Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book giveaway winner - Doctor Mom!

From a teacup of names
I drew Doctor Mom
Doctor Mom, please leave me a comment with your snail mail address. Because I moderate the comments before they can be published, I'll delete it after jotting down the address.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Calendar giveaway winner - Janice!

From my old tea tin
I drew Janice's name
Janice, please leave me a comment with your snail mail address. Because I moderate the comments before they can be published, I'll delete it after jotting down the address.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Book Report/In the Shadow of the Glacier

In the Shadow of the Glacier
by Vicki Delany
unabridged audio read by Carrington MacDuffie
mystery, 2007
finished, 11/15/08

In all these years since the Vietnam War, I have never heard of a book that talked about the boys who went to Canada to avoid the draft into that war. Maybe they exist and I just missed them. Perhaps, there are nonfiction accounts, in fact I'm quite sure there are, and I plan to look into them. This subject is a real focus of Vicki Delany's terrific mystery set in British Columbia. Apparently, a great proportion of those who were known as draft-dodgers settled in that province, and indeed there was a great furor a few years back about a proposed memorial honoring these men.

There are people on both sides of this issue, and I really don't want flaming sorts of comments because after all this is just a book report, but I wouldn't be entirely honest if I didn't say where Tom and I were in those early 1970s days when his draft lottery number was 56, putting him near the top of the list for draftees. We were definitely against that war, though we weren't in any organizations, and we weren't hugely visible in our protests. The sixties and early seventies were, for these old hippies, mostly about food and music. I try so hard to explain to my children that the popular expressions of those years didn't apply to everyone. There were a million different ways that (mostly) young people responded to the spirit of the times. Not everyone was into tie-dye and the Grateful Dead; and not everyone was in a commune. But every single one of us was changed in some way by those years. Some died in that war. Some went to the land, and stayed. Some became politicians. And some went to Canada. After receiving that particular bit of news on television, Tom and I, with the complete approval and support of our families, took a drive up to Montreal. We wanted to take a look at the place we might be calling home one day. As it turned out, there was a medical problem that prevented him from being inducted into the army. Who knew a dry skin condition inherited from his grandfather could make such a difference in his life?

So, anyhow, a long time has past, and yet passions still rise when the subject comes up. In this book there are several people in the small community of Trafalgar who settled there as war resisters all those years ago. They have made a life for themselves. They have made positive, lasting contributions to their town. When a local man dies, and leaves part of his land to the town, on which he wants a memorial garden to the draft-dodgers, it divides the citizenry. A shady newspaper man comes to the area, and through his divisive reporting, brings people on both sides from afar into the community. Tempers flare. Of course there is a murder, and a delightful new police woman in the mystery world is introduced. She is young Molly Smith, who is the daughter of a draft-dodger and a politically active mother, and whose real name is Moonlight. I've seen it as Moonbeam on some sights, but the book I read called her by the former name. Can you imagine the surprise of her peace-loving parents when she made this job choice? As the story moves along, we find out about the sad event which prompted her decision. She is a wonderful, wonderful character; just about the age of my own daughter, which of course makes me feel all the fonder toward her. This is her hometown, and she knows all the people and their stories. In addition to her abilities as a police woman, this alone would make her an asset in any investigation. She knows what makes the people tick, and knows all about their past and present lives. We meet many of the townspeople, including a senior officer who has just come to the force after his own sad event in Vancouver. The town itself is interesting because it includes a mix of many different types of people. So far, they have melded nicely, but this murder and the surrounding news coverage threatens their quiet, happy way of life.

Along with The Coffin Trail, this book also kept me awake until the wee hours, and as I wrote, it was so worth it. The writing is crisp, the characters are rich and real, and the story is fantastic, both a good mystery and a compelling tale of the war resister situation. I loved it, and can't wait for the second in the series to come out in February - a birthday present for myself! If you have a chance, please read this excellent interview with the author.

Thanksgiving in the classroom

Each year in November, Tom reads Truman Capote's The Thanksgiving Visitor to his eighth graders. We both love this story, and it contains one of my favorite passages. Miss Sook says, "There is only one unpardonable sin - deliberate cruelty. All else can be forgiven. That, never." The most interesting facet of the tale for those thirteen and fourteen year olds is the fact that this older cousin invites the young Buddy's worst enemy to Thanksgiving dinner. Tom says there is always much discussion about Odd Henderson, who is a bully who lives in a terrible family situation. He is twelve years old, and still in the second grade.

This year, I pulled Arthur's Thanksgiving by Marc Brown off our shelf, and asked, do you want to read this to your seventh graders, and he did. Tom held up the book and asked the students if they knew the characters, and they remembered them all. Probably some from the PBS series, but I'll bet most of them read it when they were little ones. I love the Arthur books, and my kids loved them. In this book, Mr. Ratburn, Arthur's teacher, chooses Arthur to direct the Thanksgiving play.

Tom says he'll continue this new tradition each November. The seventh graders clapped when he finished the book!!

Friday Finds/November 28

I didn't do a Friday Finds post last week, so this one will offer two weeks of discoveries. Go here to see what treasures other people found.

1. My first find is really a rediscovery. I remember buying Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons for my kids, but I didn't read it to them, and am not sure if they ever read it. But the whole series was a huge hit with my close friend's three children, and when I read about it here, I knew the time had come for me to begin reading the books myself.

2. The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff sounds wonderful to me. You may read more here. This is yet another Persephone gem, and will be on my next order.

3. I love the title of this book, No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub. The reviewer wrote:

Her reaction when friends suggest she join a book club as she turns sixty is similar to mine. She says, “Book club people always seem to have to wade through Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or, groan, The God of Small Things. They feel they’ve forever got to poke their brain with a pointed stick to keep it working. But either you’ve got a lively brain or you haven’t. And anyway, I don’t want to be young and stimulated any more. I want to start doing old things, not young things.”

I simply can't resist this one! It is by Virginia Ironside, and you may read more here.

