Friday, April 29, 2011

Time Sepia Saturday 72 (Click here to get to the Sepia Site)

Uncle Carl's sketch  about 1950
Above is a postcard sketch done by my Uncle Carl in about 1950 after he completed  a commercial art certificate program through the University.  Uncle Carl about whom I've written  several times on this blog is 93 and living in a care facility in PA, the last of my tribe, Mom's brother.  Today he no longer sketches nor draws though each time I go there I take along a set of colored pencils, regular pencils,  pens and a tablet hoping to re-awaken his interest in drawing.  He always takes them and then either gives them away or hides them in his room, saying that his days  of drawing are over but I don't give up; there is a stubbornness gene in the family that I have in spades.   

After he returned home from WWII he enrolled in commercial art courses using  his GI educational benefits.   He was a natural  artist, a gene that runs through  the Ostrowski family, but he was unable to make a living at it.  Instead he went to work for the local gas company as a repairman, lineman, meter reader, all activities that allowed him to be outdoors, and supplemented his income by painting commercial signs.  Often he would take a photo of something and then sketch or paint it. 

Cleaning out his home, I found this card and was astounded at the precise detail;  I don't know the purpose of this sketch, if this is something he sold or did this just to amuse himself.  When I asked him about this watch sketch he said, "Oh I did lots of those.."  Often when  painting a commercial sign he would first sketch it in miniature.  What concentrationhe had to reproduce  perfect detail; today time has taken that skill along with many of his physical abilities.       

We will soon be making our journey to visit him and check on things; he and his wife had no children so after his sister died in 2009, the responsibility came to me. I had to be the one to get him into the facility with help from his  doctor; he calls it, "the Club" and is amenable and content there.  Time has marched on, to the beat of a strange rhythm.  No one expected Uncle Carl to outlive all his siblings; he has outlived heart bypass surgery in his 60's, high blood pressure  and genetic high cholesterol.  He takes no medications other than when he gets pneumonia or an infection that necessitates antibiotics.  Still it is sad to see someone who was once so robust weakened,  with dementia and unable to live in his own  home.  

This is a photo he intended to sketch someday, but time got away from him; it was on the wall in his basement workshop.  He had noted, "my favorite girls"  on the back; the girls are his wife Marge who passed in 1997 and me. His sisters used to ask him, "what about me" which would geta  big laugh from Carl in reply.  After Marge told me he was planning to sketch this  each time I visited over the years I had to ask if he had sketched us yet; he'd reply, "Sometime you just have to wait."  Somewhere I have a better copy of this on which he had some tiny black spots, maybe from an ink pen or paint brush.  
1986 Left to Right Aunt Marge, Uncle Carl, Me
One of our  visits  to PA.
Last week the director of the facility where Carl resides called me, setting my hair on edge, as I braced myself for bad news answering the phone. I know he can go at any time.   No bad news instead they had a photo to email to me.  A young boy had been in the previous day visiting and he and Carl really hit it off. There are some kids like this little boy  that Carl just likes right away.   The boy showed him his electronic phone  game and the photo below says it all.  Carl became enthralled with it; he was always interested in electronics and cameras.  The look on this child's face is priceless, can't you see him thinking, "Oh why did I show him this and when is he  gonna give it back!" The facility director said he was sending this onto home office with a caption, "Never too old to learn."   
Uncle Carl with the boy's electronic
As always to enjoy others' posts  in the Sepia activity, click on the title to this post to go to the host site. Alan's timely photo surprised me who just knew we would be doing Royal Wedding theme, and not so.  I am relieved at the choice.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writers, feedback and readers

Last night I went to the meeting of a local group of women wanna be writers.  My intent is to connect with a writers group as I have been so advised by successful published writers and since these women are right here in my backyard and invited me, my curiosity got the better of me.  There are only five in the group, I made the sixth; they have been meeting for many years and are all familiar or more distinctly settled in with each other.  I was told last night's venue would be silent reading of each other's work and commenting.

I printed out two of my blog posts about my Uncle John Irwin, the recent Sepia Saturday camel and the older Red Dragon.  Since I prefer to not waste my color print cartridges, I stopped in at my local friendly office copy service in town, Charlie's, to get another copy to share.  They know me there as I have been a good customer over the last two  years, copying all the numerous estate papers and documents.  While copying, she commented, "Oh now what is this you are doing?"  When I explained, she asked if she could not have a copy too to read as she found the titles of interest.  So I agreed but with the caveat that she had to provide me some honest feed back.   If you are curious or merely wish to refresh yourself here are the links on this blog to  both  posts.

So was it mission accomplished or time wasted?  I am still pondering.  These  women are too familiar with each other and may not be able to share real perspective, if they have it at least not what I want.  I am not sure that any of them are established readers or well read which I believe is a prerequisite to writing.  One needs to understand language and words, else output is merely drivel or ranting.    It seems to me that aspiring writers must seek out readers and editors.  These women are intent on being kind to each other which, while an  admirable Midwestern trait may not be time well spent if one is seriously considering publication.  At least one, is a retired English teacher and concerns herself with editing for commas, punctuation and the like trivia.  Well when I blog, I don't pay such attention to those details, so my articles kept her busy.  Her comments really do resemble Mrs.Klinke who was one of my high school teachers, complete with the red pen check marks.  I wondered what grade she had given me.

