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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cat Who Remains

Good evening! I may have mentioned this before but Soot was a huntress--she learned not to bring home certain prey--the ones that Mom particularly found appealing--such as birds, squirrels, gray or red, and chipmunks. I have not noticed an increase in the avian visitors so I'm hoping that, in her old age, she gave up expending the energy to catch creatures that had a definite advantage--what's with that flying trick? However, since her demise on April 1 and the arrival of more of less nice weather our bird feeders, indeed our porch, seems to be overrun with the cute rodent creatures. Now, Soot had totally eradicated the chipmunks--after all, how hard is it to wipe out a population of little Alvins who foolishly dig their holes an easy jump off the porch--I mean right there--even I could have just stepped off and stepped on--really! She used to sit for hours just staring at the hole and when one of those little heads popped up before you could say " uh " Alvin was history! I wasn't happy but cats are hunters and if I'm going to have a cat it is going to be an outdoors normal creature or forget it.

Which brings me to this morning. Bill and I had slaved over the jungle of a lawn--40 days and nights of rain will create one even in Vermont! Okay, so I exaggerate but I don't want to tally the rainy days of this spring and, so far, summer for fear the actual count may do me in. I'd rather sort of joke about it and make like Noah--you know the famous two by two guy? Well, it seems we are in a two by two situation, though it may be worse. Without putting cute little bracelets on our rodent visitors' dainty wrists we don't know if we have just two red squirrels and two chipmunks or if there are considerably more but we only see two of each at any given time. Anyway, I digress. Bill and I decided to start today off with coffee on the porch. Mist who will only go outdoors under the most controlled situations deigned to join us. As long as we allow her to lie right in the middle of the table with the doors open to the living room she will relax. She will also venture out if we are visible indoors and again she doesn't get left on the wrong side of the screen door. Sometimes while we are at the table she will actually sprawl on the porch floor but only within inches of the open door!

So this morning, here we three were enjoying the new day and the early sunshine. Suddenly, there arrived a chipmunk in my lovely pink flowered pot. Misty arose and came to my side--her ears pricked forward, her haunches tightened to spring, the tip of her tail twitched back and forth. I told Bill in my best play calling voice of each change in stance and attitude. And then--she made some kind of a chirping sound and turned her back and walked away. Chippy, totally oblivious went on scavenging and departed. Red came to the hanging feeder and things settled down. Misty moved to the table.

Now, it is interesting the behavior of these two rather small and both red creatures with somewhat bushy tails ( of course, though they seem so similar, chippy DOES have those distinguishing stripes ). Red will sit for hours in the feeder and eat and eat and eat--yet at the end there are still some seeds for the birds. Chippy on the other hand is like a vacuum cleaner --he/she will take seeds and hulls and stuff those cheek pouches until you thing the skin would burst--the face actually becomes quite distorted and uncute. Once filled to capacity Chippy takes off to God knows where, unloads and returns for more. They keep it up until there is nothing left for Red or the birds--such gluttons!

So Misty had come to her favorite spot on the table between us and Chippy returned. She actually leaned toward Chippy but then turned to me as if to say, once Chippy had left yet again, " was I supposed to do something? " Sigh! No Misty, it's okay--just try to keep them out of the house--okay?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

At Sixes and Sevens! Sigh :(

This has been a sort of don't know what I want to do with myself kind of weekend. After ten days of having the kid home from Montana, not paying close attention to my Weight Watchers' tracking and getting word that our expected company cannot come because of a painful, unfortunate bout of arthritis, I've been sort of moping around.

Daughter left on Friday in pouring cold rain and wind and though she left our house at 12;30 and Lebanon, NH on the bus at 1:20 she did not arrive in Boston until 4:30, an hour late. Fortunately her plane for Minneapolis - St Paul was not to leave until 6:15 so she had time. She called at around 5:15 to say that security took 45 minutes and she was already exhausted and hadn't even really begun her long trip to Montana. She said she was going for a beer--which I could well understand. About an hour later, when I would have thought she'd be in the air she called once more to say that there was another 30 minute delay on her flight and she'd probably miss her connection in M-StP since it had been a tight schedule anyway! Groan. While she was so close and yet so far I was puttering around the house trying to stay warm by drinking copious amounts of tea and finally settling down with a book before dinner. Eventually, I turned on TV and around 9ish she called once more to quickly say that she just landed in Mn and would be able to catch her flight just barely after all--love you, bye. And so about 1130 I retired for the night with a heavy heart and a few tears knowing that she was in the air and would land in Bozeman long after I'd hit REM sleep and deep snoring.

