Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Reads II - Part One

While trying to find a copy of Mary Sharratt's Summit Avenue at the Half-Price Bookstore last month, I found and bought The Vanishing Point. I'll keep looking for Summit Avenue as well as her The Real Minerva. Sharratt is an author I discovered after checking her Daughters of The Witching Hill out of the local library earlier this year.
The Vanishing Point is the story of two sisters in England in the late 15th Century. The elder, May, is a wanton creature who cannot stay true to any of the young men who catch her eye. Plain young Hannah is their physician father's helpmate - learning all he knows, even assisting him in operations. She could be a doctor herself except for one thing - she is a female.
When a distant cousin in America offers his son as a husband for May - a way out for all of them since her reputation will also hurt Hannah's chances - May journeys to the new colonies with Hannah's promise to join her after their father dies.
When Hannah does make it to America instead of the "Plantation" she expects, she finds only a half-wild brother-in-law living in the woods - and three graves - one of them her sister's, a second, May's week old daughter.
The brother-in-law, Gabriel's, story of how they died keeps changing. Then a neighbor tells Hannah the rumor that Gabriel killed May because she was unfaithful, is going around. By then Hannah is in love with Gabriel and expecting his child. She chooses to believe Gabriel's version of May's death until she finds a decomposing body half buried in the woods. The woman's remains are dressed in the wedding gown Hannah helped May stitch.
It is when Hannah goes to the marked grave of May and digs up the coffin to find it empty that she knows she must take her young son and start a new life.
I really enjoy well-written historical fiction. Sharratt's novels have a mysticism about them that make them extra fascinating to me. Reading about a time when our country was first being settled is also very interesting.

Rita Mae Brown has a new series set in Nevada - complete with a new cast of characters both human and animal. Brown's writing is light and entertaining - her mysteries ones that I even can sometimes solve. A Nose For Justice is the first Mags and Pete book in this series. They are helped by the canines Baxter and King.
This first mystery has to do with water rights in a very dry region. One of the things I like most about reading is learning something I would not otherwise have thought about. The laws governing water rights are not the same in every state. Water, or lack of, is not an issue for us here in the Midwest - yet. I wonder what our laws are??

I read Ruth Rendell's newest book: Portobello. She has been writing for forty years now and I've been reading some of her earliest works. This novel is not quite the psychological thriller as some I've read, though it is interesting how she can weave together a story beginning with the finding of an envelope of money and all the characters involved in getting the money back to the rightful owner.
The first page was probably the most interesting to me: "It is called the Portobello Road because a long time ago a sea captain called Robert Jenkins stood in front of a committee of the House of Commons and held up his amputated ear. Spanish coast guards, he said, had boarded his ship in the Caribbean, cut off his ear, pillaged the vessel, then set it adrift. Public opinion had already been aroused by other Spanish outrages, and the Jenkins episode was the last straw to those elements in Parliament which opposed Walpole's government. They demanded British vengeance and so began the War of Jenkins's Ear.
In the following year, 1739, Admiral Vernon captured the city of Puerto Bello in the Caribbean. It was one of those successes that are popular with patriotic Englishmen, though many hardly knew what the point of it was. Vernon's triumph put Puerto Bello on the map and gave rise to a number of commemorative names. Notting Hill and Kensal were open country then where sheep and cattle grazed, and one landowner called his fields Portobello Farm. In time the lane that led to it became the Portobello Road. But for Jenkin's ear it would have been called something else."

[November Reads II - to be continued....]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Georgie Porgie

The Barney Lynam family circa 1900. Back left to right: My grandfather, George Albert Lynam, born this day, 1891; Agnes Lulu Lynam Thomas, April 15, 1888; William James Lynam, April 15, 1889. Middle: My great grandparents: Bernard Thomas Lynam, December 16, 1863 and Nancy Emma Gravett Lynam, July 14, 1870. In front, Ralph Vincent Lynam, November 7, 1895.

"Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie; Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away." I wonder how often my grandpa heard that old English nursery rhyme when he was growing up? I always assumed the rhyme was about one of the Kings George. Instead it is about George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628). I've also assumed George and Albert were popular names because of the English Royalty, but I don't know if that is why my grandfather was so named.

On November 15, 1914, two weeks before his 23rd birthday, George Albert Lynam and 23 year-old Bessie Lucille Duncan were married. They met while both working as hired help on the same farm. How long did they know one another before marrying? Twenty-three seems 'old' to be getting married for the first time in those days. Had either had serious romances before?
In this wedding photo, Grandma is holding a bouquet of Lily of the Valley, which doesn't bloom in November. Did they wait until spring for a wedding photo? Were the flowers fake? Did Grandma stitch her own beautiful dress? If I had asked her these questions when I could have, would I have received answers? I doubt it. Grandma was always pretty reticent to talk about the past.

This looks more like a November wedding - the photo I couldn't find for my November 19 blog about getting married in a blizzard - seventy-one years after my grandparents' November vows.

Ronald was six months old in this October, 1940 picture. He was the first of seven grandchildren for George and Bessie. Their son, Louis, had two boys and two girls; daughter, Leona, two boys and one girl. (Their other daughter, Evelyn, born between Louis and Leona, only lived four days.)