One woman  is a self published writer, an earthy type who wonders why her recent trivia self published book has not yet achieved best seller status.  She would know if she realized who really cares about building their own brick or stone oven in their  yard to spend a day building a wood fire and baking 20 loaves of bread?  When I'd  heard her speaking at the library lecture when I met this group, I was bored and thinking, "well good for you, but I'll stick with my occasional use of my bread maker." 

The teacher and the earth mother discussed their attendance last week  at a writers' conference in Madison, WI and both expressed  disappointment.  They commented on the exorbitant  cost which seemed nominal to me at $200 for a couple days plus additional  fees for certain workshops.  They also commented on hearing that the writing world is full of rejections.  Most of all they dissed the  many workshops which emphasized the necessity to be technology savy and to have a web presence, a blog,  as well as be linked to social media.  None of them do this, one  uses a self correcting electric typewriter, one an ancient computer, the earth mother writes in a spiral notebook then types it on her PC.  I sat wondering where these women had been all their lives and knew the answer,. right here, out of touch.  I surmised  things might  go down hill from there for me.  In my introduction I told them about my blog and computer use.  They listened politely, one was amazed at my having a blog as she knew they were very difficult to set up.  How she knew this, I wonder, but I people can  retreat happily  to denial when they lack knowledge and familiarity.   Only one understood what I said about weekly contributions to Sepia Saturday.  The others could not comprehend writing with a prompt as Magpie posts.

 Earth mother was devastated and admitted to spending all the past  week  in tears because although she was one of the 25% selected to email her manuscript to an editor  after she "made her pitch" she received a rejection the very next  day, emailed with the mere comment, "not for me."  She inundated us with pages of her journal last night which  she proposes to publish as a travelogue of Ireland.  I was bored senseless reading it.  Besides we had been told to limit ourselves to 10 pages, but evidently she was an exception.  The others raved about her pages as I remained silent.  When she asked me why I had been silent, I had to be me and say that "it was not my cup of tea."  I was thinking that puts me in the same space as the editor who rejected her.  She could not understand any of my writings where I referenced Life as a Muse and left me with a ?"what is that?"  She spent quite sometime lamenting how she was going to give up writing which elicited sympathy  and encouragement from the group.  Her comments seemed to focus on movement.  I asked for clarity about who or what  should move.  And she merely waved her hand, "Aahh the writing must move."   I am thinking this group may be absolutely ineffective for feedback. 

One woman who has a published book Deborah, the Biblical prophetess is primarily now concerned with selling her book, I can appreciate that as she has  an investment in the copies. Her feedback to me on my articles was acclamations of niceties, but also  a bewildered, "but who is that riding on the camel?  And why doesn't he have any clothes on?"   Maybe this is a different take on the Irwin camel, but I was amazed.  Still no one ever talked about the camel rider, only the Irwin camel.  Is that worth my time? 

 One woman is working on a book about two sisters which is part mystery and part saga and shared her chapter "Red Lace Thong".  It was ok, unlikely something I'd purchase but not badly written neither  great language, it offered some suspense as to how these girls will settle their inheritance.  I was lost as to who was whom, and why she'd chosen that title for the chapter but she assured me that answer is coming in a few more pages which are not completed.  

The other woman is dabbling as well but forgot to bring  along her recent fixes to her story, which I found odd as the purpose of the group is to get feedback on writings, I  presumed.  Why would one go without the material? 

Overall they were intrigued with Uncle John and asked if I had more about him.  They kept trying to place him in MN despite my background about where and when.   They laughed on how he must have been a character and they could see my grandparent's consternation at him as a son in law. One suggested I write more about that.  One took issue with me returning the camel to the Irwins eventually.  Another said, "no she is right to do so, he never knew his grandson."  There followed a conversations among themselves, consensus being it is ok for me to do so.  I don and the 't recall asking for an opinion on that.   Earth mother had just returned from Ireland where he father lives and said John would have liked it there because at each home one is offered a glass of whiskey.  Yes, indeed that would have been right up John's alley or down his throat and I do believe he had Irish ancestry.  

