Friday, December 30, 2011

Last books of 2011, continued from yesterday

This completes the post I started yesterday.  It is as though I have saved the best for last.    Rating from  * lowest to ***** highest  but here I have included more commentary and photos. 

The Scalpel and the Soul  by Allan J Hamilton MD, FACS, paperback, 
published in 2008, 241 pages, *****
This was another selection from our local book club and an outstanding read.  Based on the medical experiences of a neurosurgeon who specialized in brain tumors and the science of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.  He explains the difference between a doctor and a surgeon and beginning with his trip down the Ogoue River in Africa as a Schweitzer fellow, we learn about the link between the supernatural and medicine. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with a medical professional and of bedside manners.   The writing is exceptional, pg. 28, "Some folks never listen to the little hairs when they stand up on the back of the neck.  I listen hard to those hairs, because they're my intuition.....There's a distinction between a decision and choice.  ...superstition, I choose to believe it."   Through stories based on actual patients we learn so much about what lies beyond  modern medicine and its miracles. My favorite patient tale is the gypsy queen, whose family takes her to the roof of the hospital so that her spirit may leave and be free from the body a process facilitated by Dr. Hamilton after the nurses complain about all the candles the family set up in the patient's room.  His patients are  terminal, at the best he buys them some time with surgery  but often these tumor recur.  This is an amazing read, very different than anything else I've read in years, when I started it I feared it might be too technical with medical terminology that would lose my intetest, that was an unreasonable suspicion.  

His final chapter has 20 rules for patients with explanations of each one; here are 1--10:
1 Never under estimate luck--good or bad;
2 Find a doctor who cares about you; 
3Never trade quality for quantity of life; 
4 Live your life with death in it;   
5 You cannot dodge the bullet with your name on it,   
6 Ask your doctor to pray with you,
7 Never believe anyone who says "nothing will go wrong"
8 Don't be turned into just another patient
9 Listen to your favorite music
10 Never let hospital rules interfere with patient visiting hours

 Pg. 167, "What one is to become is largely predetermined by forces beyond our control, ...we ride our destiny....the sensibility of discipline and self determination draws its inspiration from an earlier stage in life for which we are hardly able to assume responsibility."   He explains that luck and hope are flip sides of a coin and gives a harrowing example of what occurs in medicine when hope is removed.  However he does not advocate sugar coating nor deluding oneself in a terminal status, he acknowledges there is a time to not pursue further treatment.   I am purchasing  another copy of this book to give to our wonderful family physician at Mayo.  I hope he will be as intrigued as I was.  It is brave and different  for a prominent physician to write such a book, especially in these times of health care reform; his acceptance of the unknown and alternative medicine makes him distinctly different. 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, 
published 2011,   343 pages  ****

I bought this at a Border's Bookstore that was closing in PA and when I opened it to read, I was surprised to see that it is actually  targeted to young readers.  This novel is based on a true but dismal part of history, 1941  in pre World War II Lithuania when the Russians invade and incarcerate the peopless  of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  The world ignores their deportation  to concentration camps and worse in Siberia.  How some endure and how many do not rivals the holocaust.  The world looked on and turned its head, concentrating on Hitler and ignoring Stalin's brutality.  This is the author's first novel and is a page turner, narrated by the 15 year old Lina who is preparing to study art when the doors t o their home are broken down and the family  taken away.  I am donating this one to our local library. 