4. Just as I've been saying forever that I simply must read Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series (and have finally bought the first two!), I feel the same way about Georges Simenon's Maigret books. I've read just one story, and seen the television version with Michael Gambon, but I really have to begin the long series. This is the second mention of Simenon in a Friday Finds post, so clearly, it is time. The title is My Friend Maigret, and you may read more here.

5. I just read about The Bread and Butter Stories by Mary Norton this very morning. You may read more here. I must get this book immediately!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mandoline Potatoes

This dish is a bit like scalloped potatoes without the cheese, and with the addition of other vegetables. A few years ago, I bought a mandoline, and it has changed my potato life. Before I owned one, I had to boil the sliced potatoes before adding them to the scalloped potatoes dish because otherwise they wouldn't soften enough. Well, now, I slice them on the mandoline, and they are so nice and thin that they cook up just beautifully without pre-cooking. The amounts for this dish depend on how much you want.

Sauté chopped onions, zucchini, garlic, peppers or any other vegetables you enjoy in olive oil. While they are cooking, grease a 9x13 pan and peel potatoes. Slice them on the mandoline, and cover the bottom of the pan. When the veggies are cooked, put some on top of the potatoes, and continue alternating layers. Dot the top with butter. You don't have to do this, but it adds such a nice flavor. Cover with tin foil and bake in preheated 390º F. oven. Why it isn't 400º, I don't know. I just put it at 390º the first time, and have continued. After the potatoes have softened, remove the tin foil, and turn temp down to 350º until the vegetables have browned to your liking. This is so delicious, and you can vary it each time by your choice of vegetables to go with the potato.

For this year's Thanksgiving dinner, I sautéed our garden onions (frozen), shallots, and zucchini (frozen).

We traveled an hour, met our son, and had our Thanksgiving with our dear friend Susy, her son and his family, and her granddaughter. The foods which delighted me were sliced, cooked carrots with peas, and topped with fresh parsley; and Susy's cranberries:

12 oz. package cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Bring to a boil, and then simmer a few minutes. I love cranberries this way rather than the wiggly kind.

There were many pies, blueberry, pecan, pumpkin, and lemon meringue; the lemon being my particular favorite.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lest you think...

... after reading my note on Thanksgiving, that my personal Thanksgivings have been unpleasant, I want to say that they have been great, and are still, wonderful. When the kids were younger, we each chose what we wanted for the meal. It was an eclectic mix of all sorts of vegetarian delights. No tofu turkeys, but all our favorite dishes. Here's a photo, and a menu from 1994. My memories of those days are warm and very happy.

The Reading Life

I recently found myself thinking about my reading life; and it is, indeed, a particular life, just as someone has a working life, or a farm life, or a home life. I've noticed an interesting phenomenon which has occurred three times now. I've found myself reading and listening to the same sorts of books without really planning to do so. I did a book report the first time it happened. I was listening to and reading a print version of two different mysteries with similar situations. I also wrote about the second time: that was when I stayed up so late after finishing a print book, and then listening to an audio book - both exciting, unstoppable mysteries.

And now, the third. This time it involved three books. I have finished the first two, and am currently reading the third. I have high hopes of writing about each one, and soon. The first is an audio book called Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish about growing up in rural Iowa during the Depression years. The second is Home and Away by Anny Scoones, a book of reminiscences of childhood and travel. The third is Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers by Edie Clark, a book of recipes and their human connections in her past. They have a lot in common, these books. They are memoirs in the very best sense of the word. The genre has acquired an unpleasant taste in late years with many stories of horrific childhoods, and even lies. They don't appeal to me in the least. But these books, these three gems in the world of memory writing are like mashed potatoes or homemade bread; the ultimate in comfort reading. I didn't plan to read them one after the other. I just happened on the first; Les sent me her copy of the second; and the third I'd been meaning to read for a while, having read and enjoyed her first book, The View From Mary's Farm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Report/The Coffin Trail

The Coffin Trail
by Martin Edwards
mystery, 2004
finished, 11/14/08

In older days, when there was no local church, a dead person was put on a packhorse, and led to the closest church on what is called a "coffin trail" or "corpse road." If you look closely at the beautifully designed cover of this book, you'll see a coffin, a cottage within it, and the mountains of the Lake District. Each figures prominently in this wonderful mystery. The cottage has just been bought, quite on impulse, by a new couple. They each want to get away from their present lives, and look forward to what they think will be a quiet, relaxing country life. Well, we know that won't happen, don't we? The cottage they've bought is known to the man, Daniel Kind, from a childhood holiday spent in the area. The boy who used to live in the cottage has been widely accepted as the murderer of a young woman several years ago, though he died soon afterward and was never tried in a courtroom. Daniel knew him briefly, and liked him. The boy, Barrie, was autistic - not known of in those days - and was thought crazy.

So, this is one story; a youngish couple beginning a new life together. A second story is that there is a new team in the area, formed of present and former police to work on cold cases, murder cases which were never solved. The case of Barrie and the murdered girl is one of them. Daniel's late father, Ben, was the police officer on the original case, and the lead officer on the cold cases used to work with him. The way these situations overlap, and connect further with all the other villagers, past and present forms the basis for an intriguing, surprising book. As you know, I was gripped by the story, and couldn't sleep after reading it just before bed one night. There is great detail about people and about the natural world. There is the tension between old-time residents, and people new to the area. We see the extraordinary beauty of the place, and its isolation. The book is in the mystery genre, yet it is also a great character study, as the best mysteries are. I completely enjoyed my time within the book, and thoroughly recommend it. I'm thrilled there are more in the series, and I can't wait to get back to this area and its people.

A moment in the book which I found refreshing and all too unusual in the world of detectives, was the account of the woman police officer:

Her face had a few freckles and was faintly tanned by wind and sun. [not a tanning place!] She wore no make-up or jewelry and didn't have a single ring on her long fingers. He couldn't detect a perfume. He guessed her attitude was take me as you find me. When they shook hands, her grip was firm.

