookkeeper. I answered the ad. I interviewed. I got the job. I began work at the Free Press November 1, 1995. I had mentioned during the interview that I would be interested in trying my hand at writing. It wasn't exactly writing, but owner/editor Dan Field gave me the job of choosing the topics for the "When You and I Were Young" section. The "Items of Interest From Free Press Files" covered the corresponding weeks of 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 & 50 previous years. The section was two columns wide and the full length of the page. For me, the best part of that job was reading all those old papers. There was so much more to them then. Even in the 1950's the paper was still two sections and as many as 16 to 20 pages each week.
It wasn't long before I had my first real writing assignment - a feature article on the Annual Christmas Tour of Homes. I would interview and write about one of the families whose home would be decorated and open to tour. From then on I had about one feature article a month published. I also began covering the school board meetings.
As much as I liked working at the Free Press, my time there was measured in months. The lure of a full time job with benefits was too great and I left for greener pastures. But not before I was acknowledged in print, by the editor, as "a writer".
There doesn't seem to be much of interest to me in the old hometown paper anymore. But I love to go online at and read about the good old days.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Floods of '93

Our back yard, bottom picture. Top picture, Bud on front deck. Kari in flood waters.
The forecast for today called for heavy rain and warmer temperatures which would melt some of the snow pack. Combined rain and melted snow could cause flooding. I began remembering the floods of '93.
When we purchased our little two-bedroom bungalow on 4th St a half block south of Vine in West Des Moines in '87, we knew we were buying in the flood plain. Flood insurance was a requirement. In talking with the neighbors we heard stories of flooded streets and water several inches high on the outside walls of homes. We even saw that ourselves a couple of times after a lot of rain. No big deal.
When the phone rang Saturday morning July 10 and a friend asked if we needed any help moving our things out of the house, I was surprised. She said they had heard people in Valley Junction were evacuating. I told her I didn't think we needed to worry.
Kari had transferred to WDM from Edina, MN when Barnes and Noble opened a store in West Des Moines. She was staying with us until she found an apartment. Most of her possessions were stacked in our screened back patio. She and I had plans for the day so we left mid-morning and did not return for several hours.
Bud quickly caught us up on the news - downtown Valley Junction store owners were moving out as much inventory as they could and sandbagging around their buildings. Homeowners south of us were moving out possessions in whatever pickups and trucks they could borrow. We still were not too concerned, but decided to move Kari's boxes off the patio which was three to four feet lower than the rest of the house - just in case. Then we moved our cars several blocks away up on a hill.
We watched from our front deck as the water inched its way higher. Then there was a line of cars and trucks speeding north past our house. We heard "the levee broke." Suddenly there was a flood of water rushing up our street and spreading around the houses. I had read of fear causing people to lose control of bodily functions, that was the first and only (so far) time I experienced if for myself. I was scared.
But after the initial whoosh of water, it slowed down. Our friends called again offering beds for the night at their house. We thanked them, but said we thought we would be ok. In the dark we watched as the water slowly and steadily climbed higher around us. We decided we should evacuate. We put the bird and cat upstairs in the attic, piled as many things as high as we could on top of beds, dressers, cupboards and table, then called our friends. Yes, their offer held. "We're on our way."
The front deck was still above water. We locked the door and prepared to wade out to our cars. Just then some men came up the street pulling a boat. They shined their flashlights on us. "Do you want to leave?" Yes, we did. They brought the boat up against our deck. The three of us with Kari's two cats stepped off the deck into the boat.
The next day we drove as far as we could toward our house. National Guardsmen stopped us. We showed proof we lived in the area and were allowed to go in. Bud offered to wade down to our house so I could stay dry, but I had to see for myself what was left. The water was just below the top of the deck. We opened the door to see if it had been inside the house. Everything was as we left it. We lucked out.
The back porch/patio was under water. The crawl space under the house was full of water; within 5 inches of the trap door. Inside the house was dry. Such a relief. When the water began to recede we found all kinds of trash and belongings in our yard. I cleaned the back porch with water out of our rain barrel. West Des Moines did not lose their waterworks as Des Moines did, but we were under a strict ban to conserve water.
About a week later at 4:00 a.m., we were awakend by a fire truck driving through the neighborhood advising everyone to evacuate. This time the danger was from Walnut Creek to our east. Those waters did not come as far as 4th St. Once again we were lucky.
I had always loved the sounds of thunder and rain. But after that experience it was a long time when I woke up in the night and heard rain that I didn't feel dread.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Black Irish

This picture of my Dad, Louis, with his sister Leona and parents, Bessie and George Lynam was taken May 2, 1945, four days before Dad's 28th birthday.
Grandpa George's grandparents, William Lynam and Catherine McDonnough both immigrated from Ireland. Grandma Bessie was a Duncan. I have her grandparents traced back only as far as Virginia but I have always assumed they were Scottish.
Dad had dark hair and blue eyes so when I learned the term 'Black Irish' I thought that applied to him. According to legend, Black Irish are the descendants of Spanish Armada sailors who were shipwrecked off the west coast of Ireland in 1588. (According to one web site, the term Black Irish is purely an American term - it is not found in usage in Ireland.)
As a teenager I found it interesting that two Lynam brothers who are distant cousins of mine displayed both the black Irish looks and the more traditional Irish looks. The older of the two had red hair while his younger brother had dark hair.
Another definition of the term "Black Irish" which seemed to fit my Dad even better was depression. A dour, pessimistic Irishman was said to be black Irish. Dad suffered from depression during the years when any type of mental illness was a stigma to be denied. There was no prozac for him.
Whether depression is hereditary or not is still being debated. From the number of experiences within my family, I think it is possible. I never gave a name to my bouts of depression, merely referring to them as 'bad days.' Winston Churchill referred to his as the "Black Dog".
I may be Black Irish or being chased by the Black Dog or perhaps it is just day after day after day of fog and dreary weather, but I'm ready for some sunshine.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


