Monday, January 31, 2011

January Thaw

Ruth Ridnour - Age 17

A January thaw usually lasts around five days and occurs sometime after mid-January. The temperatures rise at least 10 degrees above average - sometimes higher - into the 50's or 60's. Family members may remember the gorgeous weather at Aunt Lois's funeral in January two years ago.

Quite often during a January thaw, all the accumulated snow melts. That didn't happen this year. We did have a couple nice days with temperatures in the 30's. There was some melting of snow, but the ground remained white.

I had always associated the January thaw with my Mom's birthday which was January 25. Until today, I thought that was just happenstance. But according to one website, the January thaw is a weather singularity which does occur on a regular basis around January 25.

I couldn't find a baby picture of Mom to illustrate this blog, so I'm using one of her holding Ron when he was a baby in 1940. The reason I wanted a baby picture was because of something I saw while watching the weather Saturday night - the record high temperature for January 29 was set in 1919 when it got to 62 degrees. Mom was four days old.
Mom's birthday was always easy to remember - one month after Christmas - and right around the time for a January thaw.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"More Than You Know"

Beth Gutcheon is a new author for me. I picked up her More Than You Know novel in the clearance section the last time I was in Half-Price Books in DM. I would categorize this read as a "dark" telling. Hannah Gray is an old woman when she decides to write the story of her life. At first it seems to be about her first "true love" and while it does evoke the transience of youthful romance, it also delves into the way love and hatred shapes lives.
The book is set in a small coastal Maine town and an inhabited island off the mainland. I would read more of Gutcheon's works if they were available at our library or when I run across them elsewhere. (Interesting that I unintentionally read two books this month which were set in New England coastal towns.)

I had almost forgotten what a treat M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin is! Revisiting the Cotswold's in The Potted Gardener makes me wish I could go there in person. (Something I've wished since first reading about the Cotswold's years and years ago.)
Agatha returns from a long holiday to learn she has a new, gorgeous, neighbor in Carsely. Not only does everyone seem to adore the newcomer, Agatha's bachelor neighbor, James Lacey (the man Agatha wants for herself), is having an affair with the new woman in town.
Naturally, the lovely lady is soon dispatched in a most unbecoming fashion. And even though she is warned by the area constabulary to "leave the investigating to us", Agatha can't resist questioning all her neighbors about how they really felt about the murder victim. Seems the new woman in town wasn't as well-liked by everyone after all.
These little mysteries are a treat. Agatha Raisin is such a jewel. What's not to love about a middle-aged, over-weight, antagonistic amateur sleuth?

Anita Shreve is one of the best storytellers. I've read all her books, including, now, her newest, Rescue. Peter Webster is a rookie paramedic when he pulls a young woman from her totaled car - an act that begins a lifelong tangle of love and wreckage. Sheila is streetwise and tough-talking. Peter is as straight an arrow as they come.
The book is mostly about the love between single parent, Peter, and his daughter, Rowan and what happens when Sheila comes back into their lives when Rowan is a 17-year-old high school senior. Shreve's writing is so true to life. Her description of the only apartment newlyweds Peter and Sheila could afford reminded me of the place I began married life in fifty years ago.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is one of the absolute best books I have ever read. This was the second time I read it. It was just as good on the second reading as on the first.
This book was Mary Ann Shaffer's first and only - something I hadn't realized before. Ms. Shaffer worked as an editor, a librarian and in bookshops. Her love of books shines through this novel. Her life long dream was "to write a book that someone would like enough to publish."
Sadly, she died before that happened. Her niece, Annie Barrows, helped her finish the book and saw it through to publication. It seems so sad to me that Mary Ann Shaffer could not have lived long enough to see how many people loved her writing. Nor that she isn't around to treat us to more books of hers.

