Friday, April 27, 2012

Smoke In The Wind

Smoke In The Wind by Peter Tremayne is one of those odd books I picked up at a garage sale or book sale some time ago and finally got around to reading. This book is the eleventh in a series known as the 'Sister Fidelma Mysteries'. Peter Tremayne is the pen name of Peter Berresford Ellis, a prolific writer and an authority on Celtic history and culture.
Sister Fidelma is a 7Th Century religieuse, a former member of the community of St. Brigid of Kildare. She is also a qualified dalaigh - an advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. While most of Europe was still in the Dark Ages in the seventh century, for Ireland it was a period of enlightenment. Students from all over Europe were being educated in the Irish universities while Irish male and female missionaries were setting out  to establish churches and centers of learning throughout Europe as they spread Christianity. I had the pleasure of visiting one of those ancient centers of learning, Clonmacnoise, when I was in Ireland.
While I totally enjoyed reading this book not only for the mysteries to be solved but also for the historical Celtic lore, it may be the only book of the series I get to read. Our library does not have any Sister Fidelma titles and I doubt I will search these books out to buy. With any luck, I'll happen upon some more at a book or garage sale.
(As an aside: While typing this title, words from a song began drifting through my mind: Smoke in the wind, all we are is smoke in the wind. A bit of googling, of course, got me to Kansas' Dust in the Wind. "I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment's gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes of curiosity. Dust in the wind: All they are is dust in the wind." This could become my theme song.)

Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries are her one series I do try to read. (She has two other series.) Agony Of The Leaves is the 13th book featuring Indigo Tea Shop owner and amateur sleuth, Theodosia Browning. If you're already reading this series, you won't be disappointed by this latest offering or the delectable tea recipes found in the back of the book. I might try making Haley's Butter Cake. Childs also includes ideas for different teas. How about a Shakespearean Tea? Or a Picnic Table Tea? The 'Tea Resources' listing is also quite extensive.
The main thing I learned from this book was that the agony of the leaves is the term used to indicate the unfurling of the tea leaf during steeping. How could I have not known this before? I have been a tea drinker my whole life. Of course, most of my tea has been brewed in a cup of hot water via a tea bag. True tea aficionados consider the tea in tea bags akin to 'floor sweepings'. That alone is enough to make me switch to loose tea leaf brewing - that and watching the agony of the leaves in a glass tea pot.

Rita Mae Brown has been on my good authors list for some time, so when I picked up her rather old (1987) book, High Hearts, at the library and saw that it was a Civil War setting, of course it came home with me. (I've been on a Civil War kick lately.)
The writing didn't seem quite up to the par of her newer books, but I liked the concept of a woman disguising herself in order to join a cavalry unit and fight for the Confederacy. While there are some graphic battle scene descriptions, most of the narrative is about the women who were left to manage their homes, farms and plantations as well as nursing the multitudes of war casualties.
Brown is a thorough researcher. This book includes as complete a list as possible of those who died who were from just one Virginia County - Albemarle - during the Civil War. In her words: "This is but one list from one county in Central Virginia. Imagine if we compiled a list from every county, from every state. It would be volumes of dead, mute testimony that once they lived, they were young, they were filled with hope and high spirits."
I have yet to find any of my ancestors who fought in the Civil War, though there's a possibility of a great-great uncle I need to research further. I have heard it said that on a per capita basis, Iowa lost more men during that war than any other state. I have seen the Iowa markers on the battlefields of Shiloh. Next month as I visit the cemeteries for Memorial Day I will take the time to pay recognition at all the Civil War monuments.

