Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 2013 Reading List

Beginning with the last book read this month (finished this morning) and one of the ones I rated the highest, 4.5 is Elizabeth George's 18th Inspector Lynley novel, Just One Evil Act. DI Lynley plays a much smaller role in this book as DS Barbara Havers takes front and center investigating the kidnapping of her friend's daughter while breaking almost every rule in the Met's book. I love George's writing and her characters. After eighteen books, I have a vested interest in these people and their lives, though I can't quite see where George is going with Lynley's latest love interest. Guess I'll have to wait for #19.

The other 4.5 is Chris Bohjalian's Midwives. Even though this book was an Oprah Book Selection back when it came out and even though I've become a huge fan of Bohjalian's writing, I put off reading this book just because of the subject matter. I wasn't that much interested in reading about the errors of a New England midwife which cost a young mother her life. I was wrong. The story is captivating and the ending is surprising. If I've learned one thing, it is never to try to outguess this author.

From highest rated to lowest - I'm giving Robert Morgan's The Road From Gap Creek 2.5 - not because I didn't like the continuation of the story of Gap Creek which I read several years ago, but because of the disjointed feeling of this book. It was more like a series of stories strung together in no particular order. It jumped from the narrator's childhood to her adult life back to her children's lives. I did enjoy it from the standpoint of my propensity for stories about the Depression years, WWII settings and the Appalachians.

Another Chris Bohjalian - 4.0 for Secrets if Eden. One thing about this author, you can't pigeon hole him. His books are all very different. The only thing they have in common is the excellent writing and story telling. This book is the first time I've come close to figuring out whodunit before the end of the book - and I was very close to the end before I did. Twelve hours after she is baptized, a woman and her husband are dead in what appears to be a murder-suicide. A teenage daughter is left orphaned and their minister suffers from guilt because he didn't do more to help the woman escape from her abusive husband.

Another 4.0 is Susan Crandall's Whistling Past The Graveyard. In 1963 Mississippi, nine-year-old Starla runs away from the home where she lives with her grandmother to make her way to Nashville and find her mother. She is picked up by a black woman in an old truck in which there is also a white baby. To 'whistle past the graveyard' means to stay cheerful in a bad situation or to proceed while ignoring an upcoming hazard hoping everything will turn out alright. It takes a lot of whistling, but Starla does make it to Nashville and finds her mother, but even then not everything is as she had expected. A good read about what love and family really are.

Jeannette Walls latest book, The Silver Star, is another 4.0. Twelve-year-old Bean and her older sister have been abandoned, yet again, by their mother. Only this time their mother is gone too long and the girls realize she is probably not coming back. They make their way across country to the home of their reclusive uncle who reluctantly takes them in.

After reading her latest book, I realized I had missed reading her second one Half Broke Horses which is the story of her grandmother growing up on ranches in Arizona and New Mexico. For some reason I gave this one only 3.5. The story is related by Walls as though she is her grandmother remembering her life.

The other 3.5 this month is a new author for me, Hallie Ephron. There Was An Old Woman is the book I was reading as I turned 70 - apropos, no? This novel about elderly home owners being taken advantage of was a good read. I didn't tumble to one of the characters being on the side of the 'bad guys' for quite awhile. Well written; I would read more of her books.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is a book I purchased several years ago when my daughter and I were attending an Inner Gardener meeting at a book store in the East Village. (Des Moines) At the time I thought it sounded interesting, but just never started reading it for some reason. I didn't even realize the author also wrote Cloud Atlas until I did start reading it. I loved this book about a 13-year-old-boy navigating peer pressure, puberty, and his parents' divorce set in a small town in England's Midlands.
When Cloud Atlas became a movie and everyone was reading the book, I had planned to, but then went with my brother's and nephew's reviews and decided to give it a pass. Now I'm rethinking that and am going to at least take a dip into Cloud Atlas and see what I think. I gave Black Swan Green a 4.0.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Testing One's Mettle

When my brother and sister-in-law visited last weekend, we naturally spent time conversing and catching up somewhat on what's been going on in our lives -- new job, progress on editing of book prior to publication, news of another expected grandchild, an engagement in the family, etc. etc.
This picture shows them reading the latest 'R Family Newsletter' which just came that morning - another means of catching up.

Susan related that her brother had taken four weeks off from work this past summer to hike the Superior Trail from Canada back home to Duluth  - something like close to 300 miles. Having driven the scenic North Shore Drive along Lake Superior several years ago, I assumed the hiking trail somewhat paralleled this, which it does.