Very often police women, particularly on television or in movies, wear revealing clothes and high heels, and have salon hair which is always falling in their faces as they run after a criminal. Hannah Scarlett in The Coffin Trail is a real police officer, one concerned with her job, not her appearance.

One of my favorite lines comes from Daniel's description of himself:

Seldom happier than when I'm on my own, lost in a book.

I wonder if the author might describe himself this way.

It cheers me that even with the world getting smaller, there are still differences between British English and United States English. And though many words and phrases have become common to each, there are still some that haven't traveled "across the pond." The Coffin Trail offers many examples which I jotted down as I read the book.

British - mobile; US - cell phone
British - on second thoughts; US - on second thought
British - duvet; US - comforter
British - off-comer; US - newcomer
British - sorted; US - finished
British - ground floor; US - first floor
British - lorry; US - truck
British - row (pronounced like cow); US - argument or fight
British - panda cars; US - police cars
British - bins or dust bins; US - trash or garbage cans
British - wind-cheater (a coat); US - wind-breaker
British - kitted out; US - dressed
British - half five; US - half-past five

And then there are all the words and usages that are different. Though over here, we now use "pub" as often as "bar," we still don't offer pub meals. I often read the word, cardigan for sweater in British books. And while we do call a button-up sweater, a cardigan, I rarely hear anyone say she is putting on her cardigan; we would just say, sweater for both pull-overs and cardigans. I love the British usage of "lads." We just don't use it over here. And I love the British spelling for the informal word for mother; mum. In the US, it is mom, whether pronounced "mum" or "mom" (as in Somerset Maugham). I like the British expression, "she keeps herself to herself." I love the money words in Britain - bob and quid. And I'm fond of stone as a measure of weight - 14 pounds to us. The most puzzling to me is the "bank manager" whom people in books are always concerned about. Becky Bloomwood in the Shopaholic books is perhaps the most famous character with bank manager problems, but I read about them and wonder. Are they like accountants who help people with their money; telling them what they should and shouldn't spend? I must admit, I'm not familiar with accountants either, so I'm rather guessing what they do.

I hope this won't be confusing because I have another giveaway going, but each person who comments on this post only, who would like to read this first in Martin Edwards' Lake District series, will be entered in a drawing to win my copy of the book. I'll send it anywhere, so don't be afraid to leave your name if you live across any of the oceans. I'll do the drawing on Sunday, November 30.


Charles Dickens didn't write about a Thanksgiving scrooge; only a Christmas one. Well, I am going to write about the former, since indeed, I may be one. I suppose the obvious reason is that I'm a vegetarian, and this day above all others glorifies a dead creature. Over the years, I've read horrible tales of what has happened to the domestic turkey to make it more palatable as the Thanksgiving bird. I won't go into that. But I will go on a bit about gluttony, and how the holiday simply glorifies overeating. The stories of people feeling "stuffed" - oh, a pun here! - and yet eating more; people getting up from their chairs a while later and heading to the kitchen for more pie or a turkey sandwich. I just don't understand it. It doesn't jibe with my feelings about gratitude. Oh, and grace. I don't have any statistics, but my strong sense is that in most families, it isn't said at any other meal during the year. I'm not being critical; we don't say grace. I didn't grow up with it except on that day in November. But somehow it just feels wrong. Thank you, God, for all this food I'm going to overeat. Think, if we all got up from our meal, and brought food from our table to someone with no food. I know there are Thanksgiving drives, and food pantries, but there are still a lot, a lot of folks with nothing. Maybe a can of beans for that holiday. And even when we give offerings, we still eat and eat and eat.

One of my favorite expressions is "the elephant in the room." Here's how a dictionary describes it:

a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.

Well, I think that elephant is the unpleasantness which oh, so often occurs around the Thanksgiving table. The movie, Home For The Holidays (which I meant to write about last year, and hope to do so this month) is one of the few books, movies, or real people who actually face this situation straight on. It is done in a warm, often humorous way, but still there is the undercurrent that I am talking about here. Often, this is the time family comes from all over. People who don't see each other that often. People who are usually relatives; and not necessarily beloved relatives. More often, someone (or many someones) has too much to drink, and the tongue is freed to say things better left unsaid. Old animosities, old insecurities, old roles come to the forefront again. Adults who go along with their lives just fine, thank you, the other eleven months of the year, are sometimes reduced to sniveling, whining ten year olds again in the face of parental criticism. "Do you really think that dress suits you?" "You voted for THAT man?!" "What do you mean you are a vegetarian??!" Brothers and sisters who managed to get along without killing each other throughout their childhoods are suddenly faced with all those annoying traits that drive each other crazy. One is for a war, and the other marches against it. One is a verbal racist, and the other abhors racism.

In the movie, there's a line spoken by one sister to another on the great day: "If I met you on the street and you gave me your number, I'd throw it away." And the other says, "We don't have to like each other; we're family." And therein probably lies the greatest truth of all.

If you have read my blog for a while, you probably know that I am quite cheerful, optimistic, sentimental, and idealistic. But I am also a non-cynical realist. I think this particular holiday is more wrought with emotion than any other, and more than most people admit. It's okay. People get through it. But for me, I'm thankful every single day, and don't really need a calendar date to tell me to be so. Our family Thanksgiving is spent with a wonderful mother of a friend. I don't suffer any of the angst, anxiety, tension that I've written about, but I know for sure it exists, and it isn't very often expressed. I don't offer any answers since I don't know any, but I do love the idea of people who have unhappy families, or who are not accepted for whatever reason in those families, getting together and making their own family for the day. And being thankful, and generous, and kind this day and every day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tom's Weather Journal - November 23

It makes no difference how warm or cool the fall is up here; sometime before the start of Advent we freeze up. This is nature's path to winter, just as mud season is her path to spring and summer. When the "lock up" starts everything changes. The barn animals can no longer forage in the pasture--they make the final transition to hay. They hang around the barn to get out of the cold west wind.