"My life - my real life - started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and, yes, I know how that sounds." Thus begins Love Walked In by award winning poet Marisa de los Santos. And yes, this does sound like just another romance book.
From the book description: "When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. Charming and debonair, the spitting image of Cary Grant, Martin sweeps Cornelia off her feet, but, as it turns out, Martin Grace is more the harbinger of change than the change itself....
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, eleven-year-old Clare Hobbes must learn to fend for herself after her increasingly unstable mother has a breakdown and disappears. Taking inspiration from famous orphans (Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and even Harry Potter) Clare musters the courage to seek out her estranged father. When the two of them show up at Cornelia's cafe, Cornelia and Clare form a bond as unlikely as it is deep. Together they face difficult choices and discover that knowing what you love and why is as real as life gets."
But this is so much more than a typical romance book. It is romantic from the standpoint of black and white movie references; from the childhood love of the Anne of Green Gables books; from the need of every young girl to have an understanding aunt or older woman mentor in her life.
This is the only de los Santos book our library has, but I will be searching out this author's other two novels, Falling Together and Belong to Me. Her prose is magical - as poetic as I would expect her poetry to be. This book reminds one that love comes in many forms and we should remain open to all those forms because you never know when love will walk in.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"If You're Enough Lucky...."*

This is one of the pictures I took of the tornado just a little over a year ago, March 22, 2011, while standing on our deck and looking northwest. It was about three miles from us and caused relatively little damage. At the time I thought that would probably be the closest any funnel cloud would come to us - possibly even the last time one even came so close to Creston in the remainder of my lifetime.

Last weekend the Storm Prediction Center issued high risk warnings for a large portion of the Midwest for "life threatening storms." Southwest Iowa was included in the area warned. It was only the second time warnings for possible violent tornadoes had been issued more than 24 hours in advance.
Saturday afternoon we began hearing about tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas. Storm systems were tracking north and east. Early evening the wind began blowing and rain came down in torrents. Nickle sized hail began pelting the house. Our deck chairs were blown around. When the rain moved on we decided to bring in the deck furniture because there was another wave of bad weather coming behind the first.
About 6:45 p.m. the electricity went off. We decided to drive out west of town to see if there was any damage out that way while waiting for power to come back on. We saw one house with about half of its roof blown off and lots of tree limbs down. Then a county sheriff's vehicle roared past with its lights flashing. As we got back closer to town we could see a lot of flashing lights on the northwest side of Creston and heard many, many emergency vehicle sirens.

Finally it dawned on us to turn on the car radio to the local broadcast station. That is when we learned that the hospital had been hit by a possible tornado and was being evacuated. We did drive part way down the main east -west street on the north side of town until we had to turn off due to downed power lines and debris. It seemed strange that there were some pockets of lights on in the north side of town where all the damage was and yet the south side which had no damage was in the dark.
When our power came back on shortly before 10 p.m. we began to hear and see what was going on just two miles from us. And I already had a message on Facebook from a class mate in California wanting to know if we were o.k. as well as a phone call from a granddaughter who had been trying frantically to reach us.
I took these pictures today of some of the clean up going on in the area southwest of the hospital. We didn't even try to get any closer to the hospital and the area where the major damage occurred. There are many pictures online on the Des Moines TV stations (KCCI and WHO) and the Des Moines Register and Creston News Advertiser online.

This is one of the large trees in the park a couple blocks north of our house. It is interesting to me that this storm tracked almost exactly where the one did last year. The major difference besides the amount of damage was that it happened so suddenly. The tornado sirens did not even go off. There was no time to prepare. Amazingly there were no fatalities. One official made the statement that if the tornado had been even a half mile further south, it would have been a different story. Because it was on the edge of town, fewer homes were destroyed.

This photo is from the KSIB Radio website. It shows what is left of the home which was completely blown away. This is the photo that made me realize how lucky we were that the tornado was two miles north of us. It is obvious the house which was here was a manufactured home which is what we live in. There is a basement in the mobile home park club house which is where we are supposed to go during a storm. But with no warning, we would never have gotten there.
Lives were not lost, this time. Clean up is well under way. Surely there won't be another tornado in this area for a long time......but just in case, I'm sending my kids a list of the names of our insurance companies as well as our final wishes if there is a next time and we get blown away.

*To complete this Irish saying: "If you're enough lucky to be Irish, you're lucky enough! This time, we were lucky enough.

