Friday, December 30, 2011

No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club

Either by accident or on purpose, or "accidentally on purpose" as Mom used to say when I answered "it was an accident" when she asked why I had hit my little sister, I have been trying to break out of my reading comfort zones - trying new authors, different genres, etc.
Ordinarily I pass right by these stylized "fun" book covers - I don't want to read fun. But this one I picked up (probably because of the title and my track record with book clubs) long enough to read the blurb on the inside cover. "A delightful novel about letting go of youth and embracing the sassy curmudgeon within", I read. Curmudgeonly - that could describe my attitude lately. Reading on: "A wonderfully astute novel based on the author's own experiences, No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club is the funny - and often poignant - fictionalized diary of an older woman a decade or two past her prime and content to have it all behind her."
Virginia Ironside currently writes the "Dilemmas" weekly advice column for The Independent in London. The heading of her website is "The Virginia Monologues". I've added it to my favorites list.
I laughed aloud so many times while reading her book and kept regaling Bud with passages too funny to keep to myself. I really identified with the 60+ year old diarist and her attitudes. Perhaps I should read more fun books.

I first read John Hart when I picked up the paper back version of his second novel, Down River, when we were on a trip. I liked it so much I came home to read his first novel, The King of Lies, which was the only book of his our library had at the time. Iron House is Hart's fourth book. The title comes from an orphanage in the mountains of North Carolina. Two brothers, the older, strong, the younger, weak, struggle to survive cold, hunger and brutal bullying from a gang of older inmates. When the gang leader is accidentally killed in self-defense, the older brother, Michael, flees the orphanage so the blame will be placed on him. Timing couldn't be worse, as the wife of a rich senator is on her way to adopt the two boys. She rescues the younger brother, Julian, but Michael can't be found.
For two decades, Michael has been an enforcer for one of New York's biggest mob bosses. Michael has met a woman and fallen in love. He wants out of the business and the mob boss has given his blessing. But the old man is dying and his son is intent on making Michael pay for his betrayal. Determined to protect the ones he loves, Michael takes his girlfriend back to North Carolina to the place he was born and the brother he lost so long ago. There he encounters a whole new level of danger, deceit and violence that leads inexorably back to the place he's been running from his whole life - Iron House.
There are some pretty gruesome torture scenes in this book. Why I can read some author's graphic descriptions and not others, I don't understand. Perhaps it is because Hart's scenes don't seem gratuitous. Perhaps he is just a better writer - he did win back-to-back Edgars for Down River and The Last Child - which is now on my 'find and read list'.

Elizabeth Adler is an author to read if you want to escape to Malibu, Amalfi, Venice, Tuscany, Paris or Monte Carlo - as in It All Began in Monte Carlo. I've read many of her novels and they do all provide a wonderful 'escape' from Midwest reality. Who wouldn't want to be in a fabulous hotel on the Mediterranean? This book has it all: romance, mystery (who's robbing top class jewelry stores of all their diamonds?), private jets, lots of champagne drinking, a movie star, a TV detective, and a mysterious Indian woman. It is a quick, fun, read - good for transporting one from winter in Iowa to sunny beaches in Monte Carlo.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon?

"Won't you ride in my little red wagon? I'd love to pull you down the street. I'll bet all the kids will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet. Hold tight till we come to the hilltop, then we'll coast down the hill you and me. Won't you ride in my little red wagon, for you are my sweetheart to be." (Written by Rex Griffin and covered by many artists including Hank Thompson, Willie Nelson and Hank Penny, whose theme song it was.)
I first saw one of these American Radio Flyer Town & Country wagons when we moved back to West Des Moines in 1984. The woman in the apartment below us had one she pulled her little boy around in. I thought they were so cute. When I bought one for Ki for Christmas in the 1990's, they cost close to $100.

Ronald Lynam and Norman Firkins in back yard 1941
Compare that to what Mom & Dad paid for Ron's first wagon. Prices advertised in the Free Press in December, 1941 were $1.19 and $1.69 for steel wagons with rubber wheels at Biggar's while Sickler and Keever had them for 99 cents.
Betty and Ramona Lynam 1946
Ron may have still had his wagon by the time Betty and I came along, but it took a larger version to hold the two of us. Those little red wagons came in many different sizes - still do - though now many of them are made from plastic rather than metal.
A few years after this picture was taken, we had a flat bed wagon that was used to haul buckets of feed across the barnyard as well as being played with. The back wheel on the right side came off and rather than find a bolt to fix it, Dad put a nail through the axle to hold the wheel on, then bent the nail, leaving the pointed end sticking out some.
Ron, Betty and I were playing in the front yard. Mom and Dad had gone up to the other place to chore. I had my left leg on the wagon, pushing it with my right foot when the nail went into the soft part below my ankle and back out. I was impaled! All the time I was screaming bloody murder, Ron was trying his best to get my foot off the nail. He sent Betty running up the road yelling to get Mom. By the time she got there, Ron had managed to get me untangled so all she had to do was console me and bandage my owie with green salve. I'm sure she also made certain that Dad found a bolt to fix the wagon wheel!
When Doug was five and he and I lived in Cedar Rapids, my boss at the time gave me his sons' trike with wagon attached so I would have a Christmas present for Doug. They had out-grown it and it was still in really good shape. Doug had had a small wagon and a trike when he was little, but they both got left at his Dad's when we moved. (When we moved from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines the following June, my boss took the trike/wagon back.)
Leslie Lynam and kittens 1955

This picture of my little brother with his wagon load of kittens is a favourite of mine. I can imagine Betty and I singing to him: "You can't ride in my red wagon, the wheels are broken and the axle's draggin' - same song, same verse, but a little bit louder and a little bit worse: (Repeat - repeat again until finally:) YOU CAN'T RIDE IN MY RED WAGON! THE WHEELS ARE BROKEN AND THE AXLE'S DRAGGIN'!"