I know the first time I heard of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I thought, "What kind of title is that?" The book was already getting a lot of buzz, so as soon as it became available at the library, I checked it out.
The novel is set in England at the close of WWII. It relates, in epistolary form, the hardships, horrors, and losses of war. It also elates us with its tales of friendship, endurance, courage, hope and human connection.
Previously, I've passed on owning this book, but after reading it twice, I know it is one that I should have on my bookshelves permanently.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Road Rage and other Recent Reads

Baroness Rendell of Babergh, aka Ruth Rendell has finally roped me in completely. I will be reading my way through all of the books of hers our library has on its shelves.
Road Rage is one of her Inspector Wexford novels, published in 1997, the same year Ms. Rendell was made a life peer. (She sits in the House of Lords for Labour.) There are twenty-two Inspector Wexford novels. The 22nd said to be the last. At first I felt I should read them in order, then discovered I really didn't have to. Road Rage is #17. Reading some of the earlier works is sometimes confusing, as in: "Why don't they just check for DNA?" or "Why don't they just call the airport and have TSA hold the suspect?" As long as I remember what decade the book is set in, I do alright helping solve the crimes.

I am guilty of picking up a book based on the cover picture. "Don't judge a book by its cover" doesn't always apply. Happily, I have found a new author this way. The cover of Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning shows a young woman walking down a road between wheat fields into the dark clouds of a storm.
The fact that the book is set in the ranch country of Kansas also appealed to me. Ever since my niece, Lorrie, told me about Monument Rocks in west central Kansas, I've wanted to see them for myself. These chalk pyramids in Gove County are renamed 'Testament Rocks' in the book and the county becomes Henderson, but the setting added to my reading pleasure.

Enjoying the first book I read of hers sent me back for a second: The Virgin of Small Plains; another book set in Kansas. This time in another area I would like to explore rather than just drive through a corner of: the famous Flint Hills. Two of my all time favourite books share being set in the Flint Hills - William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth and Janice Graham's Firebird.

These two books of Pickards are mysteries, but they are so much more than that. Pickard captures the essence of rural and small town middle America. She delves into the dark secrets of families and the "good old boys" network that contrives to keep their own out of trouble. Her lyrical prose is beautiful; her characters are so human I found myself comparing them to people I knew in my own small town.

Ms. Pickard is also author of the Jenny Cain mystery series, one of which I grabbed on that second library run: her seventh in the series - I.O.U. At first I wasn't sure I cared for Jenny Cain, but the more I got into the book, the better I liked her. I.O.U. is set in Port Frederick, Massachusetts, but it looks like some of the others are set in Kansas. I will try one of those to see if I really want to read more Jenny Cain adventures.

Liking a character can really affect whether or not you like a book. Remember how I didn't care for Return to Sullivans Island last month even though I had loved its predecessor, Sullivans Island, as well as other Dorothea Benton Frank books? I read Frank's Lowcountry Summer, the sequel to her Plantation and liked it as well as I did Plantation. I realized Frank's writing style is the same, so it has to be the difference in lead characters.

I have a couple more books to report, but I will save them to include with the two I am currently reading. I hope our winter is giving you time for a good read or two.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do You Ever Wonder.....

If you are the person you were meant to be?

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother,
What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?
Here's what she said to me:
Que Sera, Sera, Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera.
What will be, will be.
(Written by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans. Signature song of Doris Day.)
When I was just a little girl, my mother told me a story of how I had been mixed up with another baby while in the hospital. She said they brought another baby to her room. She told them it was the wrong baby, it wasn't hers. So they took it back and brought me to her.
There were many times in my young life when I just felt like I didn't belong in my family. I was too different from my brother and sister. It was then I wondered if the nurse had been right and Mom was wrong - was that other baby really hers? And if so, who did I belong to? My feelings must have been similar to those of a child learning they had been adopted.
So many things shape who we are. How would I be different if I had been named something other than Ramona Irene? I used to hate my name. It was too different from the other kids. I wished my name had been Carol. (In time, I came to love my name.)
If I asked Mom if I was pretty, she would answer: "Pretty is as pretty does." If she saw me looking in a mirror, she would tell me to "quit before you get conceited." And nothing I ever did was good enough for my dad. What if I had grown up with a little more self-esteem; self confidence?

What if I hadn't had a little sister with whom I always felt as though I were in direct competi-tion?

(This photo of Betty Ruth and Toby the cat along with cousin Janet Kay on the right, was taken at their Grandpa Joe Ridnour's on his fifty-first birthday, June 11, 1947.)