(Speaking of being Irish, I'm so honored to have a new follower, Catherine from Ireland. Clicking on her picture will link you to her blog, Dispatches from the Deise.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

White Doves At Morning

With a title like White Doves At Morning, was there any way I could resist picking up the audio version of this James Lee Burke novel as my next book to listen to - especially when it is read by Will Patton? I don't believe there could be a better narrator than Will Patton. He is simply the best.
So, this audio book already had two things going for it, the third was that it is set during the Civil War - one of my all time favourite eras about which to read. This was my first time reading anything by James Lee Burke, but it won't be my last. Next I will delve into his Dave Robicheaux mysteries for which he is well known.  It has been noted that those books are set in the same locale and have some of the same family names as this one. What I found most interesting is that Burke has used his own family's history in the writing of this book. His main character, Willie Burke, was James's great-great uncle and Willie's friend, Robert Perry, was James Burke's great-grandfather. James had family lore and Willie Burke's journals as reference material.

Willie Burke is a young Irishman helping his mother run a boarding house in New Iberia, Louisiana when Fort Sumter is fired upon and the Civil War begins. He and his friend, Jim Stubblefield, join the Confederate Army and face their first test of battle at Shiloh, where Jim is killed.
There are many places where this book was hard to listen to - not only the battle scenes - but the way the slaves were treated. And when the war ends and Willie comes home, he is still fighting the Knights of the White Camellia, whose methods are to rule by daytime intimidation and worse during hooded night-time activities. Burke's writing and Patton's narration make this a compelling book.

John Hart is one of those authors I discovered while traveling and needing a book to read. I liked his writing so much I wanted to read everything he wrote - which, with the finding of a copy of The Last Child at Half-Price Books last month, I have now accomplished - just have to wait for his next book to come out.

A year and a day have passed since twelve year old Alyssa Merrimon was abducted and her twin brother, Johnny, has never felt more alone. His father deserted the family not long after Alyssa's disappearance and his mother has all but vanished into a haze of drinking and drugs. Johnny has spent the year looking in every dark place, hoping to find his sister still alive. When another girl goes missing, Johnny as well as everyone else believes it is the work of the same man. If Johnny can just find this girl, perhaps he will find Alyssa, too.

Hart's book is heart-breaking at the same time it is hopeful. It is a great mystery, full of twists and turns and red herrings, complete with a surprise ending. Of all four of Hart's books, I think this one is my favourite - but they are all good.

Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance is another book that has been on my reading list for a long time - and another book I was lucky to find at Half-Price Books last month. Belfer's first novel, City of Light, which I read some time ago, made me want to go to Niagara Falls. And while this one doesn't make me any more inclined to visit New York City, I enjoyed reading about what the Big Apple was like during WWII.
Fact and fiction blend in this story about the development of penicillin and its importance during the war. I have always been more attuned to this time period than I was to the era in which I grew up, even though I wasn't born until 1943. Reading about it seems like visiting an old acquaintance.

In both her novels, Belfer gives us strong, independent women. Claire Shipley is a 36-year-old, divorced, photo-journalist working for Life Magazine. She is the mother of eight-year-old Charlie and his sister, Emily, who would forever be three years old. When Claire is assigned to cover researchers feverishly working to develop a miraculous new drug at New York City's renowned Rockefeller Institute, she realizes the drug could have saved her daughter's life. Scientists theorized penicillin would prove useful against a wide range of infections, including pneumonia, scarlet fever, meningitis and septicemia - blood poisoning - which Emily had died from after she tripped and skinned her knee on the sidewalk.

In every war before antibiotics, more troops died from infection than from actual wounds on the battlefield which was a prime motivator for the development of penicillin. The government took over control of its testing and denied patents to the pharmaceutical companies for the discovery of how it could be mass produced as well as limiting how much they could charge for it. Merck, Pfizer and the others were ordered to share their findings with one another in order to supply as much penicillin as possible to the armed forces. However, they were allowed to patent and profit from any other antibiotics they developed such as streptomycin, aureomycin and erythromycin.