The Greater Journey  Americans in Paris  by David McCullough    published 2011,  
460 pages,  +76 pages source notes, +19 pages Index      ***** 
The front  jacket
If I selected one book to be my very top nonfiction read of the year this marvelous, wondrous book must be it.  I enjoy everything that McCullough writes with his intense research, reminiscent of James Michener.  This book details  the stories  of the prominent and aspiring American artists, writers, doctors, pre-med students, politicians, architects and other professionals who go to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to study, learn and fine tune their skills while experiencing the broadening they believe can only come from Europe.  The go to experience the "prestige of age"  and they do so in a different way,  Pg 20.."Even without the impertinence, the whole requirement of passports--the cost, the vexatious ceremony of it all was repugnant to the Americans. one carried a passport in America, not even foreign visitors. " There is such a difference between the Europeans and the Americans and many of these travelers had never been away from home before, never experienced  the older cultures, there was no guarantee of success.   On pg 67 Nathaniel Willis describes his fascination with faces and how one could "always recognize an American.There was something distinctive about the American face, something he had never noticed until coming to Paris....the distinctive feature ...,the independent self possessed bearing of a man unused to look p to anyone as his superior in rank, united to the inquisitive, sensitive, communicative expression which is the index to our national character."

Inside  the book cover
I learned so much reading this book that covers history of the time, the arts, artists and more about authors, for example James Fenimore Cooper was an advocate for Polish freedom. The famous pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk launched his career in Paris at age 15. The experiences of  George PA Healy, Samuel FB Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Henry James  are only a few of what we read in this volume.  It is interesting to live through the popular rise of the automobile.  I wondered why McCullough emphasized Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor and on pg 455 in the Epilogue I learned that Homer St. Gaudens  was  the director of arts at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  Likely more data was available through that resource and McCullough is from Pittsburgh.  I could not pick one favorite tale in this book, the world's fair, the Eiffel tower, the revolutionaries. I shuddered  reading about  the early days of medical practice and how poor it was, even in Paris, where they went to learn.  I wonder how much worse it was here in the states, lack of sanitation and so on at that time.  This is a book I will keep and read again sometime, there is so much here. It is McCullough's latest contribution to the history and art lovers among us.  

Front of the book
A local friend, a retired high school teacher told me about  a favorite history book she used in her class for advanced seniors literature, "My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House"  by Lillian Rogers Parks,  published  first in 1961.  It has been out of print and Cheryl advised me if I ever saw it to grab a copy.  I found it was republished with  annotations by Sam Sloan  in 2008 and now own it.  A fantastic read about the history of the  White House presidents and first ladies  from the Tafts to the Eisenhowers, from 1909-1960 and told by Lillian a seamstress and personal maid with notes and stories from her mother, Maggie, who was the chief White House maid.  They cherished their "full time" employment and served with honor although their compensation was always meager.   Summary intro  by Sam Sloan, page 9 and Pg  98 in the book: "After 30 years in the White House, Lillian's final take home pay was $103.60 for two weeks.  A single mom in the kitchen was supporting wo children on $48 per week.  Lillian was supporting her mother,  Maggie, whose pension was $111 per month.  During all these years Lillian and her mother had been supplementing their incomes through the tips they received.  Whenever there was a party or an event in the White House, Lillian or her mother would work the coat check rooms and would recieve tips.  Mrs Truman always made sure that the guests left tips and if they did not,  Mrs. Truman would cover it herself. was a cruel blow when Mamie Eisenhower decreed that the White House servants were not allowed to receive tips.  Many of the servants had to take outside jobs in order to be able to afford the honor of working in the White House "    I thought  the 1981 TV miniseries, Backstairs at the White House, was based on this book but learned it was not as it had historical privilege while the original 30 Years is all fact.   All 346 pages of this book are resplendent with history, tidbits, humor, reflections and personal anecdotes all perspectives from the domestic servants although all very discreet. 

Lillian worked for 30 years at the White House, beginning as a seamstress in the days when mending and alterations were the norm, her mother, Maggie Rogers,  preceded her with 30 years service and for 10 years their service overlapped.  Maggie often brought the young child, Lillian along to work because she had no place to leave her.  Lillian, born in February 1897,  had polio at age 4 and walked  the rest of her life with crutches as  shown on the book cover photo; she lived to be 100.  She does not say much about her retirement or even the date/year although it is assumed to be 1960 during the Eisenhower time. If there is any presidential family of disappointment it is the Eisenhowers.  She thought he would be friendly after the "I like Ike" campaign slogan, but infact he was not and Mamie reveled in running a formal military like household with perfection, even requiring the carpets be sept to not show any foot track prints.  That kept the help quite busy sweeping each time someone entered and left a room.   The stories are accompanied with historical photos, and backstairs wisdom, it precedes the current "The Help" in a far grander setting.   It's a book I will keep and browse through again.  ****