I wish I could say that Saturday dawned bright and cheerful but no--it dawned, cold, gray, rainy and windy--the story of this Spring in Vermont! At around 1030 as hubby and I were into our second cups of coffee the phone rang and one sleepy head informed us that she was safe and tired and still in bed and returning to sleep. We laughed and told her we loved her. Then Bill went to work and again I moped. Worked on organizing photos online and caught up with emails, ordered a few things from Staples and gave up trying to be productive and read some more. She called from work to ask about some recipes since she would be grocery shopping to refill the empty larder she'd left to come home. My sister had found a copy of one of my favorite cookbooks and gave it to Betsy so now she could make some of her most beloved meals in her own apartment. It is fun when she calls to talk about stuff like that. She's called me from the grocery store before to ask about different types of potatoes and which to buy for a certain dish or to check to see what kind of corn--kernel or creamed I use in a side. It's at times like that that I'm happy I have a daughter.

Today it was muggy but at least sunny so my spirits lifted a bit. Read the Sunday papers and don't really know what else I accomplished --not much. As I say, sort of at loose ends. But tomorrow is another day. While Bets was home we moved the futon from my workroom in the cellar to the living room. Now the living room is a total disaster--we had to move chairs to make room for the futon but it still isn't where it needs to go. We have to rearrange some large pieces like the desk, china closet and case clock to make proper room for it. Then we have to reorganize the other side of the room which is the dining room in this open floor plan house. Since this will be the first change in over ten years there are things that have been stored or placed on these pieces that must be sorted and reorganized as well. All in all quite an undertaking but we may as well do a thorough job. It probably won't happen again for another ten years.

Of course, I had the futon moved upstairs because my original dream of a den, workroom,office, library, guest room was too ambitious. Although the office nook has worked out and the shelves for books are in place, they are overflowing and extra books are creating imitation Tour Eiffel and Leaning Towers of Pisa on the floor. At times the futon has served as the guest bed but more often than not it has been one more surface for excess scrap booking stuff. I never did get the large screen TV that I envisioned on the big wall and so my family never curled up on the futon to watch TV whilst I scrapped the history of our exploits. Sooooo, now that the kid is no longer here, I decided that library/workroom is the best use of the space. To that end I've ordered another folding banquet table and stack of drawers. Once our living space is organized I shall have to tackle that area. I wonder if I have that many years of life left--but then I KNOW I shall never get all those pictures scrapped anyway.

So, starting tomorrow PROJECT HOUSE begins--and I'll get back to my WW tracking. Hopefully, as I see things take shape my mood will lift and so will the rainy skies. Maybe I'll get some color after all, lose a few pounds and feel like pulling a mid- July party together. Let us hope--otherwise this listless rainy summer will pass into the short cold days of winter and I'll go mad!

The Cinderella Horse--The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts

This book is as its title proclaims the story of Snowman, an eighty dollar champion but it is so much more. It is also the story of the role of horses in the pre-World War II era and the changes in the years following that event that also changed our use of horses. It is the story of two young Dutch immigrants to the United States, who through hard work and faith in the future made a life for themselves and, eventually, their six children in a new land. It describes life in '50's-'60's Long Island and New York City among the private girls' schools and horse shows of the very rich.

At the heart of this interwoven tale is the story of a man and his horse. A horse who in his first appearance in the narrative grabs us as firmly as he did the heart of sensible, unsentimental horseman, Harry de Leyer. Harry, in charge of the horses used to teach young monied ladies of the Knox School how to ride, is looking for inexpensive, gentle horses at an auction in Pennsylvania. Arriving too late to have his pick he spies a moth eaten old work horse, his white coat rubbed off in places and dirty in others, headed into the truck going to the slaughter house. Standing tall, with his head held high, the horse gives Harry a steady and determined eye that Harry cannot resist. The spirit is there and Harry reluctantly hands over $80 for a horse he isn't sure is worth the proverbial plugged nickel but he must do it--he cannot ignore the look of the horse he names Snowman. For those readers who were not around in the time of this story $80 will probably sound like a pittance but my parents were paying $68 a month without utilities in a nice two bedroom apartment in Chelsea that now goes for almost $2000 a month! $80 was a lot for a man who had very little.

