Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Reading List

Ten books read during the month of May and the only one garnering a 4.5 rating is Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved. This is #10 in the Maisie Dobbs series. It may be I rated it so high just because I love, love, love the Maisie Dobbs character, or it could be because I appreciate Winspear's fine writing and development of characters. Most likely the high rating is for those two reason plus my interest in the era(s) during which the Dobbs stories take place - WWI, Post WWI, and pre WWII.
Maisie has solved the murder of a young Indian woman brought to England as a governess and then left to fend for herself when her charges are old enough to go to boarding school and she is dismissed. By the end of the book, Maisie has closed her investigation business, left her fiance behind and is answering a Siren's call to go to India. I can't wait for book #11.

If I could choose anywhere to live, it would be on a beach. I would walk it everyday and pick up sea shells, so it isn't surprising Karen White's On Folly Beach caught me eye. She is a first-time author for me. I gave her novel of love and loss during war time a 4.0. I liked the dual story lines between WWII and present day.
I wanted to search the library online to see if they had more of White's books and just keyed in 'Folly Beach' as the title instead of 'On Folly Beach'.  Surprise.....

This book came up. I thought I had read all of Dorothea Benton Frank's books in our library, but somehow missed reading this one. So, of course, I had to check it out to compare the two stories. Frank's book is about a woman whose husband commits suicide. It is then she discovers that not only had he cheated on her, he had also managed to lose everything they owned. She returns to Folly Beach and the aunt who raised her. She moves into the beach house where Dorothy and DuBose Heyward lived during the time they collaborated with George Gershwin on the music for Porgy and Bess.
I gave this book 3.5. I really like Frank's Lowcountry Tales books, but liked White's Folly Beach story line better.

Other reads and ratings: 3.0 for M. C. Beaton's Death of Yesterday - her 29th Hamish Macbeth mystery. I think these are getting a little old. Hamish is still solving mysterious deaths, but he isn't any closer to figuring out his own love life.

Two more Ruth Rendell thrillers - a 4.0 for Simisola - the 16th Inspector Wexford mystery. This one about prejudice among white community members when a young black girl goes missing. And 3.5 for Going Wrong. This is one of her stand alone books about a young man obsessed with his first girl friend. She has grown up, gone to college and out grown him. He can't let her go.

I haven't read any Nora Roberts for a long time even though she is a very entertaining story teller. Blue Smoke is about a young girl who watches her family's restaurant destroyed by fire and grows up determined to become an arson investigator. 3.0 for an easy, informative, engrossing read.

Emily Winslow's The Start Of Everything is a psychological thriller about a missing Cambridge student and an unidentified body. Besides all the red herrings, missed clues and connections, it also explores the relationship between a male and a female police partners. 3.5 for this one. I would definitely read more books by her.

I shy away from Christian books and authors but this month I've read two Lisa Wingate books and really liked them both. In addition to writing, she is also an inspirational speaker and inspirational is how I would describe both these books. The first one I read, The Summer Kitchen, is about a woman with a controlling husband and two almost grown sons. When she goes to a poor part of town to clean out her deceased uncle's house, she discovers people who do need her and with the help of others starts a soup kitchen.
I picked this book up because of its colorful cover. I gave it a 3.0.
But I gave Wingate's Dandelion Summer a 3.5. Again, an inspirational read about the differences one person can make in the lives of others. In this one a sassy young bi-racial girl is hired to help a cantankerous rich old white man who doesn't want her help. You just know they are going to end up forming a bond and being friends. When she starts helping him solve the mystery of his adoption and find his long lost siblings, the adventure goes haywire.
The moral of this review is that I need to be more open to different authors and give them a chance even if they are labeled Christian.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"When The Going Gets Tough...

...the tough get going." I woke up this morning with this quote (attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy) in my head instead of some song lyrics, though I guess if I'd been a Billy Ocean fan, it could have been a song.
So as I lay there pondering the significance of that quote being in my early morning subconscious what came to mind was Ram Tough. 

I had coveted a Dodge Ram Pickup for many years, I think because my Grandpa had a Dodge pickup with a  Ram's head ornament on the hood and I wanted one, too. I finally got my wish when we bought an '83 Dodge Ram after we moved back to the farm. In reality I would probably have been okay with any kind of pickup - I just wanted something I could use to haul stuff in besides my little station wagon. Everyone needs a pickup at sometime or another, right?