It is hard to imagine what it was like before antibiotics. I do remember a boss I once had telling me his mother died from infection after an appendectomy and how she could have been saved if it had happened just a few months later - after penicillin became more widely available. I even remember as a young child being extremely upset when I learned a neighbor girl had pneumonia. I thought it was a death sentence - which of course, it wasn't. But I must have heard enough stories about people dying before there was penicillin that I was still worried about her.

Belfer reminds her readers that while penicillin and the antibiotics that followed have changed the lives of virtually every human being the past seventy years, bacterial resistance to antibiotics developed from the beginning. Today, resistance is a major medical problem. Unless new drugs are developed, humanity could easily return to the era when otherwise healthy people died from a scratch on the knee.

I don't know if Belfer has a new book on the horizon, but she is an author I will always be checking on. There was a romance in this book which I didn't touch upon, but one of the things I liked so much about the writing was that at the end of the book there was no "happy ever after". The ever after was left up in the air for the reader to imagine an ending. Great writing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sea Breeze Salad

Finding new places I want to travel to isn't the only discovery I make while reading, although it is the one most attractive to my wanderlust nature. I also read about foods I've never heard of before like Hummingbird Cake and Chess Pie. Last month while listening to Gail Godwin's Queen of the Underworld, Emma kept referring to her Aunt Tess's Sea Breeze Salad. 
By the time I had finished the book, I wondered if there really was such a thing as Sea Breeze Salad and if so, what it would taste like. A quick internet search turned up several recipes, one of which had the comment, "I like to serve this with our ham dinner on Easter Sunday." I decided to try making it for our Easter dinner. Here is the recipe I used from the website:

Sea Breeze Salad


  • 2 (3 ounce) packages lemon Jell-O gelatin
  • 1 (3 ounce) package lime Jell-O gelatin
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 (15 ounce) can lemon pie filling
  • 2 cups whipped cream


  1. Dissolve the jello mixes into the boiling water. Stir well.
  2. Add the cold water.
  3. Chill until thickened, then stir in the lemon pie filling and whip until well blended.
  4. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture.
  5. Add pineapple to the remaining jello mixture.
  6. Pour into a 9x13 glass dish, or a decorative glass bowl and refrigerate until set.
  7. Fold the 2 cups whipped cream into the reserved jello mixture.
  8. Spread on top on the salad.
  9. Chill until set.
I served this as a salad with our meal. Guests thought it was more like a dessert than a salad and one even suggested it would be good as a pie. I could see it as a pie too, using a graham cracker crust. This recipe would easily make two pies.

When I tasted the salad, I had the feeling I had eaten it before, but it was a long-time-ago memory. The book was set during the 1960's, so perhaps Sea Breeze Salad was a popular recipe at that time and someone brought it to a family dinner back then. I was tempted to replace one of the lemon jellos with a package of pineapple. I may try that the next time I make this.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beyond the Lippincott's to the Manning's

Is it possible we are distantly related to two NFL star quarterbacks, Eli and Peyton Manning? In researching some family history, I did find a Manning family connection back in Virginia in 1755 - more about that later....

Everyone in my family is familiar with this picture of my great-great grandparents, David and Catherine Lippincott smoking their clay pipes. What surprised me was to find the picture posted on the internet in some Lippincott family web pages. Did I really think my Grandma Delphia had the only copy of the picture of her grandparents on her mother's side?
 Merrill Sparks wrote the above for the Adams County History book. The accompanying picture shows the couple a bit more dressed up and includes their grandson, Ami, whom they helped raise.
Ami was the son of their daughter, Rebecca. Because he was born out-of-wedlock, he took a lot of teasing - which he reportedly took good-naturedly saying, "If I'm not Ami, who in the hell am I?" I remember hearing Grandma and Mom both telling that story. I always wondered who Ami's father was, but that was something Grandma would never talk about. Today I read on one of the message boards that Ami was conceived as the result of a rape. That information was posted by a descendant of Rebecca's sister, Sarah. So while I still don't know who his father was, I do have a little more information about him.

