Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 2013 Reading List

At the end of four months I'm averaging reading eleven books a month - 44 books with the last four of March pictured above.
Taylor Caldwell's Bright Flows The River is an old paperback I've had around forever and finally decided to read. It was published in 1978 and is the story of a man at war with himself - trying to decide what life is really about - love or money. I alternated between thinking this book was full of truths to thinking it was full of baloney. I especially did not like the way women were portrayed. One passage which stood out was a reference to how the haves in our country were already trying to do away with the middle class as early as 1920 - making us a nation of rich or poor with few in-betweens. I am giving this novel a 2.0 and passing it on to anyone who might want to read it.

Three more Charles Todd books are on this month's list An Impartial Witness - a Bess Crawford Mystery and two Ian Rutledge Mysteries, The Red Door and Proof of Guilt. As I've said before, I really like this mother/son writing team and their WWI era mysteries. I'm rating each of the three a solid 3.5.

Dana Stabenow makes the list with two more books: Better To Rest, one of her Liam Campbell series, which I am only giving a 2.0. It is one of her earlier books and either she hadn't honed her writing skills yet or I didn't care for the character. The second book is one of her few stand alones: Blindfold Game. This is a modern day terrorist plot read worth a 3.0. Not as interesting to me as her Kate Shugak novels, but still well written and interesting.

What The Cat Saw is a cute little Carolyn Hart mystery. Nela is grieving the loss of her fiance and her job as an investigative reporter. She volunteers to fill in at her sister Chloe's workplace while Chloe and her boyfriend take a fabulous trip he has won. She also agrees to stay at the home of a recently deceased fellow employee in order to take care of her cat. The first time she looks into the cat's eyes, she 'hears' the cat tell her the woman's death wasn't an accident, it was murder. From there on it is a matter of solving the murder as well as several acts of vandalism at the workplace. I gave it a cute 2.5.

The First Warm Evening Of The Year by Jamie M. Saul has the most attractive cover - the kind that makes you want to read the book. It is a picture of an Adirondack chair setting on a dock with a canoe tied next to it in the lake and a setting sun casting its glow over all. The cover is more attractive than the story. I gave it a 2.0.

Kelly O'Connor McNees also earned a 2.0 for In Need Of A Good Wife - A book about a woman who decides to earn some money and a new life for herself by playing matchmaker between young women in New York and men on the lawless plains of Nebraska. It was a good enough read. I liked the concept and the era for the setting, I just felt like it could have been better.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a book I probably would not have read if a friend hadn't told me it was what she was currently reading and enjoying. I am so glad she told me about this lovely English novel of an unlikely love between a staid conservative and a younger foreign shopkeeper. Simonson's elegantly dry sense of humor made this aging romance doubly delightful. I rated it 3.5 after reading, but have decided on second thought to up that to a 4.0.

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini each have their own series of mystery books. Together they have written The Bughouse Affair, a historical mystery set in 1890's San Francisco featuring Sabina, a former Pinkerton operative, and Quincannon, ex-secret service agent, who have opened a detective agency. She is on the trail of a pickpocket while he is after a housebreaker targeting the homes of the wealthy. When their two cases intersect enter a visiting sleuth from London - a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. 2.5 is as high as I'm going on this book, but our library does have some of Muller's Sharon McCone series. I am going to give them a try.

Paula Brackston's second novel, The Winter Witch, reminds me of Mary Sharratt's Daughters of the Witching Hill which I really liked. Give me a book set in Scotland, Ireland, England or Wales, as this one is, about oulden tymes, spells and witches and I'll read it. 3.0.