Preston received a wagon for Christmas one year also. His was the medium sized one. When we moved to the apartment in West Des Moines, his wagon stayed on the farm with Mom. She used it to carry feed buckets for her pigs and cows.

Do Mom's still sing "Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon?" as they pull their children along in the wagons they got for Christmas?

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26 - Boxing Day

Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day, Day of the Wren, Day of Goodwill, Second Christmas Day - all names recognized for the day after Christmas. Personally, I like "Day of the Wren" the best, not just because it is Irish, but also for my love of the little birds. It is a legal holiday in Great Britain and its Commonwealth nations - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
The term Boxing Day dates back to the Middle Ages and may come from the opening and distribution of the alms boxes in celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26.
Another explanation for the name of the day after Christmas in England was the practice of wealthy landowners' giving their servants boxes of gifts, leftover food, bonuses and the day off to visit their own families to ensure that the landowners' Christmas Day went smoothly - a bribe if you will - that became known as Boxing Day.

With an English grandmother, I'm sure my Grandma Bessie Lynam was familiar with Boxing Day even if it was no longer practiced by her time. In this picture taken on the back steps at Aunt Leona's in Davenport in the summer of 1953, Grandma is separating Betty, age 7, on the left and me, age 9, on the right. This is about the ages we were when boxing day had its own meaning for us.........
 .....when Dad came home with a couple pairs of old boxing gloves which looked much like the ones pictured here. Betty and I were less than two years apart in age. It was quite common for us to squabble - even actually fighting with one another occasionally.
Dad decided we should settle our differences by punching out our anger. He would lace us up in the old boxing gloves and tell us to "fight it out" - believing that we could get rid of our frustrations without actually getting hurt. I'm sure it was comical to watch the two of us trying to land a punch on the other. It was even kind of fun for a few times but I remember the concept as quickly growing old - back to kicking, biting and scratching for us.
I had to ask my brother Ron to help me remember where our boxing gloves came from. He said our neighbors, Maurice and Shorty Reichardt gave them to us. He also remembered an incident with Dad when he was trying to teach Ron to box. He said because Dad was so much taller then than he was, Dad was sitting down. He was showing him how to feint with one hand and then land a blow with the other. Ron was a quick learner and landed a hard hit to Dad's head - giving him an instant headache and ending the lessons.
In modern times, Boxing Day has taken on yet another meaning. It has become a shopping holiday with retailers offering huge discounts after Christmas. And with most workers having today off because of Christmas falling on Sunday, it's sure to be a busy day. I'd better get's already getting late.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cross One Off The Bucket List!

I never dreamed when I wrote "A Personal History With Champagne" in my blog last July 10 that some very special grandchildren of mine were paying attention.
Katrina hosted our Christmas get together today at her and Brad's home in Fort Dodge. We had agreed that this year we weren't going to give gifts - just be together and enjoy the day.......
which was the best gift possible for a grandma who doesn't see her adult grandchildren all that often anymore. Now that I'm retired, they're all working and busy. Zachary was going to have to leave early to get back to Des Moines to work. A quick phone call bought him an extra hour.
We didn't have a lot of time with Alyssa as she and Evan had Christmas with his family earlier in the day and didn't get there until late afternoon.
It was these three, Katrina, Zach & Alyssa who remembered what I had written in my blog - that there are three times a year I always drink champagne, that I've always wanted to taste Dom Perignon and that maybe it was time to start a bucket list with a bottle of Dom Perignon at the top of the list.
So when they handed me a gift bag with "Welcome To The Naughty List" printed on it, my first reaction was: "You weren't supposed to get me anything".  Then I realized it was a bottle and thought they had gotten me a nice bottle of wine. When I saw the wired top of the bottle, I stopped. "You didn't!" I said as I looked at each one. "You didn't, did you?" I could tell by the grins on their faces - they did. I pulled the bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne from the bag. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I could hardly believe what they had done for me.
My first thought was "I have to save this for a special occasion, but what will that be?" Katrina reminded me that I have three choices: New Year's, Mother's Day or my birthday. I've already decided my birthday is too far away. It might be Mother's Day....but what if I don't live that long?
I still can't believe I am going to be tasting Dom Perignon for the first time on New Year's Eve. I will use one of my crystal Claddagh glasses - and I will lift it in a toast to three of the most loving and thoughtful grandchildren of all time. Thank you for a very memorable Christmas. I love you.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, 1941 - 70 Years Ago

Ron was four years old in this photo - and not only willing to share his hobby horse with me, but making certain his baby sister did not fall off. I think the horse was one of the gifts under the Christmas tree for his second Christmas in 1941.
What a Christmas that must have been. The United States had been at war for three weeks. The Adams County Free Press headline for December 25 (which came out on Christmas Eve) was announcing the county's first war casualty. John Henry Thuman's parents had received the "We regret to inform you" telegram the previous week. It was later confirmed that the nineteen year old Navy First Class hospital apprentice had been killed in Pearl Harbor December 8.
I'm sure Mom and Dad and Ronald had a traditional Christmas with the Lynam's and Ridnour's, but many of their friends and neighbors did not. Scheduled holiday leave for men already in the service was canceled. So many young men were signing up for service that the draft board was over-whelmed. Mothers with tears in their eyes must have been begging their sons to wait until after Christmas, yet feeling proud that they would not wait to enlist.