I don't have many memories of my Grandpa Lynam. I was only four when he died in 1947 - two years after this picture was taken of us at their acreage on the west edge of Corning. I don't know what I was trying to do to my baby sister, Betty. Maybe straightening her bonnet for the picture? (More likely trying to get her off Grandma's lap so I could sit there!) It had every one's attention except my brother, Ron's. He was happily sitting next to his Grandpa and smiling for the camera.
I do remember stopping to see him at work at the old Farmers Co-op gas station. And I remember hearing that he ate corn flakes for breakfast because that was the only cereal that didn't taste too bad without sugar. Grandpa was diabetic. I grew up being warned not to eat too many sweets or I would get diabetes, "like Grandpa".
What if my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents and so on had kept journals in the same way I am doing by blogging? How much I would love knowing more about them! I hope I'm giving my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a gift by telling them what I can of their ancestors.
"To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root." (Chinese Proverb)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Surprise in Remembering Aunt Evelyn

My Mom's older sister, Evelyn Grace, was born this date in 1916 - five days after Thanksgiving that year, though there were years her birthday and Thanksgiving coincided. And as we usually all gathered at Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour's for turkey day, we also celebrated their firstborn's birthday at the same time.
While looking for pictures of Aunt Evelyn for this blog, I found this one still in the plastic frame from the years ago we had some family photos copied from Grandma's originals. The surprise came when I really looked at the people in the picture and realized it wasn't Grandpa Joe and baby Evelyn with great grandpa and grandma Ridnour as I'd always thought -- it is a four generation picture! My grandpa Joe is standing in back. His father, my great-grandfather, Rufus Ridnour is holding Aunt Evelyn. The woman on the left is my great-great grandmother, Susana Whipkey Ridnour - Rufe's mother. At the time we had the picture copied, I may have known this and forgot or Mom may have said it was her "Grandma and Grandpa Ridnour" without adding the great on grandma and I never questioned it.
Susana was 80 years old in this picture. She lived to be almost 94, dying two days before her birthday in 1931.

As the eldest of three girls, Evelyn probably did her share of taking care of the younger ones. There was a little over two years between Evelyn and Ruth and a year and half between Ruth and Lois. In temperament, Mom was the typical middle child - always the mediator. Aunt Lois was the fun loving baby, which left Evelyn being the responsible leader. To me, Aunt Evelyn always seemed more strict, rigid, no-nonsense. She wasn't my favourite Aunt. Though in this picture she looks very happy. Mom looks amiable, while Aunt Lois just looks baffled.

By the time this picture was taken, Aunt Evelyn was already on her way to becoming an accomplished seamstress. (No date on photo; I would guess their ages at Ruth on the left, 9; Evelyn on the right, 11; Lois, in front, 7-1/2.)
When I worked at the Adams County Free Press in '95-'96, I wrote a feature article about my Aunt Evelyn Roberts and her many quilts. I titled the piece "How To Make An Adams County Quilt" - a take on the book (1992) and the movie (1995) "How To Make An American Quilt" which were popular then.
While interviewing her for the article, I not only learned of the more than ninety quilts she had made, I learned that she had begged her Grandmother Matilda Means to teach her to sew when Evelyn was only seven. Her grandmother told her she would, but only after they had gone to town and bought her a thimble. She would not let her sew without one.
The first prom dress I wore was one made by my Aunt. It was worn first by her daughter, Glenna, but they let me borrow it for my junior prom. It was a light green, strapless confection of lace and net. I felt like a princess. Aunt Evelyn also made some of her daughters and grand-daughters wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses as well as all those everyday clothes for four daughters and two sons when they were growing up.
Once the kids were grown and gone, her sewing passion turned to quilting. She always had a quilt in the quilting frame made by her Dad. It wasn't until after I interviewed her and wrote my article that I truly began to appreciate this aunt of mine - the life she lived, the sacrifices she made, the faith she abided by and the pleasures she found in the simplicity of needle and thread.

"Our lives are like quilts - bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love."

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Tennessee Flat-Top Box"

I often wake up in the mornings with a song firmly planted in my mind. The song is already playing as I come to consciousness. No matter the tune, I wonder why I'm thinking of that particular song and try to relate it to something going on in my life.

This morning the song was Johnny Cash's Tennessee Flat-Top Box. (Picture is of a Gibson Tennessee Flat-Top Guitar.) The song tells the story of a boy and his guitar playing in a cabaret in a South Texas Border town. All the girls from there to Austin were slipping away to hear the little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat top box.

At Thanksgiving dinner yesterday we were talking about what the kids wanted for Xmas. Deise mentioned she wanted a guitar; either a Gibson or Fender. I didn't ask whether she was talking acoustic or electric like this Fender pictured. Because either way, I knew it wasn't something this grandma would be giving her. The conversation swirled away before I got to ask why she wanted a guitar. But that could be the reason for my dream song.

The song goes on to tell how the boy couldn't ride or wrangle and never cared to make a dime. But given his guitar, he was happy all the time. Then one day he was gone. No one ever saw him around. He'd vanished like the breeze, they forgot him in that little town. And then one day on the Hit Parade, was a little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat-top box.

So the song is also about achieving dreams and goals - which was another topic yesterday as some of the grand kids shared what they want to be/do in their futures. Perhaps that is the reason for my dream song of the morning?

There have been some guitars in our family. Mom had one that I vaguely remember from my childhood - though I don't remember her ever playing it.
My younger brother had a guitar while in high school. He and some of his friends even formed a group - "The Synthetic Majority". I don't know if he still plays, but Les played at a friend's wedding and also at church.
Bud has Lottie's "Gene Autry" guitar in the closet, waiting to be given to Mark someday per Mark's grandmother's wishes.