 Another thing Merrill's write up includes is that the Lippincott's operated the Mt. Etna Mill at one time - something else Grandma Delphia often talked about. The mill was located on the Middle Nodaway River south of Mt. Etna. It operated until 1929 when it was moved to Creston to the south side of the railroad tracks. It later burned down. In the 1970's, one of the mill stones was found in the Nodaway River downstream from where the mill had been. That mill stone is now one of the ones displayed in front of the House of History in Corning.
Grandma Delphia had an oil painting of the mill done by our cousin, Don Gray. It was from a different view than this photo. Grandma highly prized the painting. I believe Aunt Evelyn got it after Grandma's death.

This is a picture of Ami Lippincott which was among Grandma Delphia's photos. He lived in Gothenburg, Nebraska and is buried near there as are his mother, Rebecca and his Grandmother, Catherine.
Now, back to the Mannings. Catherine Deardorff Lippincott was the daughter of Jacob and Isabel Smith Deardorff. Isabel Smith was the daughter of Ervin Smith and Liddy Mannen (or Manning).
Liddy Mannen (or Manning) Smith was the daughter of Davis and Nancy Manning, born in 1755 in Buckingham County, Virginia.

So, from now on when I watch the Giants or Broncos play when football season begins again, I can cheer for my cousins, Eli and Peyton.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bless the Bride

I haven't been able to read all the Molly Murphy mysteries authored by Rhys Bowen, but I've read most of them. On the last trip to Half-Price Books, I lucked upon the tenth in the series Bless the Bride. The book opens with Molly staying at the home of her future mother-in-law in peaceful Westchester County so she can help sew her wedding trousseau. Molly misses the fast pace of her life in New York City as well as her lively friends. She is tired of Mrs. Sullivan's remarks about the well-bred young women her son Daniel could have married and being relegated to sewing undergarments because her stitching is not fine enough to work on the wedding dress.
When she receives a letter from her friends asking her to come back to the city for a party they have planned for her, she jumps at the excuse telling Mrs. Sullivan that she will return in two or three days. Her friends have further news for her when she arrives - a mysterious Chinese man has left a message with them for her asking her to meet with his boss regarding a private detection case.  Molly is intrigued, but she has promised her fiance, Police Captain Daniel Sullivan, she will give up her life as a private detective once they are married.
But wait, they aren't married yet and what could one more commission hurt, especially if Daniel doesn't find out about it? So Molly sets out to find a young Chinese girl who disappeared after having been bought and smuggled in to become the bride of a powerful Chinatown business man.
 I really enjoy this series of a head strong Irish immigrant making her own way in 1900's New York. I look forward to seeing how things will change now that she and Daniel are married. Will she really give up her detection work? (Don't you love the cover picture of the wedding dress?)
(Rhys Bowen has a new 'Royal Spyness' series set in 1930's England for which I'll be on the lookout.)

The title of Alan Bradley's fourth Flavia de Luce book comes from Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott'. At the end of Part II:
"But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott."

The Santa hat on the skeleton on the cover is the clue that this book is set in December. Flavia has decided to once and for all discover if what her elder sisters have been telling her about the myth of 'Father Christmas' is true or not. Flavia still believes in Santa Claus - still wants to believe - so she has decided to capture him when he comes down the chimney and prove to her sisters that he is real. In order to trap him, Flavia has mixed a quantity of birdlime glue in her laboratory which she plans to spread around the chimneys on Christmas Eve.
In the meantime, her father has leased out Buckshaw, the family manor, to a 1950's film director. The entire crew and actors arrive just before the holiday to begin shooting the movie. When the local Rector persuades the stars to put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet to help raise money for a new church roof, Flavia's father agrees to let them use Buckshaw. Most of the townspeople turn out for the evening and are then trapped there by a raging snowstorm. They awake the next morning to find that the lead actress has been strangled. Flavia finds the body and clues missed by Inspector Hewitt.
These books are such a delight. With each one we learn more about the eccentric characters. I can't wait to find out what Flavia's sister, Feely (Ophelia) meant when in answer to Flavia's question, "Why do you hate me?", she replied, "I don't hate you. I wish I did. It would be so much easier." I think that was a clue to something upcoming.

