Monday, September 30, 2013

September 2013 Reading List

As soon as the 'new books' list came out in August, I put my name on the wait list for several of them including Louise Penny's 9th Inspector Gamache mystery, How The Light Gets In. I just couldn't wait for a month or two to read this book.
"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." (Leonard Cohen) is the epigram which begins the only book I'm rating 4.5 this month. Not only does Gamache have a murder to solve, there's also the investigation into what appears to be a suicide. I love the way Penny melds all her divergent plot strings together. I am disquieted by the ending of this tale, however, Chief Inspector Gamache has tendered his resignation and retired. Tell me it isn't so.

Robert Galbraith's debut novel, The Cuckoo's Calling first caught my attention because an early review I read likened his writing to a favorite author of mine, Kate Atkinson. The review was good, suggesting that for a first book, Galbraith had done well. I put it on my 'want to read' list and hoped our library would get it.
Then it was leaked that the actual author was J.K. Rowling which guaranteed more people would be clambering to read the book and our library would be getting a copy. I enjoyed the mystery, but wouldn't say it is as good as one of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie mysteries. I rated it 4.0. Will Robert Galbraith be writing any more books featuring P.I. Cormoran Strike?

I liked Elizabeth Strout's  Pulitzer Prize winner Olive Kitteridge , and I liked her next book The Burgess Boys also set in New England. This story is about family - how young lives are affected by the early, tragic death of the father. The two boys both leave their hometown and become lawyers in NYC - with differing degrees of success. The daughter stays home, marries, has a son, divorces and seldom sees her brothers. But when her son is charged with a hate crime, the family unites. Strout's characterizations are exceptional. Rating 4.0.

A tale of WWII which spans the years of during and fifty years later is engaging reading in Lucinda Riley's The Lavender Garden. A young English woman whose husband is stationed in North Africa decides to join the cause as a file clerk in London rather than sit out the war in Yorkshire. Because her mother was French and she speaks the language fluently, she is tapped by SOE and sent undercover to aid the French Resistance. Fifty years later her part in the war is brought to light when her grandson and the daughter of the man she helped during the war meet.
Lucinda Riley is a new author for me. I liked the book because I like reading about the WWII era. She's a good writer. I will read the other book of hers our library has. Rated this one 3.5.

The covers of Beth Hoffman's books catch my eye; the stories draw me in. Having read her first novel, Saving Ceecee Honeycutt, and liking the premise of a young girl who 'saves' old furniture from beside the road, reading Looking for Me was an easy decision.
I really liked the first part of the book as Teddi Overman discovers her life's passion in turning other people's castoffs into restored antiques and opens her own shop in Charleston, but I felt the last half of the book kind of bogged down. Still it was a good read and I'm giving it a 3.0.

I've been a fan of Dorothea Benton Frank since reading her first novel, Sullivan's Island. Now that my friend Ellen (Sullivan) is retiring, I hope she has time to read it and other Low Country novels by this author.
The Last Original Wife, Leslie, is the only original, first wife among her husband's cronies. She feels like a misfit when the three couples go on a golfing holiday to Scotland. Les just can't get along with the new, young, blond, trophy wives.
Eventually Les decides to leave her demanding, unappreciative husband of thirty years before he leaves her. She returns to her childhood home, Charleston, to spend time with her brother and think things through. Rated 3.0

Another 3.0 this month was Emilie Richards Somewhere Between Luck and Trust. I've read several of her Shenandoah Valley quilt series as well as her Happiness Key books. This book is one in her new Goddesses Anonymous series. A group of women join together to give a young female a new start when she leaves prison.

The third of what I thought was a trilogy earned a 2.5 - Karen White's The Strangers on Montagu Street. I liked the first couple of these Tradd Street mysteries, but they are very formulaic. There is a fourth one coming out in January. I may or may not read it.

Finally, a surprising 2.5 for one of my favorite authors, Dana Stabenow. The twentieth book in her Kate Shugak series, which I've been reading my way through and enjoying, just didn't quite measure up to her usual writing. Bad Blood  is a bit of a modern Romeo and Juliet set in the Alaska wilderness. Two communities, across the river from one another, just can't get along. It probably didn't help that both Kate and her faithful half-wolf companion, Mutt, are shot at the end of the book. Fade to black.

