Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Book List & 2016 Re-Cap

A whopping seventeen books read this month which I think is a new record for me. But there was only one I rated a 5 and that is John Hart's Redemption Road.
It is his first new book in five years, but so worth the wait. It is also the first book in some time that has kept me awake and reading well into the night because I "had to finish it". It is a police thriller with bad cops, serial murderers and troubled detectives. The writing is so taut - filled with tension, secrets, betrayals and scenes so graphic they are hard to read - but spellbinding. This guy is good!

Jojo Moyes is a recently discovered author and I really like her books. Paris For One And Other Stories is a book of short stories, which I don't usually care for, but Moyes writing is so good, funny and charming. Her heroines are all strong, relatable women in the midst of their everyday lives. Paris is the background for the stories. Rated 4.0.

Paris and a nearby small town are also the setting for The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck. This is her first novel; I hope she writes more. A traditional tailor in a small town is retained to design and make a wedding dress for a woman in Paris. Unlike every other bride he has ever made a wedding dress for, she doesn't offer any wishes for what she wants. He is to decide the style and material. The dress is a hit and he becomes a top designer in a Parisian fashion house. All the time he is in love with the woman and tries his best to win her away from her husband. The tale is beautifully wrought and unfolded. Rated 4.0.

Sara Rosett is another new author for me. Death In The English Countryside is the first book in her 'Murder on Location' series. An LA location scout goes to England to find out why her boss didn't return as planned. He is found, murdered, and she becomes a suspect. I think I liked this as well as I did because of the English setting. Rated 3.5.

Ruth Ware - another new author. The Woman In Cabin 10 is a good mystery with good writing, but the story line seemed a little far-fetched. Rated 3.0.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han, is a YA book I read because I saw it on a list of "books all women should read" - that even if you are an adult, the book will show you the why of all the boyfriend choices you made. I can't say it did, but it was a cute read. Rated 3.0.

A Gala Event by Sheila Connolly is another of what I call "cute little mysteries". It is part of An Orchard Mystery series. It was not too exciting and the writing was only so-so.  I probably won't read any more of the series. Rated 2.5.

Wallace Stegner was born in Iowa, but grew up in the west. He was referred to as "The Dean of Western Writers" and his books have a western flavor. I was introduced to his writing by a friend and probably started reading him around the time he died in 1993. Crossing To Safety is the story of two couples and their life-long friendships with all its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. It is what a call a 'quiet' little book - a satisfying read. Rated 4.0.

In One Basket is the third book in a time travel series by my brother, Les Lynam. (I love saying, "My brother, the author".) And even though sci-fi is not my favorite genre, I do enjoy his books. He is an excellent writer although I don't know how he keeps all the characters, locations, times, etc. straight. In this book more emphasis is on the character of Jane. She was already becoming my favorite - but now she definitely is. (As always I wonder who is the inspiration for this character?) Changes have been made in the time line and Alex cannot get back to his own time. Rated 4.5.

Pushing Up Daisies is the latest in the Agatha Raisin Mystery Series (#27). This series by M.C. Beaton, always delights me - probably because Ms. Raisin is so perfectly imperfect. Fun read.

I'm not a huge Mary Higgins Clark fan, but Preston gave me some books to read from one of Winterset's little libraries and I've Got You Under My Skin was one of them. I liked this one better than the last MHC I read. The producer of a true crime, cold case TV show is haunted by the unsolved murder of her own husband. Witnesses to the murder heard the killer say his wife was next and then their son. Five years have passed. Will the re-enactment of an unsolved murder give the woman's would be killer the opportunity he needs? Rated 3.0.

Medals In The Attic by Cathy Elliott was another book from Preston. It is part of the Annie's Attic Mystery series - another of those 'cute little mystery series'. Rated 2.5.

Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke was familiar to me because I've watched it on Hallmark's "Murder She Baked" series. It was fun to read the book, also from Preston. Rated 2.5.

A Turn for the Bad by Sheila Connolly apparently is one of the "A County Cork Mystery" series. Hey, if I'm not about all things Irish, I'm not about anything. But this simple little mystery left a lot to be desired. An o.k. read; but not great. Rated 2.0

Anne Enright's The Gathering is also set in Ireland. It was a 2007 Man Booker Prize winner. I so wanted to really like this book about a large Irish family over three generations. The family was very dysfunctional and only came together because of the suicide of one of the favorite sons. Alas, it was too disjointed, dare I say too dysfunctional? Rated 2.5

I had never heard of, nor read, Paulo Coelho until I watched a segment on Sunday Morning earlier this month. His, The Alchemist, was an international best seller. A simple fable about listening to your own heart and following your dreams, it reminded me of The Little Prince as well as Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Rated 4.0. (Because I believe in listening to your own heart and following your dreams.)

Final book read in 2016 was Susan Wiggs Family Tree. I have read a couple Wiggs books before, but hadn't written her down as someone I wanted to keep reading. I will now. I really liked this book - set in Vermont on a family farm/maple syrup business, it has a lot of the importance of family as well as finding and following your dreams. I rated it 4.0. I will be reading more Wiggs in 2017.

