Saturday, February 28, 2015

My February Reads, 2015

February was a slightly above average reading month - ten books read: one rated 5; two 4.5's; two 4's; two 3.5's; one each 2.5, 2 and 1.5.

Lila is Marilynne Robinson's latest of her 'Gilead' books and my 5 book this month. It is the story of how Lila came to Gilead and became the wife of Pastor John Ames. How this young woman survived her feral life on the fringes of society made me contemplate what it would be like to grow up without family or education. A beautifully written book, it sent me back to the library for Ms. Robinson's previous two 'Gilead' books.

Gilead, which won the Pulitzer for Robinson in 2005, was my least favorite of these three books. I resisted reading it when everyone else was because of its religious aspect. Perhaps I was meant to read all three of these books at the same time. I gave this one a 4.

Home had been recommended to me by a friend after it won the Orange Prize in 2009. Again, I didn't care to read a 'religious' book, even though I have almost always liked the books this friend recommends. And, again, I believe I was meant to read all three of Robinson's books at the same time. I gave Home a 4.5. I found myself thinking about my nephew, Mike, as I read about Jack's tortured inner despair. This book gave me some solace surrounding Mike's life and death. I can see myself re-reading all three of these books. I think there's much more to them than I gleaned in a first reading.

Alan Bradley is one of my 'adopted' authors at our library. That means they order the book, I pay for it and I get to read it first! I have adored the Flavia de Luce Mysteries from the very first one. I gave As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, #7 in the series, a 4.5. Flavia is banished to Canada to the same boarding school her mother once attended. Of course there are mean girls, missing girls, terrifying teachers and duplicitous head mistresses, oh yes, and the body in the chimney. Who it is, how it got there and who put it there is a mystery for Flavia to solve - which she does brilliantly - before being sent back to England - banished once more.

I may as well confess, I am in love with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. But I also love his wife, Reine-Marie, so maybe it's okay. Louise Penny's fourth book in this series finds the Gamache's celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary at a remote resort. Other guests include a fractious family holding an annual reunion. When one of those quarrelsome family members ends up dead, Inspector Gamache's vacation is sidelined as he investigates what appeared to be a tragic accident but what can only be a murder.
I did not care for this book as much as many of her others, but it still rates a 4. It was one of the two books in the series I had not yet read. Thanks to my NYC son, I have now read all of Penny's books and can eagerly await her next one (which doesn't come out until August).

My two 3.5 ratings go to Lauren Oliver's Rooms and Jo-Ann Mapson's Solomon's Oak. Rooms was better than I thought it was going to be considering the premise: Man dies, alienated family members (ex-wife, two children and granddaughter) come back to clear out the house - which is inhabited by at least two ghosts. Their stories, as well as the family member's are told, which, as I said, was much better than I thought it would be.

I am becoming a Jo-Ann Mapson fan. Solomon's Oak is a lovely story about a young widow struggling to make a living after her husband's death. She begins hosting weddings on her Central California farm. She fosters a very troubled teen aged girl. (She and her husband had fostered only boys in the past.) Mapson's books stand alone, but the characters appear in other books which make for some interesting reading. I'm looking forward to reading more about the disabled ex-cop who makes an appearance in this book.

Ghosts seem to have been a theme for me this month: Nora Bonesteel is a wise old woman with the sight. I have loved this character from the time I read Sharyn McCrumb's first Ballad book, If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O. I gave McCrumb's Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past (A Ballad Novella) a 2.5 but only because of its brevity.

Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart is apparently the second book in the Bailey Ruth Ghost Novel series. Bailey Ruth as a ghost goes back to earth from Heaven to help solve mysteries. She is invisible but has the ability to materialize and when she does, she is always sartorially splendid. I tired of reading about her perfect outfits and found it hard to buy into the 'ghost solves mysteries' premise. I gave Ghost Wanted a 2.0.

I started to rate An Italian Wife by Ann Hood a 2 also, but decided to drop it to 1.5. Looking back I see that I gave this author a 3 for The Obituary Writer. An Italian Wife started out with promise - a young woman in Italy is married off by her family to an older man three days before he leaves to make his fortune in America. It is eleven years before he saves enough money to send for her.
I'm sure many old world unions began this way, possibly even for some of my ancestors, which is why I thought the book would be good as it does cover four generations. Unfortunately, even though the book is about this Italian Wife, her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters, it is almost exclusively about their sexual lives. Very disappointing compared to what it could have been if the author had just given us more about these women's lives than the one aspect.

My February reads included one I took back unread: "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage". I like Ann Patchett's novels, but I did not care to read her essays about her life.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Precocious Five-Year-Old?

Yesterday I posted about some of those receipts I found in an old 1948 calendar of my parents. That year I turned five. This is what the November page looked like:

Someone had circled my birthday in RED! I assumed my Mom had marked every family member's birthday. I looked at September to see if Betty's was circled. Nope. May for Ron? Nope. My birthday was the only conspicuous date in the entire calendar. Was I really that egotistical at age five? How would my older (by 3-1/2 years) brother answer that question?