The gist is they meet here at my local library, but I think if I want meaningful feedback I will need to seek another venue. When I came home and described the evening to Jerry, he smirked and said, "what can you expect, it's La Crescent and likely their monthly social gathering?"  Sometimes I leave these gatherings feeling like a snob or stranger in a strange land.  But I have lived a far different life professionally and socially than any of these women and cannot relate to much of what they do.  Where have these women been that they do not fathom the difficulty in writing and the massive rejections that await?   How can I expect useful feedback from women who do not read because they are busy writing?  Or any comprehension from women who barely use email, let alone blogs or social media?  How can women who know nothing beyond MN, WI or IA have any frame of reference?  That I would write about PA mystified them. That I came from CA was  something they could not fathom.   Still I suppose if one is confined to this or any small area and look nowhere beyond in the country or the world, this is what happens.  They are nice cordial  women who will likely continue to meet and amuse themselves this way.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sepia Saturday Week 71 Easter (Click here to go to the Sepia host site)

1965 Steve with Easter bunny and candy
Thought I would skip this week of Easter but I have been rummaging old photos looking for some of a grand aunt on my father's side after a new connection this week with cousins, previously unknown to me.  While on that search I found these photos of Easter past, long past.  Sometimes it helps to just remember Steve in his happiest times, as friends said, he was such a happy smiling kid, always.  Life would diminish that happiness, but these good memories of what we enjoyed bring a glow.    This first of his first Easter, one year old, dressed in a suit.  I can hear him from the Beyond now, "Mother!"  I don't remember that bunny which looks like it was wooden.  But I remember that Easter suit, which Mom sent money to buy.  Back in the olden days we always dressed to the nines for holidays, even toddlers.
I found few photos of Easter, many more of Christmas.

We and everyone we knew and many we met spent most Easters at the Kikers' farm in Newcastle. Sam and Helen Kiker were parents of my dear friend Ella and the extended family of all of us was huge.  Nearly 100 of us gathered there every year on Easter and other times; Helen would cook a huge ham and a turkey and we all brought many dishes and ice chest  filled with beverages  for the massive dinner.  It was a fun time and we all knew that; maybe we never thought back then that  those days would become memories.  This was the Newcastle farm we would eventually buy from Sam and Helen as they aged and were intent to selling off when we were intent to move from the suburb of Fair Oaks; none of their children were interested in buying and we were "adopted kids" as they called us, so they sold to us and we moved to the orchard/ranch/ acreage.

1971 Easter at Kikers Farm  Steve, Karen and kids
 This 1971 photo of just a few of the multitude of kids gathered at the farm,  posed for the Easter egg hunt that would be down the road in the pond field.  Steve is front  to the left holding his basket, next to him is Karen Malnick, (Ella and Phil's daughter.) She was younger but they lived down the street in Fair Oaks and she always looked to Steve as her big brother. Steve was easy going and would go along with entertaining the youngsters. I don't recall who the other children are except Leslie Kiker, the blonde on the ground on the right chewing on her basket handle. I didn't write the names, I suppose I thought I'd always know who they were and today  I do not.

Oh, all our dogs which we all brought to the farm had to be corralled so the kids could first search for eggs that the men hid and sprinkled  all over the  field, arranging easier egg areas for the youngest children to find and so on.  After the kids were done, the dogs were loosed and headed down to the field  always finding leavings.  You will notice all the cars in the huge drive and road.  Sam drove the kids to the pond  in the back of a cart hauled by the tractor.  Along the way they all sang, Sam's special song, "Alfalfa Hay" 
One last photo of an Easter many years later, 1990, and now many years ago.  It is one of my favorites with the glow of the sun shining through the trees looking down the hill off the back deck, Newcastle.
1990 Easter sun Newcastle, CA
As always click on the title to go to the Sepia site and see what others are sharing.  Alan's Big Bunny prompt at the host site is worth checking out...Happy Easter day

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Snow Stops Efforts

Saturday, April 16 snow blanket
 Saturday AM we awoke to a blanket of white,   coated overnight, but by afternoon it melted.  Just a few days ago I was out clipping the roses and working in the rose garden,  removing the wintry mulch and watching the robins scurry to take the choicest earthworms inches from my rake.  Well, it was OK, I could take a few days off  from my  spring gardening and confine my activities to indoor domestic chores which abound.   This photo is the back deck into the backyard where the bird feeders hang.  The goldfinch feeder is usually covered with the golden guys and girls, but the snow confused them and they retreated shivering  to the shrubs until later in the day when the sun melted the white to the lush green  hidden below.  I remember a few years ago having a few snowflakes in April but though it was something strange to me it was not to the natives who expect some snow surprise in March or early April.    

Our HHR Grey Goose Saturday AM
Our Chevy HHR, aka, Grey Goose,  is the car we tow behind our motor home and what we drive around most of the late spring through fall but which resides in the motor home house all winter.  After we returned from Arizona and parts south Jerry left the Goose in the driveway and we began to use her; she is the most economical with the rising gas prices.   Although the Goose was unprepared for Saturday's surprise, she accepted it as a minor washing and was her sparkling self by afternoon.  Even our  Excursion Coach whose nose is seen here in the adjacent  side drive way, braved the white  event as a new experience  unlikely to be repeated.    