Finally - a 5.0!! I can't say enough about The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. And I don't want to say too much about it because I would not want to spoil the ending of this superb novel - Morton's fourth. I have read her first three which are all wonderful, but his has to be her best so far.
The novel moves from the early 40's when Dorothy Smitham is a young woman during the WWII blitz of London to the end of her life when she is 90. She is the secret keeper, but it is up to her daughter, Laurel, to unravel the mystery of Dorothy's life before she dies. This is absolutely one of the best books I've read.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Iowa State Flag Day

Today is Iowa State Flag Day. The Iowa Regimental Flag used by the Iowa National Guard during the First World War was adopted as the State Flag by the Iowa General Assembly on March 29, 1921 - ninety-two years ago. Dixie Cornell Gebhardt designed the flag. Knoxville, the county seat of Marion County, calls itself "The Birthplace of the Iowa Flag" as that is where Mrs. Gebhardt resided.
That's my 'window on the world' in the background behind our neighbor's flags. I no longer have a flagpole, but over the years I've worn out many American Flags, Iowa Flags, Irish Flags and a couple of other state's flags - Arizona and Alaska. Those two I flew just because I liked the designs, not for any sentimental reasons.

And speaking of Iowa county seats, I learned something surprising yesterday. I've always prided myself on my knowledge of Iowa history, but I never knew Lee County Iowa has two county seats! Fort Madison was the first county seat, established in 1837 and Keokuk became the second one by special act of the Iowa General Assembly in 1848.
The line which separates the North and South parts of the county follows what is known as the Sullivan Line. The surveyor, J.C. Sullivan, was responsible for drawing the boundary line between Missouri and Iowa in 1816. His line ended at the Des Moines River on the west boundary of Lee County. It was assumed the line would continue on to the Mississippi making Keokuk and the southern part of Lee County part of Missouri. But it didn't. The border followed the Des Moines River southeast to the Mississippi. That's the little tail part of Iowa in the old 1856 map above.

Iowa became the 29th state on December 28, 1846. The official State Motto was adopted as an element of the State Seal by the First General Assembly on February 25, 1847. The motto, "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain", is inscribed in white letters on blue streamers carried in an eagle's beak in the middle, white, section of the state flag. The blue section represents loyalty, justice and truth while the red stands for courage.
I wonder if I would be able to design a state flag if I were charged with such a responsibility. Could you?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Last Full Moon of Winter

That's the Full Worm moon reflected in the pond early this morning. Other names for the March Full Moon are: Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon, Storm Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon and Death Moon.

On this same date a year ago the grass and willow trees were green and the wild plums were in blossom. The fox was searching along the edge of the pond for something to eat.

The settlers also referred to the March Full Moon as the Lenten Moon and considered it the last full moon of winter.
The little bit of snow along the pond bank this morning is all gone this afternoon and mama goose is on the nest.

And while the grass isn't green yet, the daffodils are beginning to come up. Of all the names for the March Full Moon, I like Last Full Moon of the Winter best. But even as I imagine the end of winter there is a chance of snow again Monday - and that's no April Fool joke.

I guess I shouldn't complain about the lingering winter weather. This is one of the pictures overlooking the pond I took on March 23, 2011. Much as I'm longing for spring, I'll take another snow over another tornado. (This one didn't cause much damage, but the one that hit just two miles from us last year on April 14 did.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reasonably Certain I Won't Be Murdered For My Fossils

We were watching Mysteries at the Museum, which related the 1849 Webster-Parkman murder at the Harvard Museum over the fossilized skeleton of a mastodon. I've always been fascinated by those preserved fragments of past geologic ages and have a very small collection some of which are pictured here. I don't think I'm in any danger of being murdered for any of my specimens!
The largest is this chunk of petrified wood. The first time I saw petrified wood was when my maternal grandparents came back from their big trip out west in the 1950's. They brought home a piece from the Petrified Forest in Arizona. From the moment I saw it I wanted to find my own chunk of wood turned to stone.

A few summers ago when grandson Ki was staying with us we headed out toward Carbon to go fishing. The fish weren't biting that day so we decided to explore in the area of  an old coal mine. (I had been given permission by the land owner after writing an article about his coal-mining days for the local newspaper.)
We had done a pretty thorough search without finding anything interesting and were just leaving when we saw a little of the above piece sticking out of the dirt. It looked so much like a tree limb we almost passed it by. But Ki and I dug it out and much to our delight had this large piece of petrified tree.