The other thing to note on this calendar - and all of the Red Star Mills' calendars - is the information on the back sides of the pocketed months. This one is about the care of your farm machinery. The next month (back of current month) was 'cost and measuring tables'. We learned a lot of measures in grade school, like two pints equals one quart, twelve inches equals one foot, etc. But how many gills in a pint? Or links in a rod? Or rods in a chain? There were charts for eggs, milk and cream production. But the only chart Mom had used was the breeding record where she had kept track of when to expect Brindle, Blossom, Brownie and Tootsie's calves.

My fourth grade report card was also in the box of pictures and papers. What is that Lake Wobegon quote about the children being above average?

All A's and B's in my subjects except a couple of C's in the first reporting period which were B's by the following period. Note the C in Arithmetic 'speed' and the C in Music 'singing'. Mom always did say I "couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket".  Note the only A in the first period was for Spelling. I was always a good speller.

Citizenship, Work Habits and Physical Education were all B's except for that one C, "Works to capacity". Does that mean I'm an under-achiever? Or just lazy? I remember the most important line on those grade school report cards as being in that last box: Advance to whatever the next grade was.

Here is my 'above average' fourth grade school picture.

And one of me on my fifth birthday:

Well, maybe I did draw those red circles around November 18. I do look a bit precocious, don't I?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ink Blotters and Coincidences

It always fascinates me when something I haven't thought about in awhile comes up and then is repeated in a very short time. Last night we were watching American Pickers when Mike picked a box of ink blotters for $100. I remember ink blotters. I remember using them at school before ball point pens became the norm.
Ink blotters were made from a soft, absorbent paper on one side and smooth card stock on the other side. The card side usually had some form of advertising. I still enjoy using an ink pen once in awhile - either a fountain pen or nib pens - but when was the last time I had a blotter to use?

This morning while going through a box of pictures and miscellaneous I found Mom & Dad's 'Red Star Mills' pocket calendar from 1948. Those yearly calendars were where Mom kept receipts and information for the year end tax preparation. There were a quite a few receipts for seed corn. Looks like Dad tried several different hybrid brands - Moew's, Cargill's, Funk's and Pfister were all represented by the purchase of one or two bushels. And there were a couple receipts from Dr. M.R. Beemer for vaccinating the pigs against cholra (sic) and lung (?)

Then there was an envelope with the above receipt for payment on a life insurance policy. And with that receipt was this:

A brand new, unused, ink blotter with 'many thanks' from the insurance company along with a quote from the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. The blotting paper on the reverse side is a very pretty pink.

Now if I can just find a bottle of ink, I'll be back in business. Of course it will have to be black ink, not blue. I think the last time I used a bottle of ink like this one it was 'blue-black'.

Seeing those ink blotters on American Pickers last night and then finding the ink blotter in an old 1948 calendar this morning. What are the odds?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Year of the Goat? Sheep? or Ram?

The Chinese New Year begins today and as I was born under the eighth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, it is 'my' year. But is it the year of the sheep, ram or goat? All three have been used interchangeably for this sign.

You would think my preference would be 'The Year of the Sheep' since I have actually raised sheep. That's part of my flock in the background with my cute little grandson, Brock. He was almost two in this spring of '83. I learned so much about sheep and myself during this experience. My only guide was 'Raising Small Livestock: The Practical Handbook' by Jerome D. Belanger. I still hope to someday have the words to write the story about my own 'year of the sheep'.

If I had ever raised goats, perhaps I wouldn't be so enamored of them. There's just something about a goat that appeals to me, therefore I think of myself as being born in the Year of the Goat - "something strong with a quiet spirit". And is there anything cuter than a baby goat?

Here's what one Chinese Zodiac site says about those born in the year of the sheep: "People born in the year of the sheep are meek and contented by nature, with an iron hand in a velvet glove. They are always considerate and reliable and may handle everything properly. However, they are a little bit moody, pessimistic and sentimental." Hmm.

In our family, I share the year of the goat only with Lorrie's twins, Aiden and Erick. It will also be the Chinese Zodiac sign for the new great-grandson Fleming due in June.

For fun, here are the other signs and family members who share them:

Year of the Rat: Dominique, Tina, Evan and Jennifer (Ron & Ruthie's first baby).

Year of the Ox: Lorrie & Andrew, Zach, Devin, Ridge, Maya and Rodney.

Year of the Tiger: Doug, Katrina and Mark. (Hmm, Doug is a Lion and a Tiger.)

Year of the Rabbit: Shelly, Brad and Austin.

Year of the Dragon: Ron, Christine, Susan, Mike and Lily.

Year of the Snake: Dad (Louis), Ken, Alyssa, Sawyer, Michael and Jesse.

Year of the Horse: Mom (Ruth), Les, Gene, Ruthie, Nicholas Hans, Paullina, Jack, Ayden and Keira.

Year of the Monkey: Kristi, Ki and Nicholas Robert.

Year of the Rooster: Bud, Betty, Kari, Brock, Kathryn and Carston.

Year of the Dog: Deise and April.

Year of the Pig: Preston, Shalea and Ian.

I was unable to determine the Zodiac years for Marge, Dale, Heidi, Kevin and Ryan because even though I know their birth 'days', I'm not sure of their birth 'years'.

Some other 'goat' attributes that apply to me: Goat people are dreamers, they like to study the esoteric (to know more about the unknown), they like to read books, they are fond of nature, insecure, sometimes pessimistic and can be lazy. The Goat can also be a good writer.