For the year end wrap up: I read 128 books in 2016. I can think of two I checked out and ended up not reading and one I started reading but gave up on. December was my biggest reading month with 17 and February the smallest with only 5 books read.
I had eight #5 ratings, twenty-three 4.5's, forty-five 4.0's, twenty-six 3.5's, fifteen 3.0's, eight 2.5's, two 2.0's and one 1.5. Check my math. I hope that adds up right.
I can only hope for as good a reading year in 2017. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Colorful Purses and Shoes

Around this same time last year I was explaining how I happened to have two new coffee/tea mugs. This year it is how I *happen* to have two new purses and two (a pair) new shoes.
Blame it on Black Friday. Or, more accurately perhaps, Cyber Monday.
There is no exchange of Christmas gifts around here anymore. We each, if we want something, buy it ourselves and at our age(s), there's not much we really want anymore.
But those darn Cyber Monday sellers really know how to get to you - especially, in my case, Kohls. They are too tempting with their Cyber WEEK offers of 20-30% off, free shipping, PLUS Kohls Cash. Yeah, there's probably something I need.
For most of the year I had been carrying the same purse I bought at a garage sale. Even though I had newer, nicer purses, I liked it because it was a bit smaller AND it had a 'pocket' just the right size to slip a book into - something I never leave home without because you never know when you might end up 1) waiting or 2) stranded and need a book to keep you from going cray cray.

So I had been on the lookout for a new purse for awhile - I'd even looked at Kohls last time we were in Des Moines. Nothing was just right. Oh, there were plenty of purses big enough to fit a book into, but I didn't want a big purse anymore. I carried big purses my whole life - you know, everything in there but the kitchen sink - no wonder my shoulder hurt all the time. I was so over big purses. The right purse to accommodate a book was more about the length of the purse than the overall size. None I saw were better than my garage sale purse - which was starting to look pretty well worn - not that anyone pays attention to an old woman and her old purse.

My first cyber order went off to Kohls - a new pair of my favorite jeans, a special holiday gift set of my favorite perfume (cheaper than buying just a bottle of perfume) and a new purse. I *saved* SO MUCH MONEY and I earned $30.00 in Kohls cash for a future purchase. (See how they keep you coming back?)

My package arrived. The purse was way too big. I used my Kohl's cash on another cyber order - two new Calphalon skillets and a sweater. My package arrived. I didn't like the sweater.
Anything ordered from Kohls online can be returned to a Kohls store so when hubby dearest was going to the big city for his semi-annual visit to Veterans Hospital, I decided to go along.

I knew there was going to be an adjustment to what I was returning for credit because I had used Kohls cash earned from the first order to purchase items in the second order. The customer service clerk said if I could find a purse for exactly the same dollar amount as the one I was returning it would be an even exchange, otherwise I would only get about $15.00 back - half of the amount I would pay for the purse after the sale price and discount.
I doubted I would find a purse 1) that I liked and 2) that was the exact $$ amount as the one being returned. But I went looking - and here is the amazing part - I found not only one purse, but two!!

The burgundy colored one is the exchange purse. See how well that book fits into the back pocket? And there on the shelf next to it was the exact same purse in that burnt-orange color I had been coveting since it became popular a year or two ago. And it was marked down, clearance (my best friend, 'Clarence'), to $13.80! Back to the returns desk for the even exchange on the $69.00 Vera Wang purse and purchase of the clearance one which ended up costing $6.18 after applying the Kohls cash* she gave me in addition to the credit on my account for the return of the sweater and the 30% discount being offered to Kohls customers that day. Total win! win!

The story about those flashy shoes is much shorter. Ever since daughter-in-law #1 gave me a used pair of ASICS gel Nimbus running shoes one of her co-workers was giving away, they have been my walking/gym shoes. But they were wearing out. I have been looking at/pricing a new pair, but they are expensive shoes. Enter daughter-in-law #2 and granddaughter who runs track/cross-country for her college. She gets ASICS for half price through the school. Due to a mis-order, her new shoes came wrong size, wrong color. Okay, they are my size, but definitely NOT my color, but for half price, I have my new walking shoes. Who cares what color they are? Which really is alright - just too flashy for my taste.

For someone *not* expecting any Christmas presents, I made out pretty well. Have I mentioned that I really like Kohls?

(* I never understood why the clerk gave me the $5.00 Kohls cash in addition to the credit for the return on the sweater, but, hey, it was good for use that day (usually when you earn Kohls cash it has to be used the following week) and who am I to look a gift horse purse in the mouth?)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Days Dwindle Down

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few...

Another year almost over. Another year I have put off having knee of these days...

If I think about the year's highlights, the first thing that comes to mind was our second annual Christmas in July. Held on one of the hottest days of the summer, it was a huge success and so much fun.
Celebrating Christmas in the summer has taken all the usual depression of the season away from me. No mad shopping, no bad weather ruining plans, no scrambling trying to decide a day and time that will work best for the kids, grandkids, in-laws, etc, etc. It is such a relief not to dread the holidays. 