I never learned to play, but I had dreams of doing so after I bought this guitar for $15.00 at an antique/used store in Bedford. (Photo is from 1980.) I think I took two or three lessons before the instructor moved from Corning. I didn't try to find a new teacher; I could already tell that I would probably never learn how to play regardless of the number of lessons.

I did give this guitar to Deise. I also bought a guitar for Doug to give to Brock from both of us for xmas one year when we hadn't seen him for a long time and Brock was allowed to be part of our family again.

Regardless of the reason I awakened with this song in my head today, remembering it and writing about it has helped chase away an annoying xmas song heard in one of the stores an hour ago.

"And all the girls from nine to ninety were snapping fingers and tapping toes; begging him 'Don't stop.' The little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat-top box."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Ramona's Famous Pea Salad"

We are going to my youngest son's for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. When invited, I asked what I could bring. The answer was quick: "Bring your pea salad, please." So I am taking that and a lemon-lime jello salad. I will almost always take some kind of salad to a pot luck rather than a desert because salads of any kind are my favourite foods.
There are all kinds of pea salad recipes. The pea salad I remember from youth consisted of canned peas, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, pickles and celery. It was o.k., but not really yummy.
When I worked in downtown Des Moines in the early '70's, I often bought a sandwich for lunch at the Younkers Deli. They had all kinds of deli meats and salads. One day I tried a small cup of their pea salad. It was so good; different from any pea salad I'd ever had before. I asked if they would give me the recipe. "Sorry, no." I figured my only option was to buy it there occasionally and enjoy it.
Then one day it occurred to me that I could figure out what was in it and try making it myself. It was cauliflower, fresh peas, onion and cheese in a mayonnaise dressing. Simple, right? Wrong. It took many tries before I made a passable resemblance to the Younkers' Pea Salad.
I began taking my pea salad to family dinners. My sister-in-law, Ruthie, loved it. She started requesting it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter get-togethers. One day she asked me to write down the recipe for her. I decided if I was going to take time to figure out the measurements for everything I put in it, I was going to give it a name. That is how "Ramona's Famous Pea Salad" came to be. I guess I could have labeled it "Your Sister-in-Law's Pea Salad" or some such - but once in a while I like to grand stand.
I wrote the recipe down for her, but I still don't have a copy that I follow when my kids ask me to bring my pea salad. But if you want to try making it, it goes something like this:
One head of cauliflower separated into florets. One large bag of frozen peas dumped into a colander and run under hot water a minute or two. (Do not cook.) Small red onion chopped. Eight ounces of colby-jack cheese cubed.
If I'm not making this for a large gathering, I only use part of a head of cauliflower, a 16 oz. bag of peas, a quarter cup of chopped onion and half or 3/4's the block of cheese. Today for the picture, I just sprinkled on some shredded cheddar cheese - a cup or two of which could be used in place of the cubed colby-jack.
I finally learned that the secret was in the dressing. I use about a cup of Hellman's real mayo, a half cup of milk, and 1/4 cup sugar, salt and fresh ground or restaurant ground pepper to taste. I mix everything except the cubed cheese the day before if possible so the flavors mix well. Before taking to the pot luck, I add the cheese and check the dressing for consistency and taste. If the dressing is too sticky, I just add a little more milk as well as more sugar, salt, or pepper if needed.
One Christmas after reading some other pea salad recipes, I added some pickled herring to mine. I was asked (told) never to do that again - at least not if taking it to my younger son's home.
So, my salads are made, ready for tomorrow's feast. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"You'll Always Remember Where You Were"

November is such a full month of birthdays in our families. It is a bit of a whirlwind of celebrating and remembering to send cards. So this morning when I woke up, it was with a big sigh - all the birthdays were over. Now just Thanksgiving and then I can start thinking about Christmas.
Yet there was a niggling - November 22 - I was forgetting something. Oh! November 22, 1963. Forty-seven years ago. Then the memories return - where I was; what I was doing.
I was driving my 1957 Plymouth Belvedere two-door hardtop. I had just gone around the curve past the Omar Bakery southeast of Corning on old Hwy 34. I was driving to Creston. The radio was on. The program was interrupted with a news bulletin - President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
Like so many young people, I was a huge fan of our youthful president. It was such a difference to have a family with little children in the White House. I could identify with them. My little boy was less than two years younger than John-John. For the first time, I was really interested in politics.
There was so much confusion about what was going on in Dallas. The news was that our president was in surgery. There was still no word about how serious his injuries were. I was on my way to Creston to put on a Tupperware Party. I had become a Tupperware dealer that year as a means of earning some money while still being a stay-at-home Mom.
When I got to the home where the party was to be, the hostess and a couple of early arrivals were in front of the t.v. I was at a loss for how to proceed. Should I go ahead and set up my display? Should we cancel and reschedule?
As it turned out, I didn't do much demonstrating of the Tupperware 'burp' that afternoon. We all remained glued to the t.v. even after Walter Cronkite announced the death of our President. We watched Jackie Kennedy in her blood-spattered clothes observe Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as the new President. I packed up my display Tupperware and headed home. I had just turned twenty years old four days before. I felt as though the world I knew had come to an end. JFK was the same age as my Dad.