April 19 2:00PM Out our front window

This morning, April 19, the white stuff began to fall as I departed for my book club meeting, Jerry's words, "take the HHR, it won't stick and will be gone soon."  Famous last words.  90 minutes later the white was coming down like a wintry blizzard and there sat the Grey Goose totally covered in the parking lot after book club.  Well the  windshield  wipers did their job, but I had to scoot the wet white stuff from the side windows and there I was without gloves or a snow scraper!   The snow was still coming down so, blowing lofty white fluff sideways but it was not unpleasantly cold and the flakes were huge, prisms to the eyes and eyelashes, so I went on to the post office and then returned home.  All the while I'm thinking this surely will cease soon and the sun will come out, shades of Annie. 

Oh that's "The sun'll come out Tomorrow, Bet your bottom dollar  that tomorrow There'll be sun!  Just thinkin' about  Tomorrow  it's only a day away."    Meantime today I have committed to help Sue  box up books from the garage the Friends of the Library are losing as book sale site with the sale of the elderly partroness' home.  Well, she said 2:00PM and surely it will stop by then. 

Hah you can see from the photo taken from our front window, looking out onto what was a cleared rose garden (on Wednesday) that at 2:00 today the snow continued weaving a white sparkle all around the air and ground.  But uptown the Goose took me, only Sue had decided phooey too.  We will try again tomorrow when this spring nuisance subsides. 

We gained a white cover of  about 3 to 4 inches  all over the town on all our lawns, which discourages the robins who cannot retrieve the worms that retreat into the earth below the remains of the mulch, down into the warmth.  Our streets and roads are clear as the "nuisance snow" lives up to its name. To me, April should not have snow, but here we are in Minnesota where after all my friends who make the best of a bad situation say, "it could be worse it could be a tornado or a flood or a fire or an earthquake or some of the devastation that the rest of the country suffers.  Here along the Blufflands, it might be white for a day but glorious green is underneath." 

Spring, spring where fore art thou? 

Harumph,  Juliet, just wait it out!   

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Award

   Leave it to us bloggers to expand our blogosphers through sharing awards.  I received this award from Karen today albeit  "with strings" so to speak.  So this post will take a bit of time and I may not finish until later this evening. 

Meantime, thank you Karen, from the tips of my fingers on the keys! 

First String :  7 Things about me

1.  I am an idea maker and have more ideas than time to do them. 
2.  While I prefer to be organized, at times I have so many oars in the water at once that I spin my boat in circles.
3.  My all time favorite classical piece  is Pachelbell Canon
4.  I am rereading my favorite childhood book, "Heidi" having just found and purchased a copy in an antique store. 
5.  Here I sit at the keyboard when I need to get upstairs and get the oven ready for the roast.
6.  I'm going to a roast at Penn State in May
7.  I am looking for a photo to accompany a blog post and need St Anthony's help.

Now I am to pass this award on to other blogs I follow and that I will finish later and later still as tasks take me away from the keyboard.  (Karen already chose some of the blogs I follow and sent on her award, beating me to the puch, so others.....)


Friday, April 15, 2011

Sepia Saturday Week 70 Camel (Click here to the Sepia Sat site)

Irwin camel Amphora, ceramic circa 1900
I have a camel to share and though the photos are not Sepia, the camel itself is dating back to the early 1990’s when the John R Irwin’s, grandparents to my Uncle John Irwin, traveled extensively. Somewhere in London they had contacts and possibly a stopping by home from where they traveled all over Europe.

The camel is from the Amphora factory in Vienna Austria circa 1900, so identified for me by an appraiser and markings on the bottom. It is 20 inches tall and 15 inches wide measuring from the tip of the nose of the camel to the farthest part of the tail, mounted on a base that is 7 1/2 inches in depth.  The grandfather JR Irwin made his wealth building railroads and hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes. They acquired many unique items on their travels, some of which adorn our home today.

Our Irwin Camel, a museum quality piece is prominently displayed on our mantel, inherited from my Uncle John Irwin whom I’ve written about before on this blog and on Sepia.   John married Mom’s sister, my Aunt Virginia, Jinx, in about 1954 and life was never the same again in the family. Actually my aunt divorced him and remarried him later. I thought he was one of the funniest people I’d ever met, and I spent my childhood and adolescence laughing at him; most of his in-laws and other adults took issue with him because he was ever so fond of his whiskey shots and kept himself satisfactorily tuned. His imbibing put him at odds with everyone from my grandmother to his own mother, Jessie Ayers Irwin. I never knew him to be drunk, just enjoying life and living it his way. While I do not condone his habits, he was always someone I could talk to and despite his  human flaws I loved him dearly.

Irwin camel about 1955
This is the oldest photo I have of the camel and it is not very clear. Uncle John loved this camel which had long been in the Irwin family, but his mother determined in her utter disgust with John's fondness for alcohol that he would not inherit any of the family artifacts. Well, Life the Muse has been ever known to turn and tilt from best laid plans. John was quite unhappy about this because he had grown up coveting that camel.  He told his mother in strait terms that it was the one thing he really wanted, but Jessie would not budge. She vowed that if he would relinquish alcohol he could have his pick, but John was insulted and uninterested in the bargain.