Before I found "30 Years..." I found an old copy of Upstairs at the White House, My Life with the First Ladies by J.B.West who served as assistant and Chief Usher of the White House between 1941-1969, published in 1973,  368 pages.  I read this book first and absolutely enjoyed it.  I recall hearing about it when it was released but hadn't read it then.  As I have said before, there are plenty of wonderful old books to be read, it  need not be a current best seller.  I frequent  book sales where  $1 to 50 cents are top prices for these books; and I volunteer at our local used "bookshelf room" where we accept and sell used books to raise $$ for our local library.  Working there gives me  pick of the litter that we accumulate between monthly sales.   This book is a warm anecdotal, historical look at the lives of six Presidents and First Ladies,  Roosevelt's through  Nixon's, from a very discreet gentleman, Mr. West.  It is a perfect companion to "30 Years...."   I learned a lot about the White House workings and the duties of a chief usher, a position that  remains today and how the usher announces all who meet with the president.  Photos of the bedrooms of the presidents and first ladies are inside the cover front and back and many other photos are throughout the book, "profusely illustrated with photographs" as the jacket inside reads.  The book is historic itself because the inside original price is only $8.95 a fine hardback first edition!  Between both books, reading about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was the most amusing to me although the funniest stories were about the temperamental French chef's brought in by Jacqueline Kennedy.  

Sometimes we forget the drama and accomplishments of the first ladies but  Mr. West does not.  Page 367, "All the First Ladies I've known have been exceptionally strong in spirit.  They came in that way, because they'd been able to share their husbands' grueling political road to the White House......And each of them has performed a great public service to the people of America, filling a role that is nonappointive, nonelective, certainly nonpaid, the most demanding volunteer job in America."  After reading both books, about the families, the personalities, their friends and pets, I wonder if some staff could carry these forward with a sequel, or if it has been politically banned.  Both books are written with dignity; avoiding sex and scandals although the 2008 update to "30 Years." acknowledges the Roosevelt mistresses.  Both books reflect history from a close internal perspective and I recommend both as great comfortable  reads.  *****    

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Up to date on Books Read

"When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue--you sell him a whole new life." Christopher Morley

A stack of books grows higher by the week alongside my computer, books I have read from late October until now, books  I have just set aside until I have time to review them for the blog......but as I posted  a week back time is running out and my stack gets taller.   I will have a new blog in 2012 solely to record my readings and my reviews.  For now, to expedite the process and  move books into either  donation bags or, if a keeper,  to the shelf in our home  library, I am borrowing a technique from Kat Mortenson and assigning stars  *****  to rank the books,  with 1 low and 5 high:

5 ***** being a top notch read and a book I loved.  
No * indicates a book I did not finish,  which means it is  really  a poor read and  had no interest for me; oh does this mean I really have a 6 point rating system? 
1 * will mean a book I plowed through under some protest. 

I suppose  that technically I have six ranks from No to *****.   There would be few books with No and few with *****, most somewhere in between. 

It has taken me awhile to learn to discard a book that does not hold my interest, I have so many books to read and so little time to do so that it's not worth wasting my eyeballs on a bad one.  Why did I think I had to plod along when  the pages and words held no interest? 

 What I find enjoyable in reading and which will be my criteria in rating reflect my personal preferences.  I am not a fluff or what I term fiction comic book reader nor do I like science fiction.  I like to sink into a book like a nice comfy leather chair, so a novel has to envelop me.  My first preference is always non fiction or historical, memoir and biographies are first choice.  I look for excellent writing and research, well developed characters who appear lifelike with their tales, a sense of historical accuracy,  historical, memoirs that evoke emotion while reading, or a book that teaches me something.  I am as I have said many times before a life long reader from the time I learned to read as a tot.  I am never bored, lonely, or without something to do to entertain myself so long as I have a good book. 