This Saturday, January 23 is the Iowa Caucuses. Even though they are being held on a Saturday for the first time, attendance will likely be small as it isn't a presidential election year.
I attended my first ever caucus two years ago at the age of 64. I thought that would be considered old for a first time caucus attendee until a 93 year old man said it was his first caucus, too. It was an interesting experience. Even though I have always voted in presidential elections I had never before participated in the choosing of a candidate. I caucused for Hillary Clinton. I almost caucused for John Edwards. I'm glad I didn't.
Memory can definitely play tricks on one. I swear the first time I voted for a president was for John F. Kennedy in 1960. But that isn't possible. The November 8, 1960 election was ten days before my 17th birthday. I guess I wanted to vote for him so much that I have convinced myself I did.
I grew up in a Republican household. Dad voted Republican. He tried to influence the rest of us to do the same. I may not have voted for Kennedy but I'm sure I tried to convince my parents to. I remember Mom and Dad coming home from voting and Dad saying something about there being two more Republican votes. When he went in to the other room Mom said, "He doesn't know who I vote for behind that curtain." She did not say she voted Democratic but that was the way I took her comment.
Much has been made the last couple of days about Republican Scott Brown winning the Massachusetts senate seat held by Democrat Ted Kennedy for so many years. Is it the first crack in the Democrats armour? Will the Republicans take back control in 2012?
Through the years there have been times when I have gotten very riled and emotional over politics. I'm beginning to believe it really doesn't matter who gets elected. The country seems to be so evenly divided that nothing ever really changes - it's partisan politics either way.
I might be disenchanted with politics, but I will continue voting as long as I'm able. The women who came before me, who fought for the right to vote, endured much to give me that right, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Le Cahier Jaune

"The Yellow Notebook"
I've kept a journal for many years. Grandma Lynam gave me a five year diary for xmas in 1955. I began writing in it January 1, 1956. "I stayed at Grandma L's last night. Dad came and got us and brought us home for New Year's dinner. Took Grandma home this p.m."
The diary was black with a border of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It had a lock and key and four lines to record each day's happenings. In 1958 I turned it into a three year diary so I had 12 lines for each day. I was a freshman then. I had MUCH more to write about. In the back of the diary were several pages for addresses. I had friends and relatives pen their own addresses and phone numbers. Grandma Lynam's phone number was 117. Our country party line number was 12F21. The Roberts cousins' was 37F25. More than fifty years later those numbers are familiar.
In 1960 I had a pink "date line" one year diary. I don't know what happened to 1959 and 1961. If I had a diaries for those years they have been lost to time. But I recorded '56, '57, '58 and '60 faithfully. I think a diary for 1961 would be especially interesting: graduation, engagement, marriage, first job. After that I was too busy being a wife and mother and working full time to have the time to keep a diary. It would be ten years before I started recording my days again. By then it was called 'journaling'. And it didn't demand a daily entry like a diary. One could write when one had something to say and the time to say it.
Somewhere I read that a journal should be loose bound so I used a spiral notebook. Then when I was reading about Jennie Churchill I read of her publishing "Le Cahier Jaune" - "The Yellow Notebook". Romantic that I was (am and always will be), I bought a fat yellow five subject spiral notebook, wrote "Le Cahier Jaune" on the cover and began a new journal. (As it happens, yellow has always been one of my favourite colours.)
I have always had a problem beginning a new journal - even a spiral notebook. I fear "soiling" it somehow - writing something I wish I hadn't; misspelling a word; using punctuation incorrectly; not being able to express my thoughts as well as I want. In other words - not being perfect. In Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down The Bones" she suggests writing each day without thinking about spelling, punctuation or even what you are writing about: "Write about anything. And if you can't think of anything to write, write: 'I can't think of anything to write about' over and over until something does come to your mind." I tried that for awhile as I rode the bus from West Des Moines to work in downtown Des Moines. It was too hard. I couldn't let myself be that free.
I have many partially filled notebooks some of them with gaps of years. I have some lovely blank journals that I'm saving for "something special" or because of the old nemesis of being perfect. One of them is a saddle tan, embossed, genuine leather, "made in Italy" treasure from my daughter. How can I spoil those ivory pages? What deserving words could I possibly write on them?
The heroine of the novel I am currently reading has ALS and is dying. She is writing a journal for her 16 year old daughter to read after she is gone. If I were diagnosed with a terminal illness would I then be able to write in this journal from Kari? Would I record my thoughts as the disease progressed? Would I try to leave words of wisdom for her?
Another prized blank book is one of hand made and hand bound pages from my friend Kristina. What could I possibly write worthy of such a fine gift?
This blog has mostly taken the place of handwriting in a notebook. It fulfills a need in me to write. But there are still subjects and thoughts too private to share. And there is still the feel of a pen in my hand as I cover a page in my increasingly uneven handwriting.
My Mom's diaries record daily high and low temperatures, wind direction, weather conditions and what she did that day; nothing about her thoughts and feelings. My journals are almost all about thoughts and feelings. Some future day when my granddaughter or great grandson reads them, I want them to have a sense of who I was.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Morning Joe

"Ode To A Cup of Coffee"
Oh coffee, my cuppa coffee
My reason for getting up.
You're better than a piece of toffee
Rich, dark Columbian in my cup.
My day wouldn't be the same
Without this strong, warm brew.
As I face the world and its game,
My coffee will see me through.
This was my entry for Bad Poet's Day, August 18, 2000. I didn't win. The judges said my rhyme was too good.
This group of family and friends hasn't celebrated Bad Poetry Day in almost ten years even though it is meant to be an annual celebration. Surely enough has happened in ten years for material for another round of bad poetry. (Hmmmm, Kari?)
I've already blogged about tea and how I learned to drink it as a child and how it was my choice for a hot drink. I did not begin drinking coffee until I was 40 yrs old. I had always loved the smell of coffee and I liked coffee flavoured candy and ice cream, but the taste? Ugh.
I don't remember exactly what Mom was doing with the hogs - feeding them, moving them, something - but her hand was too close to the boar's mouth and she got her finger ripped open by his tusk. She wasn't going to be able to do the milking for awhile. So each day I got up early to drive over and do the morning milking. When I took the milk to the house, she always had coffee made and breakfast ready. I started drinking coffee just as I learned to drink tea - half milk, half coffee and lots of sugar. By the time she was able to milk again, I had become a coffee drinker. (I now drink it black. Hills Brothers Columbian Dark Roast is my favourite.)
For umpteen years Bud and I have used the same two mugs pictured. Mine was my office mug until I retired. Preston gave it to me when I was still at Wright Tree Service. On the front: "They finally found something that does the work of 10 men...." on the back: "one woman". (Yes, my kids were raised by a feminist mother.)
Bud's mug is one I gave him for Valentine's Day the year we were married. The words on his: "For one human being to love another is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. By the accident of fortune a man may rule the world for a time but by virtue of love he may rule the world forever.
For you to ask why I love you is no better than to ask me advice on the rules of madness. Love is indeed a tender emotion and you can make it blossom with a smile. Love requires great communication between friends. Otherwise it can neither be born nor exist. It is not what you give me, but what you are willing to give me, that determines the quality of our love.
Your heart is as great as the world, and there is no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong. The more you love me the more I want from you and the less you have to give me since you've already given me all your love. When a love relationship is at its height, there is no room left for any interest in the environment; a pair of lovers are sufficient to themselves.
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. Our love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. When one loves somebody, everything is clear - where to go, what to do - it all takes care of itself and one doesn't have to ask anybody about anything.
The love we give away is the only love we keep. There is no heaven like mutual love. There is no remedy for love but to love more. One's duty is to love: and not love this or that. If you observe well, your own heart will answer. Love it the way it is. Credit to: Kenneth L. Groovwy ??
It has been a long time since I read all the words on Bud's cup. (Probably a long time since he has, too!) Some of them are almost unreadable after all these years. Now they are preserved in cyber space. It may be habit that keeps us using the same cups day after day. It may be for sentimental reasons. Regardless, I hope we have years and years left to enjoy our morning joe together.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Garden Gate