Jessie died suddenly in 1963 while visiting her daughter, Margaret, John’s sister in Ohio. Margaret ended up with Alzheimer’s’ and this left Uncle John, surviving and thriving and still tipping the bottle regularly. Posey, Margaret’s daughter found Uncle John as funny as I did, I learned a couple years ago talking with her. We laughed that it was good we were not together as young girls in our fits of laughter at Uncle John’s antics while the rest of the family shuddered and tsked, tsked. Posey also was faced with the disposal or sale of many of her mother’s acquisitions to help subsidize care. She knew the family history, that her mother had acquired most of the Irwin estate.

About 1960 Margaret, Jessie, and Uncle John
Notice the camel behind them
Posey believed John should have some things so she contacted him and he and Virginia drove to Ohio to take their picks. The first thing John took was the Irwin camel, and as he told me later, he laughed all the way back home to Pennsylvania! I can still hear him chortling, “Hah, I’ve got it now! The Irwin Camel! Mother, you said I could not have it,  I showed you! And it will not be in the Irwin family again! “ I was awestruck by this camel the moment I saw it and listened raptly as John told about it and how he had fixed his will to ensure that when he died the Camel would not return to the Irwins. He laughed each time he said, “I only wish I could live to see the Irwin’s fussing or rolling in their graves when I kick the bucket and camel is not with an Irwin! Patty, that camel is to go to you!” I never thought too much about it until later years after Uncle John passed and I would see it in the house when I went to visit my aunt. I often wondered what I would do with it when it came to me as she reminded me it would.

In 2004 Aunt Jinx determined that I should take the camel home on one of our visits. She said that John was vehement that I have it and she wanted to ensure that happened lest he haunt her for the rest of eternity. So the camel came to the Morrison’s home in Minnesota where it is admired and its story is fondly told.  When Posey and I talked she asked me if I had the camel and when I said I did, she said she was glad that it had been John's wish it come to me.  I asked her if I could return it to her or her children but she assured me she had more than enough and I should keep it and enjoy it. 

The camel story is not yet done; there is another twist.  About a year ago, I received a mysterious email about Uncle John. I knew he had been previously married and had a son who was taken and raised by  the wife’s family when the wife/mother of the boy died quite young. John was drinking then and likely never stopped. I repeatedly asked my aunt if she had any contact with John’s son who had come to John’s funeral but few words were exchanged. She had no idea where he was nor if he was alive. In 2009, when my aunt died I tried to find John’s son again, no luck, there had been no contact for too long. But that mysterious email turned out to be from John’s grandson. We have met and he is a nice young man. I’ve been thrilled to give him many items from his grandfather that I had. There had been a vicious estrangement between his father and John; he never knew his grandfather. He holds no ill will but we have talked about imagine how it could have been.  The twists that life takes are so many.  So I have designated that the camel go to John’s grandson in our will, returning to the Irwin family. I think Uncle John would approve that it reside with an Irwin once again, I think he would have liked to have known his grandson.

As usual click on the title to this post to go to the Sepia Saturday site and enjoy others' contributions.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

5 Books Read Catch Up February to Now

I've been reading but just not posting the books, so here's the catch up for those interested.  Friday  is our Friends of the Library book sale where I will be donating and likely filling a sack with other hard to pass up finds for my awaiting reading shelf.  After I read and our book club chose to read "Unbroken" (see my January 12 blog post review) I wanted to tackle another book from my patriotic stack , about WWII, "The Wild Blue" by noted historical writer Stephen Ambrose.  This book over 263 pages is an excellent informative read about the ordinary young men of their day, the citizen soldiers of WWII who fought the enemy and formed a band of brothers who endured together.  This book is a memoir about George McGovern's WWI service as a highly successful, skilled, respected, bomber pilot  in Europe, a man whose politics differ from mine but for whom I have the deepest respect and gratitude after reading this.  Author Ambrose tells the extraordinary heroism, skill, daring and comradeship  with detail and affection about  the young men, the combat crews in our Army Air Corps who  flew the B-24's  over Germany.  As ever, I was intrigued reading about the Army Air Corps the pilot's  training, and the early days of navigation.  I learned that Ambrose's uncle, a 21 year old copilot of a B26 in the 8th Air Force, was killed in a crash in September 1944 returning from a mission over Europe. His uncle's body was never recovered.   In preparation for writing the book he  is treated to flying the B24 an B 17 in the co pilot seat, learning how extremely difficult the planes were to control.  "It was an experience with machines that could be compared only to being at the controls of a locomotive going up the Sierra Nevada."  In the prologue, Ambrose writes, "The B24 was built like a 1930's Mack Truck except that it had an aluminum skin that could be cut with a knife.  It could carry a heavy load far and fast but it had no refinements.  Steering the four engine airplane was difficult and exhausting as there was no power except the pilot's muscles."  You know this tells me more about the kind of young man my father had to be.  " windshield wipers so the pilot had to stick his head out the side window to see during a rain....Breathing only by wearing an oxygen mask."  Primitive conditions for brave men.   Pg. 24, "The Army Air Forces needed thousands of pilots and tens of thousands of crew members, to fly the B24's.  It needed to gather them and train them and supply them and service the planes from a country in which only a  relatively small number of men knew anything at all about how to fly even a single engine airplane, or fix it.  From whence came such men?"  We know today those men, pilots and crews of the B24s came from every state in the union, they were young,  fit and eager. They were all volunteers.  The Army Air Forces did not force anyone to fly, the men made the choice.  McGovern and his crew part of the 741st Bomb Group, 15th Air Force were  based at San Giovanni Filed, near Cerignola Italy, meaning land of cereals. Evidently the Cerignola region   grew hard wheat the best in Italy and  possibly the best in the world for making pasta.  The word "Cheerios" comes from Cerignola. I relished the information, history,  dialogues and the data.  I learned more than I had ever known about flak and deepened my perspective about the dedication and sense of responsibility the pilots held.  The writing is superb and because of the subject matter it is a keeper book, published in 2001, I am fortunate to have acquired a first edition. 