Ten and a half years later, May, 1974, a strange and unforgettable occurrence happened in my life. I was in Washington, D.C. for the first time. Visiting Arlington National Cemetery and JFK and RFK's grave sites was very important to me.
A friend and I had been there a short time when some black limousines pulled up. Men got out of the first car and told us to move away, which we did. We were some distance away before the back door of the second limousine was opened but still close enough to tell that the woman getting out and approaching the grave site was Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
Jackie had not visited the grave very often after her marriage to Onassis in 1968. What were the odds that I would be there on my first visit to Arlington the same afternoon as one of her rare visits?
"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." JFK

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Going To Jackson"

"We got married in a blizzard. Colder than a polar bear's snout. We've been talking 'bout Jackson - or anyplace warmer - ever since." (With apologies to Johnny Cash.)
Twenty five years ago this afternoon, Bud and I were married in Waterworks Park in Des Moines. We hadn't allowed for an extreme change in weather when we planned our outdoor wedding. It had been such a nice fall - much like we've been having this month.
That morning began with heavy rain. Then the temperature started dropping and the rain began freezing on roadways and everything else. By afternoon the rain/sleet had changed to snow. But we went ahead with our plans. Luckily the other three people involved agreed to stand in the cold and snow along with us. Well, at least two of them agreed - I don't think I gave my daughter a choice.
The bottom part of the above picture shows Bud with snow all over him as we made our way back to warm cars after the ceremony. The top half is a picture of us taken after we got back to our apartment. (The photo on the wall behind us is my parent's wedding picture.)
We both agree that if we had it to do over again, we would still stand outdoors in the cold. Perhaps that unconventionality of our personalities is what got us to our silver anniversary.

The weather that day was pretty wild all over the country. Hurricane Kate was churning in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and a tornado struck southeast of Peoria, IL.

This picture of us was taken by our grandson five years ago when we celebrated our 20th. I borrowed it from Zach's face book page. He has the photo tagged: "Good old Grandma and Grandpa."
Good old G'Ma R and G'Pa Bud now have nine grandchildren and two great-grandsons. I turned sixty-seven yesterday and Bud will be sixty-five tomorrow. Our years together have had more ups than downs. His positive attitude balances my negativity. His "get 'er done" balances my tendencies to procrastinate. I don't know what I do for him -except hope we have many more anniversaries to share.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen"

"You've turned into the prettiest girl I've every seen. What happened to that funny face? If I should smile with sweet surprise, it's just that you've grown up before my very eyes. Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen." (Neil Sedaka & Lenny Gomulka)
Sixteen years ago, on my 51st birthday, I received a 'best ever' birthday surprise - a granddaughter!
Deise loved Winnie the Pooh so much that her nickname in the family was 'Pooh Bear'. It made buying birthday and Christmas presents very easy.
("If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together, there is something you must always remember: You are braver than you believe; stronger than you seem; and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart, I'll always be with you." - Winnie the Pooh)
Two months before she was born, I had experienced a life-long dream of going to Ireland - home of my great-great grandparents on the Lynam side. When I got back to Iowa, the expecting parents asked for ideas for Irish names. There were the usuals - Colleen, Bridget, Deirdre - but there were also the less known - Sinead, Fiona, Maeve. For boy's names I think I suggested Sean, Liam, and Ross. None seemed quite right for the little one when she was born - their second girl.
While I was driving around Ireland, I saw that names were in both Irish and English. Somewhere in the Lismore area of County Waterford I saw the name 'Deise'. At the time I did not realize it was the Irish name for the area - derived from the name of a tribe of native Gaelic people who had settled there, I just thought it was a pretty name. Preston and Shalea both liked it.

Which is how we got our sweet little Deise Mei. (Love this picture of my Mom [Great-grandma Ruth] holding a 'straight from the bath' Deise.) The problem for this little girl has always been for how teachers, doctor's office employees, and everyone else seeing her name written, pronounce it. Deise also could not understand why she could never find those little souvenir items embossed with her name.

I took this picture of Deise at Country Homestead B&B near Turin, IA as we set out on a hike of the beautiful Loess Hills of Western Iowa. I really don't know if having the same birthday has anything to do with us both liking the same activities or not, but it has seemed that way.
"My little tomboy now wears satin and lace. I can't believe my eyes, you're now a teenage dream. Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen."
(Deise Mei is pronounced Day-sha May.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Making Your Cake And Eating It Too

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not much for cooking and baking. Nor am I a big fan of cake. (I'm more a pie person.) But about a month ago, I began thinking about coconut cake which I do like. I decided I would make myself a coconut cake for my birthday.
At first I was going to make a round three layer cake, but to do so I would have to buy or borrow three round cake pans. Then I read a recipe for something called Coconut Poke Cake. It sounded good. It looked easy to make and I could make it in my 9"x13" cake pan. The only thing I worried about was finding one of the ingredients - cream of coconut.*

As you can see, I couldn't wait until my birthday tomorrow to try my cake after it was made and frosted. It is good. Very coco-nutty. If anything, it is a bit too sweet for me, but that may be from the cool whip frosting.
All the coconut poke cake recipes I found were very similar. Here is the one I used from All Recipes.com:

Ingredients: 1 pkg white cake mix (I used Golden Vanilla)
1 - 14 oz can cream of coconut
1 - 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 - 16 oz pkg frozen whipped topping (thawed)
1 - 8 oz pkg flaked coconut

Directions: Prepare and bake cake according to pkg directions. Remove cake from oven. While still hot, use a utility fork to poke holes all over the top of the cake.

Mix cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk together. Pour over the top of the still hot cake. Let cake cool completely then frost with the whipped topping. Top with the flaked coconut. Keep cake refrigerated.