But this is how this love story begins and like Harry, without knowing quite why, we fall in love with Snowman, too. He is the horse the frightened girls ride to get confidence, the one who lets the de Leyer children ride him bareback and the horse, who, when summer comes, and he is taking up space and eating without contributing to his upkeep, is sold reluctantly but unemotionally by Harry to a good home and a neighbor several miles away. He is also the horse who defies all kinds of attempts to keep in pastured at that neighbor's and leaps paddock fences, one time pulling a lead with a heavy tire on it, to return to Harry and the home he loves. What else could be done but to take him back with loving arms?

But Snowman's leaping of fences inspires Harry to try training him as a jumper to be entered into those exclusive horse shows. Snowman, an old work horse from some Amish farm, and Harry, a riding teacher from the Knox School and the owner of the jumper, to compete against thoroughbreds and amateur riders employed by wealthy owners to win ? A fairy tale! And indeed, it is---a fairy tale with a Cinderella Horse and his Dutch Prince. And at the end, after 26 years a fairy tale with the hero dying with his faithful human by his side. The man left alone to dig the grave with his sons. The fairy tale to be told here by Elizabeth Letts and one to cherish and remember.

The only thing as a reader I would have liked was to know what Harry and his family went on to do in the gap between Snowy's death in 1974 and the very short epilogue that takes place in 2005 - 2008. But, perhaps, after the excitement of life with Snowy, the rest was just too much of an anti-climax. This is the story,after all, about The Eighty Dollar Champion but, if Harry hadn't been the fellow in Pennsylvania that snowy night in 1956, Snowman might have been one of hundreds of nameless horses rendered for glue and dog food.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bill Bryson is Probably Happier in Great Britain

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bryson is funny at times but I don't like his descriptions of people he meets, particularly those of the South. I see no reason why a man who lived in Hanover--where everything is priced for the elite--should have chosen to describe a waitress in Gatlinburg, Ga as Betty Slutz because he found his bill for a hamburg and drink to be outrageous and she looked it over and said welcome to Gatlinburg! Tourist traps are tourist traps and Ivy League towns are Ivy League towns--guess he didn't mind paying more for the same meal in Mollie's Balloon--but here I'm being funny at his expense and that I'm sure wasn't the source of his humor.

His better than anyone else on the AT attitude aside the tales of the trail are interesting. I still don't know why anyone wants to walk an outrageous distance over impossible terrain in horrendous weather but his description of the functioning of a tree and how vulnerable it is to disease, of meeting a moose at a common watering hole;of arrogant bourbon drinking hikers taking over a lean-to;of black flies and other insect attackers; of great heights and panoramic vistas or not; of the absolute isolation of deep forest are all good reasons for reading the book. I've experienced the same things in the woods of the Eastern seaboard and on its mountains and never set foot on the AT. It is nicer when you don't decide to kill yourself but rather do these things in day long or overnight doses and for me just as satisfying. I must say that I'm glad I did NOT read this book before my daughter and a friend hiked from Gunnerson, Co to Bozeman, Mt last year. I had a few sleepless nights but would not have slept at all had I read this before she departed.

All in all I'm glad I read this but am not inclined to read anymore of his books.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reading challenge--I think I'd better make it harder!

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Katherine has

read 40 books toward her goal of 52 books.


Let's hear it for Equality!

They Did What? Things Famous People Have DoneThey Did What? Things Famous People Have Done by Bob Fenster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kind of mindless trivia about a lot of famous folks both current and historic. Sometimes fun--for instance, Dr Guillotin did NOT invent that head chopping device but he thought it was a good idea since it made execution more equal--you know along with brotherly and free! Egalite,Fraternite et Liberte--not necessarily in that order. Seems that before the Revolution only nobles were beheaded, the rest of the peons were hung--now EVERYONE could lose their heads. Yea, EGALITE!

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Got Sisters? Read

The Little Women LettersThe Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actually, this giveaway closed on June 13 and the book arrived June 14th--but the option to acknowledge receipt didn't appear to many days later. Matters not---I started the book as soon as it arrived and finished it this morning over coffee! Only one complaint--I like the cover of my copy -- a girls hand and a red rose over an open letter better than the clothes rack on the actual cover.