Then I started thinking about other times in my life when I needed a pickup. I needed one to haul some river rock for a patio when the kids and I lived on the acreage northwest of Urbandale. I was always getting big ideas for ways to decorate or improve my yard. Mostly those ideas involved me figuring out a DIY method of accomplishment.

The neighbor who was renting the farm ground where we lived was a super nice guy. He let me borrow his old International pickup to drive to the nearby sand and gravel pit for a load of river rock. After we got it home and dumped on the south side of the garage I realized I should have some kind of landscape timbers to keep the rocks contained where I wanted them.
Well hey! I knew just where I could get some old rail road ties for free. There was a seldom used rail line only a mile and a half west of our place. As long as I had his pickup, why didn't I just drive over there and get some of those old ties lying along the tracks?

So we bumped slowly down the rail line about a third of a mile and loaded up a bunch of ties. When we got back into the truck and tried to reverse back to the street, the weight of the rail road ties had caused us to be high centered. Now what to do? I didn't want to take some of them out and make two trips because I knew I needed to get the pickup back. And I didn't want to call for help because I didn't want the neighbor to know I had driven his truck down the tracks. If I could just get it off the tracks and over to the side I would be okay.
The way I remember it, we used the jack to jack up the load which somehow allowed me to get off high center and back out of there. The whole time I was thinking, "what if a train comes along"? We would have time to jump out of the way, but my neighbor's pickup would be totaled. Me and my big ideas. Time for the tough to get going!

We managed to get home, unload the rail ties and get the neighbor's pickup back to him. I don't think he ever knew about the extra trip I made with it. I sunk an old tire rim into the ground for a fire pit, found a small wire spool for a table and set up our folding lawn chairs. Our DIY patio was ready to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Whoa-oa-oa! I Feel Good"

It occurred to me this morning that while I've posted on Facebook that I finally feel like myself again that I should also mention it here for the few blog followers I have that aren't FB friends. It will be five weeks tomorrow since I had a stroke. My older brother, Ron, had told me that it took him about a month after he had a similar episode before he started feeling well again. Late last week I was able to do my full pre-stroke routine at the Y, so it took me about a month, also.

I had a follow-up appointment with the physical therapy department at the hospital this morning. The young therapist didn't even make me prove than I am doing okay. She believed me when I told her I was back to my regular routine at the Y, plus I think she could tell just from my happy attitude. Hubby dearest says he can tell because I'm feeling ornery again - also beating him at cribbage.

I have added one new cardio machine to the Y workout. It is the NuStep. I had seen a number of stroke patients and knee replacement recipients use it. I'm not overly fond of the machine, but will probably keep using it.

The next line of James Brown's I Feel Good song is I knew that I would now. And while the right-side of my body weakness disappeared that first week, the over-whelming fatigue continued. There were days I wondered if I would ever again have any stamina.

Believe me, I know how very lucky I was and grateful that I can now say, I feel good now, so good, so good. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Every Picture Tells A Story

I LOVE photos. They tell stories. They bring back memories. They help us remember those times in our lives that made those memories. The pictures don't even have to be mine or of my family - I'll happily look at your photos and listen as you tell me about them.
The sad part of the story the above picture tells is that many of my older photos have gotten damaged. The good part is that there's enough for me to remember an extremely happy time in my life when we lived on the acreage NW of Urbandale. The yard was huge and keeping it mowed was a full-time job. The grass often got pretty high before it got cut. Here Doug and Kari have raked and loaded a wagon of 'hay'. Chances are they took it out to the barn and fed it to their pretend horses.

Doug spent a lot of time playing in the old barn. It was his fort, his camp, his hide-out, the head quarters for his gang - anyplace his imagination wanted it to be. We all hated it when the owners of the farm had it torn down. The only good part of that was that they donated the barn timbers and wood to Living History Farms ( it was used to construct the Carpenter's Shop. I volunteered as a public relations adviser for the Farms, so we went there often and 'visited' our old barn and enjoyed other aspects of the venue.