After the indepth reads I took a break with "Crime Brulee"  by Nancy Fairbanks, a paperback mystery that I acquired at the library sale for  50 cents, thinking it might resemble the Diane Mott series of culinary mysteries.  Well, it is set in New Orleans and I did relate to most of the places mentioned but the book is merely a quick non engrossing read, 274 pages in paperback.  It is billed as first in the series and I will not read others.  It is as though the author tried to put  any  twist she could to an insipid mystery.  Really the Nancy Drew mysteries of my youth were better.  The plot involves Carolyn, spouse to an academic, and obviously a woman who needs to get a life.  She is a typical pathetic empty nester with what to do now that the children are gone, woman with nothing to do, etc...Boring but I endured to see if  she solves the  her friend,  Julienne  disappears leaving everyone in the lurch in New Orleans at this academic conference.  This is likely a woman's book for those who may be amused.  I thought it might be a quaint mystery, and that would be a stretch, but I prefer good writing and decent plots. Something to engage me, even when I take a break from heavier reading.  This  returns to the Library sale rack.

My blog friend, Vicki Lane hits it big with her mysteries, suspense tales, by good writing, exquisite character development, and enticing tales.  "In a Dark Season" a paperback of 428 pages starts out  with Chapter 1, "The Palimpsest"  whatever does that mean?  The book's opening sentence hooks the reader is as it did me and kept me reading and wondering when the characters would get together and tie it all up.  Page 1..."The madwoman whispered into the blue shadows of a wintry afternoon.  Icy wind caught at her hair, loosing it to whip her cheeks and sting her half closed eyes."  Eventually it does happen, but the book has it all and if women want to read something fulfilling yet mysterious they will not be disappointed with Vicki"s works.    The southern dialect is intriguing, "howsomever" a word that spoke to me and  yet is so  deep in the hills.  Page 81 has a splendid line, "hard as an ex-wife's heart."  How about that?  This sequential tale features Vicki's  great character, Elizabeth Goodweather of Full Circle Farm, still a newbie to the North Carolina  area despite  a more than 20 year residency. Those of us brave enough to relocate to other ares know the difficulties of assimilation and bare acceptance amongst long timers.   Elizabeth who has been the key in other books is  a widow,  in a relationship with Philip, a semi retired detective, and friend to the local sheriff.  Phillip would eagerly marry her if she would agree, but she is her own person.  In this tale a frail old lady, Nola Barrett attempts suicide and ends up in a local nursing home with a diagnosis of dementia while her niece  appears to get things in order and sell off.  Development looms in the area as can happen in the better areas to live today.  Over Christmas holidays, Elizabeth comes to grips with having to move on in life despite maintaining grief over loss of her husband.  Pg. 144  where Elizabeth explains why she and her daughters who return for the holiday maintain their Christmas traditions in spite of the loss of her husband, their father....Christmas will not, cannot be taken away with is a light in a dark season...Death took Sam but not the holiday.  This especially  hit home with me having lost our son so close to Christmas.  Vicki weaves back and forth between the history of the area,  a local hermit of sorts,. and the contemporary mystery of Nola Barrett.  It is a great read and one I recommend for good entertainment, a good tale and a good mystery that all weaves back together at the end..and I did not  guess exactly what would happen.

Our book club chose the novel, "A Soft Place to Land"  by Susan Rebecca White as one member had picked it up in a northern bookstore.  Sigh, sigh, the idea of reading a tale of "complicated love between two sisters.." was not enticing to me, but then sometimes others choose a book that I might not have and it turns out to be of interest.  This was not.  It is a tale of adolescent angst that lasts until the sisters are in their late twenties.  The sisters are raised  in luxury in Atlanta with their mother and her  second husband who is the step father of one and the father of the other.  The tragedy of losing their parents who die on vacation and then being separated to different coasts plagues Ruthie and Julia.  One is headed for disaster early in life evidence by the crowd she hangs with, poor habits, smoking, drinking, etc. generally  all activities that one would not want for a teen, her  lack of interest in school despite her  intelligence  and generally being a wilder one.  The other who is sent to the Bay Area to be raised by her mother's sister blossoms in San Francisco and Berkeley.  I know all the places mentioned in the book and still found it tedious reading at best, not because I have no sister to relate to but because it focuses on adolescent trials, behaviors and the realm of angst. Finally by the last 30 pages there is something worth reading; this book could have been a good short story, but as a novel it bombs.  I will be interested to hear what others thought when we meet on April 19th but for me, this book goes to the donate pile and I would not read others by this author.   I plodded through for sake of the book club discussion.