The gastropod(?) above left, also came from a Carbon coal mine via tailings washed into Bull Creek. It was given to me by a friend several years ago. Next to it is a petrified bone followed by what look to me like two more fossils containing parts of bone.
The small almost round fossil is a brachiopod or shell - one of the most common fossils found in Iowa. A warm shallow sea once covered our state. The horn shaped one is a horn coral. The piece above it has many tiny creatures and pieces of shell layered and fused together.
I don't know if the far right piece is amber (fossilized tree resin) or not, but it makes me think of amber.

I tried to get a close-up of the small ones. Maybe you can see the conglomeration of the fused fossils on the top right as well as another angle of the horn coral. The imprint left in the piece on the left could also be from a plant instead of bone. The shell (brachiopod) is from the Devonian Period - 375 million years old. Is it any wonder these bits of the past fascinate me? I should have been a geologist.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Rare Sight

Yesterday I attended the funeral of one of my Mother's cousins, Darlene (Haley) Palmer. There was an empty seat next to my cousin Larry's widow, Ruth Roberts, so I sat next to her. I didn't even realize my brother Ron was sitting on her other side until after I sat down. Ron handed me three pictures, saying 'Jake' had given them to him. Jake? Who's Jake? "Wayne Moore", Ron replied. Only we knew him as Wayne Dale when growing up - his Dad was Wayne. And the above picture shows Wayne in the middle with my Mom on the old John Deere and Dad atop the bales of hay with Jack, the dog.
The reason this is a rare sight is because you would hardly ever see Mom in the field. I remember her once telling me that she "wasn't going to be one of those farm wives who went to the fields". I wish I had asked her why, but I didn't. I just accepted that she refused to work in the fields with Dad. She was willing to do the chores, including milking all ten cows by hand, by herself, if need be, but I bet you could count on one hand the number of times she drove the tractor.

Another picture of my folks taken May 15, 1959. I'm sure this was the day of Betty's 8th grade graduation. I remember a picture of Betty in her graduation dress taken in this same location.

No date on this photo - I would say from the late 1940's. Occasion?? I will probably use some of these photos in another blog someday, but those photos my brother gave me yesterday just has me thinking of Mom and Dad a lot today.

Of course I may be thinking of them because of the funeral yesterday. With Darlene's passing, there is now just one of Mom's cousins left. Another generation slipping away.
This photo of Darlene and Cliff was taken in 1957 at the family reunion we hosted. In front of Darlene is Marvin, Donna in the middle and Dale in front of Cliff.

Family reunions - another rare sight......

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Palmer Method of Penmanship

In my last post I said I doubted if I received the penmanship award when I graduated from the eighth grade. My handwriting was not the best even though I did try to improve it using the widely accepted Palmer Method of Penmanship taught in the schools at that time.
The Palmer Method of Business Writing booklet pictured above is one I found while sorting through boxes last month. This one is a 1944 Revised Edition. The book was first published by A. N. Palmer in 1894. In 1912 the Palmer Method textbook sold a million copies.

Didn't every one room country school have the familiar green cursive and print alphabets across the wall above the chalkboard? And the maps you rolled down to study as you learned about the states, countries and oceans? The alphabet was there to first, help you learn your A-B-C's and later as a guide to follow as you learned to write.

Not only was there a correct way to form the letters, the Palmer Method also insisted on the correct position in which to sit as you wrote - feet flat on the floor, backs straight, paper at the proper angle, pen or pencil held correctly, right elbow at or near the the lower right corner of the desk. Heaven help you if you were left handed. Most likely you would be forced to write right-handed - broken of the wrongness of using your left hand.

There are 146 lessons and 172 drills in this booklet, all designed to help you achieve rapid and legible handwriting. At the end of the book there are instructions for sending a hand written letter to the A.N. Palmer Company stating completion of the lessons and requesting a final certificate. If the handwriting in the letter met their approval, you received a 14x17 certificate for proficiency.