Another of the year's highlights was the high school graduation of my youngest grandchild. The event was saddened by the death of his other grandmother. We all knew how much she hoped to be there.
Next week this young man (19 years old, yesterday) leaves for his basic training in the military. I have mixed emotions about that. I have to trust all will be well. His decision to enlist is the same as my oldest grandson's was in 1999. He ended up going to Iraq. I fear Devin will also see duty in a situation of war.

There were no trips for us this year, but if the winter is bad enough, we have Arizona on our radar. Between my brother-in-law, a good friend and a niece, we could easily spend a week or two in warmer climes. Well, the niece lives in Flagstaff, so that could be more like staying in Iowa.

A road trip in 2017 would be nice, but the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is the birth of my second great-granddaughter in March. Can't wait to meet this little one. Babies bring so much joy.

As the days dwindle down, so do the years. I don't have a lot of hope left for the way the world is going, so having the majority of my life behind me is a good thing. I will continue to get lost in books, enjoy the birds, clouds, sunsets out my window...... and these few precious days, I'll spend with you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Deep In December

Try to remember the kind of September 
When life was slow and oh, so mellow

Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow

Deep in December it's nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow

Deep in December it's nice to remember
Without a hurt, the heart is hollow

Deep in December it's nice to remember
The fire of September that made you mellow

Deep in December our hearts should remember
Then follow ....follow.....

Deep in December - the full Cold Moon 2016

(Try To Remember [music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones] is from the musical comedy, The Fantasticks. It was first released by Jerry Orbach in 1960.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just One More Reason (MTY, LTT)

I'm always looking out my magic window, as hubby dearest calls it, scouting for wildlife, interesting clouds, pretty sunsets. The camera is at hand if there is anything interesting....

.... this morning it was four deer on the hillside across the pond.  One was so nearly camouflaged that I almost didn't see it until the zoom lens pulled all of them closer.

Then I noticed what I assumed was the heron until I also zoomed in on it and saw this lone Canadian goose. When it was still there in the same position an hour later, I got worried. Why hadn't it moved? Was it caught in a muskrat trap? Was it injured? I kept didn't move.

Finally I pointed it out to Bud and shared my concerns with him. "It's been there more than an hour. It must be caught, hurt, etc." He replied just as I expected: "I'll go down and see." (He knows I would go myself if 1) it weren't so darned cold out and 2) I was able.) I did say I'd better go with him because 1) geese can flog you and 2) you might fall in the pond. But he assured me he would be fine.

He barely got close before the goose started honking and moved out onto the open water. Watching from the window, I was relieved for goose and man.

What had kept the goose in the same spot for such a long time? I'll never know.

But I do know, not that there was any doubt, my hubby dearest would do anything for me.

Just one more reason I love him more than yesterday, less than tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Weight That Keeps You From Me

The heron comes to the pond almost daily. I suppose it will until the water freezes. I went in search of a poem to go with the picture I took this morning.
And found this evocative one by Polly Brown, a Massachusetts poet.

     Blue Heron Stone

"Because I could not bring back
     the blue heron
who watched us,
     out of the river's shadows,
          and then flew heavily away --

because I could not keep
     her yellow metal eye
          to remind me of fierceness --
I kept this stone. *

Blue-gray, like the heron,
     layered by millions of years in the sea
          and rounded
     by thousands of years in the river,

it is the circling clouds of a storm;
     it is all weathers, all calm, 

          all the weight that keeps you from me
and holds us to the earth."

* One of the small stones I still can't resist bringing home from our travels.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A December Day

"That's no December Sky!
Surely 'tis June
Holds now her state on high
Queen of the noon.

Only the tree-tops bare
Crowning the hill,
Clear-cut in perfect air,
Warn us that still

Winter, the aged chief,
Mighty in power,
Exiles the tender leaf, 
Exiles the flower."
       (Robert Fuller Murray 1863-1894 - A December Day)

Today is my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Howard's wedding anniversary. They were married 80 years ago, Wednesday, December 2, 1936. Was that day as temperate as is this December day? (Sunny; almost 40° at noon.) My teen-aged, future mother had not yet begun her later habit of recording the daily highs, lows, precipitation and clouds or sun in her diaries. She only recorded "Got meat ready to cold pack this a.m. Evelyn & Howard were Married today also Marvin and Helen."

Our Autumn this year was long and warmer than usual. That 'aged chief' did not exile the tender leaves and flowers until late November.

Even today there are a few purple blooms on the hyssop.

The lavender is still thriving and look what has come up near it - dill plants! My dill always self-sows from dropped seeds in the spring, but in December?!

Likewise the lambs ears and coral bells are still growing. Maybe all the fallen leaves help insulate them.

It was a good growing season for the hen and chicks. This pot is FULL and the ones in the strawberry jar also did well. There's never been a problem wintering over these succulents, though the cold weather usually kills a few.

The lovely 'Royale Peachy Keen' verbena flowers are done for this year but there is still some green showing on the plants. Oh how I hope I can find this verbena again next year. Love their gorgeous color and ease of care. The dusty miller looks like it is still alive and really looks just right for winter with its snowflake appearance.

The water in the bird bath hasn't frozen. I'd best get it emptied before the forecast change in weather is upon us.

"That's no December Sky!"