Tires and gasoline were rationed almost immediately. By the time additional rationing was organized in early 1942, Adams County recorded their second casualty. George M. Sullivan, an aerial engineer, was killed February 7 in a bomber crash in Brazil.
The county clerk was in charge of the 10,000 ration books issued in Adams county. In order to get them to the residents, the county superintendent of schools, Maude Friman, had the duty of delivering them to the district teachers for distribution. I've wondered who wrote my name on my ration book. Was it the teacher at Jasper # 2 in 1943? Ruth Lillie?
Ration book # 4 was issued in October, 1943. Even though I was a baby (November, 1943), I got my own ration book. I'm sure it helped for the folks to have, though as far as food was concerned, they were pretty self-sufficient - raising their own vegetables and meat, and having milk, cream and eggs from their own cows and chickens. About the only things they needed stamps for were sugar (a biggie), flour, coffee and tea. (In later years, Mom would by 10 pound bags of sugar every time it was on sale. I don't think she ever got over the rationing of it during the war.)
Dad had many cousins who served in WWII while he served as a "Soldier without uniform". This from a motivational page in the 1943 Sears Roebuck catalog: "You also serve - you who stand behind the plow, pledged to feed the Soldier, the Worker, The Ally, and with God's help, all the hungry victims of this war! You also serve - you who farm, you who pray and sacrifice. You'll feed the world even if it means plowing by lantern light, and harvesting by hand - even children's hands - even if it means putting up the trucks and going back to covered wagons once again...." I used to wonder if it bothered Dad that he wasn't in uniform. I know Mom told me he was deferred because he was a farmer. I probably didn't appreciate the service he rendered to his country.

There are still many stamps left in my ration book. The blue ones have a wheat symbol while the red ones have a cornucopia. The green ones show Lady Liberty's torch and the gray ones read simply 'spare'. Either they were for items my parents didn't need or for ones they couldn't get due to shortages.

On this Christmas Eve, seventy years after Pearl Harbor, rather than our young people going to war, they are returning home from a long and divisive one. Thank God they are coming, not going. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Whistling Season"

If I remember correctly, I was introduced to Ivan Doig's evocative writing by my friend, Kristina. The first of his books I read was his first, The Sea Runners - a novel about four Swedes escaping from New Archangel - today's Sitka, Alaska. I continued reading Doig over the years and found his novels set in his boyhood state of Montana to be my favourites.
I had previously read and enjoyed The Whistling Season, published in 2006, but when it arrived in the mail with three other books from Kristina, I decided to read it again before passing it on to my son, Douglas, whom has also become a Doig fan. (I've also given brother, Ron, a Doig book, but had no feedback about whether or not he liked it - or even read it.)
From the back cover: "In the unforgettable fall of 1909, Rose Llewellyn and her brother, Morris Morgan, bring west with them 'several kinds of education' - none of them of the textbook variety - and life is never again the same in Marias Coulee, Montana."
Oliver Milliron's wife has died, leaving him with three boys to raise. They've muddled along all right for a year when he sees an ad: "Housekeeping position sought by widow. Can't cook but doesn't bite." Such an intriguing ad cannot go unanswered. Thus we learn of the first year of the Milliron's exposure to Rose and Morris told through words of the oldest Milliron son, seventh grader, Paul.
Reading Doig is like taking a trip to the past and learning about the regional history of Montana. His themes are family, loss, learning responsibility and the importance of education. His writing is smart, funny and poignant. I'm glad there are still a few of his novels I have yet to read.

I was reading an interview with Jacqueline Winspear last month wherein she mentioned she was reading Julian Fellowes' Snobs and how much she was enjoying it. As our library had a copy, I decided to give it a try. But why did the name Julian Fellowes sound so familiar? Oh, he played Lord Kilwillie in the Monarch of the Glen series. Yeah - and he won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Gosford Park and he is the creator of Downton Abbey - that Julian Fellowes.
Snobs is his first novel, published in 2004. It deals with the traits and foibles of the British upper class and what happens when an upper middle class girl marries a peer*. It definitely gives insight into the British class system, but I prefer gaining my insight by watching Fellowes' highly acclaimed Downton Abbey.  The second season begins in January. Can't wait!
(*In 2011, Fellowes was ennobled as a life peer of The House of Lords.)