Betty never got to find out who she might have become. Her death at the age of 28 affected all the rest of her family members. For a few months afterwards, I even tried to be who I thought she had been for my mom and dad - driving to their place every weekend, trying to somehow fill the hole her death had left.

Would my children be the same if they had been named something else? Before I ever married, I had decided I would have four children - two boys and two girls. I would have a blond boy and girl and a brunette boy and girl. The blonds would be Douglas Sumner and Karene Denette. The brunettes were going to be Anthony Gerard and Roxanne Rene.

The only one of those names which was used was Douglas Sumner, my firstborn son. But he wasn't blond, so he really should have been Anthony Gerard. Would Doug be a different person if he had been Tony?

While expecting my second child, I wanted another boy. By that time I had discarded those other three earlier names. My second child would be Erik Deane if a boy and Lisa Rene if a girl. I had a girl. It seemed every other girl born in the late 60's was named Lisa. Much as I loved that name, I wanted my little girl to have a less popular name. She became Kari Leigh. I liked the name Carrie - but the spelling was too old-fashioned. And Lee was too plain. Would my lovely daughter be a different woman if she had been a Lisa?

Someone else in the family chose the name Eric for their little boy before my third child was born. Whether a boy or girl, I wanted to use my parent's first names for the middle name. So we needed something to go with Ruth or Louis. I don't remember now how I landed on the name Abigail for a girl - Abigail Ruth sounded good. She would be Abbie or Abby, anyway.

Deciding upon a boy's name was harder. Finally, watching a football game one afternoon, we heard the name Preston. It felt right. Preston Louis became my third and final child. His name never got shortened to Pres. And while Preston was an unusual name in the early 70's, it started becoming more popular a few years later.

So many things shape who we are: names, parents, siblings, spouses, circumstances. We can change our names if we don't like them. I could be Mona (never!) or use my middle name. But I believe, in our souls, we are who we were meant to be.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Changing Workplace

Is there a word meaning between dream and nightmare? Do you ever semi-wake-up while dreaming, know you are dreaming and want to get out of the dream - only to go back to sleep and still be in the same dream?
That is what happened to me last night. The dream wasn't the wake up, heart pounding, terror of a true nightmare. It was more a constant agonizing attempt to defend myself and my work. Each time I was conscious enough to know it was a dream, I thought, "I've got to quit dreaming this."

When I do remember dreams, I try to analyze them to the extent of meaning, why I dreamed such and whether or not the dream was a clue to something going on in my waking hours. I think last night's dream was inspired by something I read online about the changes in today's workplace - how 'older' workers can't keep up, therefore can't find jobs.

My forty plus paid working years were spent in offices as a bookkeeper/secretary/office manager/receptionist. In last night's dream, I was the older, most recently hired, bookkeeper and my much younger CFO boss was bawling me out (chastising is too polite a word) because he couldn't close the books for the year because I hadn't done my job right.

I knew I had done exactly as the person who trained me had told me to do. Trying to tell the CFO that was futile. When I suggested all we had to do was make some journal entries, he said we couldn't do that and sent me back to go over my work and correct it. When I asked the woman who trained me for some guidance, she not only wouldn't help, she made fun of me in front of the other office personnel (as if it wasn't bad enough to be on the edge of being fired).

I suppose this could just be termed a 'bad' dream. My Grandma Lynam used to say, "Don't tell your bad dreams before breakfast or they will come true". I have had my breakfast, so I needn't worry.

As to what the dream means? I don't plan to go back to work, although I wouldn't mind having a part-time bookkeeping job. I have already broken ties with the woman in the dream who made fun of me. The biggest question remaining from this dream is, "Has the workplace changed so much that everyone is only concerned with herself?" Are people so afraid of losing their own jobs that they won't help another newly hired?

I often find myself grateful for having lived my life in the years I have lived it. I worry about the future of our world and what my grandchildrens' lives will be like. There is some comfort in knowing that every generation has also worried about the future for their descendants. And there is a lot of comfort in knowing it was just a dream.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"It's Raining Cats and Dogs"

One of my all time favourite pictures from my childhood is this one of big brother, Ronald and me. I think the reason I like it so much is because we both look like we are having a ball. It was raining. We were trying to get under the table to stay dry when Mom decided to take our picture.
The table was on the west side of the wash house. Apparently it was used to hold the separator parts after they had been washed. I can also make out all the "Johnnie Jump Ups" surrounding us. Mom always loved the little purple, yellow and white 'faces' of those perennial Violas.