Son Douglas said he felt compelled to make this gothic style passage for me for my 60th birthday. I tried it in several different spots around the large yard we had on the farm, but no place seemed quite right. (After a couple years he came back and built a short fence for me and put up the gate.) I think he had a sense of the changes my life was going to take.
When Gail Sheehy wrote "Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life" in the 1970's, I read it avariciously. I needed some sort of road map for what was ahead in my life. Moving back to SW Iowa was something I was already thinking about. "Passages" helped foment my desire to do so.
Just as the book "Passages" ushered in the crises of my Dad's death and the upheaval of a move and change in lifestyle, so too did the gift of Doug's passage gate. My Mom died a month later triggering a deep depression in me that lasted for almost two years.
When we decided to sell the farm and move to Creston I asked Doug if he would like the garden gate back. He did and it now opens into his garden in Casey. (That is also when it became blue. Anyone who knows me knows I would never paint anything blue.) The fence around his garden isn't complete yet, but the gate is up.
Just the words, "The Garden Gate" invoke in me great possibilities: a doorway into a secret garden; a walled garden; a formal garden; an abandoned garden; a flower garden; a scented garden; a well-tended vegetable garden.
When I was a child, our garden was fenced. There was a garden gate. Maybe that is why there is a sense of adventure for me when opening a garden gate: Mom must have said: "Let's go see what we can find in the garden today."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hug Point

The entire Oregon coastline is a series of state parks and national recreational areas. One of Kari & Ken's favourite spots is Hug Point State Recreational Site. Sunday morning we left Portland northwest on Hwy 26 toward Cannon Beach. There we viewed the much photographed Haystack Rock before arriving at Hug Point.

In order to view the cave and explore the entire point, the tide has to be out. Visitors are warned about being stranded if the tide comes in before they get back to the beach area. When we arrived the tide was on its way out, but we had to wait awhile. For me there is nothing like walking along a beach looking for shells, driftwood and rocks, listening to the sound of the water breaking on the sand. I was so focused on looking down I didn't notice a larger wave coming in until Kari yelled, "Look out!" Too late. Iwas soaked to the knees. Once the tide had gone out we were able to explore the cave and then go around the point to see the waterfall and another small beach.

(Ken took the picture of Kari & I at Sunset Beach (I think) on another trip I took to OR. Bud did not go that time. The three of us drove up to Astoria for the night and came back to Portland the next day on Hwy 30 where we had a good view of Mt. St. Helens. The volcano had been emitting plumes of steam and ash prior to my visit. I was so hoping to see something happen while I was there. Amazingly, I did. It was just a small plume, but for this flatlander, it was impressive.)
Bud & I drove the scenic route along the Columbia River Gorge when we left Portland, stopping at every waterfall we found. Multnomah Falls was the largest and very beautiful, but I also liked the smaller falls like Bridal Veil and Horsetail.
Our intent had been to come home through Idaho and Wyoming, but when we ran into snow in Idaho, we took a sharp right and headed for Vegas, baby. Quite a detour, but everyone had always said, "You've gotta' see Las Vegas at least once in your life". But that is another story for another day.
All this blogging about one of our trips has me hungering for a road trip. "Oh Bud, wouldn't some Arizona sunshine feel good?"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"From The Redwood Forests...."

Our last day in San Francisco included a ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Mark had to help us negotiate the buying of passes and getting on the right train. Then it was a quick trip through downtown to the Mission District for a visit to his digs. We lunched at his favourite authentic Mexican restaurant. On the walk there we saw some of the colorful Latino murals for which the area is noted. Dinner at The Stinking Rose - A Garlic Restaurant - and a trip to The Haight closed out our San Francisco adventure.
Napa Valley wineries were calling to me, but we decided not to take the time for touring. Instead we compromised with a stop in Healdsburg in Sonoma Valley where I was able to do some wine tasting at the Windsor Wines shoppe. That turned into a lucky stop as I have used their personalized label wines as gifts several times since discovering them.
Following 101 north, we drove through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I recalled Grandpa & Grandma Ridnour's picture of them driving through a giant redwood tree on their trip in the 1950's. Naturally, we had to do the same.
In Crescent City we visited the visitor's center for information on the March, 1964 tsunami that killed eleven residents. The town is the only one in continental United States where tsunami deaths have occurred. An 8.6 earthquake in Alaska triggered the deadly tsunami waves - a natural disaster I had forgotten about.
From there we left the 101 and angled up scenic route 199 into Oregon to overnight in Grants Pass. I especially enjoyed a small park alongside the Rogue River. I would like to go back and visit Valley of the Rogue State Park.
The next day was a long, hard, fast drive (until the stretch between Salem and Portland) up I-5 to Portland, Kari & Ken. It was so good to see my daughter & Ken, her home and her adopted city. They took us to nearby McMenamins Kennedy School for dinner. And while we did not stay there during our visit, I learned a couple years ago that friends Bill & April Arbuckle did stay there when visiting their son in Portland. Small world.
The next day we experienced Portland's answer to SF's BART - the MAX Light Rail - for a trip downtown for Portland's Saturday Market in historic Old Town. I loved the "Benson Bubblers" - water fountains installed by turn of the (20th) century lumber baron Simon Benson to provide fresh drinking water downtown. Benson, a teetotaller, hoped to discourage his workers from drinking alcohol in the middle of the day.
Tomorrow - the ocean.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"I Left My Heart In San Francisco.....