Now to my review--as you can see I've given the book five stars, not a common rating by me. I'm not sure why--or better to say--I'm not sure I know how to verbalize why. Do you have sisters? Did you love Little Women? Who was your favorite---Jo, the outspoken, Beth the adorable and tragic, Meg the domestic one or Amy the cute one who stole Laurie's heart? I always related to Jo--and in this novel so does Lulu--the middle sister of the Atwater clan. She, Emma, the settled and stable eldest, and Sophie, the irrepresible youngest,an aspiring serious actress are the latest generation of the Marsh clan,descended, on their mother's side, from Jo.

Donnelly does a remarkable job of interweaving the two groups of girls through Lulu's discovery, in her parents' dusty, spider-infested attic, of letters exchanged among the Marsh girls. Jo is left at home, seemingly destined for spinsterhood. This is a situation to which Lulu feels she can relate, especially since, as a 25 year old college graduate, she still hasn't settled on a life's work nor has she a boyfriend, although, this being the 21st century she is sharing a flat with a rich female friend. Amy is newly married and on her honeymoon in Europe with Laurie. Emma is engaged and soon to be married and quite decided on her life's path or so it seems. Meg is married to a dependable, quiet sort--much like Emma's Matthew --and has two children. Probably the sort of life Emma will have. Beth, of course, has died and her memory weighs heavily on her sisters, particularly Jo. In the modern group, Sophie, comes close to dying. This event causes her sisters to contemplate what it would mean to have one of them gone.

In Little Women Mr Marsh is present only through letters but his marriage to Mrs Marsh and their relationship is the foundation and security which stabilizes and supports the Marsh girls and so, too, David and Fee's marriage provides the anchor for the young women in modern London. But in no way is the story of the Atwater's a mirror image of the Marsh family. Instead, the letters help to clarify for Lulu how much life has changed in over 150 years and yet how much remains the same. How much the history of a family carries down through the generations and informs the present. Lulu keeps the letters for herself for most of the story --for herself and for us--and they bolster her through her time of indecision and self discovery. They also speak to all of us who have had sisters or who have daughters or who have extended families of women--but really for all those female interelationships--there simply is nothing like having real sisters and all the joy, aggravation, irritation, love, grief, anger, happiness, stress, jealousy, sharing that that entails.

Ms Donnelly wrote a beautiful book -- you'll delight in reading it.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Grief Revisited

After seven wonderful weeks of traveling this beautiful country and visiting friends and family, my husband and I returned home on a cold, gray day--April 1. We got in around fourish, just as it was getting dusk and while excited at the prospect of seeing the cats after such a long time away we were a bit bummed by the cold and the deep snow that remained all around our Vermont log cabin. As we entered the mudroom, Bill called out, as he always does--Misty, Soot, I'm home.

Misty, our tiger, has always been a scaredy cat and takes her time responding. Normally, we have to search for her in whatever hidey hole she has chosen for the two weeks before she moves to yet another mysterious lair. This time though she sat at the head of the stairs above the living room and he went up--calling to Soot as he did. It was strange not to see Miss Anorexia, as a called her, in all her black, slinky glory edging out the more timid Queen La, so named for her more than adequate avoir du pois that seemed to be Misty's foil against the world.

I, then, added my voice to his, calling for our athletic girl, she who climbed the sides of the log cabin to get in, being much too impatient to wait for me to open the door on the porch to allow her entrance. Quickly, my call was answered with a loud wailing that seemed to come from the cellar. Oh, I thought, Sharon, the girl who took care of the house, must have locked her in my workroom. But as I headed down the stairs I could see that the door was open and the wail became louder, longer and somehow more ominous. I called Bill, suddenly reluctant to be the first one down the stairs. He rushed down and, at first, could not pinpoint the location of Soot. Then it became evident that she was under the wing chair pulled tightly against the book shelves. My heart pounding I wondered if she was somehow pinned under something that had fallen on her as her cries became more insistent.

When he pulled the chair out I saw a black form pressed tightly against the wall, her black coat dusty somehow and her body looking crumpled. She was lying on her side and I could see no movement. All I could do was cry out--oh, no, no. I moved aside as Bill carried her up to my footstool in the living room. We both seemed unable to think---he reached for the phone and called the vet as I comforted her. She was purring and her eyes looked clear. She rubbed her head against my hand and arched her neck for the massage she loved. Her coat was covered in dust--from litter? --and she seemed unable to move her hind legs or her tail. Yet, her behavior seemed absolutely normal but for that. She's pulled a muscle climbing this damned house--I had told Sharon not to leave the upstairs window open to try to dissuade her from climbing, as though she would somehow realize after 14 years that she couldn't get in that way!