I think this particular booklet was among my Grandma Ridnour's things - like the lard book I wrote about last month. The name in the back is Floyd Ellis, Villisca, Ia. R-3. (Route 3, I assume.) I tried to trace Floyd Ellis and believe he ended up in California. His childhood was marked by tragedy when two of his brothers (aged 10 and 5) were killed when the horse they were riding slipped while crossing a ditch and pinned the two boys underneath her in the water. Less than a year later Floyd's mother died when he was only four years old.
Reading about the horse slipping reminded me of the times Betty and I rode old Queenie after the cows. She would always jump the ditch, never wade through it. I remember one time when it had rained heavily in the afternoon. We went down the lane to bring the cows up for the evening milking. Of course the cows were on the other side of the creek and wouldn't come on their own. We looked and looked for the safest place to cross the fast-moving water - finally getting over and back across herding the cows toward the barn. When we told Mom how high and fast the creek was she told us we shouldn't have tried crossing it and to never do that again if the water was high.

I do very little writing anymore. Once I learned to type, I used a typewriter when I could. It as much faster and more legible. Then came computers. About the only thing I write now is my signature. I don't make my R the way I was taught, but the I and L are still very similar to the Palmer Method.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Graduating From Eighth Grade - 1957

Eight years in a one room country school was enough for me. I was excited (and terrified) to begin the next journey toward growing up. If you had asked me I would have said we got my graduation dress in Creston and that it was tan with a straight skirt. Instead my diary from Friday, May 10, 1957 says: "Went to Villisca. Got a tan dress and shoes for graduation". The picture was taken on Graduation Day a week later, May 17.
On my left wrist was the most coveted and prized graduation gift from my parents - my first watch. (Much to my everlasting dismay, I was to lose my watch later that summer.)

Another graduation gift I looked forward to was a train case from my teacher, Vera Kimball. It was what she had been giving previous 8th grade graduating girls (I don't remember what she gave the boys) and I was hoping she hadn't decided to give something different. I really wanted a train case. She did not disappoint. Using it made me feel so grown up.

There were 48 rural eighth grade students promoted that year. Along with our diplomas, Miss Friman, the County Superintendent of Schools, also presented reading, attendance and penmanship awards. I'm sure I received the ones for reading and attendance - not so certain about the penmanship.
Eugene Swartz, chairman of the Adams county soil conservation district commissioners, presented conservation awards to twenty-five students. Did I get one of those? I doubt it. I really don't remember - but I certainly do remember working on that soil conservation booklet!

Graduation was held in the high school auditorium. I remember lining up in the first floor hallway and marching into the auditorium. The students and their locations were:
Lincoln Township: Janice Calkins, Donna Evans, Marvin Jacobs, Carolyn Knee, Ronald Ritnour and Janice Sickels.
Washington Township: Len Bauer, Kay Cullen, Joyce Helvie, Richard Johnston, Kathleen Lovely, Dennis Quinn, Dolores Scott and Janice Williams.
Carl Township: Maurice Palmer, Elaine Rex, Larry Spring, Beverly Truman and Sandra Wilkinson.
Colony Township: Dallas Blazek, Larry Palma and Donald Shinkle.
Douglas Township: Gary Anderson, Robert Best, Wayne Orstad and Glenda Sturdevant.
Quincy Township: Gary Kuhn, Carolyn Moore, Stephanie Richey and Donna Westlake.
Prescott Township: William Scanlan.
Nodaway Township: Dorothy Bradway, Carolyn Hamman and Dennis King.
Jasper Township: John Adams, Evelyn Everett, Janet Goldsmith, Michel Leonard, Ramona Lynam and Daniel Sullivan.
Mercer Township: Doloris Bovaird, William Goldsmith, Patricia Hogan, Lawrence Peterson, Ronald Rogers and Ellen Sullivan.
Grant Township: Janet Brotherton and Larry Casey.
Union Township was the only one without a represented graduate.

The traditional picture of all of us lined up on the steps on the east side of the high school appeared on the front page of the Free Press the following Thursday, May 23, 1957.  (The quality of the picture was not good enough to copy here.)