High on a hill it calls to me.."
Between Tony Bennett's song and my boss's descriptions and pictures of his trip to SF, the city by the bay went high on the list of my "places I want to visit someday".
That was in the mid 60's. The flower-power and peace and love mystique of Haight Ashbury only added to my desire to see San Francisco.
Thirty six years later, 2003, I finally got my wish. (By then I didn't care that much about The Haight.) Mark had moved to San Francisco and Kari had moved to Portland. We would plan one long trip and see them both.
I booked a hotel that promised a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and was within walking distance of Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Pier 39 and the cable cars. We came in from the North and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. Even so, when we got to our room the first thing I did was open the curtains so I could take in the iconic view of the Golden Gate I had longed to see. It made me a little emotional to realize I was finally there; finally in the city of my dreams after so many years.
It was afternoon when we arrived and called Mark to let him know. He came to our hotel to begin his official/unofficial duties as tour guide. He took us to Cliff House. the Sutro Bath Ruins and China Beach then to a famous Chinatown restaurant for dinner. He would come back the next morning for a walking tour of the Fisherman's Wharf area.
After we had done all the touristy things and had lunch at Pier 39, Mark suggested taking a bus over to Levi's Plaza. The cable cars didn't run that direction. (We never did ride a cable car.) Levi's Plaza waterfalls feature is in the picture above. It was a pleasant little park in the Embarcadero area. Then he suggested climbing the stairs to Coit Tower. Beginning at Napier Lane, the stairs were a picturesque way to peak into living areas of SF we wouldn't have seen any other way. But oh my gosh, there were way too many stairs! It was a good thing Coit Tower had an elevator or we never would have gotten to the top of it for the amazing views of San Francisco. Walking down a steep hillside upon leaving there was as bad as climbing up the stairs.
Bud and I could hardly move the next day. Walking down to Fisherman's Wharf to catch the boat to Alcatraz helped limber us up some. I might have skipped that tour, but it was high on Bud's to do list. Once there, I was glad we went. Renting the self-guided tape and ear phones was a perfect way to tour the site. Back from Alcatraz Island, Bud wisely chose a taxi to take us back to our hotel.
Tomorrow - taking the BART, our last day in SF and heading to Portland.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Studying the Southeast Beltway

In the fall of 1973 I was hired as an information specialist by the New Jersey engineering firm of Edwards and Kelsey. E&K had been hired by the Iowa Dept of Transportation to undertake a feasibility study for a new highway around the south and east sides of the greater Des Moines area; a southeast beltway.
My job was to help map the area from Army Post Road on the North, south three miles into Warren County, from I-35 on the West to Carlisle on the East. I also had to generate a mailing list of everyone in the study area including absentee land owners, edit a bi-monthly newsletter and mail it to that list of people. An office was rented near the airport. When I wasn't out in the field, I was in the office to answer questions anyone might ask and show them the maps of the study area. The job was part-time - 30 hours a week - except for the times public information meetings were held. I was required to attend those evening meetings. Once or twice I even had to speak at them - not my idea of fun.
Area residents seemed to fall into two categories - for and against. Three possible routes had been established. I had people come into the office to look at the maps to see if a route fell across their land. They were ready to sell immediately. Dollar signs danced in their eyes. It was easier to deal with them than the irate ones who weren't going to give up their land for any damned highway no matter what.
E&K had an office in Minneapolis. They sent an intern down a few times to help with the mapping. His name was Bob Ford - easy to remember that name as I've always loved history. I grew up hearing about "the dirty coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jessie (James) in his grave". Young Mr. Ford had a good sense of humour and was easy to get along with.
It was harder to deal with the DOT big wigs. When I had the newsletter written and laid out, I had to take it to Ames to have it approved. Almost every time they drug their feet getting it back to me. It was outdated before I could get it printed and mailed. Gr-r-r-r!
The job was interesting and I learned a lot. Most memorable was not to talk to reporters "off the record." A Des Moines Register reporter came into my office one day asking questions about the study. I thought I did a pretty good job informing him all about it. Then just before he left, kind of as an afterthought, he asked me about my background; how I knew about highways, etc.
I just laughed and said, "Before this job, I didn't know anything about building a highway". Front page the next day I was quoted as "knowing nothing about highways". I expected to be fired if not by E&K, by IDOT. Not only did I look dumb, I made them look foolish. I wasn't fired. I never forgot that lesson, either.
It was many, many years before the Hiway 5 bypass was built around the south side of Des Moines. So many years I thought it had been shelved. I had moved back to SW Iowa. Then one day traveling up I-35 on the way to Des Moines, I saw construction taking place south of Army Post Road. A new off ramp was being built.
The first time I traveled the bypass, it was hard for me to recognize any former landmarks. The area had changed so much. I wondered how many families had been displaced; how much farm ground paved over. And I thought about my part in building the Southeast Beltway.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