No I do not e-read nor do I have any desire to do so, being the proud owner or stacks of books and a marvelous home library.   I never pass a book sale without picking up something.  You will see several on the list below that are used, older.  A book does not have to be on a current best seller list to attract my interest.  I have been exposed to wonderful books I might not have found nor read through my local book club where we meet monthly to discuss.

 Title,date published/comment             Author          Rating

Marilyn and Me-Sisters, Rivals, Friends 1992   Susan Strasberg       **               
Almost tedious reading but some interesting  pages
and reverie about the authors famous  parents. 

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay  2010          BeverlyJensen       *****      
A novel saga over 7 decades beginning in 1916,
sisters from Nova Scotia who immigrate to
America.  Fascinating and humorous in parts. "She was
worn to the shape of a gnarled tree...." describes their
paternal grandmother.

The Knitting Circle    2007 paperback             Ann Hood                           *****
  Our book club selection; a novel with great
characters and their stories and the grief of losing a child.
Based on the author's life.    

Left Neglected                 2011                    Lisa Genova                             *** 
 She wrote "Still Alice" about dementia, which I enjoyed. This
novel is about a condition resulting from an auto accident
where the left side of the body does not respond.

Lit                 2010 Paperback                  Mary Karr                                     **    
Her 3rd memoir and the least interesting despite its glowing
reviews; about her days in  alcoholism.  Dreary

The Quilters Apprentice    2000 Paperback     Jennifer Chiaverini                ** 
A ho hum novel, my curiosity about the process of learning to quilt
 dragged me along.  First book in the Elm Creek Quilt Series.

Our Story: The Quecreek Miners     2002     told to  Jeff Goodell                 ***
 Concise, true tale of these PA coal miner
 spent trapped underground for 77 hours

The Seventh Life of Pauline Johnson   2001        Katy King                 No stars
  If this isn't the dumbest book it is close to it. The author
hawked it at a craft show; it has been on my shelf for years
to be read.  Supposed to be a  mystery/ recipe book.

Blind Your Ponies         2011 Paperback           Stanley Gordon West             *****
Our book club selection.  Outstanding novel about  a high school
boys long time loosing basketball team, and their town. 
Excellent characters and writing by a MN author. Selection of the title
and what it represents is a story itself.  Will read more of his books.

Four more books to add  but will post more later, I intend today with the others.  I'm off to walk  to Curves and not waste the fresh air of  this beautiful, balmy  sunny day!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

Wow,  almost out of time to wish this to all my bloggy friends all over the world...
may you celebrate Christmas in the Spirit! 

Last night I awoke about 1:30AM and as I do on my nightly awakens, looked out my window.  There was the brightest star I have ever seen, I felt it was a shining of Christmas with glory and hope. I wish a bright star for all of you. 
An array of wishes gathered from friends far away
They make welcome wishes and brighten dreary days.  

At the bottom of the stairs on the way to the rec room
 we have a  dry sink, cabinet where I keep
this pitcher and bowl, from my grandparents. 
Last night we stopped to visit Jerry's cousin and
Kathleen, his companion.  She asked if we had received a gift from her
when I said no, she said she had ordered a centerpiece for us
from the local florist and  requested delivery on Wednesday. She paid cash and did
not have a receipt. what.
So this morning she called them and learned they had delivered it to a wrong address. 
So they said.  I would think people who received it would call and question why
they received flowers from someone they did not know.  But it takes all kinds, so
who knows.  The florist promised to get something here  today and they did.
This is a beautiful fragrant  centerpiece which we will enjoy for several days, white
roses, mums, carnations, daisies and great silver touches.

While looking at past cards, found this one Uncle Carl sent us
in 1999 while we lived in CA.  He wrote how much he missed being out in the
woods where everything is so peaceful, but admitted that his
days of tracking, hunting and fishing were done.  His wife had died in 1997.
While he missed her he wrote more about how he missed his hunting and
fishing buddies and trips to Canada.  He had a bird feeder similar to this.