I most likely first heard the expression, "It's raining cats and dogs" at a very young age - young enough that I may have looked to see if animals really were falling from the sky. But I quickly learned that it just meant it was raining hard. I know many family members used the old saying, but for some reason, I associate it with Grandma Bessie Lynam.

The Internet is invaluable to me. I'm always looking up things, including the meaning behind this title saying. It is fascinating how many explanations there are. not only gives what I consider the most plausible, it also debunks some of the other derivations.

Two things are for certain: One, I heard "It's raining cats and dogs" many, many times as a child; and two, there were lots of cats and dogs in our young lives.

Left to right, Ronald holding Trixie, Betty holding Old Slug and I am holding one of Slug's puppies. (Taken on front porch around 1955.)

This photo is dated simply "1946". It was warm enough we were barefoot. Betty was old enough to be sitting up by herself. And I don't have a clue what the dog's name was.

Ronald looks about three years old, here. Did he have a dog named Spot? It seems a likely name for this puppy with one black eye. Or perhaps he was named "Pete(y)" after the dog in The Little Rascals.

And just to prove we also had cats, here is little brother, Leslie, with a wagon load of them. We had so many barn cats. Every spring it was a big adventure to try and find where the mother cats had hidden their nests of kittens. We would climb up into the haymow and listen to see if we could hear them mewing and then dig them out if we could.
Sometimes we had to wait until they were old enough for the mothers to bring them to drink out of the milk pans we filled for them at milking time. It always took awhile to tame them when they were older. Our hands and arms would be lined with little kitten scratches.

And the final measure of this blog is this old picture of Ruth Ridnour (Mom) with a dog named 'Major'. She always loved her dogs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Growing Up Country:

Memories Of An Iowa Farm Girl" is a memoir written by Carol Bodensteiner and was given to me for Christmas by my AZ/WI friends.
Ms. Bodensteiner is a little younger than I, but she grew up in the 50's much as I did. So many of her memories of farm life and a one-room country school are very similar.
She lived in Jackson County in NE Iowa. Her parents were dairy farmers. Many of her memories are about life lived among cows.
Which is what got me thinking about my own memories of milking. Pictured here is Sylvia with one of her calves. She is one of the first cows I milked regularly. The others were Coco and Dumbo.

We usually had eight to ten milk cows. When Mom and I did the milking, I would milk three or four while she was milking the rest - she was so much faster than I was. Sometimes we started the milking while Dad and Ron were still in the field. I always hoped they would get done haying or cultivating or whatever they were doing so they would come in and take over the milking so I didn't have to.

I think Sylvia was one of the earliest cows I remember along with Brindle and Blossom. Those two were gone before I started milking. Others over the years were Jersey, Dinah, Julie, Macy, Marne, April, Ada, Tootsie, Penny, Beauty, Marcy and Cindy.

Mom favored the Jersey and Guernsey breeds which is probably why I did also. (Still do.) She explained that their milk was richer, which meant it had more fat content - good if you were selling cream. If you were selling whole milk, it wasn't as important.
The one breed of cow we never had was Holstein which is what the dairy farmers in "Growing Up Country" raised. Holsteins were known for the quantity of milk they produced. Carol explained in her book that her Dad never allowed them to name their cows - they were given a number. Their cows were a business not part of the family as ours were.

One of the book's stories related Carol and her sister Jane practicing their 4-H demonstration in order to win at the county level and advance to the State Fair competition. My sister and I were never in 4-H, but my Roberts cousins were. I remember going with them to a club meeting at Fletcher Preston's where Rita and Lila were practicing their 4-H demonstration for the county fair. Oh, how I wished I was in 4-H, too.