The more I read Ruth Rendell (also a life peer), the more I wonder about her. She is either a great observer of humanity or has one twisted mind. (Maybe both?) I really like her Inspector Wexford series, but her stand alone novels, of which The Bridesmaid is one, really delve into the themes of misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets. I chose this book from the many of hers I've yet to read because a statue of the Goddess, Flora* - representative of all the female virtues - figures predominately in the story line.
Philip Wardman is an ordinary young man with a neurotic fear of violence and death. He lives with his widowed mother and two sisters. When he meets a living encarnation of the marble Flora - Senta, a bridesmaid at his sister's wedding - he quickly falls into bed and into love. But while he fears violence and death, his new love has a morbid fascination with it. Mayhem and murder follow when Senta insists that to "prove their love for one another", they should each murder someone.
How the statue of Flora leaves his Mother's garden and is then returned to it is central to the storyline. Philip comes to believe Senta is just a little crazy. I wonder about the author.

(*See May 1, 2011 blog.)

Friday, December 9, 2011


My first born, Douglas Sumner, was one year and one week old in this picture taken August 17, 1963. He looks as though he was very happy to be holding one of his birthday gifts - a Knickerbocker vinyl Fred Flintstone character figure. Or he may have just been happy to be sitting on the foot stool, having his picture taken.

I remember taking this picture "just like it was yesterday". It was taken in the living room before the front window in the Hanzie house in Brooks. Doug's one piece corduroy jumpsuit was a light turquoise blue. The other thing of note in this picture are the lined plastic drapes - the only curtains we could afford. The gold colored flowers were embossed on clear plastic; the liner was white plastic. The monthly rent for our little two bedroom bungalow was $35.00.

The Flintstones, produced by Hanna-Barbera, was the first animated (cartoon) show to air in prime time. It was a big hit with families. The show ran from September, 1960 until April, 1966. The show was revived in the early 1970's appearing in the Saturday morning cartoon line-up.

The Knickerbocker Toy Company was founded in 1925. They are probably best known for their Walt Disney character dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and the cloth Holly Hobbie dolls. The company was sold to Hasbro in 1983.
Doug would probably still like to have his Fred Flintstone, not only for sentimental reasons, but also because it would be worth about $75.00 now. That is the price one on line seller is advertising - mentioning also that this is a hard to find figure.

"Flintstones -- meet the Flintstones, They're a modern stoneage family.
From the town of Bedrock, They're a page right out of history.
Let's ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred's two feet.
When you're with the Flintstones, have a yabba dabba do time,
A dabba doo time,
We'll have a gay old time."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Capture The Castle

Undoubtedly, Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith is best known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmations, inspired by her own Dalmation, Pongo. She was also one of the most successful female playwrights of her generation. (Born 1896 Lancashire, England) But her first novel, I Capture the Castle, was written when she lived in America during the 1940's and was published by Little Brown in 1948. Out of print for many years, it was brought back into print in 1999. It arrived on my doorstep along with three other books in a box from one of my reading friends. That oval sticker on the cover reads: "This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met." signed J.K. Rowling.
The book tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. While she strives to hone her writing skills by chronicling the daily changes within the castle walls and her own first experience of love, the family's fortunes seem to take a turn for the better when her older sister Rose falls in love with the new heir of the estate.
Cassandra compares their situation to that of the Bennets in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps that fact helped make this book so enjoyable for me. I could very easily imagine the young Cassandra celebrating Midsummer Eve on Belmotte Tower hill - singing and dancing around the ritual fire set within the stone circle - feeling she was becoming too old for the childhood rites, yet unready to give them up. I Capture the Castle - unexpected reading pleasure from a thoughtful friend.

A Lesson In Secrets is Jacqueline Winspear's eighth Maisie Dobbs novel. In addition to reading it, I also listened to her Pardonable Lies on CD which is narrated by the author. There is such a huge difference between this book and the last one I listened to. Part of it has to do with the book itself, but much of it, I'm convinced, has to do with the reader. This one is so much more enjoyable. The library has one more of her books on CD, then I have two others to locate somewhere else to read before the next book comes out in 2012. I adore part detective, part psychologist, part philanthropist, Maisie Dobbs.

Melissa Jones' Emily Hudson was said to be inspired by the life of Minny Temple, Henry James's cousin. It is the story of a young woman's flight from convention during the Civil War. Emily has become the begrudged ward of her puritanical uncle after the death of her parents and siblings. He sends her to a boarding school but when she is dismissed from it for her unsettling, lively disposition, he wants to rid himself of her through marriage. Even though Emily falls in love with Captain Lindsay when he is home on leave, she turns down his offer of marriage. Her cousin William, an obsessive writer, rescues her from an uncertain future by taking her to London and enrolling her in art school.
On the "Rate This Book" slip in the front of the book, another local reader had rated it 0 (zero) on a scale of 0 to 4. I would probably give it a 2 or maybe 3. It wasn't great, but it was interesting reading.

Charles Todd is a mother-son writing team; authors of thirteen Ian Rutledge mysteries and three Bess Crawford mysteries, of which A Bitter Truth is the third - and the only one our library has. I really wish they had more titles from this team.
Bess Crawford is an English battlefield nurse in WWI. Her father is a retired Colonel. She has a close family friend in the War Office. And while they help her out of some problems, her biggest ally is a memorable kookaburra imitating Australian Sergeant. I have a feeling he will appear in any subsequent novels.