Two ceramic angels made by Aunt Marge, Uncle Carl's wife,
the 3rd is blue and not showing in this photo. 
They sing this year next to our Fontani musical  nativity, purchased in 1967,
the first Christmas we were married.  Wound it still plays, Silent Night.  Atop
the manger is a newer brass angel from France

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A morning sight and memories

November 13 Amaryllis just planted
out of the box into the container
November 13 twin Amaryllis
 just planted
I had an early AM blood test at the doctor's  (just routine) and so I was awake in the dark and all was quiet, as I walked down the hall toward the kitchen and  flipped the light switch I caught sight of the progress of my Birthday Amaryllis in our living room; I had been given two and now I  hearken back to my years of Latin, what is the plural amarilli, amarilla, amarillae?  I will have to find out, Miss Rohrbach and Miss Hood, our Latin teachers would expect me to know.   

We have been watching these twins grow at different rates, although ala  Jack & the Beanstalk as only a healthy amaryllis will.  Ours have sped up over the month.

Amaryllis November 22,  nine days from planting
The pilgrim  guy was Uncle Carl's

This morning  I recalled how much Mom  &; Aunt Jinx enjoyed these; I lived across the country and always strived to send them something that would be unique, really appreciated and enjoyable.  It was a challenge.  Today I fully comprehend why; at this stage of life and age we have been blessed and  own everything we want or will buy something if it appeals and we really want it.  The last thing I need are trinkets, knick knacks, etc and the like or more "what nots", Jinx' term.  

November 22, the other amaryllis
They grew at different rates
Mom's way of thanking on the phone was something I came to expect, "Quit spending money on these things, I really do not need them. But thank you."  Or, if I sent food, "Well we ate those but really we can buy them here in the stores too, save your money."  Other than the mandarin oranges we could ship direct from our Newcastle orchard to her in PA there was really little  I could come up with that she did not protest my spending  money.  Sometimes in frustration I used to think, "Mom!  For crying out loud just say thank you."  But she  and her sister and the entire clan were of the generation where money was not to be wasted; they  had survived the depression, World War II and strikes at the mills,  factories and mines.  They did not waste a dime.  Money was hard to come by and they valued saving. 

December 22 living room sight
both amaryllis;
one is31 inches tall and still in bud;
 the blooming beauty is  29 inches tall 
 But one year I ordered amaryllis and that absolutely enchanted her.  She had never seen one and was so curious, placed it on the mid stair landing near a window where it was the first  thing she would see when she was on her way downstairs each morning.  Each morning she measured it delighting as it grew and grew and then bloomed in full glory.  Voila, victory was mine. 

From then on I sent amaryllis at Christmas and birthday flowers, bouquets, arrangements.  I was fortunate to have a home town florist ; only a phone call away across country.  I'd  call and tell them how much I wanted to spend and they did the rest.  Steiner's Florist a reliable friend,  retired and is long  now closed up in New Kensington, as everything else.  Mom loved the flowers and the amaryllis and changed her advice to "I am so glad to have these flowers while I am still alive to see them.  They don't do a dead person any good."  I heard that she would brag to her sister or friends, "Patty sent me flowers" proof of her enjoyment.  

October 1996 the sisters visited us in CA
Jerry seated, Aunt Jinx to  left, Mom to right, me standing
Mom died suddenly in 2004 of a  heart attack, the youngest of the family of sister's and brother at only 80.  She was healthy other than the mind.  Her sudden death  was a shock but a blessing as her dementia was progressing and we had a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, the years ahead would not have been good.  I thought about her this morning.