I mixed some of the flaked coconut into the whipped topping first, then used the rest to sprinkle on top afterwards.

*Our local HyVee had cream of coconut in two places - 1) in the ethnic food section with the Mexican foods and 2) in the liquor section. Interestingly the price in section 2 was about a dollar more than in section 1. They were different brands, but both were 14 or 15 ounce cans.

After making this cake, I found another coconut cake recipe using many of the same ingredients, but this one uses sour cream in the cake and instead of whipped topping as the frosting, uses cream cheese and confectioner's sugar. Next time I want coconut cake, I will try this recipe. It doesn't sound quite as sweet and I already know I like sour cream and cream cheese better than whipped topping.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Reads I

I had to wait about six months for my turn to get Elizabeth George's new Inspector Lynley mystery from Gibson Memorial Library. I thought it worth the wait. George's books are among my favourites and I especially like the characters of Lynley and his partner, DS Barbara Havers. It is good to have Inspector Lynley back inspecting after not being in the last two books while he dealt with his grief over losing his wife and child.
It took a while to get into this story. The book begins with an old report about the death of a child (based on a real crime in England). At first it isn't clear that this has happened twenty to thirty years in the past, nor what it has to do with the present murder in a London cemetery of a young woman.
This Body of Death is Elizabeth George's sixteenth Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley novel. It has received mixed reviews. I agree with some of the negative ones especially the ones comparing this book to some of the first ones she wrote. I've noticed this with other authors, too. It seems after they have achieved a certain level of success, they say, "Time to churn out another book." That is not to say the mystery - the story - isn't a good one; it just seems the author isn't enjoying the telling as she once did.
But, I'm a die-hard Elizabeth George/Inspector Lynley fan. I'll keep reading these mysteries as long as she keeps writing them.

Shake Hands Forever is another Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford mystery. These are really becoming favorites. This one was published in 1975. It is interesting to note the differences modern technology has made in solving crimes. Also the way terrorist attacks have changed the information available regarding airline passengers and their itineraries.
I'm beginning to see why Minette Walters is compared to Ruth Rendell. They are both adept at keeping one guessing until the final pages - in some cases not only who the perpetrator is, but also who the victim is.

I read the last of the Colin Dexter, Inspector Morse novels I bought a couple months ago - The Dead of Jericho. The middle-aged Morse meets an attractive younger woman at a party. They share some wine, some conversation. She asks him to see her home from the party, but before they can leave, the Inspector receives a call from Lewis and has to leave. He knows the young woman is married, still he considers pursuing a relationship with her. Before he can make up his mind, he gets the news that she has committed suicide. But was it suicide? Or was it murder?
Then the neighbor across the street is murdered. What is the connection?
I do enjoy the Inspector Morse books now that the series is no longer on PBS. John Thaw played Inspector Morse so perfectly. It is impossible not to see him while reading the novels.

Bret Lott's The Hunt Club is so beautifully written. I could imagine myself in the mist-covered swamps of South Carolina's Lowcountry as I read about Huger Dillard and his blind Uncle Leland. Fifteen-year-old Huger's (pronounced You-gee) own father left him and his Mom when Huger was a little boy. Each weekend his mother drives him out to the Hunt Club - a tract of woods and swamp belonging to the family - so he can help "Unc" with the Charleston doctors and lawyers who come to hunt.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving hunt begins the same as usual - until a body with the head pretty much gone from a shotgun blast and the hands skinned, changes everything. A sign laying at the feet of the man identifies him as Dr. Charles Middleton Simons, "killed and manicured by his loving wife. PS: Leland, can you blame me?"
Huger is caught in a treacherous labyrinth that stretches deep into the past as he tries to help his uncle and save the family's land. The book is a mystery and a coming of age novel. I liked it so much that I checked out another book by the same author:

Ancient Highway which is a multi-generational story of a dysfunctional family. It begins with a fourteen-year-old boy leaving his family's Texas farm in 1925 to hop a boxcar heading for Hollywood and a life starring in the "flickers".
It continues in 1947 when a ten-year-old girl aches for a real home with a real family in a wide-open space, far from the crowded Los Angeles streets where her handsome cowboy father chases stardom and her mother holds a secret.
In 1980, a young man just out of the Navy visits his colorful grandparents in Los Angeles, eager to uncover his family's silent history.
The information on the inside cover of Ancient Highway says Bret Lott was inspired by stories of his own family. In the pocket of the book, on one of the "Rate This Book" slips put there by our library, someone has written, "One of the most depressing books I have ever read!" I did not find it depressing. I found a lot of hope for family healing embedded in some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read. I would rate Bret Lott's writings as among the best. I will read his other books when I can locate them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Brown Eyed Girl

"Hey, where did we go, days when the rains came?
Down in the hollow playing a new game,
Laughing and a-running,
Skipping and a-jumping
In the misty morning fog
With our hearts a-thumping
And you, my brown-eyed girl." (Van Morrison)
My brown-eyed girl is #365 in this photo. Dominique and I were at the State Fair. She was waiting to participate in the Mom Calling Contest.
She was five years old in this picture. Today she is fourteen.
I'm partial to brown eyes. In a family of seven - two parents and five children - she is the only one with brown eyes. That alone could make her special, but she is special for many reasons.