So many of the books I've read lately are set in Charleston, S.C. It is an area I've long been fascinated by. If everything goes right and we get to take a trip to the Gulf Coast to visit my niece next winter, I'm hoping to extend the route from Florida up to South Carolina before turning back toward home. Perhaps then I will understand what it is about Charleston that makes it so popular as the background for so many novels.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Choosing A New Oilcloth

I was washing some place mats in a load of laundry this morning and thinking how much I'd rather use them than a table cloth on Grandma Lynam's nearly 100-year-old table. I used to keep a cloth on it when we lived in West Des Moines, but somehow, now that we're using the table again after thirteen years in storage, I like seeing the beauty of the wood. I even like seeing all the scars and wondering how they got there.

Thinking of place mats and table cloths reminded me of another type of table cover - one that was a big part of my childhood. There was a square oak table (much like the one I use now) in the kitchen of my parent's home. That was before they joined the modern movement and purchased the Formica table and chair set seen in the picture above. That would have been in the late 50's or early 60's because that's my first-born, Douglas, in the bath pan in the winter of '62-'63. (The wood burning stove was only brought into the kitchen during the winter months.) One of the joys of Formica was that it was easily wiped off, no table coverings required, and resisted stains.

Mom used table cloths only for company or for a big family dinner when she needed to cover the entire, stretched out table. For everyday use, an oilcloth was used. And because our family of six only required one leaf in the table, the oilcloth was purchased to fit that length. I vaguely remember the oilcloth on the table in this picture from 1954. (My little brother is going to get tired of seeing this picture in my blogs.)

What I mostly remember about oilcloth table coverings was the anticipation of getting a new one. As long as our choices weren't too far out, Mom would let Betty and me pick out the new pattern. Granted, that didn't happen as often as we wished. She would use the old one until the pattern was worn off everywhere except the edges.

Finally, finally, on one of our weekly buying trips to town, 'new oilcloth' would be on Mom's shopping list. The two places I remember buying them were Lauvstad's Drug Store - where Mrs. Lauvstad sold wallpaper and other sundries, like oilcloths, in the back - and the Dimmler Paint & Wallpaper Store. The oilcloths came on fifty-four inch wide rolls, sold by the yard, just like fabric. You told the clerk how many yards you needed, it was measured, cut off and folded to take home.
Sometimes the choices of pattern were very limited. As I said, Betty or I got too decide the new table covering unless what we wanted was something Mom just couldn't live with day in and day out, then she chose. I can see her being okay with any of the seven patterns after the plain white and before the flags in this photo of currently available oilcloths from The Vermont Country Store. And while oilcloths are still available, the prices have certainly changed. I believe I remember them being 89 cents a yard when I was very young and then increasing to something like $1.59 a yard by the time the Formica table was purchased.

I did have a patterned white oilcloth on Grandma's table when we first moved it here. It was an inexpensive one from Walmart, purchased to protect the table top while we used it as a receptacle while moving in boxes and putting together component bookshelves, etc. Once we began using the table as it was intended, the oilcloth came off.
I do have some table cloths I use occasionally, but mostly I use the place mats. This time of the year, I can see using an oil cloth like the one above, though. Isn't it a pretty background for an autumn vignette? Only $44.95 for one 52" x 70" from the Vermont Store.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Trying New Recipes

My mother was one of the best cooks and bakers. Her favorite pastime was reading cookbooks and trying new recipes. I definitely did not take after her in that department. I do not like to cook, probably wouldn't if I didn't have someone to cook for. About the only time I try new recipes is when I'm contributing a dish for a dinner or pot luck. Having company will also provide the impetus to try a new recipe, which is what happened last week.