By this time, it was after 5 pm on a Friday afternoon, so naturally the vet's office was closed but an answering machine informed us that an emergency hospital was open and to call it. So he did. Located in Hanover, help was almost 45 minutes away. Why didn't I go with them? I don't know--I guess I wanted to be here when Sharon arrived from work--or after traveling all day and in shock, I just wasn't thinking straight. Anyway, I remained home, alternately crying and then praying. Beating myself up for not leaving my sister's earlier--lingering to chat and eat rather than rushing home earlier. Reassuring myself that the cat was so healthy and energetic and active that she would be fine. Tearing myself apart for leaving them for seven weeks--even though they knew Sharon and loved her. Worrying that Soot was 14 and while young in the history of our past cats, nevertheless, aged by feline standards.

Soon Sharon came in and was shocked to see me in tears and worried that I somehow blamed her, which I assured her I did not, but which in my heart I did, unreasonably. What could she have done differently--what had she done that was different than what I would have done had I been here? Who knows, but grief is easier to bear if the cause is someone's fault--preferably not your own. In time, Bill returned and the news was not good--a blood clot. She was getting no blood to the rear legs and the temperature in that area had already dropped. She was probably stricken within the past two-three hours--oh, God, if I'd left my sister's earlier, we would have been home and could have gotten her to our vet--just ten minutes away. Guilt, grief, anger, hope, despair, tears, denial--so many emotions--and an attempt to be gracious to Sharon, but wanting her gone. The vet put her on anticoagulants and said it could go either way.

Saturday, call from our daughter and we kept the situation from her. Soot is her cat--she brought her home tucked inside her tee shirt--a tiny little thing whose ears were too big for the rest of her. She was only four weeks old though we didn't know that until she couldn't keep food down and our vet said she'd been weaned too early. She never lost that malnourished look. Betsy could hold her upside down, twist her in knots, taught her to sit on the porch swing--which soon became her favorite napping, preening, surveying of her kingdom spot. You could never even get Misty to sit on your lap on that swing--SWINGING???, OH, MY GOD! But Soot loved it.

Through two days we waited with reports from the vet--she's resting--no change. Why didn't I go to see her? Why didn't I hold her in my lap? Because I'd never had a pet in the hospital--because it never occurred to me until it was too late--because -----and then Sunday night at 1105 pm the call with the nice male voice--her heart is giving out--there doesn't seem to be any improvement and me, through my tears, saying it is the end? I don't want her to suffer, I guess we need to put her down. And here I sit, typing this and crying all over again. And the doctor saying yes, I called for that permission.

And so the next day, Bill and I went to the hospital--it is a nice place, I guess. They gave us a beautiful white box, which I never opened. I couldn't look at her. We brought her home, gathered her dish, a picture of Betsy,a blanket, and I don't remember what else and Bill took her and buried her next to the path she used to take to the lower fields. How often she'd come running up that path, through the arbor, with loud purrs to show me her latest catch--a field mouse , a mole, a chipmunk--so proud,so full of love, so happy to bring me my latest gift. And how quickly I'd make sure the porch door was closed so she couldn't bring it in the house and how closely I watched to make sure she didn't climb the log walls to sneak it through the bedroom window. She always ate everything except the liver and gall bladder--LOL. Last month, Bill planted marigolds on the grave and at the end of summer he'll plant lilies from my garden. She always loved to hide out in the daylily bed in the heat of a summer's day. You never could see her but as soon as you started walking the land, out she'd come with a loud chirp and she'd follow along or run in front and quickly drop down and roll her tummy up for a rub--almost toppling me in my efforts not to step on her. I hate walking out there now--it is so lonely. I haven't gone down the path to see her grave--I'm sure it is lovely. I hate all this rain--I can't stand her getting soaked and cold like this. I hate all this pain and the tears.