If I was looking for Doug and couldn't find him in the barn all I had to do was call for his dog, Mimi. I would be able to locate my son based on the direction Mimi came from - she was always with him.
We got Mimi as a pup from Earl Gibson when we lived on the Odell Place west of Brooks. Doug was three years old. She was his dog from the very beginning. When he and I moved to Cedar Rapids in 1967 we had to leave Mimi behind with my sister and her family for two years. As soon as we moved to the acreage in 1969 we went and got her. Betty told me that even though her little boy Mike played with Mimi, she never formed a real attachment to him - she was definitely a one-boy dog.
Mimi was an outdoor dog and roamed at will although she always stayed pretty close to home. She disappeared one day when the kids were at school and I was at work. We hunted the roads and ditches in case she had been hit by a car. We checked with the neighbors but we never found her. I used to dream I heard her barking and would wake up thinking she had come back. Eventually we got another puppy. I was going to say "to replace her", but she couldn't be replaced. What a sweet, friendly, loyal, protective companion she was.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Rockin' Walters Creek 40 Years Later

Yesterday I reminisced about the big rock my Dad lugged up out of Walters Creek for me back in the 50's. Forty years later, this same area became a rock hunter's paradise for me when we moved 'back home'. I never asked Bud to haul any huge rocks up for me, but we would bring back bags full of small treasures.

Just getting down to the creek meant fighting a path through smart weed, black berry brambles and beggar's lice. Summer attire equaled scratched arms and legs. Gentleman that he is, Bud went first and trampled a path. That first time we went we came home with some weird rocks that looked like petrified bones. I had one that looked just like a scapula. In 1978 in the Nodaway River not far from where we were hunting, some boys had found a mastodon skull. I imagined our finds to be some kind of bones from prehistoric animals.
When my sister-in-law, Ruthie, saw my treasures she wanted to go there, too. That time we took a machete and made a better path. Again we came home with lots of rocks. I would guess our bones were just weathered pieces of limestone, but I never found out for certain.

Of all the pretty rocks I found, this smooth, almost polished, caramel colored one was my favorite. It stands three and 3/4's inches high.

At its widest, it is two and 3/4's inches. Every surface of it is smooth....

except the end where it appears to have been broken in half. Every time we went back looking for more rocks, I kept my eyes peeled for the other half of this one. I just knew I would find it someday.
The shape of the rock is a curvilinear triangle. It is one and a half inches thick.

Frustrated artifact hunter that I am, I imagine this piece of quartzite (?) to be part of a Native American tool of some sort. Right in the middle of the flat side pictured above is a thumb size indention. So, if nothing else, this could be a giant worry stone.

If you follow the creek east for about a quarter mile it curves back to the north. This is the area we dubbed Rock Canyon. Over the years water had washed away a section where you could just stand and reach into the bank for rocks as opposed to picking them out of the stream bed.
The last time we went rocking in Walters Creek was a disappointment. The whole south side of the river bank had collapsed into the river bed covering what was one of the best areas to find rocks. You can see the dirt slide in the middle of this picture.
It is the same area where I found my curvilinear triangular smooth rock - further complicating the dream of ever finding its other half. Maybe I should just try to locate a geologist, archaeologist or plain old rock hound who can tell me more about this favorite Walters Creek rock of mine.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"The More You Love A Memory....

the stronger and stranger it becomes." Vladimir Nabokov

I have posted before about my almost life-long love of hunting rocks in "Leave No Stone Unturned". One of my favorite memories about rocks is of a very special one my Dad helped me get when I was a young teen.

Northwest of Brooks about two and a half miles, an old steel bridge crosses Walters Creek. Why we were tramping along that waterway back in the 1950's is lost from my memory. But for some reason we walked along the creek east of the bridge. I spotted a rather large rock that caught my fancy - much too big for me to even move, but not my Dad, I thought. I begged him to pick it up and carry it back to the car for me. Dad didn't often grant irrational wishes, but for some reason that day he did.

Can you see the rock at the top middle of this picture? That is approximately how far my Dad carried the one hundred or so pound rock for me that day. The rock resided at my parents' farm for fifty years. When we sold their farm and retired to town, I had to leave almost all my collected rocks behind. A neighbor asked if he could take some of my rocks for a rock garden and I said, "sure". I had thought about keeping that one special big rock but before I got it moved, the neighbor had already taken it along with the others. I didn't really care that much because it was big and heavy and I didn't have a lot of room at our new place.

Yesterday we decorated graves at the cemeteries in our old home county. I decided to stop at that neighbor's place to see if it would be okay if I took a picture of my rock. I thought that would be a simple, five-minute exercise. It turned into quite the adventure. Instead of just one rock garden, there are rocks and plantings all over their extensive yard. We looked at all of them without finding the rock I was looking for.