light the corners of my mind. Misty water color memories of the way we were...."
Memory is such a whimsical thing - one day we remember happenings from the past so clearly, the next day, try as we might to remember something specific - nothing. It is also interesting the way participants remember the same incident differently or not at all.
It does seem that as we age it is easier to remember things that happened or things we learned at a young age more easily than more recent happenings. I suspect that is why we tend to talk about the 'good old days' more than current events.
Yesterday Bud & I were treated to lunch by my brother Ron and his wife Marge. We hadn't been together since younger brother Les's wedding to Susan in November so a certain amount of catching up occurred: "Did you see those pictures of Les's car after his accident? How was your Christmas? How long were you snowed in? Don't you need a cat? Tell me about your new car. Etc."
Then it was on to: "Do you remember Grandma Lynam having a banjo? Bill Arbuckle told me he remembers her having an old banjo with missing strings." (Neither Ron nor I could remember it.) "Do you remember so and so?" "Did she have a brother Stephen?" About that time our niece, Kristi joined us. "See what old people talk about when they get together?" I asked her. "We talk about stuff that happened when we were young."
I noticed that about my Grandmothers and my Mom as they aged. The summer before my Mom died when she didn't know me and thought I was her older sister, Evelyn, maybe it wasn't the dementia as much as it was her memories. Did I look like Aunt Evelyn? I don't think so. Evelyn was older than Mom. I had moved into the care taking role with Mom. Perhaps it was that juxtaposition that made her think I was her older sister.
I have noticed as I work the daily crossword puzzle that if a clue refers to a song, tv show, actress, geographical location or something from my youth, I will get it almost immediately. Clues referencing more recent trivia take longer for me to identify.
"Memory. All alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days; I was beautiful then. I remember the time I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is the best way to describe this morning's beauty. Frost covered everything. Even the guy wires of the tower north of the YMCA were covered in frost. This picture of Hurley Creek looks west from the Lincoln St bridge.

Frost like this is what I always heard referred to as hoar frost. I assume it was foggy last night and the cold air caused the frost to form. A meteorologist could explain it - condensation, warmer air, cold air, ice crystals formed. To me it is just plain pretty.

I do wonder about the term hoar frost. All I find is a reference to white or grey hair. I've probably taken a hundred pictures of frost and ice scenes during my lifetime; usually pictures of trees. And I'll most likely keep taking them as long as I'm able.
The top picture of frost on a window reminds me of when we were kids. We'd get up on a cold winter morning and Mom would say, "Jack Frost came to visit." We would look out on the east porch where the morning sun would be shining through the row of windows highlighting the fern-like designs.

It seemed no two were the same; just like snowflakes. The designs were so delicate, so varied. Again, I know it has something to do with condensation and cold weather, but what causes those gorgeous patterns?
Eventually we would blow our hot breath on the window, or put our warm hands and fingertips on the window changing the designs to create our own. I suppose with the new double paned windows and warmer houses kids don't do that much anymore.
It is supposed to be foggy again overnight. Another winter wonderland tomorrow? Another batch of pictures?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Getting The Chair

One of my longest running periods of work was with The Graham Group in downtown Des Moines. I started there early in 1988, working until October 31, 1995 when I moved back to Corning.
The job I applied for was a newly created position. Their head bookkeeper had been complaining there was too much work for one person. She wanted them to hire an assistant. Instead, the chief financial officer decided to lighten her work load by separating the bookkeeping for the medical buildings into a new job. Mine. He told me I would be hired to work full time even though there wouldn't be enough work to keep me busy full time for quite awhile.
Graham Group was a real estate, property management, property development company. There was also a construction company, a millwork company and an interior design company - all part of The Graham Group.
At the time, their main focus was building and managing medical buildings. I had sets of books for each one - Professional Arts in Dubuque, Mercy Medical Plaza and Methodist Medical Plaza in Des Moines. They were in the process of building Methodist Medical Plaza II and III and Mercy East at the downtown hospitals. Eventually I would also have the books for Mercy West Health Center on 116th in Clive.
The first few months working there were boring. There is nothing worse than not having enough work to do and trying to look busy. My boss even gave me permission to read some of his books. That is when I read Lee Iacocca's autobiography. One of the Graham Construction guys wanted me fired. He would walk by my office and see me reading, then complain because I wasn't working.
When the assistant to the Construction bookkeeper quit, they gave me the Interiors books to do. By the time I left, I was doing all the Medical Plaza books, Graham Interiors and Graham Millwork. I was busy and I loved it. Oh, yes, John Graham's part time bookkeeper retired and I took over doing his little bit of book work. By then he was mostly retired, coming in to the office only for brief times. He and Barbara spent summers at their home near Grand Marais, MN and winters in Twentynine Palms, CA.
One of my first tasks when I began working there was picking out all new office accessories and a new chair. I did not have to worry about budget limitations. I could order anything I wanted. I tried several styles of office chairs, everything from the small stenographer's style to the big high backed executive ones. This adjustable, swivel, brown wool upholstered one fit me the best.
Somehow the practice of taking one's chair with them when they left The Graham Group got started. Not everyone did, of course, but Joan, the head bookkeeper took hers and Sue, the construction company bookkeeper took hers and so did I.
My little brown chair went with me to The Adams County Free Press and Midwest Products. Then it became my home office chair. I think it will last as long as I do. The only thing replaced on it was the roller feet about ten years ago when one of them began loosing ball bearings.
Having the right chair when you are sitting all day long at a desk can make a big difference. I'm glad I got the chair.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

NFL Playoffs

The older you get, the faster time goes by. It is hard to believe it has been a year since I picked the winners in all the playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl last year. My only loss was the Super Bowl game when my Cardinals couldn't quite pull it off.
So far this year, my pick teams have lost. Although it is looking like my choice, the Baltimore Ravens, might win today's first game. They are leading the Patriots 24-7 at halftime.
I believe I am more of a football fan than both my brothers. It is something which has evolved over the years. Back in my highschool days, even though I went to as many of Corning's games as I could, I didn't even understand what it meant when I cheered, "First and ten, do it again!".
I began watching pro football when there was only one tv in the house. Denny was a big sports fan, so I either watched football with him or found something else to do. In fact, our son's name is a result of watching football. When we were expecting Preston we were having trouble deciding on a name. Our boy's name choice when Kari was born was Erik Deane and while we still liked the name, Denny's brother Chuck and wife Nancy named their boy Eric.
One Sunday afternoon while watching Preston Pearson as a running back playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I said, "I like that name - Preston". Denny agreed he liked it too. We had already decided the middle name would be Ruth or Louis in honor of my parents depending on girl or boy. "Preston Louis, that sounds good", I said. And Preston Louis Fleming it was.
I have attended a few pro games. I saw the Washington Redskins play the St. Louis Cardinals in the old Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis; the Denver Broncos at the old Mile High Stadium; the Chiefs at Arrowhead in Kansas City. I much prefer watching on tv. Not only can I see the action much better, it is also a lot warmer.
The team I considered "my" team the longest was the Denver Broncos while John Elway was quarterback. I still think he was the most exciting quarterback; loved his come from behind wins in the last minutes or seconds of the fourth quarter.
When Elway retired I decided to pick a new favourite team; but which one? I went with the St. Louis Rams for a very "girly" reason: I liked the design on their helmets. It was a good year to be a Rams fan: Kurt Warner was their second string quarterback who took over after Trent Green was injured. His football career was such a Cinderella story, who wouldn't love him? (Plus he was from Iowa.) Then they won the superbowl! Owzie! Warner was as exciting to watch as Elway.
I didn't watch much pro ball for a couple years. By the time I started watching again, Warner was no longer playing for the St. Louis Rams. He was playing for the former St. Louis Cardinals who had become the Arizona Cardinals. (It is hard to keep up with these teams the way they move around.) After a disappointing year with the Giants, it was being suggested Kurt's days as a star quarterback were over. That was when he led the Cardinals to last year's Super Bowl.
As long as Warner is quarterback, the Cardinals will be my favourite team. I'll be watching and cheering for Arizona during this evening's playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
I'm hoping to go two for two today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sledding on Sunset Hill

