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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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who Remembers What Gold Star Mothers Are?

A Star for Mrs. BlakeA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, so it had to be 1949-1950, while walking on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad around our Chelsea New York neighborhood, I remember noticing a rectangular flag-like banner with a gold star hanging in the window of one of those below sidewalk apartment windows. It was like nothing I'd seen before against the pane between it and the lace curtains behind it. I asked my father what it was and he said a Gold Star Mother lived there. Naturally, I asked what a GOLD STAR mother was and how she was different from other mothers. He said she was a lady who'd lost her son in the war. I don't remember the rest of our conversation nor do I remember whether there was any more to our conversation. I'm not even sure I ever thought about it again through the years but A Star for Mrs. Blake, a Good Reads giveaway made me think of it once more.

April Smith has brought five, no actually, six of the Gold Star mothers to life for us to get to know and, in the process introduce us to a short-lived government program in which Gold Star mothers, women who have lost a son or sons in the First World War, are provided an opportunity to visit the graves of those who did not come home, those buried in those French fields of uniformly placed white marble markers. White marble markers still made in the marble sheds of Vermont, my home State, and used world wide in US Military Cemeteries.

It is during the Depression and Hoover is in the White House. Each of these women want to go to see where their young sons were buried over 20 years ago. They are for the most part middle class women who are leaving responsibilities and family behind to say a final good-bye to men they'd thought to see again but who were wrenched suddenly and unexpectedly from their lives. How an Irish immigrant Catholic who lost two sons and has a crippled young son and large family in Boston, a Russian immigrant Jew whose husband has taken her, a woman who loved art and music to a potato cooperative in the wilds of Maine and who forbade her to go, a wife of a famous architect who has been committed over and over into an insane asylum, a wealthy widow of the heir to a railroad building family, and the main character, a Maine widow from Deer Isle who now takes care of the daughters of her deceased sister interact, bicker, commiserate and form deep bonds is the focus of the story. The sixth woman is a black lady who makes a brief but indelible appearance in the story. The Quandry produced by her appearance highlights the attitudes and behavior of the military to those young men, who also gave their lives for democracy.

Playing an important role in the telling--the US Army--represented by the no nonsense General overseeing the program and the young inexperienced Army brat graduate of West Point, Thomas Hammond, who is devoted to the Corps and to the five women placed in his care. Thomas herds them from New York to Paris to Verdun and the small village in which their boys are buried. He is assisted by Lily, the Army nurse who is actually under contract to the Army.

And lastly, there is a disfigured survivor ex-pat newspaper man who plays a crucial role in the story of the program and in the life of Cora, the Deer Isle lady, in particular.

All in all, an enlightening story about a moment in American history at the end of the war to end all wars and which began 100 years ago. How sad that there are still Gold Star mothers being made every day and that they have been ever since this program was conceived and since discontinued. Where would these mothers need to go to see their son's and daughter's final resting places now?

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BBC Radio 6 Music video

Today a friend on Facebook, with whom I taught many years ago, posted a video about libraries that come from this location. It is called " I love my local library and all of its quirks " and is narrated by a British man whose voice sounds vaguely like Russell Brand. It is a delightful pseudo-poem of about two minutes and it made me think about my own love of libraries, buildings that have "had The Hobbit 70 years before this fellow's local cinema! From my earliest recollections I can remember Mom taking me to story hour at the NYC library branch at 23rd and 7th. It is still there and the children's reading room is still up the beautiful wooden staircase on the second floor. Mom sent my brother-in-law looking for me once, when I went to get books and didn't return as soon as she thought I should. He found me reading in one of the big soft chairs in that room. At all through grade school and high school and into college I used the library card I'd gotten there as soon as they'd let me have one. I'm sure that card is somewhere amongst the old things in a box somewhere--at least, I hope I didn't throw it out. I can remember bringing home a shopping bag full of books and taking them back two weeks later--some to be renewed, others to be replaced. I've never gotten over my love of hard copy books and the buildings that house them or the comfy reading rooms they provide. I've spent many a winter's evening reading before the fire in the library in St Albans, Vt. And I've volunteered at the Peabody here in Post Mills. I loved the card catalog--in its own marble entranceway in the State Library in Albany, New York where I worked in Graduate School. Milestones to the library I now have in my own home, which is overflowing into every available corner. I'll never own a Kindle or a Nook, no matter how convenient. I travel with a canvas bag of books and buy more along the way. Thank you Mom and Dad, you do live on within me through the habits and values you gave me in childhood. I married a man who loves books as much as I and our daughter follows in our footsteps. All because Mom took me to the reading hour and read to me when we were home. Dad taught me to read before I ever went to Kindergarten. Oh, yes, I love libraries, too!".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'll Never Shop in the Galveston, Texas Wal-Mart after Reading This Book!