So why today--this resurgence of grief and memory? Because today our daughter comes home for the first time since Christmas. And today she is going to walk into the house without Soot--no Soot to greet her--no Soot to betray us by moving off our bed onto hers for the duration. She knows, of course, that Soot has left us. She knows, too, that Misty has blossomed and while still afraid of her own shadow and unwilling to be on the porch without us unless the door is open so she can get in easily, she doesn't hide anymore. And she gets on our bed now and never stops talking. But knowing and being here are not the same thing. I suppose I'll go to the grave with her and we'll talk about Soot--and we'll walk around the property and remark on where the others who've gone before her are buried--dogs and cats--they are all here --near the well, or behind the lilacs or now, by the garden path. All the pieces of our hearts still near and always remembered. And then we'll discuss where Misty will go, because, though overweight and sedentary and having outlasted Soot, she, too, is fourteen and will sometime leave us--though I hope she lasts the 18-20 years our other cats have lived.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Oldie but Goody!

The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cannot imagine this book included in the Everyman's Library Childrens' Classics, but it is!! along with Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. I suppose for older children, it certainly has suspense and mystery. I certainly enjoyed it.

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It Is Really Nice to Get Comments and Fun to Respond!

Earlier I posted a comment that reading a book is done for two reasons, because it is enjoyable and because it allows one to boast about it. One of my followers commented that she reads for the love of language and the ability of a book to take her to places she'll not get to herself. She also comments that there is wisdom in fiction. I love that she commented and I agree with her on all points. Below is my response.

LOL--I should have included that the comment was a quote from Bertrand Russell, who apparently liked to boast!

I totally agree with your reasons for reading. I, too, love language and had wanted to minor in English in college. Alas, my school required a minor in chemistry should I want a major in biology, which I did. Of the three electives available to me in those four years one I chose was world literature.

As to travels to lands I'll never see that is also a plus. In addition, I love reading books set in places I have seen in order to " hear " another's perspective on it. I read fiction as well as non-fiction and always have several books going at once.

As to discussing books, I belong to Goodreads and Library Thing, where there are discussion groups and I follow a couple of literary blogs as well. There are several friends who are avid readers with whom I share books and it is fun to discuss those we've read in common.

I don't know if any of that can be construed as boasting but I know that all of it is enjoyable!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why Read?

There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Wonderful Novel Set During the American Civil War

My Name Is Mary Sutter: A NovelMy Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel by Robin Oliveira

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young mid-wife from Albany wishes to study medicine but Albany Med will not consider her. A young Albany surgeon, who apprenticed to a doctor in Manhattan City and married a waif from the Five Points while ministering to her family, refuses to accept her as a student. He prefers to volunteer to serve in the Army being raised by Abraham Lincoln to preserve the Union. The doctor under whom he studied, widowed, has been in the Army serving in Texas and has now been recalled to Washington. A young man, the mid-wife's neighbor whose parents have died in a carriage collision and who seemed attracted to her, has now become engaged to her more fragile, attractive twin. He, too, is to volunteer to serve for the three months it will take to subdue the South. Her brother, the youngest of the family signs up as well.

Heart-broken, her dreams seemingly unattainable, Mary Sutter leaves a note for her widowed mother and her sister and steals off to Washington on an early morning train. She is to present herself to Dorothea Dix and volunteer to nurse the wounded soldiers returning from the first battles. Even here she is rejected but finally is accepted by a surgeon in a broken down hovel of a place--the decrepit Union Hotel--now a hospital--not as a nurse but as a charwoman.

In some ways a romance, but more of a story of heart-break, grief, suffering, guilt, remorse, forgiveness and survival, My Name is Mary Sutter is an engrossing tale set against the back drop of war and its victims, treated with medical procedures and knowledge not far removed from the Middle Ages.

The story moves from 19th C. Albany, not much changed when I studied there in the mid '60's, to Washington, a dismal swamp of a place the conditions of which caused more death from illnesses of poor hygiene than wounds, to New York City. The description of train travel along the Hudson River Valley is exactly the same Amtrak route now in existence.

I've been to many of the battle sites described as well and the story of Antietam and its cornfield and sunken road and Burnside Bridge is heart rending. The barn where Clara Barton actually ran a hospital and provided medical supplies is still there though here is serves as the place where Mary Sutter finally decides to go home to Albany.