I liked Robert Hicks' book The Widow of the South so much that I wanted to read his next novel, A Separate Country. This is how goodreads describes the novel: Set in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, A Separate Country is based on the incredible life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army--and one of its most tragic figures. Robert E. Lee promoted him to major general after the Battle of Antietam. But the Civil War would mark him forever. At Gettysburg, he lost the use of his left arm. At the Battle of Chickamauga, his right leg was amputated. Starting fresh after the war, he married Anna Marie Hennen and fathered 11 children with her, including three sets of twins. But fate had other plans. Crippled by his war wounds and defeat, ravaged by financial misfortune, Hood had one last foe to battle: Yellow Fever. A Separate Country is the heartrending story of a decent and good man who struggled with his inability to admit his failures-and the story of those who taught him to love, and to be loved, and transformed him.
Personally, I did not like this book as much as Hicks' first one. It was more of a slog to get through. I'm not sure I ever subscribed to the theory of General Hood's transformation even though I liked the book from a historical fiction standpoint.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April's Fool Day and Palm Sunday

Why do we play April Fool's Day jokes? The most popular theory is that it began in the late 1500's in France when the Gregorian Calendar was adopted and New Year's Day changed from April 1 to January 1. Anyone still celebrating the New Year on April 1 was considered a fool and was ridiculed and sent on fool's errands, thus becoming an April Fool. 

I only remember one April Fool as a child. I looked out the east window and told Mom, "There's a skunk coming up the sidewalk!" She looked out the door and I yelled and laughed, "April Fool".

My best joke that I remember was on my Dad but wasn't an April Fool joke. Dad's choice living room spot was the couch where he would stretch out just as he is above in this picture with his Mother - my Grandma Bessie Lynam. In this picture, the couch is under the west window, but at the time of my prank, the couch was along the north wall to the right of the north window. Our TV set was on a stand in the northwest corner.

I think there were only two chairs and the couch in the living room, so it was usual for at least a couple of us kids to lie on the floor in front of the TV. I was probably around twelve years old when I got my brilliant idea: I took the vacuum cleaner hose and ran it behind the couch with one end hidden under the pillows. When Dad laid down to watch TV, I took a spot at the end of the couch next to the other end of the vacuum hose. I waited until everyone was into whatever the program was before I began making groaning noises into the hose.
At first Dad didn't do anything. I'd wait awhile and then make a noise again. Finally he began looking around - first at the TV - as in  "was that noise part of the program?" I'd wait and then some more noise through the tube. He sat up and looked around the room. "What is that?", he asked. It was all I could do to contain my mirth. He laid back down. I waited at least fifteen minutes before issuing another, "O-o-o-o-o!" At last I could hold it in no longer and started giggling. "Ramona, what are you up to?" Dad demanded. I pulled the vacuum cleaner hose out from behind the couch, laughing all the time. I had pulled off the perfect stunt - and it wasn't even an April Fool's joke.

Palm Sunday just happens to fall on April Fool's Day this year. When I think of palms one of the images which comes to mind is the plant Mom had in her living room. If I remember correctly, it began as a very small house plant my brother Les received either at one of his proms or a class reunion. He brought it home and gave it to Mom.

Mother had a green thumb extraordinaire. She could grow anything. She began 'potting up' the small palm plant. Each time she put it in a larger pot, it grew and she potted it up again into a larger pot. Eventually it was so large it filled a corner of the living room. When our family grew to the number where there wasn't enough room for all of us and a Christmas tree, Mom hung the Christmas lights on the palm tree and other plants she had in the living room.

The first time I saw a real palm tree was most likely in 1968 when I vacationed in the Virgin Islands. These palms at Caneel Bay on St. John Island were a beautiful sight. If I hadn't realized I was in a tropical paradise before this, I knew it for certain when I walked up this sandy beach.

It is no April Fool joke that I would love to go back to the Caribbean again some day. There's magic in those swaying palm trees and trade winds.