My nephew, Andrew, posted a video on Facebook of his son Nicholas sledding on New Year's Day. I was hoping I could import the video to this post. It looked like so much fun.
Sledding, sliding on the ice, building snowmen and snow forts, having snow ball fights - those were all activities we enjoyed as kids. (My grandkids have added snow boarding to that list.) The school yard at Jasper #2 didn't offer any big sledding hills, but once in awhile during the longer noontime period we were allowed to go catty-cornered across the road to a hill in Firkin's pasture.
If I remember correctly, snow ball fights were banned for awhile after Gerald Brown packed snow around a rock and threw it at my brother Ron, cutting his forehead open. I guess he didn't duck quickly enough.
Most of all I remember the sledding parties my parents hosted on Sunset Hill. (That is just the name Betty and I gave it.) There was a long, fairly steep, hill in the big pasture north of the buildings at the other place. (If you went north of the farm to the bridge and looked west about a quarter of a mile you could see the hill.)
Everyone in the school district was invited as well as some friends from nearby neighborhoods. Dad would build a big bonfire at the top of the hill. Mom would make several thermos jugs of cocoa. Seems like there were hot dogs to roast, also. We would go before it was too dark and break a path down the hill. The more times we sledded down, the faster it got. Once the other kids got there, more paths would be broken, but we knew to stay close to the main trail because there was a creek at the bottom of the hill. We didn't want anyone getting hurt.
Ron had one of the nice long Flexible Flyer sleds he had received for Christmas. Betty and I only had an old short sled which we had to take turns using. There were two ways to go down the hill, laying down and sitting up. If you had one of the long sleds, two people could go down together. The person steering would lay down while the second person pushed them off and then flopped on top. Or a little one would sit in front while an older, longer legged one would sit behind and steer with his feet. Going down the hill was oh so much fun; trudging back up, not so much fun.
There were never as many sleds as there were kids, but we shared, letting someone use our sled while we warmed up by the fire. Car lights were shone down the hill until everyone knew where the paths were, then we sledded by the light of the bonfire and whatever moon there might have been. The time I remember best was when Ed Talty strayed off the path either by accident or on purpose (showboating, I think). He went over the creek bank and dropped about six feet. He wasn't hurt too badly, but that was the end to sledding that night. It was getting late, anyway.
Maybe next time Andrew and Nicholas go sledding they can get Grandpa Ron to go along. One trip down the hill should bring back lots of memories for him.

Friday, January 8, 2010

January Reads I

Watching too much HGTV these snowy days has slowed down my reading somewhat. Here's what I've read (or am reading) so far this month:
Emile Richards "Lover's Knot", book three of her Shenandoah Valley series. I didn't realize this was book three when I checked it out. Although there were a few references to previous characters, it was not necessary to read the books in order. I enjoyed the Shenandoah Valley setting especially after visiting the area and driving the Skyline in October of '08. I hadn't considered the impact on the lives of the people who were displaced by the building of the National Park. Had I read the book prior to being there, I would probably have paid more attention to the area.
The book was well written with mystery enough to keep it interesting. I will check out "Wedding Ring" and "Endless Chain" on my next library visit. As you can see, her books have a quilting theme.
E. Annie Proulx's "Accordion Crimes" was not nearly as good as her Pulitzer Prize winning, "The Shipping News". The book follows the maker and various subsequent owners of an accordion through a century. It was more like reading several short stories with the only cohesive element being the accordion. Proulx is sometimes too dark for me as she writes about the strange foibles of her characters, but her wit and lyricism keep me reading.
Colin Dexter's "Death Is Now My Neighbor" and Catherine Aird's "Harm's Way" are both British murder mysteries. I adore British mysteries. I love the way they send me to the dictionary looking up words new to me - or to Wikipedia for the meaning of British terms I don't understand. I have always loved reading novels set in the British Isles; did some of my ancestors come from the farms and villages of which I'm reading?
Colin Dexter's Chief Inspector Morse and his long suffering assistant, Lewis came alive for me on public television's 'Masterpiece Mystery' series. I'm reading all the Dexter books our library has, then will head to Half-Price Bookstore to try and find the rest of them. "Death Is Now My Neighbor" is the book in which we find out what the E in E. Morse stands for. (Shall I spoil it for you?)
Catherine Aird is a new author for me. Our library has five more of her mysteries and I will put them on my "to be read" list.
Rita Mae Brown's "Dolley" is the last of my current check outs. It is about Dolley Madison's years in the White House and includes her famous saving of Stuart's portrait of George Washington when the White House was burned during the war of 1812. Reading well researched historical novels has long been my favourite way of learning history.
Brown also loves history and "met" Dolley Payne Madison when she sat on her grave at Montpelier in 1949 when Montpelier was still privately owned. In her preface, Brown states she researched this novel eight years before writing it. I'm less than one-fourth into the book, so perhaps should have saved it for the next January Reads.
Brown may be best known for "Rubyfruit Jungle" which sounds familiar to me, but I'm not sure I've read it. I will most likely read it and any Rita Mae Brown titles our library has.
Before that, however, in keeping with my resolution to read one non-fiction for every five fiction books, I will read "All About Tea", a Marshall Cavendish Cuisine book Gene & Kristina Young sent me for xmas. I have paged through it and it looks very interesting. By the time I read it from start to finish I expect to know more about tea than the fact that I love it.
(A P.S. about Montpelier - we did not visit either Monticello or Montpelier while in Virginia even though we were at the visitor's gate of both. Instead we opted to tour the farm once owned by President Monroe. Not only was it less crowded, the more humble home was more to my taste.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"I Always Knew You Were A Quitter"