The pasture water freezes up and I have to haul water in buckets from the outdoor spigot next to the kitchen door.

I make sure everything is out of the yard so when we do get our first big snowfall these things aren't buried and frozen solid for the rest of the winter.

I put my plow blade on the tractor.

I pay much more attention to the wood pile. When the cold comes it can come fast and for good. Two weeks ago today we had a low of 51ºF and a high of 63ºF. I was in a light shirt cleaning up the old shingles removed from the back roof. Last Wednesday the low was 7ºF and the high was 21ºF. The fuel line in my pickup froze, and I had to stomp the ice out of the barn's rubber water buckets.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two years of writing letters

The calendar year offers many built in times for a "new beginning." For me, they are January 1, spring, and September. Since I started my blog two years ago, November 22 has become another new beginning - a time for me to assess where I've been and where I want to go in terms of my online journal. I mentioned several goals on the one year anniversary; some were accomplished and others were not.

I am grateful to Aisling for providing me the opportunity to achieve one of the goals I wrote about - "I think I want to do a weekly garden tour of the flowers and vegetables." Thanks to her Sunday Stroll, I now have a record of how the garden looks throughout the months.

Last November I noted: "I want to do more book reports." And I did; so far almost double the amount. In the coming year, I want to write something about each book I read, not necessarily an in-depth report with lots of links about every book. Sometimes I'll just write a few sentences so I'll have a record of what I thought. Maybe I'll call them something witty like brief book reports. :<) In 2007, I loved writing about the movies we saw at our little local theatre, and this year I didn't write one review. Why? Well, some movies were darker, but still I could have written something. In 2009, I hope to write about each movie I see in the theatre, and also about some of the dvds we rent from Netflix. I enjoy sharing recipes and will continue doing so since I've gotten such great responses to them. I'm thrilled when you leave a comment saying that you tried one and it turned out great! My entries are indeed "letters" sent to anyone who wants to stop by, and at the same time, they are journal entries which keep track of family occasions, gardens, the house and the farm. I'll occasionally email or text my kids to say, "you might want to check out the blog today," when there is something I think might interest them. I'm blessed to have found all the people on my bloglists. I seem to add more every week. I learn something from each one. My heart is warmed, my mind is stimulated, and my soul is satisfied whenever I visit one of you. I thank you for your writings, and for your comments. They mean more to me than I can say. And now on to a little giveaway to say thank you for reading my letters. Last year I gave a calendar of local pictures, and today I offer another calendar; this time with paintings of women reading. If you would like it, please leave a comment on any posting from today through November 28. A week from today, on November 29, I'll draw a winning name.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Something mousey

We've had quite a mild fall, and have used only the woodstove for heat. Consequently, the heat ducts haven't had any hot air going through them. In a couple days time, it has gotten very cold and raw so I've had to break down and use the oil heat occasionally. And this caused a pungent mouse smell to permeate the house. Whether a mouse was living in the pipe, or had died in the pipe, I know not, but the odor has been terrible. So, I tried burning candles. I tried spraying a perfume down the registers. Neither worked, but yesterday I came up with a solution. I took my late Aunt Susie's coffee pot, filled it with water, added some lemon slices, and sprinkled cloves and cinnamon on top, and - voilà! -the house smells wonderful with no trace of mouse.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 1982

Today is another very special day in our family. Twenty-six years ago today, our beloved daughter arrived from South Korea! And here she is with her dear brother a few months ago!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ah, the price a reader pays

The price I'm referring to today is that of sleep. Last evening I spent a couple straight hours, just before bed, finishing The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards. I was so enthralled by the story, and so surprised by the ending that I couldn't get to sleep. I then began listening to my current audio book, In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany, and suddenly it was five, yes five, a.m., and I had finished almost six cds. Whew! I'm a little tired today, but also filled with the exhilaration of having read two great books! Reviews will appear sometime soon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Finds/November 14

Lots of books I'm very excited about in this week's Friday Finds.

1. Anything For A Vote by Joseph Cummins. The subtitle is Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns. I heard the author on NPR. He also keeps a blog. Fascinating subject.

2. The Uncrowned King - The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst by Kenneth Whyte. I heard the author on CBC radio just this morning, and am very interested.

3. First Dog Fala by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk. This is a children's book about FDR's dog. I read about it here, and can't wait to get hold of it.

4. The House on Tradd Street by Karen White. I read about it here, and have already ordered a copy from my local bookstore for a Christmas present(which I will borrow!).

5. Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird. I read about it here, and it reminded me to look into her work. This one sounds particularly good.

6. The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, an old mystery I can't wait to read. I read about it here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


This is the only gingerbread recipe I've ever made. It comes from an old cookbook that made its appearance in the very early days of this blog.

I'll serve it with whipped cream that comes from the best cream (scroll down a bit on the page to read about it) I've ever, ever tasted.

Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup soft butter, creaming till light.
Add 1 egg and 1/2 cup molasses. Beat thoroughly.

Sift together:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with 1/2 cup boiling water, beating well after each addition.

Bake in greased 8x 8 pan at 350º F. for about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Report/They Came to Baghdad

They Came to Baghdad
by Agatha Christie
unabridged audio read by Emilia Fox
mystery, 1951
finished, 11/9/08

The main character in They Came to Baghdad is Victoria Jones, and she could be a relative of two Helen Fielding characters, Bridget Jones and Olivia Joules. She is feisty, and really smart. She is quick-witted and she doesn't mind lying to make a story better. Nothing gets her down for long. As the book begins, she's working as a shorthand typist, but isn't very good at it. She has a very active mind and imagination, and the reader knows she should be living a different kind of life. Soon after meeting a handsome fellow, who is leaving for work in Baghdad, and losing her job, she decides to find a way to join him. She learns of a woman with a broken arm who needs a traveling companion. Soon Victoria arrives in Baghdad, knowing only the young man's first name and where he works. Using her ingenuity, she does find him, and they are both delighted.