In this picture with her Aunt Kari, Dominique is dressed as a princess. It was her first Renaissance experience at the Salisbury Faire in Des Moines. We all had such a fun day.
Aunt Kari doesn't have brown eyes, so they don't have that in common, but today I learned they share a love of knitting. Dominique is just learning, but she gave me a scarf which she knit herself. During our afternoon together celebrating her birthday, we spent some time in a yarn shop. I think she found a second home. The women in the shop were very helpful in answering her questions and explaining different yarns. Another patron commented to me how glad it made her to see a young person so excited about knitting.

Hula-hooping isn't the only sport she is good at - she is a very good runner - participating in cross-country in junior high sports and road races around the state on weekends.
She has the build for a runner - long and lanky. Today I realized as we stood looking in a store window that she is now as tall as I am.
Dominique is very competitive. One of her more favorite accomplishments is beating the boys in races.

A few summers ago, we took the girls spelunking at the caves near Maquoketa. Mostly they explored the caves and Grandpa and I watched - except for the large caves we could easily walk through.
That afternoon when we visited Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery at nearby Baldwin, I was so surprised when a young woman began talking with Dominique and her sister - they obviously knew each other - but how could they know someone in that part of the state so far from home? I soon learned Dominique had loaned her flashlight to the young woman in one of the small caves they had all been exploring that morning. Just another way she is special; she is generous and helpful.

She is as deep as the waters of Three Mile Lake. She is self-possessed for her age. Her ambition is to be a veterinarian. It is a profession I think she would be good at. And I think she has the determination to become a doctor of animals.

It is going to be interesting to watch this young woman in the coming years.

Happy 14th Birthday, Dominique Danelle Fleming!

"Whatever happened to Tuesday and so slow
Going down to the old mine with a transistor radio.
Standing in the sunlight laughing
Hidin' behind a rainbowed wall,
Slipping and a-sliding
All along the waterfall
With you, my brown-eyed girl."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rodney's First Birthday

November was already a month full of birthdays in our family when last year on November 15 we added another.
My oldest granddaughter, Katrina, had her first baby - a boy - Rodney Robert.
He had a rough beginning with three surgeries and several weeks in NICU. We were so happy when he finally got to go home. He began growing and thriving.

Today family and friends gathered to celebrate Rodney's first birthday.
After Mommy helped him open gifts, it was time for birthday cake.

Katrina set the little cake before him on the high chair tray.
Rodney was very tentative at first - taking a bit of icing and looking at it before deciding to taste it.

It wasn't long before he had cake and frosting all over himself. From the looks of him, he found it to be a lot of fun.
I have to admit I didn't understand the whole "making a mess of things" when my grandchildren began celebrating their first birthdays. That was a new tradition since the time when my children were little.
Now it is par for the course. It does make for some cute pictures.

Once Rodney had his cake and was bathed, it was time to play with some of those new toys.
What a difference a year has made in our little boy. Great grandma is biased, of course, but I think he is one cute kid.
It is such a joy to be a part of Rodney's life. I look forward to many more birthdays and watching him grow and change.
I like watching my granddaughter grow in her role as Mom, too. Rodney is lucky to have her just as she is fortunate to have him.
.......a memorable first year and first birthday.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

Stir fry is a favourite meal for us. I make it the same way I make my chili - never the same way twice. I like it because I can use whatever meat and vegetables are available. It is economical because it doesn't require a lot of expensive meat. It is a good way to use up a bit of left over roast beef or pork or a small steak or a chicken breast.
For lunch today I browned a half chicken breast cut in strips in a couple tablespoons of oil. Next I added a half of a small head of shredded green cabbage and two green peppers cut into strips. Before stirring I shook the bottle of soy sauce over all a few times. After the chicken, cabbage and peppers cooked about five minutes, I added the remaining half of a 14 oz. package of frozen broccoli stir fry vegetables I found in the bottom of my freezer.
This is why my stir fry is never the same - I use whatever is available - canned mushrooms, frozen broccoli, fresh peppers - anything to fill up the wok. The broccoli stir fry veggies added taste and color because in addition to broccoli, the bag contained red peppers, water chestnuts, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms.
What makes the stir fry spicy is a new ingredient I discovered when I took Kathryn to HuHot Mongolian Grill for her birthday in August. First let me say I had never been to HuHot before and I loved it. On each table was a bottle of soy sauce and a bottle of Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce. Mae Ploy is a 'Product of Thailand' described as a mild sweet chili sauce. I tried it and liked it - the degree of spiciness was just right for me. I said to Kathryn, "Maybe I should get some of this sometime." It was possibly for sale in the restaurant, but I didn't ask.

After lunch we continued on with our shopping adventure. As we were standing in line to check out at TJ Maxx, I noticed a display of Mae Ploy sauce. (Wasn't that a coincidence!) For $1.49, I bought a 10 oz. bottle, which is what I used in today's stir fry. Like the soy sauce, I just shake the bottle a few times over the meat and vegetables as they cook. (No measuring for me.)

In the past, I have always served my stir fry over brown rice. The HuHot experience also gave me the idea of using noodles for a change. And what could be easier or less expensive than a package of Ramen noodles?