Construction of the trail began about thirty years ago and was inspired by the Appalachian Trail. I have long been captivated by this type of personal accomplishment. Whether you think of it as "man against nature", "testing one's mettle", or "into the wild", it is something I have many times thought about doing. I like the idea of discovering my own inner strengths alone in nature.
Alas, I have waited too long for such adventure. My knees barely allow one or two miles on a treadmill. Still, I harbor the idea. If and when the time comes I'm ready to leave this lifetime, testing my mettle in the midst of Mother Nature is one way I can imagine going.

These are some scenes along the North Shore Drive taken in the late 90's.

There are many lighthouses along the shore as well as waterfalls, state parks, museums, shopping and dining.

Here I am along the Lake Superior shore line. The definition of mettle is the courage to carry on. Testing one's mettle is seeing if you have the heart to carry on when the going gets tough. It can be mental as well as physical toughness. When I think back over my life, there have been times my mettle has been tested. Still, just not quite the way I have always thought about doing it - alone, in the wilderness, journaling my thoughts and revelations for a week or two. What would I learn about myself?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seven Hundred and Seventy

This is my 700th blog post. In honor I went searching for images of '700'. This is the favorite of what I found online:

The doorway of the Schermerhorn Building at 700 Broadway in New York City. Built the same year my Lynam grandparents, George and Bessie were born, 1891, it was the home of the National Audubon Society for many years. Isn't it a beautiful rendition of '700'?

Second favorite is the logo from the 700 Club, a New Orleans gay bar. So much more representative of me than the other '700 Club'. James Bond, 007, and I agree, nothing like a martini, "shaken, not stirred".

Next I went in search of graphics for '70' because, you know, today is my 70th birthday. I found this one on the ViCSPA Certified Seed Potatoes page. ViCSPA is responsible for seed potato certification in Australia. Apparently been around as long as I have.

This one, too, I found appropriate (the 1943 - 2013 part):

I had to translate it from Russian into English in order to learn that "We continue to accept work on media competition devoted to the 70th Anniversary of the Victory in the Battle of Stalingrad."

So far today I've received birthday greetings from friends and family in Arizona, California, Kansas, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin, in addition to many Iowa locations.

This picture shows gifts from my eldest, Douglas, and wife Shelly:

The wine is St. Supéry's Sauvignon Blanc which I've been searching for since first sampling it with class mates at a wine tasting at our 50th class reunion two years ago. Unopened as yet, but I'm sure as delish as I remember it being. The cute tee shirt goes right along with that 700 club logo.

Next on my day of simple pleasures is going to be afternoon tea with my new favorite tea:

Bigelow's 'Lemon Lift' black tea: "A distinctive blend with just the right amount of lemon and a dash of spice". That dash of spice is not identified on the label, but I'm thinking it might be cinnamon. Along with the tea, I'm having two of my favorite packaged cookies - Keebler's Sandies Toffee Shortbread.
The little tray the cookies are on is one of the melamine, 'Decorative Crafts of Italy' snack or 'tip' vintage pieces. I believe the FE-VRI-ER in the corner translates to February. The artwork is by Eugène Grasset, an early leader in the Art Nouveau movement.
The R doily is vintage crocheting by my Grandma Delphia Ridnour. R for Ridnour then. R for Ramona now.

Almost 70 years ago, this was my first official portrait. I was probably about six weeks old. That's my cute older brother Ronald helping prop me up - a task he has performed many times during these 70 years.
And a picture I took today:

Not much more hair than I had then. My first attempt at taking a 'selfie'. In a book I read last week I learned of this Angel statue in Central Park:

She is known as The Angel of Waters and strides atop the Bethesda Fountain, the central feature on the lower level of Bethesda Terrace. Learning about her almost makes me want to take a trip to NYC - something I've never wanted to do before.

I know how lucky I am to be celebrating my 70th Birthday. There was a time after my stroke last spring that I wasn't sure I would be. But I had my own angel watching over me that day.

My beautiful Mother, Ruth, was there for my first sixty birthdays and I know she is still with me in spirit, watching over me as only a Mother can.

One of my birthday cards today was this one from my younger brother, Les & wife, Susan. The inside concludes, "What a memory!" But it is what Les wrote below that which touches me: "And what a lovely collection of memories you've assembled in 70 years!! I thank you for the ones you've shared in your Blog."

I began my blog as a means of preserving some of my memories for my children, grandchildren and other family members. As I hit 'Publish' for my 700th post, it is gratifying to know my ramblings are appreciated.

(The magnet came in a birthday card from Les two or three years ago. It reads: "Sisters reach for your hand .... and Touch your heart." ---So do Brothers.)