One more tidbit my diary reminds me of was that we had to memorize and recite the Creed of Iowa at graduation. I believe it went something like this:

"I believe in Iowa, land of golden grains, whose harvests fill the granaries of the nation, making it opulent with the power of the earth's fruitfulness.
I believe in Iowa, land of limitless prairies, with rolling hills and fertile valleys, with winding and widening streams, with bounteous crops and fruit laden trees, yielding to man their wealth and health.
I believe in our commonwealth, yet young and in the process of making, palpitant with energy and faring forth  with high hope and swift step; and I covenant with the God of my fathers to give myself in service, mind and money, hand and heart, to explore her physical, intellectual and moral resources, to sing her praises truthfully, to keep her politics pure, her ideals high and to make better her schools and churches, her lands and homes, and to make her in fact what she is by divine right, the queen of all the commonwealths."

How many of those 48 students really memorized that? Or were just mumbling along? "Winding and widening"? I bet that got twisted. "Keep her politics pure"? Yeah, right. But I was more idealistic then. Yet unjaded by my years. Who wrote that creed and whose idea was it to have us recite it at graduation?

Truth is, it has been fifty-six years ago and I do still believe in Iowa. I've really never wanted to live any where else.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cabin Fever or Ennui?

We've had more snow this winter than last, for which I am grateful - we need the moisture. I'm hoping the fact that the snows have been hitting us means the weather patterns have changed and we will receive the rains needed during the upcoming growing season. We don't need another drought year.

A lot of snow can lead to cabin fever described as a restlessness from being cooped up too long. And restlessness can manifest in an inability to settle down to any one activity. LDS* (Loving, Dearest Spouse) recently noted that I haven't been blogging. I could blame it on cabin fever.....

Although..... One of the Jeopardy categories yesterday was "Begins with a vowel, ends in i". The highest dollar clue was something like "A french word for weariness" and I said "ennui". Ding, ding, ding. Correct. But....I learned I have been mispronouncing ennui all my life! I say N-U-I. The word is pronounced ahn-we. Criminy, I should have known that - I knew it was a French word.

The origin of ennui is from the Old French enui annoyance, from enuier to vex, from Late Latin inodiare to make loathsome. Some synonyms are blahs, doldrums, boredom, listlessness, restlessness, tedium. Related words are cheerlessness, dispiritedness, joylessness, melancholy, lassitude, lethargy, dullness, sameness, monotonousness, apathy, indifference and unconcern.

Therefore, I believe my non-posting is more like ahn-we (ennui) than cabin fever. In other words I've been more indifferent than restless (note the two terms do have a connection). What I haven't been, I'm happy to say, is neither depressed nor suffering from another bout of sciatica.

The last time Kari and I talked, we got on the subject of words - one of our mutually favorite subjects - I was trying to think of a word I wanted to use and couldn't - one of the joys (not) of getting old. Then I mentioned someone I used to know who was constantly saying a word which was close to the word he meant but just a bit off. Neither Kari nor I could think what that is called. It is malapropism - "the usually unintentional humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase; especially: the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context.

I told Kari I thought that person from my past was doing it completely unintentionally. In other words, not trying to be cute or funny. Then I wanted to give Kari an example, but couldn't think of any. How could I forget one of my own more infamous malapropisms? Especially when I was directing it to my future son-in-law? Several family members were having dinner together after meeting up in Minnesota. Kari had described  how beautiful it had been driving across Montana under a full moon.
I said to Ken: "I hear you had a urethal experience driving through Montana on the way here". He got the funniest look on his face and Kari burst out laughing. "Uh, do you mean ethereal, Mom?" (Of course that's what I meant.)

I have a whole stash of blog ideas. Maybe posting today will free me from my lassitude and start the blogs a rolling. In the meantime, we do have another chance of snow in the seven-day forecast. And the picture is one I took in December, 2010, of the cabin in McKinley Park.

(*LDS are hubby dearest's real initials, even if he does go by BS.)