Finally a book I have been awaiting paper back release hit the shelves before we left on our trip and when I saw it at Sam's into my basket it went.  "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot has rightfully earned its place on the New York Times and other Best Seller lists for some time. I cautiously thought I might not  enjoy this book not being a scientific person, but  my curiosity would not allow me to  pass it up.  I recall vaguely hearing about HeLa cells in biology and chemistry courses.  I hesitated because this book, the true tale of Henrietta who dies of ovarian cancer and whose cells doctors take at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Maryland, without the consent or any discussion of the family,  is  a wealth of scientific information.  Moreover it is the tale of the woman and her family and  her legacy, how her cells become known world wide in research as HeLa cells and yet her family lived and still lives in poverty. Henrietta is a poor black tobacco farmer who marries her cousin and  whose cells are taken without her knowledge in 1951 and live on to become one of the most important tools in  medicine still today, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and more.  Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions yet only through this book do we know about her as a person.   The book raises realistic pondering about medical ethics and where and when science and research may cross a line.  Although this is a technical book at times it is packed full of human interest and humor as the daughter acknowledges that her mother is still calling shots from the great beyond through her cells.   It is a book that questions issues of race and class and medical care and research.  When does one own one's body and  at what point is the body or  parts, malignant though they may be available without recourse?  Is knowing all the good that results from medical research adequate compensation for survivors?  Is there any real need to compensate survivors?    And how can a family from the depths of poverty ever begin to seek recourse, or do they want that, are they satisfied with their lives and do they merely appreciate the telling of Henrietta's tale?  Everyone I talk with who has read this book including my dentist have been as engrossed as I was; I could not put this book down and relished all 328 pages and additional notes and bibliography.  Skloot is an award winning scientific writer but this is her first book.  Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball are adapting it into an HBO film.  Read the book to learn and imagine.  Be aware it is history we see backwards through the prism of today's issues.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Springtime Outside Chores

Another great balmy spring day when I've  spent another  three hours clearing the rose beds of overwintering mulch and clipping the dark wintry branches  already spouting buds from the winter weary  roses. I did all this and filled three big cart loads which I run up and down the hill to dump,  increasing my caloric burning. This was the third day of my activity in the roses and I have nearly completed the project.  The front hosta beds are cleared and the front flower box cleaned awaiting its spring plants, will it be geraniums, pansies or some other  spring combination this year? 

Most of my  roses are now ready for the final  a more careful close up trim,  and removing all vestiges of the mulch we pile on them for winter protection;  here in Minnesota many people do not grow roses because they do not  know how to prepare them for winter.  Many, include me in this group, do not want to be bothered with the  preparatory Minnesota "winter dip" which involves digging a trench, tying, bending and binding down the rose bushes for the winter, burying them to protect from the snows.  Remember I was a California Rosarian and when we moved and when I heard that technique, I  knew there had to be a better way.  So I have dealt with this in two ways, first by foregoing the fussy  hybrid teas for hearty floribundas and grandifloras and over all changing the type of roses that I grow preferring those that have been hybridized right here across the river in Wisconsin by Bill Adler, father of the Knock Outs and the hearty old time rugosas which are naturalized on the wintry bluffs, old garden roses in general and those by Canadian hybridizers, as well as the Buck Roses being resurrected right down the border in Iowa. My winterization technique involves heavy  mulch which Jerry makes from all the fallen leaves that he shreds. This works well for us. 

 Now with spring  the mulch has already started to decompose and the earth worms are  very plentiful working their way up from the ground  into the damp decaying mess.  However, I scrape most of this off and work some into the ground as a ready made compost.  This is my  California approach to winterizing roses.  Any bush that does not survive does not get to keep its place in the rose garden and can be replaced by something else later in spring or summer.  After the careful barbering,  I apply a hearty dose of Epsom Salts and sit back and wait for  another couple weeks  until I apply a systemic fertilizer in anticipation of  blooms. 

I love my outside exercise and used to work longer hours at one time but now have to respect the arthritis in my hands, that demands pacing my activity despite early enthusiasm.  I still have shrubs and  perennials along the side of the house to prune and trim and then down the backyard.  Little by little progress is apparent.  I found I needed a sweatshirt today because the wind was just a touch chilly for a t shirt; it was a good thing because those thorns on the wintered  branches are quite dried and quite sharp so the long sleeves protected my arms from  massacre.  