I would only be making two meals, lunch the first day and breakfast the second. Easy Broccoli Quiche was my choice for lunch. With it, I served coleslaw. The quiche was good, but not great.
Mom used to make coleslaw two ways, creamy and a simple vinegar and sugar. I always preferred the latter, which is what I always make. I used the last of the special Sonoma County Harvest Fair Best of Show vinegar my niece, Lorrie had given me. It was B.R. Cohn's Raspberry Champagne Vinegar which, to my mind, made the best Vinegar Coleslaw. It is available online here and I will consider ordering more. In the meantime, HyVee carries an Alessi Raspberry Blush vinegar which is also very good and less expensive.

I knew I wanted to make baked french toast for breakfast. I found a recipe online for Caramel French Toast which sounded good. With some maple cured bacon and fresh fruit, it would make a good, substantial breakfast to send my friend on the last leg of her journey.

I hoped for a loaf of day-old french bread on the discounted bakery rack at Walmart, but they didn't have any so I substituted day-old Kaiser rolls. Here is the recipe as I made it:

1/2 C Butter (I used a stick of Imperial Margarine)
2 T White Corn Syrup
1 C Brown Sugar
5 Eggs
1 C Evaporated Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 tsp salt

Boil together: butter, syrup and brown sugar for one minute.
Grease 9 x 13 pan and pour syrup mixture in the bottom.
Put slices of bread close together over top of sauce.
Beat eggs, milk, vanilla and salt. Pour over top of bread.
Refrigerate overnight or bake immediately at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes until slightly browned. If refrigerating overnight, take out of frig and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

I used three kaiser rolls cut in half, placed cut side up. They filled the pan perfectly. I opted for the overnight choice. Just before baking I sprinkled some cinnamon on top the bread. To serve, turn the bread over onto the plate and top with some of the extra syrup.

Oh. My. Goodness. This was one of the best french toasts I've ever had. As you can see around the edge in the picture above, the bottom (the top after flipping to serve) was almost like a flan. And flan is one of my favorite things. I think a few pecans sprinkled in the syrup mixture before adding the bread might be good, too.

I won't make this often because the caloric intake is high, but when I want something easy and special for breakfast or brunch I'll make what from now on is going to be labeled: Ramona's Kaiser Roll Caramel Flan Baked French Toast.  

This is definitely one of the times I am glad having company sent me in search of a new recipe. My mouth is watering just thinking about this yummy dish.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Best Seat In The House

The temperature was around 45 degrees when I got up this morning. It was still dark out, the full moon had not yet set - the Harvest Moon was still shining on. I thought about all the people who were in town for the annual hot air balloon races. It was going to be chilly, but they shouldn't have any problems as the air was almost perfectly still. "Too bad we won't get to see them," I thought. "What light wind there is will send them southeast." The airport where most of the activities take place is south of town. I assumed they would take off from there. As it got light out I went out and looked off to the south to see if I could spot even one balloon. Nope.
I was in the computer room kicking around some blog ideas since I hadn't posted anything for quite awhile when I glanced out my window on the world and saw this:

Of course I grabbed my camera and headed out onto our deck. I was so happy to think I was going to see at least one hot air balloon this year. Then I looked off to the northwest and saw:

Yea! We were going to get to see the balloons after all - and right from our deck. After the first few went over, there was another wave of them.

I thought it was so cool that the moon was still visible and the balloons were floating right up there with it. Obviously the participants had gone northwest of town somewhere to lift off.

I really like it when I can capture objects reflected in the pond - especially with the beautiful colors of fall.

This one stayed so low over behind the railroad tracks and trees that I thought it was never going to come over us. I had to wait quite awhile to get this perfect reflection.

But you can see I was right about it having problems - it came down in the field and never lifted back up. Three years ago one just barely cleared our house before coming down.

Some were close enough and low enough you could see the flames as well as hearing the whoosh, whoosh as the pilots controlled the altitudes.

No question the balloons were flying over Creston. I'm not that fond of the colors on this one, but I did like the leopard looking at me.