That's it; fast, inexpensive, spicy, yummy - along with a cup of Tetley British Blend hot tea - a perfect lunch for a cold, rainy, winterish feeling day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering My First Published Writing

Fifty-one years ago, I was a junior in high school. (This is my junior class picture.) We had an assignment in English class to write a theme paper. Mine was titled, "Home". When we got our papers back on Friday, October 23, Mr. LaChapelle discussed them with each one personally. He told me mine was very good and he would like to put it in the school paper (he was also the Journalism teacher) after I had worked on it and re-written it some - which I did over the next two weeks.
On November 11, 1959, I stayed after school to finish typing my essay for the Smoke Signal. I was nervous about it being published because of some of the things I wrote - like "not understanding the giggly airs of the town girls" so Mr. LaChapelle asked me if I would like to use a pen name. I chose Paula Shane - like everyone wouldn't find out that it was me!!
I wrote all about it in my diary including, "I'm so thrilled! But only secretly." The one thing I did not want to change about my essay was the title. I liked the simplicity of "Home" but the teacher thought it should be more sensational. Thus my first published writing was titled: "My Home Is Devoured".
First quarter report cards came out the next day. I was so shocked when I got a B in English! I had gotten almost all A's on every assignment and test, including my essay. He explained that he didn't give A's unless we did extra (unassigned) work. (I got A's the rest of the year.)
I felt like I really learned during my Junior English year. LaChapelle was a tougher teacher than most. I did go on to take Journalism my senior year and write for the school paper. I might even have pursued a career in journalism except for one thing my favored teacher said to me: "I can see you someday writing for the women's section of a newspaper. I was ahead of the times - women's lib - and he was behind the times. I didn't want to write about fashion and society and teas. I wanted to write news and editorials and features.
I no longer have my copy of the school paper and my first published piece, but I haven't forgotten about being Paula Shane and the thrill that came with being a writer.
I haven't forgotten.............

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This Is My Beloved

"Because hate is legislated, written into the primer and the testament, shot into our blood and brain like vaccine or vitamins

Because our day is of time, of hours--and the clock-hand turns, closes the circle upon us: and black timeless night sucks us in like quicksand, receives us totally--without a rain check or a parachute, a key to heaven or the last long look

I need love more than ever now ... I need your love---"

I first read these opening lines of Walter Benton's poem, This Is My Beloved, forty three years ago. I remember finding this small volume of verse in a downtown bookstore in Cedar Rapids. By today's standards, $3.95 wasn't much to pay for a book, but at that time in my life, it was a lot. Still, I had to own the most hauntingly beautiful poetry I had ever read.
The book is written in diary form. It covers the beginning of a love affair until its hopeful, hopeless end. Walter Benton was serving as a lieutenant in the Signal Corps of the US Army when he wrote his touching journal. It was published the year I was born, 1943.
I'm sure I stood in the bookstore and read the entire poem - then may have left only to come back the next day to buy the book. The poem was unlike anything I'd ever read. I was so naive then, but I knew eroticism when I read it. I was afraid the clerk would look at me askance when I checked out.
My twenty-fourth year was one of new discoveries. My husband and I were separated. I moved from my small hometown area in SW Iowa all the way across the state to the second largest city in Iowa. I moved away from a family support system to a place where I knew not a single soul. Having my little boy with me kept me steady, but I wanted someone to love. Walter Benton knew the kind of love I was looking for.

Arthur Prysock recorded Benton's words to a background of soft jazz in 1968. I owned this album

as well as Laurence Harvey's reading with Herbie Mann's music.
This version was by far my favourite.

I no longer have my vinyl collection. But after re-reading This Is My Beloved and remembering Laurence Harvey's voice and Herbie Mann's music, I'm thinking of ordering a CD.
"I will be forgetting you each day and every hour. Each night and day, each hour something wonderful and dear of you will ring my heart and knock upon my mind.
Each time I hear Gilbert and Sullivan -- Strauss, see ginkgo trees, read Lewis Carroll: see flowering dogwood or smell locust, acacia, sweet honeysuckle, lily of the valley ... or wild roses."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Green Depression and Other Glassware

Last month (October 7) I wrote about my small collection of pink depression glass and said I would show the little bit of green I have, someday. Today is the day. I have not had as good luck finding the pattern names of the green as I did my pink. In fact, I had no luck at all. So here is what I know about what I have. The two square containers on the left and right rear are "refrigerator dishes". Before Tupperware and other plastic storage containers, covered glass squares and rectangles in various sizes, colors and patterns were used to store leftovers in the fridge. My small one still has its lid.
The larger glass at the back is one of three that were in the top of Grandma Ridnour's cupboard when we cleaned it out after she died. Mom took two and I had one. I bought the two matching juice glasses a few years later. I call this design "Dimple", but I'm not sure that's right.
The water carafe, powder or candy dish (lower left) and the juicer were also collected along the way - garage sales or auctions. I use the juicer on a regular basis. The tiny individual nut cup (?) on the lower right I bought at an antique shop along Hwy 169 near Fort Dodge. There was a sign for "Farmhouse Antiques" so we stopped. The woman had a basement full of collectibles. I remember paying $2.00 for this.

These are three green miscellaneous pieces which I wouldn't call depression glass. The three legged jar has the "Greek Key" design around the top and may have been part of a dresser set or a flower frog with missing top. (I have two slightly larger, black amethyst, flower frogs without tops in this same design.) The vintage vase once had painted yellow flowers which have mostly rubbed off. I use this every spring to hold daffodils or yellow tulips. The little green vase in front is perfect for a small bouquet of violets.
The grey-green tea cup on the right I found while antiquing with Kari in Portland, OR. I was so amazed to find it for $2.00 because I had bought a teapot and four slightly larger tea cups in the same design at Teavana as a Christmas present for Mark and Sarah. The set cost between $80 and $90 if I remember correctly.
The cups of the Somayaki pottery have double walls - the inner wall can be seen through the cut outs (which look like hearts) around the outer shell at the bottom. This design keeps the tea warm while the outer surface stays cool. The distinctive crackle glaze is known as Aohibi.
Ohbori Somayaki pottery was established in Fukushima, Northern Japan in 1690 during the Edo period. One of the most recognizable characteristics of Somayaki is its Hashirigoma (galloping horse) motif. Bowls, cups, teapots and Saki sets are still available in this pattern.