This will be my first blog in a long time sans photos.  When I started this blog I did not routinely add photos but I do believe they add a lot.   I did not know the computer would call me this evening or I might have taken a couple photos of my massively laden cart, a big plastic thing that holds more than a wheel barrow is is one of my favorite sidekicks, today I commented that I wished it had a trailer then I could haul twice as much down the hill in a trip.  Jerry  reminded me that it was just the size for me to maneuver and besides, that gave my fingers a break from the tedium and kept the knuckles appeased. Maybe tomorrow I can add photos.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sepia Saturday 69 Western fantasies and horses (Click here for Sepia Site)

It  has been ages, it seems since I posted here while we were on expedition to Arizona and New Mexico to acquire the new RV, the Excursion and to visit and  see things in a warmer climate.  Now home,  I have a lot of different ideas thrashing loose in my head but  today I'll feature my own sepia of sorts stirred up  after our visit to La Mesilla, New Mexico, near Las Cruces.  The Mesilla Valley was a natural trade route of the Native Indians  long before the Spaniards came to  northern New Mexico in 1598.  This area teems with history, right up my alley.  Ahh the old wild west before it was.   

1950 myself 5 years old on the roving Pony
As a  child I loved going to the movies with my Grandmother (Baba as I called her all my life) Rose; it was our special treat just for her and me to do so on a Sunday.  I   strongly preferred technicolor movies and cowboys and Indians, while Baba would prefer a musical or drama.  This meant that some Sundays we went to two movies, so that  we each could choose.  Growing up in the city in Pennsylvania,  ranches,  horses, and all western things were  pipe dreams to me and the movies of the cowboys intrigued me.  One day  a roving photographer happened by our house and while Mom was at work, her husband, my stepfather was home.  This is one of the nicer things he did,  paying the photographer to take photos of me with this pony.   I learned in  adulthood that many of my friends who lived all over the country had similar photos taken; what's comical is how proud we all were on our mounts. 

1945 Here I am on my Rockin' Horsey 

Actually my fantasy of horses goes even farther back to my very first horse that I still  remember today,  a rocking horse that my Grandfather  built for me. No small feat because though Teofil was many things, he was not a carpenter, still it was quite a ride for me.    I called it "Horsey" one of the first words I blathered clearly and I spent some time riding away. I guess I really got to making it go distressing my Grandma who was just sure I would fall off and injure myself.  I never did, but she felt she had to watch me carefully and she scolded Granpap for doing this, but there was no more to be discussed  as I was happy with feet in the stirrups.  I wonder whatever happened to Horsey?


1984 Me with our Charley Horse
 I never did become much of a horse rider, even later years living in California when we owned horses.  Jerry and Steve rode, but my fascination was gone, not caring for the height. It seemed a long way up there to me.  And it did not help that on one ride, Winnie, our Appaloosa  startled and  raised up on her  hind legs.  To this day I don't know how I hung onto her.  The above photo in 1984 shows Charlie,  our only problem horse; Jerry fancied taking him on hunting trips in the mountains but Charley was a horse with a mind of his own and a bad habit of laying down when he did not want to go into the trailer.  Any rider knows that the horse laying down can be a dangerous animal and that is something which is not to be tolerated.  Otherwise, Charley was a gentle guy, who loved Oreo cookies and carrots and  would pick them from my rear pocket.  One day I came home from work astonished to see Charley in his corral with the horse trailer.  The men had planned a mountain trip for the weekend but when Jerry went to trailer Charley, Charley had other ideas.  So Charley got to stay home but I found a big note inside from Jerry,  "Do not feed Charley any hay or oats, his feed is in the trailer.  He can go in there to eat!"  Jerry was not amused with Charley's antics.  Despite working with different trainers Charley never did get over this bad habit and so we sold him.  Don't know what happened in the early life of that horse, that might have caused that reaction.

Me at  Billy the Kid Building in La Mesilla
This Sepia post idea comes from  a day we  spent the day in La Mesilla, New Mexico, and another at the old Tucson Studios where many western films were made.    Above I am with the Billy the Kid  building in La Mesilla just a week ago; immersed in the area, I began to think about all those old western movies and those  outlaw legends. If walls could talk, the history they could tell about the glory and gory  times in Western US history when Billy the Kid roamed the lands, and when disputes were settled with the six gun rather than waiting for years on court decisions.  This building still stands  in La Mesilla today, it  was  built in the 1840's by  the legendary Sam and Roy Bean, two brothers who intended it for a freight and passenger service.  After the Civil War it was became an important stop on the fabled Butterfield Stagecoach Line.  Mesilla was founded in 1848 and is Spanish for the “little table land” due to the nearby mesa that borders the Rio Grande River that runs by the village.  Since its founding the village has had a colorful history that is easy to imagine when walking around the streets of La Mesilla, seen in the photo below,  from another blogger. 

 Next week I will share more about  this historic place with some old photos that I have researched. As always click on the title of this post to go to the Sepia site where others share their Sepias.