Rebecca Johns is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and received the Michener-Copernicus Award for her first novel, Icebergs.  From the fly-leaf: "Winter 1944: Walt Dunmore and Alister Clark are the only members of their bomber crew to survive a plane wreck on Newfoundland's Labrador coast - but now they must fight injuries and frostbite in the subzero wilderness. Talk of their wives awaiting them at home punctuates their desperate attempts to attract rescuers and combat the bitter cold."
Not only does WWII figure in this novel, so does the Viet Nam War. It is a multi-generational telling of death and survival, love and deceit, war and domesticity. "Icebergs reveals how tragedies narrowly averted can alter the course of lives as drastically as those met head-on."

While I liked all these books and really enjoyed finding some new authors, I think I Capture The Castle was my favourite this time around.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"We Are Orphans, Now"

Bud and his Mom, Lottie Schaffer
Ten years ago, after his mother had passed away, I happened to run into Doug Olive and his sisters, Cathy and Debbie at 'Breakfast at the Beach' at Lake Icaria. We chatted some, remembering when we were neighbors and school mates at Jasper # 2 and about his parents. I told him I was sorry about his Mom, Shirley's, death. That was when he said, "Yes, we are orphans, now."
At the time, I thought it was a rather strange thing for an adult to say. I always thought of orphans as being children. It wasn't until my own Mother died two years later that I began to understand what he meant - how he was feeling.
Until around 1:00 a.m. this morning, Bud and I still had one parent left. Lottie celebrated her 91st birthday two weeks ago. Now she has gone on. There is no one left between us and our own mortality.

"We are orphans, now."

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Peach Keeper & Other Reads

I did not even realize Sarah Addison Allen had a new book at our library until I saw it on the shelf. I had read her three previous novels. They are ones I described as 'magical'. The Peach Keeper is more mystery and less magic than the previous books.
Willa Jackson is descended from Walls of Water, North Carolina's founding family. Her great-great-grandfather got rich by harvesting trees and selling lumber. He built 'The Blue Ridge Madam' once the area's finest mansion. But when the government purchased the remaining forests and turned the area into a national park, the Jackson family lost everything. Willa's grandmother was raised in the family home until she was seventeen. After that, the house fell into disrepair. Now Willa's old classmate - do-gooder Paxton Osgood, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam with plans to open it as an inn.
When a skeleton is unearthed beneath the property's lone peach tree, long kept secrets come to light. Ms. Addison Allen's books resonate with themes of friendship, love and tradition.

The Burying Place is another of Brian Freeman's psychological thrillers set in the Duluth, MN area. Lt. Jonathan Stride is still on leave recovering from injuries received in a fall from a bridge over Superior Bay. Physically, he is mostly recovered; mentally, he keeps having flashbacks to the night he almost died. He tries to hide the panic attacks which immobilize him.
When a call comes in that a baby is missing from her bedroom in the quiet town of Grand Rapids, Stride goes back to work. Was the baby abducted as the father says, or does he have a terrible secret to hide? And does this case have anything to do with several missing women in the same area?
Freeman is a masterful writer of strong narrative, suspense, well-crafted characters and relationships. You may think you have everything figured out, but there's always a surprise or two at the end.
As I read this book, I could not help but think of the little girl missing from her bedroom in Kansas City - the parallels between the father being suspected in the novel and the mother in the real life situation. I also thought of all the isolated farm houses I have lived in as those were the kind of locations from which the women in his novel were missing.

I first began reading Louise Erdrich when Kari was at Macalester College in St. Paul and told me about her. She has won many awards and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. So, I was expecting another excellent read from her in Shadow Tag. I have to admit being disappointed through the first 246 pages of the book. I got tired of reading about Gil and Irene's failing marriage, his possessiveness, her game playing. It was only in the last eight pages that Erdrich's brilliance surfaced. Or maybe it was there all along and it took the summation to make me appreciate it.

Numbers four and five of Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries - Murder on Washington Square and Murder on Mulberry Bend - were just as good and entertaining as her first three. The next in the series is the one our library does not have. I may try to find it elsewhere in order to keep reading them in sequence.

Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth is the book I have been trying to listen to. It is a sequel to True North which I read and loved. My problem listening to this book is partly keeping all the characters straight. But it is mostly that Harrison's writing is so poetic. I want to stop and re-read passages and think about them - that's pretty hard to do with an audio book. Harrison's themes of the healing power of nature and the deep connection between the sensual and the spiritual need to be read slowly and thoughtfully - at least I think so.

Nights In Rodanthe is another of Nicholas Sparks' best selling love stories. When we were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina three years ago, I wanted to drive down to Rodanthe and see the inn where the movie version was filmed. We didn't find it. I finally decided we just didn't drive quite far enough before turning around and heading back to Nags Head. But I can still remember walking along the ocean shore under a full moon and could feel that magic again as I read the book. What books I have read of Sparks seem to be about lost love. Maybe that is what makes them best sellers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking A Foreign Language

Kari, Preston and Doug, early, 1972
My great-grandson, Rodney, is two years old today. I called Katrina to wish her a happy birth day and asked her to give Rodney a kiss for me and tell him Grandma said Happy Birthday. We chatted awhile and she said he has finally started saying Mama (Da-da came early, but not Ma-ma), along with a whole bunch of other words.
The conversation started me thinking about my kids, of course. Doug and Kari both developed language skills at appropriate ages. But Preston had a language all his own. It was like a foreign language to me. Oh, he had words I could understand okay. It was when he started talking in sentences that I had a problem understanding him. I would ask him to repeat what he was saying over and over until he became as frustrated as I was and gave up. The funny thing was that Kari and Doug understood him just fine. If I asked them what he was saying, they could tell me.