All in all, it was the best seat in the house - well, almost in the house. We've watched fireworks, tornadoes and balloons from our deck. I prefer the hot air balloons. Those Montgolfier Brothers had a great idea.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Couple of Fifth Anniversaries

Five years ago today we moved into our retirement home. Compared to the forty-year-old, 12'x60' trailer we'd been living in on Mom's farm for thirteen years, this double-wide seemed palatial. It took me awhile before this place began feeling like 'home', but it does now. Five years have gone by very quickly. (Picture from March, 2010 when I got my 'new' car. Most of the pictures I take are from the back of the house.)

Thinking about the fifth anniversary living here made me think about our fifth wedding anniversary (23 years ago). I wanted to give Bud something special. The traditional gift for a fifth anniversary is wood, but I couldn't come up with any ideas for anything I thought was extra special. Then I found this bronze* sundial. With the first lines of a Robert Browning poem** on it, I knew it was perfect. Ours was a mid-life marriage so the words from the poem, "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, (the last of life, for which the first was made") seemed very significant.
The only problem with the gift was, what to do with it? What to mount it on? Where to place it? That problem was solved on a "junking expedition" during Valley Junction's clean-up week. Once a year residents could put just about anything out on the curb and the city of West Des Moines would haul it off. People would come from all over, cruising up and down the streets, picking up 'treasures'. (One man's trash is another man's treasure".) We would put our trash out on the curb and then join the circus parade looking for treasures.

I was always looking for anything I could use in our back yard - the stand portions of bird baths after the bowl parts had been broken, building materials, concrete statues. And that is what we found - a concrete cupid, perfect to mount the sundial on which is what Bud did. In this picture of what our back yard looked like as the Flood of '93 was receding, you can just see the top of the sundial in the middle of the picture.

When we started planning our move back to the farm in SW Iowa, Bud said, "I suppose you want to take that 'Little Boy' with us?" He just loved moving that concrete for me. Not only was the statue concrete, it had a square concrete base which the previous owner had cemented into a chunk of concrete. It wasn't going anywhere without some muscle. I didn't know for sure where I wanted anything placed in our huge new yard at Orchard Prairie. So the sun dial got plunked down right in the middle. I envisioned the area around it becoming a labyrinth or an extensive flower bed. That never happened. The poor 'Little Boy' stood out there all alone all the years we lived there.

He was about half way between our weeping willow and a butterfly bush and some other flowers under a volunteer locust tree - telling the hours during the day and being visited by racoons during the night.

And now he graces the border of flowers next to our patio. He's been re-painted a time or two and the gnomon on the sundial had to be re-attached. I plant different flowers around the base to supplement the ones that were already here. And the sundial itself is beginning to verdigris nicely.

The all-time favorite of the flowers I planted was this Hyssop which grew so much the second year that it almost completely covered up the sundial and its holder. When we moved here, the previous owner had left a bird bath. I wonder if our 'Little Boy' has found his forever home or will someone in the family want him when we're gone? Someone with muscle.

* Bronze is traditional for an 8th anniversary.

** From Browning's Rabbi Ben Ezra poem

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Noli Timere - Don't Be Afraid"

Monday as Bud was watching the news and heard mention of Seamus Heaney's funeral, he asked me if I'd heard of him. "Yes, I've heard of him", I replied. In fact I had noted his death when I read of it a few days earlier. I knew he was an Irish poet and a Nobel Prize winner for literature (1995) without knowing a lot more about him or even remembering if I had ever read any of his poetry.

That would have been the end of my even thinking about him or delving further into his life if I hadn't seen the reports of his final words: "Noli timere. Don't be afraid." There is no way of knowing exactly what he meant in that final message to his wife, but I interpret it as "don't be afraid to die." Such a positive finale sent me in search of finding out more about the man's life which I found here.

It also sent me looking for some of his poetry.  I liked Anahorish:

My 'place of clear water,'
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice

But my favourite was Clearances, In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984. It is about his mother's death, but relates the lessons he learned from her in life. These are the lines which speak to me: "Then she was dead. The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned and we all knew one thing by being there. The space we stood around had been emptied into us to keep, it penetrated Clearances that suddenly stood open. High cries were felled and a pure change happened. 

Was Heaney unafraid of death because of his certainty of being with his mother once again, as am I? Had she taught him that death is just a part of life as Mom showed me? Did he learn from his own stroke in 2006 the same peaceful feeling about dying I learned from my stroke earlier this year?