Today we receive gifts of fruit arrays from the CA son and DIL and I feel like my mother, really we can buy delicious pears and apples right here, but I never say that because I know they are working, busy caring for DIL's mother and son's  mother (Jerry's long ago ex) who live with them.  So a stop at Costco or online suits them.  Still, I often think the same as Mom, save your money.   Jerry does not eat pears which leaves them all to me; while I enjoy one now and then I have these to share with others.  But , I do not say that, recalling my own frustration, "thank you" is the phrase. 

The shorter amaryllis shows off
8 blooms,  four per bud

This the taller of the twins
is 31 inches but it has
only one bud. 

I do very little with house plants, inside but these amaryllis are seasonal and after the blooms, the leaves will die back and I can store them down in the well cellar.  Perhaps they will rebloom next year.  I have a few  other  amaryllis bulbs given to me by a friend.  Some of those rebloom around Easter yearly but they are pink, so these Christmas reds are a welcome change of color. 

We have a jade plant and a Christmas (zygo) cactus that blooms on my birthday inside now as they could not survive outdoors here.  But come springtime, those potted plants will go back outside.  Living in CA and gardening outside as I did, I have little interest or tolerance for house plants.  I shudder when someone offers me one and I decline explaining that it would need a babysitter when we are on our travels.  I have seen RV'ers who travel with plants, or maybe they are full time RV'ers who travel with their house plants.  I do not want to do that and the other half of this house would strenuously object. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

No Time

A multitude of tasks have been completed and now I am amidst clearing shelves and clutter from the downstairs study.  Amidst, is an appropriate term, inch by inch and my interest wanes despite my discomfort with the sight.   Photos in frames have been rearranged and tidied up on top of the two movable book shelves. Two tiny crystal  lamps which belonged to my grandmother and which Jerry rewired  are now atop the shelves.  I have no other place for them but at least for now do not want to send them on their way to Goodwill.

This room is the  primary area where we  display photos in a gallery of sorts and it is also my project room, the library, and the computer site. More photos in boxes and piles, amassed from my departeds reside in the  back bedroom off this room, where I can close the door and keep going through  that sorting.   I have found if I put  something away by the time I return to it, I can't find where I left off.  So I take advantage of the luxury of space to keep my mess active.  In the far corner of this picture is the small portable sewing machine; my other machine which I prefer to use has its own  sewing closet off the rec room.   

The last many days have been dreary but today the sun is shining although it is plenty cold but at least the cold north wind is not blowing from yesterday where  34 degrees felt  like zero.  Just the day before that I was about wearing only a vest but now it is time for the heavy coat and hood.   With sunshine I am likely to amble away from the midst of this mess; outside to give the squirrels a new suet box and to just check on the smells and colds of winter.  

These two chairs which we moved from CA face the computer
space and the gas inset fireplace; built in book shelves to the left 
behind the chairs is  activity clutter.
Actually I suppose it is not all that bad compared to some, but I dislike disarray; it makes me very uncomfortable, I suppose it is the Polish clean genes from my grandmother and shades of Aunt Jinx's ghost.  I have talked myself into leaving for  the outdoors,  ...the benefit is all the doors could be closed off to hide this if someone happened over and down to our TV/rec room the other side of the wall.  But then upstairs is
devoid of activities and that is where most of our entertaining is done and guests gather.  And  this is the benefit of retirement, to dabble when and how long as I want to do so.  

The scene behind the chairs

Behind the chairs is a magnificent large leather covered coffee table acquired for the rec room but which I have confiscated here to provide my measuring cutting space, one of the four stools which slide under it is quite handy for working from, the other three serve as  stools, tables in the rec room. 

 Below is an in process idea, which just might be accomplished soon.  A way to recycle an old friend t-shirt from 1998, Newcastle Mandarin Days.  I found just the right fabric for the back of the pillow, setting  there on the right.  
Here is a tshirt which is about to become a pillow
These folding doors are the entry to this inner sanctum
and the green door is to the downstairs bedroom or
the room with the photo messes.  Built in book shelves
are to the right and the left, all  filled.
So this is  one reason why I have not had time to blog post, much else to do.  Alright then, so many projects, so little time, too many ideas, time for fresh air the sun is calling!