Preston's kindergarten picture - Age 5, 1976
When he was four years old, I enrolled Preston in a structured day care where the teachers said they would work with him on his speech skills. I don't remember the name of the preschool, but it was north of the intersection of Harding Road and Euclid Avenue. At the end of the school year, I needed daycare for Kari, too, and couldn't afford to have both of them enrolled there. So I answered an ad a woman had placed wanting to babysit in her own home. She had a little boy the same age as Preston. They would both begin Kindergarten in the fall.

In the meantime, I scheduled hourly sessions with a speech pathologist two or three times a week for Preston that summer. (In the way of small worlds, the young therapist was the sister of my secretary at the Osteopathic College where I worked.) I was worried that Preston might have to wait another year before starting school, but he passed his prekindergarten test. I remember how upset May, the babysitter, was that Preston got to go to school when, "he can't even talk", and her son had to wait another year. Obviously intelligence and maturity were more important than knowing a foreign language.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wonderland By Night

Sunday, November 13, 1960 - 'Tonight's Song' - Wonderland By Night. Kenny had written from Fort Jackson, SC, telling me about this great instrumental he loved. I had finally heard it for the first time on Saturday. Obviously it took some time to make it to the radio stations in the Midwest! I was predisposed to liking it because he did, but it was really great. So haunting and yearning. By January, it was number one on Billboard for three weeks.
Bert Kaempfert was a German orchestra leader and songwriter. He composed the music for some of my favourite songs, such as - Strangers In The Night, Spanish Eyes, Red Roses For A Blue Lady, Wooden Heart and Danke Schoen.

I had been at play practice that afternoon. Ellen, Donna, Sandy Harlow and I made posters. Afterwards we scooped the loop, flirting with a car load of boys from Creston. By the time I got home from play practice, "It's real foggy out and so peaceful and calm. I love it. I guess I love a lot of things."
Eventually, words were written to go with the music. Engelbert Humperdinck's version was one of the most popular: Stars hang suspended, above a floating yellow moon; Two hearts were blended while angels sang a lover's tune. And so we kissed, not knowing if our hearts could pay the price. But heaven welcomed us to paradise, blessing our love. Then came the sunrise fading the moon and stars from sight, recalling always our Wonderland by Night.

The diary entry ended - "Wonderland by Night - like tonight's fog and last night's northern lights."
I remember seeing the northern lights quite a few times when I was young. Even though they've been visible here several times in recent years, the last time I remember seeing them was ten or so years ago while we were still on the farm. There was a faint green glow in the northern sky, but the lights from town were making them hard to see. So we took our mothers and drove out to a dirt road north of Lake Icaria away from the city lights where we could watch and enjoy the mostly green Northern Lights. Just one more, Wonderland by Night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Day To "Thank A Vet"?

I'm really glad that our citizens are more conscious of recognizing and thanking veterans for their service to their country. There was a time this didn't happen.
The History Channel has been running a series about the Vietnam War this week. We watched one segment - Tet Offensive - An Endless War, 1968-1969 - the years Bud was there. Two veterans alternated telling what it was like while they were over there with film clips showing the fighting. They talked about camaraderie. They talked about not wanting to go, but doing their duty. They talked about staying alive and making it out when so many of their friends did not.

They told about the pride they felt arriving back in the United States - pride in their service and pride in the uniform they wore. And they told about the shock of their reception home - how no one wanted to sit next to them on the plane. How they were spat upon and called names. How they couldn't wait to shed their uniforms so no one would recognize them as returning soldiers.

Bud has never talked a lot about his year in Vietnam. Sometimes I have to listen to what he doesn't say. Two years ago, we went to one of the local Free Veterans Day breakfasts so many places are offering these days. It was a good breakfast. It was appreciated.
There is a regular group of morning coffee guys at this place. Bud heard one of them remark: "Yeah, look at all the ones who never eat here just coming in because it's a free meal." We haven't been back.

I don't think any amount of thanks now will ever make up for what happened (or didn't happen) to these veterans so many years ago. Some things can never be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

George Washington's Rules of Civility

There were one hundred ten "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" school boy George Washington was supposed to know. As part of an exercise in learning those Colonial manners, he wrote them all in a copy book. Rule 1: "Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." Rule 110: "Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." And in between the first and last are other gems such as this: "Shake not the head, feet or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth and bedew no man's face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak." (From the Colonial Williamsburg website.)