Bud and I are both longtime Cribbage players. He learned to play down at the store in Brooks when still a child. The old duffers taught him well. His skill coupled with his luck have won him a lot of games. I did not learn to play until my late teens. Family members and others who know us know we play a two out of three tourney every day. Granddaughter, Katrina, gave us a very nice new board for xmas similar to the one above.
I will often cede the game to Bud when he is way ahead of me. He is always telling me I shouldn't give up, that even when I am way behind it is still possible to win. He says, "You could catch up with one hand." That seldom happens. A perfect cribbage hand is 29 points. Bud had a 28 point hand a couple weeks ago. He also says, "Looks like you're in the catbird seat" and "But you've got first count" often.
In our first game today Bud was only three points from going out. I was back around 11 holes. I was going to give him the game. I had first count but he is so good at pegging I knew he would peg out and win before I had a chance to count my hand. He said, "Ah, don't you want to play it?" For a change I went ahead and played the hand instead of quitting. Amazingly he only pegged two. I pegged a few and had 10 points in my hand, so I won the game! He didn't even get to say, "See, I told you." I said, "Wow, you were right!" before he had the chance.
Bud's gentle words of encouragement not to quit were 180 degrees different than those I heard from a teacher fifty years ago. John Lenz taught Latin, English and Speech at Corning High School for many years. He was also the drama and speech contest coach. I never had him for a teacher but for some reason I decided to learn a dramatic speech for contest my junior year.
I decided on the Lady Macbeth monologue 'Out damn spot' and began memorizing it. Because I wasn't in a speech class, I had to either go in early or stay after school for help from Mr. Lenz. After several sessions during which I felt he wasn't interested in giving me direction and because staying after school meant extra trips to town for my Mom or Dad, I decided to give up on the idea of going to speech contest.
The only words I remember Lenz saying when I went in to tell him were, "I always knew you were a quitter." If he even tried to talk me into staying on, I don't remember it. I just remember being very upset. (I'm sure I went to the girl's bathroom and cried.)
There have been many, many instances over my lifetime when I haven't quit; when I've kept on keeping on; doing what needed to be done. Yet those words of being a quitter are the ones that have stayed with me.
I suspect Lenz 's statement was his way of trying to make me mad and determined to keep working on my speech. Instead they scarred me for life and gave me a lasting dislike of him. How different might it have been if he had been as encouraging as Bud?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time For An Intervention?

All my life I dreamed of having a big old house to fix up. I loved Victorian houses. (Still do.) Through the years I have lived in some good sized homes. The house on Tuck Corner comes to mind. The problem was always not having the money needed for remodeling.
Another problem was that all the houses I lived in were rentals. The closest I came to owning a lovely old home was in '84. There was an acreage (10 acres) with a barn, machine shed, hog house and a huge house for sale in Taylor Co. I talked to my banker and he said they would loan me the money to buy it. I called the owner, offered $10,000 and he accepted. WOW!! I was so happy. Yes, the house needed work, but it would be mine and I could live there and work on it as long as it took.
The next day I went into the bank to sign the loan papers. The banker told me he had gone out to look at the property and that it needed too much work done for a woman alone to do. He wouldn't loan me the money. I had to call the owner back and call off the deal. (Too bad it didn't occur to me to go to another lender.) I am a firm believer in everything working out the way it is supposed to, i.e. I wasn't meant to have that house, but I still get mad thinking about that banker. And I still wonder what if I had moved there.......
What is it about the theme of fixing up an old house that is so appealing? It is used over and over in books and movies - a woman moves into an old house, starts cleaning and fixing it up, as she works on the house her life is transformed in some way. Is that the appeal? The idea of changing one's life? Or is it the idea of achieving some degree of perfection?
My dream of owning a big house was having enough rooms for all I imagined I needed: formal living room, dining room, den, bedrooms, bathrooms, library, kitchen, laundry room, still room, etc, etc, etc. Along with the big house I would have a huge yard and garden. Of course they would be perfect, too.
Maybe that is why I love watching HGTV. Each half hour I can see another space redone. Or I can watch someone choose between three homes, or see three outdoor spaces which have been landscaped and learn which owner got the most 'bang for their bucks'.
With the snow and cold weather, watching someone choose a vacation home in Mexico or Panama or on St. John isn't a bad way to spend some time. But I'm watching too much HGTV.
I'm not even reading! I need an intervention!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Down Under

We watched a Nat Geo program about Australia and the Dream Time of the Aborigines. Not only interesting, but gorgeous scenery.
Australia has been one of my dream time destinations for many, many years. I've read a lot of novels set in Australia and watched movies and tv shows about the country. I find it totally fascinating.
It is summer there now; would be a good time to visit as we are freezing in sub-zero temps, they are in the 70's-80's.
Considering the number of Scottish and Irish settlers in Australia, I wonder if I would find any distant cousins.
I've read all Colleen McCullogh's books and most of Thomas Keneally's. One of my New Year's resolutions was to read one non-novel for every five novels I read in 2010. Reading something about Australia will be at the top of the list. And it looks like my local library has several to choose from.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

How much of a role in our lives does birth order play? My Mom was a middle child. I am a middle child. My daughter is a middle child.

Mom was sandwiched between two sisters; no brothers for her. Kari and I both have older and younger brothers.