In addition to their story, the reader meets many other people in Baghdad. At first we aren't sure exactly what their jobs are and how they connect with one another, but of course we learn all as the book moves along. There is a murder, and the victim ends up dying in Victoria's arms after whispering some words to her, as in Alfred Hitchcock's, The Man Who Knew Too Much.

This is not a Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mystery novel. It is a mystery and a spy thriller and just a plain good book. The reading by Emilia Fox was superb. She made every character come alive. One of my favorites is Marcus, the owner of the Tio Hotel who is quite large, who subsists on only alcohol, and who likes everyone. He is cheerful and buoyant and delightful. There is an absent-minded, rather eccentric archeologist with the wonderful name of Pauncefoot Jones who expounds on sickness and health:

All these academic fellows who stick around universities get far too absorbed in their health. Shouldn't think about it - that's the way to keep fit.

And then, there is Victoria herself. I was so fond of her. She was surprising, amusing, and interesting.

I am turning into an Agatha cheerleader, but honestly I think she is a great, great writer. Her plots, her characters, her locales offer all that I could wish for in an entertaining, informative read.

Quote du jour/Henry David Thoreau

The thinnest yellow light of November is more warming and exhilarating than any wine they tell of. The mite which November contributes becomes equal in value to the bounty of July.
Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tom's Weather Journal - November 11

Just before Hallowe'en we got our first snow. At this time of year, snowfall is usually determined by elevation; those of us who live higher up get more. You can always tell the cars that come from hill locations when you go to our nearest "big" town; they're the ones with snow on the roof. The mountains get a good shot of snow quite early, maybe in late September. We are at 1300 feet at our house and there comes a night in mid or late October when we get an inch or so. This usually melts, and then we have some warmer weather again just as we did this year from November 5th through the 8th. Then it turned rainy and colder, and last night we got our second snowfall, an inch that came heavy and fast. Today is breezy and cold in the 30's, a great day for working outside.

Today's picture/Cactus flowers

The usual Remembrance Day or Veterans Day or Armistice Day flower is the poppy, but on this November 11, these are the flowers in my house. For the very first time, all three plants are blossoming at once and on this day.

Buying books for the holidays

I love this idea! You may read more about it at the Books for the Holidays site. It is a tremendous effort, and I hope all the book lovers amongst us will join.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Report/Mrs. Malory Investigates

Mrs. Malory Investigates (British title - Gone Away)
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1989
finished, 11/8/08

When I finished my first Mrs. Malory book, I couldn't wait to read the first in the series. As soon as it came in the mail, I put aside all the other books and began reading. What a nice, nice woman Mrs. M is. She is fifty-four years old. Her husband died two years before, and her son is at college. She lives alone with a cat and dog, and does "good works" in Taviscombe, the community where she has lived her whole life. An old acquaintance who moved away and is quite wealthy, comes back to town and introduces his future wife. No one likes her. And surprise! she ends up dead. Because Mrs. Malory is so well-known and liked in town, people talk to her and tell her things they won't tell the police. She tries to piece together the information and figure out what really happened. It was a good little story; what some call a coz(s)y and others might call a traditional mystery. I did figure out whodunit but not until the end. I enjoyed meeting the villagers, and of course the cast of characters was much clearer to me than in No Cure For Death because the reader is just being introduced to them. This is one of those series I want to read right through, and already I'm looking forward to book two, The Cruelest Month. I have a tiny gripe with the cover art; it is possible to figure out the murderer from the picture. Why do publishers do this, and particularly in mysteries??

There are a couple passages I'd like to share:

We embarked upon one of those eager conversations that enthusiasts for a comparatively unknown author [in this case, Charlotte M. Yonge] find so absorbing, interrupting each other to praise our own favorite characters and incidents.


I sat at the table for some time, not really thinking of anything but just having what my mother used to call "a good wallow." A ray of winter sun, shining on to the sideboard, made me get up and fetch a duster and that broke the mood, and I pulled myself together and did the washing up, thinking how lucky women were to have so many little tasks that simply had to be done, so that, in the end, cheerfulness did keep breaking in.

One of the treats of buying a used book is that sometimes there is writing from a previous reader. This book had two such notes, both from 1994. One said: "Interesting read for 1st book. Made hospital time go faster - hope she writes more" and the second wrote: "Not bad. good plot." I concur completely.

Tom's Weather Journal - November 9

Every fall, when we set the clocks back, the days seem to shorten dramatically. This, of course, is a fallacy. The first Sunday of eastern standard time at this latitude has only three fewer minutes of daylight than the day before, the last Saturday of daylight savings time; but the early darkness always surprises me. The southwest ridge doesn't lie though. Even without going to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration site, or the Farmer's Almanac site, I can tell just by looking at what time the sun sets over these hills that the evenings are going to get just about half an hour shorter before they begin to stretch out again. On December 6th the sun will set at 4:07 PM and hover around that setting time for about a week before it sets at 4:08 on December 13th. The evenings will begin to stretch out again.

Tom's Weather Journal

Since the early days of this blog, dear Mrs Bale has kindly stopped by to give us a weather report. You may have noticed that she usually shows up when the weather is interesting - big snowfalls, low temps, rain. She will continue to make an appearance, but she will now be joined by Tom, who is going to do an occasional entry called Tom's Weather Journal. He has kept a print one for ages, but I've been encouraging him to bring it to the online journal because he can put up pictures to illustrate some of the topics he writes about. He has a friend named Eddie, and you should hear them on the phone. One calls the other to say where the sun is setting or what planets are in the sky or how much rain we've gotten. They love to keep track of things like the slant of the sun coming into the house at the two equinoxes. I think you'll enjoy these fun reports, and please do leave comments to encourage him!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Choosing a dog

One of the many delights about Mr. Obama winning is the buzz about the first family getting a dog. Those of us who love dogs take this choice very seriously. And naturally we would expect the American Kennel Club to do the same. These are folks who know the importance of fitting the dog to its family situation, an importance those of us who keep dogs understand.