It is strange that I only have five pieces of amber depression glass since amber/topaz/yellow is my favourite color. The sugar bowl in back probably isn't depression glass; I bought it because I love the art deco design. The sherbet dish on the right is a lone garage sale find.
The child's creamer, sugar bowl and butter dish in front is very precious to me - it belonged to my Mother when she was a girl. I don't know if she had more pieces or not. These survived except for the sugar bowl lid. I was still living in WDM when one year Mom asked what I'd like for my birthday. I asked for these pieces from her childhood and she gave them to me.
I always thought they should be mine because of their color - Topaz is my birthstone. Sometime in the future I will pass them on to one or both of the grand-daughters who also have the topaz as their birthstone.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Backward, Turn Backward, O Time, In Your Flight"

This morning as I turned the clock back to end daylight savings time for another year, these lines from a long ago poem came to mind.
Backward, turn backward, o time in your flight, Make me a child again just for tonight was all I could remember which sent me to google the rest of the poem. The poem is "Rock Me To Sleep" by Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen. (1832-1911)
After reading the entire poem and realizing it was about a woman remembering when her mother held her and rocked her to sleep, I knew I wanted a picture of my mom holding me to publish with this blog. But I couldn't think of any photos of my mom holding me as a baby. I found these in an old photo album.
In this one Mom holds me as I hold a teething ring in my right hand and reach for the dog (Fritz?) with my left. Barefoot big brother, Ronald, poses with a smile.

Both pictures had to have been taken in the spring of 1944. In the background, sitting on the running board of a car are two men - Dad's cousins, I believe. One of them is in uniform - home on leave from the army?
Ron looks so cute in his hat and suspenders. I wonder if the person behind the camera told him to put his hand in his pocket?

I have bookmarked a website of Elizabeth Akers Allen's poems to read more of her collection. Perhaps I'll recognize some other lines I read in the past.

Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!
Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—
Rock me to sleep, mother – rock me to sleep!
Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!
Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!
Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!
Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Laddie Come Home*

The popularity of certain breeds of dogs changes just as the favor of clothing, furniture and building designs come and go. During our growing up years, Collies were "in".
Eric Knight's "Lassie Come-Home" book was published in 1938. It was made into a movie in 1943 and "Son of Lassie" came out in 1945. Albert Payson Terhune's "Lad" books in the 1920's and 30's also contributed to the popularity of Collies.
Lassie, the TV series, began the same year my family got its first television - 1954. We wouldn't dream of missing an episode with Tommy Retigg as Jeff Miller and Jan Clayton as his mother, Ellen Miller. Each week some member of the Miller family would get into trouble. Each week Lassie would save them.
When the Martins replaced the Millers as Lassie's family, I didn't think I would like the change. But I came to like Jon Provost as Timmy Martin and June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly as Ruth and Paul Martin, Timmy's parents, as much as I had liked Lassie's earlier owners.

I remember learning that Lassie was really played by a "Laddie" and wondering why they just didn't call the show "Laddie" instead of "Lassie". Especially since we had had our own "Laddie" dog.
This picture of me, Betty, Ron and Laddie was probably taken about the time we first got our Collie - 1947 or '48.
Laddie was a sable and white Rough Collie. Rough Collies have long hair except on their faces. Their coat forms a mane around the neck and chest.
Collies are typically good with children and Laddie was no exception. We could do just about anything with him - ride him, dress him up, etc. He never seemed to mind.

As you can see in this picture, Betty was sitting on Laddie holding her doll. I think that is a straw hat in the doll buggy. We had probably had it on our dog making him play dolls with us just before the picture was taken.
This was in the spring of 1950. Note the earth-moving equipment in the background. They were grading the mile of road from our farm to the school. No more mud roads to traipse to school on anymore. It was gravel from then on.
The following year when Betty started to school, Laddie left home. He missed having someone to play with so much that he trotted over to the neighbor's a mile east of us. The Smejdir's little girl, Leota, hadn't started to school yet; Laddie had someone to play with.
We went over and brought our dog home many times, but the next day he would leave again. *Laddie, come home!
I know my sister really missed Laddie.

Which is understandable since he was the dog she had grown up with. Dad got into this picture with us and Laddie almost got out of it.
Laddie was meant to be Ron's dog - a replacement for his dog Buster which had been run over. Someone just forgot to tell Betty and Laddie that.
I always liked cats better than dogs even though my kids had dogs I was fond of - Mimi, Nadette and Toffee.
I think both my brothers are more "dog" people.

And I believe Betty was more of a dog person, though I'm not sure. I know they had a dog until shortly before she died.
I have no idea which dog this was. It might have been one of Grandpa & Grandma Ridnour's even though the picture was taken outside our back door. I think Betty had just gotten up when this photo was snapped. I know she was still in her pajamas.

(*Watching a program on TV about how dogs and cats find their way home over long distances gave me this idea for a blog. One of the dogs was a Collie which reminded me of Laddie.)