When I saw this one I thought I had located the right one, but this one is larger than the way I remember mine. was very much like this. Or has my love of a memory become stranger instead of stronger?

"I do not know how I may seem to others, but to myself I am only a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to be contented with." (Plato)

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Three Amigos

I missed blogging about Cinco De Mayo this year - even missed celebrating with a margarita! So to make up for that and stay with the Mexican theme......

I'll post today about The Three Amigos. Ellen (on the right, above) and I have been friends since the first week of high school in 1957 - almost 56 years ago. Coming from one-room country schools, neither one of us knew too many of our classmates. She and I had every single class together, so we just naturally gravitated toward one another.

It wasn't too long after Ellen and I formed our friendship that we both became friends with Donna (in the middle). If I remember correctly, that came about because we were all in home-ec class together. The three of us were 'teamed' for one of the kitchens during the cooking segment. Donna was so friendly and outgoing you couldn't help but like her, even if she was one of the townies. 

As friends, we've had our ups and downs, spats and make-ups. After graduation, I stayed in Corning, Ellen went to Omaha and Donna to Des Moines. Ellen came back to Corning, I went to Cedar Rapids and then Des Moines, Donna went to Kansas City. I moved back to Corning (twice) and then to Creston. We generally all get together once a year in May when Donna comes up to decorate the graves of her parents and grandparents at Lincoln Center which is where this picture was taken last May. (Thanks to Ellen for sending me a copy.) We all made it to our 50th class reunion in September of 2011.

When I look at us, I don't think we've changed all that much. I see two friends with whom I can pick up right where we left off even though months and years might separate us....the three amigos.

This photo has nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo or the three amigos. It just happens to be my Dad's birthday. He was born 96 years ago today. This photo was taken in the fall of 1962 and is so representative of the way I picture my Dad - coveralls, cap tipped back and tilted to one side. He has his first grandson (my son, Douglas) propped against his leg, making him laugh. Doug's dad, Kenny is looking on, proudly.

Another picture of Dad and Doug. Doug was 5 and Dad was 50. He died eleven years later. Any time I think about my own mortality, as I did when I had a stroke, I think of my Mom as the one I'll be seeing again 'on the other side'.
Someone is watching over me or I wouldn't have recovered as well as I have. I will always think of it being Mom, but maybe it is my father, too. Happy Birthday, Dad. Happy belated Cinco de Mayo, mi amigos.

Friday, May 3, 2013

April 2013 Reading List

Funny how if I rate a book immediately after reading, I second guess my rating by the time I write about the books I've read during the month. I gave Nicholas Barreau's The Ingredients of Love a 4.0. I enjoyed this quick little French read for its views of the Parisian life (responsible for my coffee and croissant breakfast) and the sweet love story.
Reading this book reminded me my very favourite French book, The Elegance of  the Hedgehog which was referred to in one passage. My second guessing comes because if Hedgehog is a definite 5 - and it is - can Ingredients really be a 4?

Ann Leary's The Good House was the most unexpectedly good read. Hildy Good is the descendant of one of the Salem witch trials defendants. She's a 60-something successful real estate broker in a small New England town, the divorced mother of two ungrateful adult daughters and a lush just out of a forced 28-day stay at Hazelden. She remains sober for awhile and then quietly begins drinking again.
I can't even explain who funny, sad, lovely, poignant, well-written this book is. I gave it a 4.5. I loved it, highly recommend it and will read it again - OR listen to the audio version narrated by Mary Beth Hurt. I wish our library had Leary's other books.

Whitney Otto is the author of How To Make An American Quilt which I loved as both a book and a movie back in the early 90's. Eight Girls Taking Pictures is a novel based on real women photographers from 1917 America to 1938 Germany, Italy and England to 1980's California and how their lives intersect.
I've always had an interest in photography and enjoyed this book from that standpoint as well as how these women had to strive just to be photographers. I gave it a 3.0. I hope/wish my photographer niece, Lorrie, someday has the time to read this book.

Three 2.5 books in April: The Dangerous Hour by Marcia Muller - the female half of the writing team I said I was going to try. Her Detective is Sharon McCone based in San Francisco. May or may not read more of these. Well written, but not great.

Indiscretion a book about how lives are destroyed when one half of a couple has an affair. This Charles Dubow novel of love, lust and deception is very sensual. It received more stars in most reviews than I gave it.