Over the thirty-five years, Tom and I have had dogs there have been a few difficult situations. Every one of them was due to a dog coming into our lives that we didn't decide upon ourselves. Let's begin at the beginning. Casey was chosen from a dog pound in Boston by Tom's sister. The folks said she was probably part German Shepherd and part Labrador Retriever. But, most often they don't know. A dog gets dropped off and all the people can do is make a best guess at the breed. And there lies the rub. There could be a little bit of something in a mixed breed dog that might be detrimental or even dangerous in the right (wrong) circumstances. I'm a big believer in knowing what you are getting if there are children in the house. Otherwise the consequences can be dire. So, anyway, back to Casey. Of course we all loved her, and we saw her almost as much as his sister did. Flash forward a year. Tom's sister's circumstances changed. My mother died and we moved north to live in my childhood home, in a neighborhood but with two big fields either side of the house. So of course when she asked, we said, sure we'll take her. She was a great dog for us, but there were neighborhood children and a street in front of the house which suddenly got very busy when a factory was built way down at the end. We had to keep her hitched up a lot. She was a bit aggressive when on the hitch, as many dogs are, even the sweet ones. But still, we mostly did okay. We were young and we took her everywhere with us.

Our next door neighbors at that time had a Weimaraner. That Bray was as wild as the wind, and just as sometimes a woman is drawn to a wild man, I loved this dog. When the people found he was just too much for them [they had three kids under the age of nine], well guess who took him, yup, good old Tom and Nancy. As I will say to anyone who'll listen, two dogs really are better than one. They keep one another company; they don't suffer so when the people must leave the house. And it was good, except, oh yes, I did mention he was wild. We couldn't keep him home. We'd turn our backs for a moment and the next thing you knew the dog officer was bringing him home, or someone called from a far neighborhood saying he was over there. And the nights of dread when we'd head for the highway which was across the street and up a hill, driving along fearful at what we'd find. The poor dog needed space to really run, and no walk on a leash was enough. What I haven't said yet is that, although Bray was a purebred dog, the neighbors had bought him at a pet store, and he had come from a midwestern puppy mill. This dear dog died of bloat after we'd had him a year. It broke my heart.

We got along fine for the next few years with just Casey. She was older. She stayed around better and didn't need to be hitched. I look back on that time as the calm years. Then an older woman, a real dog lover who in her late seventies had an Airedale and a Husky (big dogs for an older woman!!), called us up. Tom answered the phone, and she said, "oh, Tommy, there is a starving stray here and I can't take care of him." How do you refuse a dear woman's request? We brought him home, and had four years of stress and damage before he was hit by a car when we moved out here to the country. He was utterly uncontrollable. Tom had tried bringing Sam Swain (part of the woman's name) to obedience school and on the "long sit" he raced off and attacked another dog. It wasn't that we "let" him run the .2 mile down to the road; we couldn't stop him. If he was out for a minute, he'd be off. Oh, and even in death, he was a worry. He was hit by a motorcyclist, who was injured a bit and could have sued us, except for the fact he worked with Tom's uncle, and was kind. This dog was so bad that we had to shut him in a room to keep him away from our little one year old once she began walking. It was just after this he was killed. We may have had to bring him to a no-kill humane society otherwise. He was a mixed breed, with God knows what inside. His "eyebrows" sure looked like a Doberman's.

When Casey was twelve, and our firstborn was two, we got a Belgian Sheepdog. For the first time, we chose our dog. We did research, we talked extensively to the breeder, and knew what we were getting. We knew Lucy would be good with children, amenable to instruction, and adaptable. She was wonderful. She was utterly trustworthy with our daughter, and then our son who came along the next year. She liked anyone who walked through the door. I can't stress enough how important it is to study breeds, especially if you have little ones. As much as I believe in rescuing a dog, I think it is better if the people in the house are older, even if that dog is a purebred. You don't know what issues he has dealt with and what fears and aggressions he may have developed because of his past circumstances. You must, must know what you are getting when you have small children. You cannot take chances. There are too many horror stories out there about a dog being fine, and the next second snapping at a child's face.

When Lucy was five, I felt it was time for a second dog. The kids were seven and four. I heard an ad for a Cocker Spaniel, and thought I'd get one since it was the breed of Tom's childhood. When I went to the place, I sat down and a black and white dog walked over and put his head in my lap. I was told that his mother was a purebred Springer Spaniel but there was an "incident" with a wandering fellow, most likely a Beagle, and they couldn't sell him, but I could have him for free. I was smitten, and brought Oreo home. He was the best boy, again completely trustworthy with children and strangers, but like Bray, he was as wild as could be. Thankfully, we lived out of town this time, and he could go into our woods. We would hear him howling from far away. There was no controlling his wild heart. He couldn't really even be in the house - it was too confined for his spirit.

When Lucy was getting older, and Oreo was still youngish, I read a book by Susan Conant, in which there was a Chinook. I'd never heard of the breed, but went searching to find out about it. I discovered that the Chinook is a gentle, kind, loving family dog. When I found a breeder online, and she had one available, we drove 505 miles on a Labor Day Sunday to pick her up. Little Ann, named after the dog in Where The Red Fern Grows, which Tom had read to the kids, was gentleness personified. There was never a kinder, sweeter personality.

Three years later, our beloved Lucy died. We had "just" Oreo and Annie for a few years, when I felt it was time for another dog. You'll notice a pattern here: as our dogs get a bit older, sometimes middle-aged, sometimes older, we get a pup. And another pattern: it is I, me, Nan who begins the process. I've never been the mother who has to be begged for a dog. This time we got a Collie. Again I did a lot of research. Our children were older but there was a lot of teenage commotion in the house, with people coming and going. The Collie sounded like a dog that could acclimate to any situation and stay calm, which our dear, dear MacIntosh did. If you've been a reader of my letters for a while, you know he developed epilepsy and died at only 7 years old.