As I said, I wouldn't have delved deeper if not for his final words; I am so glad I did. "Don't Be Afraid" 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Purple Rain and Prints

I'm a plain Jane kind of girl. You can open my closet doors and find almost all solid colors, no prints. (Most of those colors will be hues of white, black, brown, gray, tan or olive.)


I've often wondered if my dislike of prints comes from wearing so many dresses made from feed sacks and flour sacks when I was a child. If Mom was trying to get enough material to make matching dresses for herself, my sister and me, she would look at all the patterns available and then select three or four sacks of feed (or flour) in the same design. Otherwise she would buy whatever caught her eye.  I wouldn't want anything made from the above feed sack pattern today, but as a child it might have appealed to me. If I remember right, we didn't always get to choose the designs. I have a memory of running out to the corn crib to look at the sacks to see what the patterns were like after feed had been delivered.

A lone skirt, culottes and two blouses from my closet. I liked the black skirt with pink flowers because it reminded me of circle skirts Mom, Betty & I had when I was in high school. Mom made them from purchased material - not feed sacks. The culottes are in my favorite colors, black, tan and brown. The two blouses are as close as I come to wearing animal prints - I call them jungle prints. You can tell by how faded it is that I really liked and wore the blouse on the right a lot.

Again, white, black and olive with some red to spice it up. I wear it as an over blouse along with tan, black or white slacks. I liked the richness of the colors of the print camisole & panties set.

The closest I can come to purple rain in my closet and the last two prints to be found there. The black and purple blouse is the one I bought to wear to my brother's wedding, worn with black slacks. The long purple and pink tunic was part of a set I bought for a class reunion thirty years ago. The solid navy jumpsuit it went over is long gone. If you remember Bea Arthur as TV's Maude in the 1970's, you'll probably remember all the flowing tunics she wore. I loved her clothes and wanted to dress as she did. 

I suppose I should apologize for the Purple Rain and Prints pun. All I remember about Prince, the artist, was that my daughter was a fan of his back in the 80's and I know he had a song entitled Purple Rain as well as a movie, I think. I can't say I even remember any of his song's lyrics. I was more an America's Ventura Highway fan: "Wishin' on a falling star, waitin' for the early train. Sorry boy, but I've been hit by purple rain."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mares' Tails - Rain or No?

Yesterday morning Bud said, "I'm going down to the pond and throw in a line or two." I told him I would take my book out on the deck and watch him from there. It was still comparatively cool and there was a nice breeze.

It really was a pretty morning. As I gazed around I noted how blue the sky was with just a few wispy clouds overhead. The voice in my head said mares' tails. Mares' tails - that's what my Mom called those high, thin clouds. Didn't they mean rain was coming? I posted one of my cloud pictures on Facebook with the note "I do hope these mares' tails presage a sorely needed rain!" A cousin on my Mom's side said she had "never heard them called that before", while one on my Dad's side asked "are they a forecast for rain?" I can remember both my Grandmothers and my Mom having sayings relating to all kinds of weather. Now we just watch the weather people on TV or check the radar on our computers, tablets, phones, etc. There is no need to understand what the clouds or wind direction or any other weather changes may be telling us.
A couple hours after I took the mares' tail pics, the clouds had thickened and darkened. It really did look like it could rain, but didn't. Then around 4:15 this morning I was awakened by a flash of lightening followed by thunder. And, a few minutes later, RAIN! Unfortunately the rain didn't last long enough, but any little bit helps. (There's an interesting page about Mares' Tails and Mackerel Skies here.)

This is what the sky looked like off to the southwest when I went out to check the rain gauge (middle post) early this morning. We got 20/100ths of an inch. And while it did still look very rainy, we didn't receive any more. But hey, now that it's rained some, maybe Mother Nature remembers how it's done.

I can still hear Grandma Bessie Lynam saying "Red skies at night, sailors' delight; red skies at morning, sailors take warning". What about your parents and grandparents? Do you remember any of their weather related sayings?