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A devastating story about a devastating storm--the hurricane that destroyed Galveston Texas September 1900. Larson not only describes the horror of the actual storm and the overwhelming loss of life but also the early years of the National Weather Bureau and the station chief in Galveston, Isaac Cline. The story moves at a pace as fast as the surge of Gulf of Mexico seawater that knocked down huge swaths of buildings as it moved into the City and then carried them and the people within them back into the depths. Horrifying, interesting, frightening, mesmerizing, awful. Nature totally untamed and to this day, untamable.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Shopping Savings

Hi friends Thought I'd pass on a tip for shopping online--if you go to your merchants' sites through a site called ebates, you may get cash back for your purchases. Many of the biggest online merchants --Macy's, Kohls, Amazon, WalMart, Sally Beauty etc give 3% or more cash back. Even if you place items in your shopping cart before you remember to use ebates, you can go to ebates, enter the site and voila, your purchases are still there in the cart. You can get your rebate automatically deposited into an account or receive a quarterly check for accumulated rebates in the mail. I never shop on-line without using ebates and I've gotten back over $80 in a year--that's a lot of tax and /or shipping at other merchants. http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=D9zSZuPwRJtMDyPnkDGYqw%3D%3D&eeid=26471 Try it, you'll like it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Paris, A Movie Theatre and Lost but Refound Love--Would Make a Good Movie

One Evening in Paris: A NovelOne Evening in Paris: A Novel by Nicolas Barreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful, old fashioned love story that could easily be a romantic movie for a date night! As I read it( in one day), I was casting the parts in my mind but think that each reader would like to do that for himself or more likely, herself. It is the reverse of reading a book and then seeing a movie cast with actors that in no way fit your image of them.

There are several " stars " of this story: Paris is definitely one. I was transported back to my time there as "les rues" were named and described. Unfortunately, I was devastated by the description of the Montmartre area, so different from my experience about 25 years ago.

Another is the " girl in the red coat", although, except for one memorable night, she isn't physically there. She is a mysterious young woman who appears every week in the little movie theatre, Cinema Paradis, another of the stars, to see the love story movie of the week, put on by the theatre's owner, Alain. He has become curious about the girl who sits in row 17 in the same seat week after week and finally works up the gumption to ask her out for a drink. She accepts, the drink extends to hours in the café, where the sleepy crew eventually asks them to leave so they can lock up. They've talked and held hands for hours, gazing into each other's eyes and falling in love. By the time Alain goes many blocks out of his way to walk her home and has spent many romantic minutes kissing her good night under the chestnut tree in her front yard, he is well and truly a goner. She agrees to meet him again the following week, when she returns from a visit to her aunt for the week-end.

Alain, during that time, is approached by a famous French actress, living in LA and longing for her Parisian home and her director, Allan Wood!!!!!--I hated this one aspect of the book since I really don't like Woody Allen or his movies---with a proposal to use the Cinema as a setting for a nostalgic movie in which Solene Avril will star. He gladly accepts and feels his life is taking a turn for the better, the theatre not having brought in a great deal of money and his love life rather non-existent. Needless to say, fate has other plans for Alain and Melanie, his new love.

She does not show up for their date, despite having sent him a note indicating that she is as enamoured of him as he with her. Alain's debonair, non-sentimental. womanizing friend, Robert, a professor of astrophysics makes no bones about his frustration with Alain's failure to get Melanie's phone number or last name. And so the story's plot is set.

Barreau paints his characters with an exacting brush--Alain's angst and heartache are realistically described. Why didn't Melanie show up? Is there someone else, was she in an accident, did she just not feel the same passion as he? Robert's level-headed, analytical and casual approach to the situation, with frustration and impatience is so true to life his voice is almost audible. Solene's attraction to men and hers to them is as easy to relate to as her nostalgia for Paris rather than LA, although a very more luxurious Paris than that in which she grew up.

The supporting characters are also fully developed, patrons of the Cinema, though not seen often are three dimensional. The crew working on the film, especially Carl, who loves Solene, are, too. Alain's projectionist, and cashier, the waiters and waitresses at the various cafes and bars, though fleetingly present are real people.

And the search for Melanie, with all its confusion and convolution is as much fun and interest as the background scenes in the others' lives. All in all, as good a story as that in any of the films Barreau uses to enhance the action or the ones he lists as Alain's 25 Love Stories from the Cinema Paradis that he shows in his Wednesday late night series, Les Amours au Paradis. When they convert this book to a movie he may add One Evening in Paris as number 26. Wonder who will be in the cast!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hiro and Mateo begin Their Murder Solving Series in Japan

Claws of the Cat (Shinobi Mystery, #1)Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having won the second installment of this series from Goodreads, read and reviewed it, I decided to buy the first book in the series. I have not been disappointed. In this episode, a rich, older samurai has been killed in the room of one of the entertainers, a recent convert to Catholicism. Father Mateo is determined to find the murderer, not believing as the dead man's son and policeman does, that the young girl has committed the crime. He convinces the policeman to give him two days in which to prove her innocence, much to the dismay of his appointed protector, Hiro ( love the name of the Japanese hero!). Thus begins a convoluted who dunnit, which took me one day to read.

In addition to the fun of following the clues or lack of them along with Mateo, Hiro is the enjoyment of the character of their no nonsense housekeeper, Ana and their less than impeccable housemate, Luis, a Portuguese trader. Ms Spann reveals much of Japanese culture and behavior through the hapless etiquette errors made by the Portuguese priest and the frustration of his Japanese scribe, Hiro, with these errors. In addition, through description and dialogue she reveals even more of differences between her European characters and the natives with whom they come in contact through the course of the investigation. This juxtaposition of East and West make what could be a simple cozy mystery far more interesting.

I look forward to the third installment of the adventures of Hiro, Mateo, et al or as Ms Spann calls them, the Shinobi ( Hiro is actually an undercover member of this society of assassins ) Mysteries.

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