All one hundred ten rules can also be found in the Appendix of Amor Towles novel, Rules of Civility. I really need to find a new way of saying how much I enjoy a book besides, "I loved this book!" Towles debut novel is smashingly smart. I hope he writes many more books. A New Englander by birth, he writes about New York - not the city where he currently lives - but the Manhattan of post-depression, pre-WWII years.
As J. Courtney Sullivan says on the back of the dust jacket: "The best novels are the ones that completely transport you to another time and place. This beautifully written debut does just that. With wit, wisdom, and rich language, Towles introduces a cast of unforgettable 1938 New Yorkers, who change the book's heroine in surprising and absorbing ways."
This is the first book in a long time that as soon as I finished reading it, I was ready to begin reading again. If it were my own copy instead of the library's, it would have passages underlined and notes written in the margins. I found truths about myself in this book and I want to remember them. Besides that, it is a Cinderella story of sorts, but one in which the heroine's wit and moxie take her out of her humble tenement and her fairy godmother is against her as much as she is for her. I think anyone who enjoys smart writing and bygone eras would enjoy this book. The Gotham City of this book is the New York I would like to visit.

Seldom do I quit a book. I almost always feel obligated to finish reading something once I've begun - especially if I'm already half way through it. Especially if the book is set in 1927 and is about a young girl brave enough to leave her Virginia mountain home for the bright lights and progressiveness of life in Chicago. Winslow Homer's 1873 painting "Girl In A Hammock" beautifully illustrates the cover of Sarah Pawley's Finding Grace. This book seemed to have everything going for it - even a "4" given it by a previous reader - but I just couldn't keep reading it. I can't even give it a "1" (nor a "-1" as I recently saw in a book that I did like).

I completed my third audio book with another of M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth mysteries - this one Death of a Dreamer. Listening to a book while walking on the track or treadmill really does make the onus easier.

Numbers two and three of Victoria Thompson's 'Gaslight Mysteries' - Murder On St. Mark's Place and Murder On Gramercy Park - went down just as smoothly as the first did. I'm really enjoying the sleuthing of Detective Frank Malloy and Midwife Sarah Brandt in 1890's New York. Happily Gibson Memorial Library has eleven of the twelve Thompson has written so far.

Emilie Richards is another writer I can depend upon if I'm looking for a well written light romance. I had already read the first two of her Happiness Key novels (set in Florida, of course), so finding the latest, Sunset Bridge, on the 'new books' shelf at the library meant it was my turn to read it. This one had the added thrills of a hurricane and a bridge collapse but what I found most disturbing were all the passages about pies. One of the main characters, Wanda, has started her own pie business after losing her long time job as a waitress. Just as I wanted a martini while reading the Towles book and tea while reading the Gaslight books, I wanted pie all the time I was reading this book. Last year for my birthday, I made myself a coconut cake - this year it just may be a coconut creme pie!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Looking Forward to a New Experience

As a single parent, I missed out on a lot my children's day time school activities. I was never a home room mother or any other type of volunteer. And I was still a 'working woman' when my grandchildren were in grade school.
One of the few times I remember attending something during the school day was when I went to grand parents' day at Newton when Zach and Katrina were in the second grade. There was a program in the gymnasium involving all the students before we visited their classrooms and met their teachers.

Katrina and Zachary showed me some of their school work and then the teacher said, "Now, they are going to read for you from one of their favourite books."  They both did a good job of reading, but I remember being so impressed by Zach because he had a problem with stuttering when he talked, yet stuttered very little when he read to me.

Today is going to be my first day as a READS volunteer. I will be meeting my 1st grade reading buddy for the first time. (Lot of firsts there.) I'm looking forward to this new experience. I believe reading is one of the most important learning tools there is. If I can help someone learn to read - or learn to read better - that will be very rewarding. In fact, I won't be surprised if I get as much, or more, out of the program as my reading buddy.

READS - Read, Enjoy, And Develop Success. You will be reading more about it here - not specifics about my reading buddy, of course, because of confidentiality - but how this new experience is affecting my life.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"And Things That Go Bump In The Night"......

 Halloween - an appropriate time to be thinking of ghosts and goblins and this old Scottish Prayer:
"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"
Appropriate also to post a picture of my Scottish grandmother, Bessie Duncan Lynam. Here she is pictured between myself on the left and my sister, Betty, on the right. Grandma is holding our neighbor's grandson, Bruce Firkins.
I have very strong memories of my fear for the terrors of the night when I was the young girl in this picture. There were two rooms on the second floor of our house - one to the left at the top of the stairs, the other to the right. There was a area between the rooms that we used as a closet. There was no door - just a curtain strung on a wire to close it off somewhat. I can remember lying in bed after lights out, looking out into the hallway and being absolutely certain I could see a tiger coming out from behind the curtain.
It didn't matter how many times Mom or Grandma told me there was no tiger and showed me the next day there was nothing behind the curtain except clothes hung from the rod, every night I would be terrified when I saw the tiger again.

Of course I finally outgrew my fears. But being able to remember them helped me try to help my little boy, Douglas, when he began having night terrors. He was about three years old when we moved to the Odell Place west of Brooks. The house was a typical two-story, Midwestern four-square with a one-story kitchen and bath addition.
We used the 'parlor' as our bedroom and had Doug's bedroom in the only downstairs bedroom. From the placement of his bed he could look through the opening at the bottom of the stairwell between the bedroom and the dining room and on into the bathroom. I don't know if he saw monsters before he went to sleep, but I began being awakened every night by his screams. He was having the same nightmare every night at the same time. I would go into his room to comfort him. He was looking out into the dining room with fear in his eyes, "There's a bear! The bear is coming! It's going to get me!" His terror was so convincing that I was afraid to turn around and look - even though I knew there was no bear* in the house.
This went on night after night until I finally took him to the doctor who said we had to do something to break Doug's sleep pattern. The answer was phenobarbital. I didn't like the idea of giving drugs to my little boy, but I didn't know what else to try. It worked. After only a few nights of dosage, he started sleeping through the night with out the bear nightmare and I started sleeping through the night with out his screams waking me up.