So, now we have two dogs; two black dogs who are pretty famous in blogging circles, though they complain they haven't been seen for a while. They are perfect examples of what this very long blog entry has been about. Neither Ben nor Sadie was chosen by us. They are both mixed breeds. They are both wonderful, and we love them beyond words. However, they are dogs that are perfect for us, for Tom and I, at this particular time of our lives. Both are a bit protective, but Ben at least likes other people. We can't trust Sadie with anyone beyond our family, what Tom calls, "the Fantastic Four, the Fab Four, the Final Four." We never let her be around other people. I've seen her go from all mellow and loving with me in the kitchen, to completely alert, stiff in body, barking at the door where a stranger has suddenly appeared. For the most part though, we live a quiet life. If we have company, other than the kids, they go into a little room for the duration of the visit. There isn't a lot of coming and going, not much "action," so these dogs can live a very happy life.

And now, this is the where the Obamas are. They are smart people. They will figure it out. They will take their time and do their homework, and the new first dog will be a great addition to the White House. I hope the example they set will trickle down to the general public. There are just too many cute little puppies that are bought on impulse, without finding out if they are right for the life they come into. Too many don't work out and end up being put down. Choosing a dog is one of life's important decisions, one that lasts ten plus years if we are lucky, and it deserves great consideration.

And if you are wondering what we have chosen for our next dog out of the list I made after the last Westminster Dog Show, it is the Smooth Collie. We decided that we just didn't have enough time with our wonderful MacIntosh. He got the epilepsy young, and was on medication most of his life. We're getting the Smooth so we don't have to worry about all that grooming. It is the same dog, just with a different coat. Oh, and the name? I'm leaning toward Lassie. It is retro and cool, and honestly why not? It's a beautiful name for a lovely little lass. I'm not sure when we'll get her, but I've already been looking into regional breeders. Sadie is now four, and Ben probably six, and it's getting close to the time to bring a puppy into the house again. A Collie, who will be perfect for any little grandchildren who may be coming along in the future.

Today's song/Swallow Song

Even though there is no motion, I love this you tube of Vashti Bunyan singing Swallow Song. You see her face, and hear that ethereal, so beautiful voice.

And there’s a sunset brimming over the sky
And there’s a swallow teaching its young how to fly
Up on high
See how fast the summer passes by

And there’s an oak leaf turning green into brown
And there’s a pine so proud of her evergreen gown
Looking down
See how fast the winter comes around

And there’s a rain cloud passing over our heads
And there’s a cat on the doorstep waiting to be fed
Milk and bread
Day is done and now it’s time for bed

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Carrot and Pineapple Cake

This is my favorite, favorite carrot cake. I had two pieces to be sure it was good enough to share the recipe. :<)

Carrot and Pineapple Cake

Beat together:
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Beat in:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add 1 cup grated carrots and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. I grate and chop in the food processor.
Add 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple.

Bake in 9 x 13-inch pan greased with cooking spray in preheated 350º F. oven for about 40 minutes.
Cool and frost.

3 Tablespoons soft cream cheese
3 Tablespoons soft butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
enough confectioners' sugar to frost the cake. I just kept adding it by 1/4 cup measures. I sifted it into the bowl so it would be smooth. Add water or milk if needed.

You could bake this in a smaller pan for a higher cake, but I've found the 9x 13 to be fine.

Today's picture/Sign of the times

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Turning to a book

I've been as nervous as the proverbial cat today. I walk around, I read blogs, I can't settle on any one thing. Even the three books I've got going right now can't assuage my restlessness, so I'm turning to my new Martin Edwards book, The Coffin Trail. I'll pass this evening reading about murder and mayhem in the Lake District of England.

Quote du jour/Mary Lois

Tomorrow will be another day. But this is the big one.
Mary Lois

Today's poem - Election Day, November, 1884 by Walt Whitman

Election Day, November, 1884
by Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor Mississippi's stream:

This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still small voice vibrating -America's choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)

The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland - Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,

The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,

The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,

Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's): the peaceful choice of all,

Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart pants, life glows:

These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,

Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

First vote

You may remember that this summer the whole family went up to The Balsams to celebrate Tom's mother's 80th birthday. Well, if you've been listening to the radio this morning, you'll have heard the name, Dixville Notch because there, along with Hart's Location, the very first voting takes place.

From the Associated Press:

Voting was carried out in a room in a local hotel festooned with political memorabilia from campaigns long past. Each voter gets an individual booth so there are no lines at the magic hour. The votes were quickly counted, announced and recorded on a posterboard that proclaims, "First in the Nation, Dixville Notch."

The name of the first voter is drawn from a bowl, and it happened to be Tanner Nelson Tillotson,the grandson of the man who started it all, Neil Tillotson. Though his grandfather was a Republican, Tanner voted for Barack Obama.

The whole thing gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. It is the very best example of the very best in our country. The polls stay open till every single person has voted. The result:

Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain by a count of 15 to 6.

This is the first time in forty years that a Democrat has won there.

Here is the obituary of Tanner Nelson Tillotson's grandfather from the New York Times:

Neil Tillotson, 102, First Presidential Voter

Published: November 5, 2001

Neil Tillotson, an industrialist and resort owner who became a celebrity every four years as the first person to vote in the presidential primaries and the election of the president, died Oct. 17 at a hospital in Colebrook, N.H. He was 102.

"I saw Teddy Roosevelt, I was probably 16, 17 years old, at the fairground in Morrisville, Vt., and he made a speech, and he wasn't just something to read about in the paper," Mr. Tillotson once told National Public Radio.

That enthralling moment spawned an enduring political spectacle decades later as Mr. Tillotson literally put the polling place of Dixville Notch, N.H., on the map.