Elizabeth Adler writes very entertaining novels set in exotic locals and peopled by beautiful people. I love her books just for the way they do take me away.  I thought I had read all of her books our library had, but I found an older one, All or Nothing, that I had somehow missed. Rich, smart, beautiful Marla Cwitowitz wants to become a partner in her lover's (Al Giraud) detective agency. A savvy serial killer fakes her own death, implicating an innocent family man. It is up to Al and Marla to prove his innocence and catch the real killer. Very well written escapism.

Only one 2.0 rating - and it's for one of my fave series - the Sister Jane Arnold ones by Rita Mae Brown. I just didn't feel like Ms. Brown had her heart in writing Fox Tracks. I still liked the book, but it seemed hurried, undeveloped and even incohesive at times.

Elizabeth Berg is one of my adopted authors at Gibson Memorial Library. That means every time she comes out with a new book, they order it, I pay for it and donate it to the library and I get to be the first one to read it. Tapestry of Fortunes came in while I was recovering from my stroke. Bud picked it up and brought it to the hospital. Berg is an author who always speaks  to me. I usually glean at least one passage that helps me at a time when I need it, so I was looking forward to a nugget or two resonating with my health situation.

These are some of what I wrote down: "The best things in life have no hard evidence to support them. Hope. Faith. Love."
"I think people see death as the hunter, but it's just the ticket taker, the timekeeper. It's the sound of a record playing in the background. Maybe it's also there to remind us to do what we ought to."

I only gave this book a 4.0 even though it is as beautifully written as all her novels. I think it was because I didn't quite buy into the main character, who had recently lost her best friend to cancer, selling her house and belongings and moving into one room, sharing a big old house with three other previously unknown women. Also, the part of the four of them taking a road trip wasn't realistic to me. I might be able to take a road trip with one other woman if we were really good friends, but four?

Because the stroke was/is a very real reminder of my own mortality, the last line of Tapestry of Fortunes is one I want to keep to refer to:

"Fate is a part of our lives. Another part is choice. But the biggest part is the mystery, the great unknowable, about which we feel so many things, including joy."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Little Red Hen ..Or.. "I'll Do It Myself!"

Remember the old folk tale about the Little Red Hen? My Mom read it to me as a child. My kids had the illustrated Little Golden Book which I read to them. A classic.

The Little Red Hen finds some wheat seeds. Rather than eat them, she decides to plant them. When she asks the other barnyard animals, "who wants to help me plant this wheat?", they all decline. So she says, "Then I'll do it myself." and she does.

At each further stage of development: watering, harvesting, threshing, carrying the grain to the mill to be made into flour, carrying the flour home, baking it into bread, she asks who will help her and all decline. Finally the bread comes out of the oven. The heavenly aroma wafts over the barnyard. "Who will help me eat my bread?" the Little Red Hen asks. "I will, I will, I will!" the other animals chorus. "No you will not!" the hen replies. "You didn't help plant or water or harvest or mill the wheat, nor help bake the bread. My chicks and I will eat it ourselves." And so they did.

I've always been a little red henish - preferring to do it myself rather than ask for or even accept help. My Dad used to complain that, "You're too damn independent for your own good!" My children see me as a strong and independent woman; Preston describes me as fiercely independent. 
There have been times during my 69+ years that circumstances have forced me to ask for help. And during those times I've hated it, but also realized that asking for and accepting help is one of those life lessons I need to work on.

Last week I got another one of those reminders that I need to learn to graciously accept help. I had an ischemic stroke in the left internal capsule of the middle cerebral artery branch. I had experienced a small TIA (transient ischemic attack) last year. It was something I expected; my mother, grandmother and older brother had all had them. So last Tuesday, when I began having the same numbness and weakness in my right hand and arm, I thought, "Oh, another TIA." (Actually there were three short episodes on Tuesday.) Wednesday was one long episode which left me with some residual weakness on my right side. I went to bed thinking I'd be fine by morning. But the weakness was still there Thursday morning. I decided to go to the doctor AFTER I'd had breakfast, a shower, etc.
Bud came home from the Y to take me but before he could get me into the car, I collapsed onto the floor. He called the ambulance.

I was very lucky this time. One week later and even the partial right side weakness I still had when I came home from the hospital on Sunday is almost completely gone today. I am not any closer to being able to ask for or accept help doing things. I hope I don't have to experience a debilitating stroke or some other illness before I can quit saying, "I'll do it myself!"