In the end, the war is over, the survivors move on with their lives and to some extent there is healing but the scars remain.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

South of Superior by Ellen Airgood


Having traveled the UP in January and passed through many small towns that seemed far away from any of the attractions of a major city I was curious about this new book written by someone who grew up there. I haven't read the book but the premise of a young woman, recently living in Chicago, leaving to take up residence in one of these small places with a woman old enough to be her grandmother in order to care for yet another older woman, has me anxious to read it. If you've been South of Superior and are curious about what life in one of these towns might be like I urge you to check out the link above and enter the giveaway. Good luck, but actually, I want to win! LOL

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Mullah's Storm--a review

The Mullah's StormThe Mullah's Storm by Thomas W. Young

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have seen pictures of our troops stationed on the high mountains of Afganistan with nothing but mountain and rocks and dirt around them and were awed by the desolation and isolation and danger, you must read this book. A US plane is hit by a missle immediately upon take-off in a snow storm. It is leaving Afganistan with a full crew, a female Army interpreter, several CIA operatives and a captive,aged mullah who is being spirited out of the country to be interrogated. Many are killed, several are injured and the attackers are going to move in soon to regain their holy man. The commander orders one of the crew and the interpreter to take the mullah and escape. Reluctantly, the man obeys and the three take off on foot through that same desolate, isolated landscape this time in a blinding snow storm with little food and water, a radio, night goggles, and a GPS system and little else.

Unlike many books of this type there are no gigantic moments of heroic action with shootem ups and fast action. Instead, the realism of the narration has the reader as cold and frightened as the characters. The need to move through an area in which the enemy is hidden but all around, an area where the people one encounters may or may not be friendlies, an area where every path followed is boldly imprinted in the snow is what gets your heart racing. When the trio are captured the fear they feel and their expression of it is totally believeable. There are no romantic involvements, no big buddy relationships, just the business of survival and war. This is not to say that these characters are unfeeling robots--the narration is from the perspective of an airman who is a technician, used to flying, who finds himself as warrior and protector in a landscape he has only seen from the safety of a plane high over this terrain. How he feels about this change and how he conducts himself with this new mission is as gripping as the mission itself.

I think the ending had the most impact on me--the fact that after an intense sharing of danger and loss and injury and pain these characters go their seperate ways and will probably never see each other again. Yet they will always remember and so will we. I closed the book and thought I don't know how they can survive such situations and wonder, as our hero does at times, why they occur or how they can in a place so incredibly beautiful.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Planned Obsolescence

Obsolescence---getting too old to cut the mustard!

When I was a young woman my Dad used to say that cars had planned obsolescence but I never noticed that particularly and kind of rolled my eyes, thinking--yeah, well, then there is just old and crotchety. Well, as is often the case, I, like so many before me and like many to come--can you say daughter?--, have become my parent!

In my kitchen is a Westinghouse toaster,NOT a White-Westinhouse, though it is white with these lovely multi-sized bubble like circles in silver and black scattered about its shiny sides. It was given to me 45 years ago last month--around Memorial Day in --what year (oh, math!)1966. It is a jazzy little thing--you put the bread in the slots and it automatically goes down with a lovely mechanical sound and when it is toasted it pops up joyfully with an even louder sound. It still works marvelously--although a couple of years ago it went through a spell where the lifter bar on one needed to be manually pulled up with an instrument with a wooden handle before it would automatically drop new bread down. It has since stopped its temper tantrum or sabbatical or whatever it was going through and once more works hummingly.

Why you ask am I extolling the virtues of this wonderful appliance, made in America by an American company that I think is now defunct or else masquerading as the same outfit but really located in the jungles of Asia somewhere a la the makers of Revereware--another wonderful company whose products I also own--same vintage as Ms Westinghouse although sorely tarnished on their lovely copper bottoms. How's that for a run-on sentence but perhaps this breathless tirade may give you some idea of the state of my mind at present.

I spent this entire morning in online chat with a lovely techie whose accent I could not hear, which at least kept my blood pressure at a reasonable level. One needs to give a bit of background here I think. When my daughter went off to college in 2004, being a good and with it Mom, I asked what computer she would like and whether she wanted a laptop or desktop model. She opted for a laptop but wanted the high end Applebook which I just wasn't going to pay for ( after all, we were shelling out for college !). Needless to say she wasn't willing to lay out that much moolah either. So off she went, computerless. I, in the meantime, decided I liked the look of the Dell Inspiron and bought one for myself. They were having a special on a gigantic printer-fax-copier so I got that as well, though I loved my Epson printer that had been attached to the grape iMac but it wouldn't work with the Dell. Never gave a thought to PO--just figured different platforms!( Of course the reason I was in the market for a new computer is because the old iMac no longer could access many sites such as Snapfish, which had updated their security!) Are you impressed with my knowledgeable use of techie terms? Daughter came home at Christmas, fell in love with the Inspiron, daughter left in January for Montana with the laptop under her arm. Mom called Dell and got a new laptop--same model--already improved. Still no thought about OP.