I don't remember Kari having nightmares or any specific night terrors, but she did go through a stage where she would not go to sleep unless I would stay in bed with her. I don't know if one of the bedtime stories I read her frightened her or what. She went from being ready to fall asleep after I had read to her and tucked her in, to not wanting me to leave her room and crying if I did.
I tried letting her cry herself to sleep, but her bedroom was at the top of the stairs of our house out by Cutty's north west of Des Moines. It didn't have a door on it so I could shut out some of the crying. I gave in and stayed in bed with her until she finally went to sleep. This went on for quite some time until she finally out grew it.
If Preston ever had any night time fears, I have either totally forgotten about them, or I never knew about them.
If the goblins, ghoulies and ghosties are after you tonight, you might try repeating the last line from the prayer above. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

(*The bear of Doug's nightmares was a Polar bear.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

School Souvenir Booklets

This School Souvenir Booklet is from the 1904-1905 Boswell Public School, District No. 5, Washington Twp., Adams Co., Iowa. Pictured is Agnes Nicoll, Teacher. The name in the bottom left corner is G. W. Bargenholt, Director.
This souvenir was published by the W. E. Seibert Co., New Philadelphia, Ohio. Several Ohio publishing companies printed these in different styles and colors as well as number of pages. Some included pictures of the students, poems, names of the school board, etc. They were popular around the turn of the 20th Century and have become collectibles as noted by those currently for sale on e-Bay.
 Oak leaves and acorns are embossed around the edges of these two cards. There are acorns printed at the top and bottom of page two. Was the acorn used because it symbolized the potential of the students? ("Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.")
The verse at top reads: "In memory of days spent together in the school room this token is presented with the compliments of Your Teacher." Agnes Nicoll was the daughter of the proprietor of the largest mercantile store in Mt. Etna from 1899 until March, 1915 when the building and contents were destroyed by fire. In June, Mr. Nicoll decided not to rebuild. By December, some of the family had moved to Oelwein. Agnes Nicoll was "North of Des Moines". 
My grandmother, Delphia Means, and her sister, Drothel, are both listed as pupils. I believe the Boswell School was south of Mt. Etna and a mile west - many Boswells still live in that area. Delphia was eight years old at the beginning of the school year - probably third grade. I'm sure the turquoise ribbon holding the two cards together is not original - most likely Grandma chose the replacement color to match the blue printing.

The Boswell School is gone, but there are signs marking all the locations of the one-room schools that once stood in Adams County. Next time I am over that way, I'll be certain to note where it stood more than a century ago. And I'll put this souvenir booklet with the pictures I have of my grandmother as a youngster to keep them together for another generation.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Made Up Girl

 When I think of a made up girl my thoughts immediately go to Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew or Beverly Cleary's Ramona. Farthest from my mind is someone from TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras. I've never watched that show, but just catching glimpses of those little miniature women gives me the willies.
Yet here I am posed in front of Grandma Ridnour's spirea bushes wearing make up and earrings before I'm even two years old. Mom said Aunt Lois was the one responsible for decking me out. From the smile on my face I guess I liked it - or at least liked the attention.
The earrings were the old screw back style. Mothers didn't have their baby girls ears pierced as they do now. Ear piercing didn't come back in style until I was in my 20's or 30's. Although I do remember Mom telling about my great-grandmother Tillie Means piercing her own and her sister Becky's ears using a darning needle when they were teenagers. Ouch!
 In grade school my eyelashes still had a natural curl - didn't need any help from an eyelash curler*. And the shine on my lips wasn't from gloss - the photographer told me "lick your lips" just before he took the picture. Other than the curls from my annual start of the school year perm, my only other adornment is the mole on my chin. *(I still remember finding Mom's eyelash curler in her vanity drawer and trying to figure out what it was for.)
 Cosmetics are a multi-billion industry in this country. Starting high school meant I could begin wearing powder and lipstick - eventually believing I had to wear liquid make up to cover blemishes and concealer for the dark circles under my eyes. After graduating and joining the working world, I had to wear eye make up. I liked the shimmering blues and greens and occasionally browns and purples. I used an eyelash curler, eye liner and mascara, of course. And once in awhile, I even wore false eyelashes. Because I wore glasses, I felt I had to put on a bit more eye make up, but I don't think I ever resembled Mimi from the Drew Carey Show. At least I hope not!
 Now that I'm no longer a working woman, cosmetics are way down on my list of priorities. Only for important occasions do I still wear a modicum of make up. Moisturizer is my only daily contribution to the cosmetics industry.
One of the things I worried about when we moved from the country to town was that I would have to start wearing make up again every day, "in case my neighbors see me". It didn't take long for me to discard that notion. My attitude these days is more like, "if they don't like the way I look, they don't have to look at me." I may not be as cute as I once was, but I've gone back to being more natural - and sounding more like my Grandma Ridnour.