While running an international rubber products company out of Boston, Mr. Tillotson bought the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch at auction in 1954. He established a home in that White Mountains community, but learned that the nearest polling place, at the county seat, was 50 miles away. Still intrigued by the presidential drama he had witnessed as a boy, he had Dixville Notch incorporated for voting purposes and created an early-bird election special of sorts.

Since the 1960's, the polls at Dixville Notch have opened at midnight for New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary and on election days. Voters -- in some years as many as 30 or so -- cast their ballots at the Balsams. At 12:01 a.m., 100 percent of those eligible having voted, the polls close, and the wire services flash the results around the nation.

It is participatory democracy in action, but everyone has a good time as well. "Afterward, we have a little party -- but no booze," Mr. Tillotson said.

As the town moderator, Mr. Tillotson was always the first Dixville Notch resident to place his vote in the wooden box at the Balsams's ballot room.

A few other New Hampshire towns have had sporadic midnight voting, but Dixville Notch garners all the attention because the Balsams offers communications facilities for television crews, reporters and photographers.

The hoopla over Dixville Notch, in northern New Hampshire, about 220 miles from Boston, has brought presidential hopefuls trooping to Mr. Tillotson. Gov. George W. Bush visited him during New Hampshire's 2000 Republican presidential primary and Senator John McCain paid two calls.

Governor Bush won 12 votes in Dixville Notch in the Republican primary to Senator McCain's 10. On Election Day, Dixville Notch gave Mr. Bush 21 votes, Vice President Al Gore 5 and Ralph Nader 1.

However charming the tableau at Dixville Notch, it is no rustic New England village. It consists almost entirely of the Balsams, a luxurious getaway on Lake Gloriette, and a factory that is part of a rubber company founded by Mr. Tillotson.

Mr. Tillotson grew up in Beecher Falls, Vt., quit high school, worked for a rubber company in Watertown, Mass., then served as a teenage cavalryman in Gen. John J. Pershing's Mexican expedition, chasing Pancho Villa.

He founded his own rubber company in the early Depression years, at first featuring children's balloons in the shape of a cat, then expanding into an international operation that manufactures industrial products. In the 2000 election campaign, he was still active in overseeing the Tillotson Corporation out of offices in Boston.

He is survived by his wife, Louise; two sons, Rick, of Colebrook, and Tom, of Dixville Notch; two daughters, Neila Tillotson Monahan of Brewster, Mass., and Janet Tillotson Munchak of Roswell, Ga.; and grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Mr. Tillotson was considered a lifelong Republican, but said he had an open mind in assessing a candidate. "I think the first thing you look for is honesty," he said. "The next thing is, has he got a brain? And is he emotionally reasonably stable?"

He was hardly overwhelmed by all the excitement over being the first to vote.

"The important thing is, here's a town with, for many elections, 100 percent of the voters voting," he said last year. "That's a lot more important than voting first or last."

Addendum: A while after I posted this, my friend Margaret told me that Dixville Notch was mentioned in the BBC's Prayer for the Day. Amazing! You may read it here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Muffin Monday/Blueberry - Cranberry Muffins

This is an old recipe I found on the internet. It was for cranberry muffins, but I thought I'd add blueberries, too.

1/4 cup Butter

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar

1 egg
1/2 cup Milk

1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup cranberries

Coarsely chop cranberries (I didn't).
Generously grease a 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray.

Melt butter; set aside to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
In a small mixing bowl lightly beat egg and then beat in milk and melted butter.
Add to flour mixture; stir together quickly and lightly.
Add cranberries and blueberries.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin-pan cups, filling each slightly more than half full.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean - 20 to 25 minutes.

Pretty and delicious!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book Report/The Skeleton in the Grass

The Skeleton in the Grass
by Robert Barnard
mystery, 1987
finished, 11/2/08

Although I enjoy and love a lot of books, it isn't often that every single page of a book satisfies in the way The Skeleton in the Grass did. The pleasure began with the wonderful old photograph on the cover.

The book is set in late 1930s England. The country is on the brink of war, but not everyone knows or believes it yet. A young woman accepts a job as governess to a six-year old girl. She comes from a bleak home in a vicarage, and finds the new family, the Hallams, to be full of sunshine [perhaps the yellow in the cover?] and life. They are intelligent, cheerful, deeply committed pacifists. The village has an Oswald Mosley character who is training the village lads in the ways of warfare, thinking forward to the war he feels certain will happen, not against Hitler, who is one of his heroes, but against Stalin.

Acts of maliciousness begin against the Hallams; a white feather, signifying cowardice, comes in the mail and there are killings of a dog and a chicken [thank goodness not dwelled upon for long]. One evening when they are all out at a neighbor's party, a young man is found dead on their property, next to a skeleton. There are a number of ways he could have died, as well as several people who could be responsible. This is the "mystery" in the book, but as in the very best mysteries, there is so much more to The Skeleton in the Grass. The reader learns about the decline of the "gentry," the clannishness of the villagers, the truth hidden just below the surface.

Along with books which feature time travel, I also greatly enjoy stories that go forward in time, and then come back again to the main year in which the book takes place. I read "many years later" or "decades later" and I knew the delight which comes from learning that certain characters make it through, and even what becomes of them. This is yet one more facet that made this book so wonderful.

To continue what I am calling the "Guernsey effect," literary references abound in The Skeleton in the Grass. South Riding by Winifred Holtby, Angel Pavement by J. B. Priestly, three books by Charles Dickens, The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie; a mention of an Ibsen character, and the noting of authors, John Buchan, Dornford Yates, Virginia Woolf, and D.H. Lawrence. Some I am familiar with but others are brand new writers and books to discover.

This edition of The Skeleton in the Grass is from Felony & Mayhem, a great new press that is publishing out-of-print mysteries. We readers are living in a grand time right now, when so many publishers are bringing back the old books we haven't been able to find.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Product placement/Tee shirt

My new tee shirt! You may buy one at Bas Bleu.