Flash forward to 2010--one day the Inspiron screen goes dark. The computer works but the display is shot! Not worth fixing--will cost as much as a new computer. Files not backed up!!!! Call Dell--they tell me that the computer lasted beyond its expected lifespan---6 years!!!!!!!! So I ask, okay--what have you got that is the same memory, capability etc as this dead fish with all my important favorites and pictures and documents/This wonderful machine that has traveled cross country with me three times, paying bills, blogging my trip to friends and sending them pictures.Almost another child--dead and unresponsive at the tender age of 6---kindergarten age for Pete's sake. They tell me and Best Buy is having a special. So I go see my local Geek Squad and for more shekels to retrieve my info and buy an external hard drive I purchase a new Inspiron 15.

I get the baby home and hook it up to that ginormous printer and it won't work. I manually upload the drivers from the disc that came with the printer and it won't work! So I call Dell---no that printer which I love--it prints beautifully and loads paper sensibly is not compatible with Windows 7 and there is no driver that will make it work. So now I have to buy a new printer. I decide this time I'll go wireless and they just happen to be having a special. I place an ad for my beloved printer and within a day a neighbor who is an author comes by and talks me down to $40 from $50--but, I rationalize, that makes the new one cost me $40 also and I'm getting a new printer, he's getting used--but loved!

So by December I have a new printer and it is hooked up and working--sort of. It loads from the back and so paper jams are common and a pain when you are a floor above the printer. Then after only about 47 printed pages--not all at the same time-- the ink isn't flowing properly so I do a head cleaning and get it going again. I think, boy the other printer's ink didn't dry up between printings. But, I thought, I'll have to make sure I use it more often. Then off we went for a seven week tour of the country with the new computer which did fine. Came back and sure enough had to get the ink flowing but it seemed to do okay. ( The old printer sat just as long in prior years while we traveled with no problem!) At this point I'm beginning to hate this printer.

Then on May 26 a new message appeared --there is a problem with the printhead. I removed it --I cleaned it as the manual showed--I reseated it--I changed the ink cartridges but could not do any other actions because I could not override the message. So began my first Dell chat session. After an hour and a half the tech had me finagle with buttons and plugs and when I did all I was directed to do the connection with the chat was dropped. I gave up.

Today I tried again--three and a half hours later they are sending me a new printer--the touchpad on my computer works again and I may buy some kind of Government level software for the computer. Here's hoping the new printer will be compatible with it--after all it is about six months old. Naturally, the techies and salespeople call the changes that are made in each model PROGRESS--I call it Planned Obsolescence. If these computer guys and gals are so bright they can make older models of printers and computers compatible with the new models. The thing is they are savvy and much brighter than the consumer so throw out the old and buy new.

Do you wonder why I don't have a cell phone, an iPod --if that is even the new thing, there is some larger gadget my brother in law has like a slate board, I haven't a clue what its name is--or a Nook or Kindle? I know how to dial a phone and turn book pages. Fortunately digital cameras aren't that different than film cameras so I can deal fine with them. But the rest of this technology? It will give me a stroke or heart attack due to high blood pressure long before obesity or cholesterol.

Now I'm going to go have a nice Thomas' English muffin toasted in Ms Westinghouse, brew a nice cup of tea and read a good book--I've done enough for one day!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If you like cheese and remember fondue,this is for you

Another giveaway by www.kayespenguinposts.blogspot.com

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames

Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 3rd 2011 by Berkley (first published April 12th 2011)
ISBN 0425241580 (ISBN13: 9780425241585)
When Charlette Bessette, owner of Providence, Ohio's fancy cheese shop, Fromagerie Bessette, is asked by her friend Meredith to cater a fund raiser at the old abandoned Ziegler winerey, it is with some trepidation. For years rumors have abounded of buried treasures and possibly a few buried bodies at the winery. The fundraiser is to purchase the winery and turn it into a local college.

Check out A Parfait Murder giveaway

Review & Giveaway: A Parfait Murder by Wendy Lyn Watson"

at www.KayesPenguinPosts.blogspot.com

Looks like a parfait--perfect easy summer read!