Are the roles we took on as sibling children carried over to adulthood? While we were growing up I always looked to my older brother for guidance. And while he never did have to protect me from any real harm, I still felt 'protected' by him. During the few years of our first marriages Ron and Marianne and Kenny and I were all part of the same social group. We were friends as well as relatives.
That changed when they moved to Colorado. They divorced and so did we. I still remember Ron's suppportive phone call the night after I had been to court. It meant a lot. He remarried in April and I remarried in May. We sorta' started over together. Then he and Ruth moved back to Iowa, we had children close in age. Eventually I moved back to southwest Iowa (divorced again) and once again had relatives who were my friends as well.
My relationship with younger brother Les was much different. I was ten years old when he was born. He was closer in age to my son than he was to me. Eight year old Uncle Les was Dougie's playmate. That may have something to do with why I felt/feel more 'motherly' toward him. (That feeling has only increased in the six years since our Mom died.)
I and my trusty old boat of a station wagon (packed full) moved little bro and his friend to college in Warrensburg, MO in '72. If he had told me then he was never coming back to Iowa I probably wouldn't have taken him. I assumed he would be gone four years and then come back home. Instead, he married a girl from Independence and stayed in Warrensburg, eventually working for the university he graduated from.
When Les phoned me three years ago to tell me his almost 30-yr. marriage was ending even though he did not want it to, I immediately went into protective mothering mode. The only thing I hoped for was the wisdom to say the right words - whatever they were - that he needed to hear at that time.
Our family dynamics have changed hugely in the past six years: Mom died; six weeks later, Ruthie died. Ron and I became very close again which I really appreciated. Now, both my brothers have new spouses and I have two new sisters-in-law. We have sold the family farm which was the last piece holding us all together. It doesn't feel like there is enough time left for me to really know my brothers and their wives again. They are busy with their children and grandchildren as I am with mine.
Perhaps this is all as it is meant to be. Long gone are the days of our parents and their siblings when you married once, lived in the same locale and raised your families together along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Kari's brotherly experiences differ from mine. She was 7 years younger than Doug and only two years older than Preston. Doug is her half brother while Preston is a full brother. I don't know if Doug protected her, but I know he did torment her. (Poor teddy bear, Grace.) I would say she was closer to Preston as a playmate and as a friend. But now she is separated from both brothers not only by distance but lifestyle. (No kids and grandkids for her.) Does she think of her brothers as I do mine? Loving them, but not knowing them? Remembering the years of growing up together, sharing in the loss of parents and the joy of nieces and nephews?
I may not know where my brothers are in their lives, but I know where they are in my heart.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Grandpa on the Block

Today I saw my son Doug and his new grandson Rodney together for the first time. Doug was 47 before he claimed status as a grandfather, ten years older than I was when I became a grandmother for the first time. I could tell he is pretty happy with grandfatherhood.
Doug has been enamored of boats for several years. (His dream is to retire onto a sail boat.) When he learned he was going to be a Grandpa he began building the above cradle. I hope it is one of those pieces which gets passed down through the generations. It seems pretty special to me.
My younger brother Les became a grandpa for the first time in 2009 also. He was 55 when Maya was born. Older brother Ron was a first time grandfather at age 61. Nicholas is eight now. I may have been a very young grandmother but I'm glad it happened that way because now I can enjoy the next generation as a great grandmother.
Doug reminds me of his Grandpa Botkin - he likes to tease the little kids just as Chuck did. And he is already putting Rodney to sleep by rubbing his back which is the way Doug's Grandma Lynam put him to sleep. There are traits and traditions we pass down as well as cradles.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chapter and Verse

The first time I heard my grandchildren talk about 'chapter' books, I had to take an educated guess at what kind of books they were talking about.
When I learned to read, we read at levels, grades or age. My grandchildren's chapter books fit into my age 9-12.
Not long ago a reading friend asked me what I read as a youngster. I told her about attending a one-room country school where our reading choices were limited; not having access to the town public library because I was a country kid whose parent's could not afford the library card fee nor had money for luxuries like books.
"I read and loved fairy tales," I told her. "The other book we had at school which I loved and read over and over was 'Mystery at High Hedges'." I told her how my Mom had gotten that book for me when the school closed and the contents were auctioned off and how I had realized when reading it again years later how poorly it was written. Such was my memory. I was surprised to find a preview of Edith Bishop Sherman's 'Mystery at High Hedges' online. After reading several pages, I have decided it wasn't so badly written after all. (Sadly, I do not still have my copy of the book.)
Beverly Cleary's 'Ramona' books did not come out until I was an adult even though she became a published author in 1950 while I was in first grade. My first and only 'Ramona' book was given to me as a Christmas present by my dear sister-in-law, Ruthie. I was probably in my late 30's, early 40's. It was "Ramona the Brave". I loved it. Daughter Kari was a reader of the Ramona series and later moved to Ms. Cleary's and Ramona's area - Portland, OR.
I was much more familiar with Helen Hunt Jackson's book, 'Ramona'. While I was in grade school, our library books came from the county superintendent's office. My teacher's niece (and fellow school mate), Marylin Yearington [years later my sister-in-law when we married brothers Kenny & Jim Botkin], saw the Jackson book and decided I should read it. I was in 7th or 8th grade at the time. I tried to read it, but just couldn't get into it. It was either over my head or uninteresting to me. Not only did I read it in later years, I climbed Seven Falls in Colorado Springs to visit Helen Hunt Jackson's memorial and her inspiration point.
Jackson's book was the basis of a movie and a song. Mom used to sing a ditty about "Ramona in her kimona" when I was growing up. I did not know until I heard Al Martino's 'Ramona' that it is a beautiful song. (When I was going to Dr. Overton for my pre-natal appointments before Kari was born, he always came into the exam room singing "Ramona da dum de da dum..." [obviously didn't know the words].)
The first verses I learned were the nursery rhymes read to me by my Mother and the old adages of my Grandmother's; "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner....." "Red sky at night, sailor's delight"...... Later there were Bible verses learned at Vacation Bible School.
It was one of the VBS experiences I credit for my lifelong hatred of anyone trying to finish something I have started. I have always been slow - not in the sense of mentality - in the way I do things. One early year at VBS we were supposed to be writing Bible verses on little pieces of paper then rolling them up to put in a honeycombed square. I was way behind. It came time for recess. I went outside to play with the others. When I came back in, the teacher and helper had finished my honeycomb for me to catch me up. I wanted to throw it in their faces and go home, but I couldn't. Sixty years later, I still hate it if I start to do something and someone else tries to finish it - even if I haven't touched the project for days or weeks.
The verses which have been my saving grace over the years have been verses of poetry. The 'poetry book' I started in highschool is in remnants now. It was a white spiral notebook into which I copied poems I liked. I used a straight pen with a nib and oxblood ink. Oh, so romantic.
Poetry was my tranquilizer. Whenever I was nervous, upset, on edge, mad, sad, all I had to do was read some poetry......
"We are ever and always slaves of these: the suns that scortch, the winds that freeze......