This memoir was a quick read, but it brought back so many memories of my own - dressing chickens, planting garden, farm chores after school and the wonderful freedom of playing outdoors anywhere on the farm. It is a look at a good, simple time when values and traditions were an every day lesson in life and the author does a beautiful job of writing about it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Standing In The Rainbow

Books are due at the library tomorrow, so before I take them back, my thoughts on the two as yet not mentioned of the four last checked out:
Fannie Flagg writes much like she speaks - she is funny. I have enjoyed reading her books including this one, Standing In The Rainbow.
The time is 1946 until the 1990's. The setting is small town Elmwood Springs, Missouri. The story is told by ten year old Bobby, son of radio personality, 'Neighbor Dorothy'. The after World War II scenes are so reminiscent of my own childhood. Neighbor Dorothy even visits KMA Radio and Evelyn Birkby, the radio homemaker my mom and grandma listened to.
Reading Flagg is like talking with a friend. If you liked Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (one of the few movies which I liked as much as the book), you will enjoy all of the Fannie Flagg books. Our library just got her latest, I Still Dream About You. It is on my reading list.

I've read almost all of Dorothea Benton Frank's novels. When her first one, Sullivans Island, came out in 2004, I read it and loved it. So, when I checked out Return to Sullivans Island, I expected another good read. Sadly, I was very disappointed. It just does not seem up to the standards of writing as her other books. It doesn't even do a good job of painting a picture of the place I've been wanting to see for myself since reading her first novel about the island off the coast of Charleston, SC.
The story line picks up with Susan's daughter, Beth, now out of college and returning to the family home, Island Gamble, to act as caretaker for a year. Beth resents being coerced into the job. Perhaps that is why I could not warm up to this seemingly portrayed immature, scatterbrained brat.

I've said it before about some other authors who start out good and are well received; it just seems like they say to themselves, "Time to churn out another book" (or perhaps it is their publisher or agent saying it?), so they write three hundred to four hundred pages and say "done". I kept waiting for this book to get better. It didn't. It will be interesting to me to see what Frank writes next. If it is "Return to Shem Creek" or "Return to Bulls Island", I'll probably skip reading it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Leaves of Art - Flowering Tea

I first learned of Numi Flowering Tea when Kari, Shelly and I celebrated their birthdays at Thymes Remembered Tea Room and Calico Shops in Perry in June, 2009.
Over the years I have enjoyed lunch, tea and shopping there with my daughter, daughters-in-law and friends. It is always a delightful experience.
I really had no idea what kind of tea I was ordering that day. So when the waitress brought a box of what looked like dried flowers for me to choose from, I chose what I thought was the 'prettiest' - the Starlight Rose - which turned out to be silver needle white tea with a delicate rosebud center.

My Christmas gift from Shelly this season was the Numi Dancing Leaves Teapot with five flowering tea blossoms.

Flower Jewel is white tea crowned by a bright pink amaranth flower. "The dancing petals blissfully open as sweet jasmine scents this captivating elixir."

Starlight Rose is delicate silver needle white tea leaves handsewn around a tender rosebud. "The soft, lucent, liquor and subtle aroma of roses yields a smooth mellow flavor".

Dragon Lily is an arrangement of superb white tea sewn around an orange lily and sprinkles of osmanthus flowers. "The translucent liquor imparts a velvety, luscious apricot flavor."

Golden Jasmine is rare golden-tipped black tea scented with delicate jasmine. "Its sienna hue exudes a smooth depth that holds a divine floral perfume and hits of chocolate."

Emerald Sun is a cluster of green tea leaves radiating around a white chrysanthemum flower.

"Mellow and nutty, the scent delights the senses with it alluring sweet smoothness."

This morning I tried the first of the five blossoms. Here is Emerald Sun just starting to steep. You can see the white chrysanthemum beginning to open. The other four wrapped teas are also displayed along with some almond crescents and my favourite shortbread - Walkers.

Almost ready to drink; isn't the color enticing?
And I just love the little glass teapot. It is the perfect size for two cups of tea.
Instructions were to let the tea steep three to four minutes - until the flower had fully opened - then swirl the tea to even the flavor before serving.
It seemed to me the second cup was more flavorful, probably from steeping longer. According to the instructions each flowering tea can be re-steeped two to three times. I'm about to find out as I try steeping another pot of Emerald Sun.

(Shelly said she found this Numi dancing leaves teapot boxed gift at World Market. Or you can find it at