Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mrs Bale employs old and new sayings

Better safe than sorry is a phrase most of us have heard since childhood. Our mothers would be sure we wore boots if snow was predicted. And now when a big storm is coming we do all we can to be ready for it. The governor of my state said
it can't hurt to be a little over-prepared. 
And he is right. 

Not everyone who was warned got the full brunt of this hurricane, but for those who did, the warnings may well have saved their lives. 

We who live in the northern part of the state got some rain and wind, but nothing extreme. In the words of a new-ish saying, we dodged a bullet. We didn't lose power. No roads are closed. And today is bright and sunny. Isn't this moss just the greenest green?

There was a caller on the state public radio station this morning who remembered the hurricane of 1938; and a series of hurricanes in the 1950s. She said 'these things happen.' I think it is so important to hear her words. Almost everyone broadcasting on the radio and tv is youngish; I'd say in their forties or younger. They don't remember past storms unless they are fairly recent. 

Incidentally, for all you fans of Mrs Bale from the wonderful series, As Time Goes By, I just read an article about Janet Henfrey's current work, which included this great photo. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quote du jour/Will Rogers

I love a dog; he does nothing for political reasons.
Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seven Poppleton books by Cynthia Rylant

55. Poppleton
Poppleton and Friends - book 2
Poppleton Everyday - book 3
Poppleton in Spring - book 5
Poppleton in Fall - book 6
Poppleton Has Fun - book 7
Poppleton in Winter - book 8
by Cynthia Rylant

illustrated by Mark Teague
children's books, 1997-2001
library books sixteen through twenty-two
finished 10/28/12

If you want to have some reading fun, I heartily recommend this series of children's books by Cynthia Rylant featuring Poppleton the pig who
used to be a city pig. He did city things. He took taxis. He jogged in the park. He went to museums.
Then one day Poppleton got tired of city life. He moved to a small house in a small town.

I would love a spot just like this in my own house.

After he settles into his new house he meets the neighbors who become friends and are featured in later books. He spends every single Monday at the library reading, and he helps a sick friend swallow a pill.

Each of the following books also has three chapters; three glimpses into the life of Poppleton. In Poppleton and Friends, he tries to eat grapefruit because a 'man on TV said grapefruit made people live longer.' He hates it but he perseveres until his lips 'turned outside-in' and his eyes filled with tears. Finally his friend Hudson appears with his uncle, 'a very, very, very old mouse.' The secret to Uncle Bill's one hundred year old life? 'Friends.' Isn't that a lovely message?

There's a very funny chapter in Poppleton Everyday when his friend Fillmore takes him sailing. Poppleton didn't know what to do, and Fillmore tells him to 'just sit back and relax.' When the boat leans to one side, Poppleton says,
"I am not relaxed, Fillmore!"
When the boat bounces on the waves, he again cries out,
And when it flips over,
When the trip is over, and Fillmore asks,
"Wasn't that fun?"
Poppleton replies,
"Well, not all of it."
Fillmore proceeds to tell him that the leaning and the bouncing and the flipping over were all fun. And Poppleton says,

I laughed right out loud when I read this.

In the spring, Poppleton does some spring cleaning, and ends up with even more stuff. In the fall, he meets some geese who are flying over and feeds them cookies. In Poppleton Has Fun, he goes to the movies alone, and misses the companionship of a comforting friend. And in the winter, he learns a new use for icicles.

The theme of friendship carries through each book.

I love 'homey' children's books. The world of the Grimm brothers is not for me, and as much as I've read that fairy tales are a good way for children to deal with frightening things, I didn't like them as a child, and I didn't read them to my own kids. I prefer kindly stories, with gentle lessons. And these Poppleton books suit me perfectly. I just loved them.

I got all these books through my library's Interlibrary Loan system. Each book came from a different library in my state, at no cost. What a gift to readers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book notes on two books, two detectives - Siri Paiboun and Sheila Malory

53. Thirty-Three Teeth - book 2 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series
by Colin Cotterill
mystery, 2005
library book fifteen
Nook book 20
finished 10/18/12

"Thirty-three teeth. It's almost unheard of. The Lord Buddha also had thirty-three … It's a sign, an indication that you've been born as a bridge to the spirit world."
"And you believe all this?" Siri asked as he began to use his tongue to count the teeth in his own mouth.
Isn't this exactly what you would do? I know I did, as I read this passage. (I don't have thirty-three, thank goodness!)

In this second chapter in the life of Siri Paiboun, coroner for the country of Laos in the 1970s, he learns more about who he is, and just why he does have connections with the dead, with the spirits. This mystical connection is a very big part of Siri's life and work. There are kindly spirits, like an old woman who appears eating betel nuts. She doesn't do anything; she is merely there. But then there are the Phibob, really malevolent ghosts who are angry at Siri from the first book. There is a bear on the loose, who is appearently killing people, but which visits Siri while he is in bed, and then just leaves. There's a chest that should not be opened. There are other deaths that Siri must look into.

As in all good series, this second book allows the reader to get to know the main characters better which enriches one's appreciation of the book. There is a tremendously strong sense of the Laotian setting, the weather, and the political climate. I am fascinated by these books, and highly recommend the series.


54. Mrs. Malory and the Fatal Legacy - book 10 in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1999
finished 10/23/12

Have you heard they came up with updated covers for the Mrs. Malory series? I'm hoping that cute cat will draw many new readers to this really exceptional cozy mystery series. Mrs. Malory is smart, educated, an author of books on 19th century writers, a great mother, a good citizen. And she comes upon crimes, through no intention of her own. When I pick up one of these books, I can feel an inner sigh of contentment. I know what I'm going to find, I know that Mrs. M. is unchanging, though events around her do change. I can fully relax. The author isn't going to kill off her son, or have some horror happen to dear Sheila.

Even though Sheila Malory is some years younger than I am, I feel she is a most motherly figure. She works things out so well. She is exceedingly kind to people, and greatly helps them through their problems, all the time being humble and completely free of any self-aggrandizement. This particular book finds her in London after the death of her college friend, a famous writer. She has been appointed the literary executor. As Hazel Holt was the same for Barbara Pym, I expect all those details were, as the British say, 'spot on.' Sheila stays with her cousin Hilda, a delightful character who is brusque and self-contained and who is only beginning to show her softer side in middle-age when she finds herself the owner of a Siamese cat. She and Sheila have very good conversations about the world, both past and present, and they truly enjoy one another's company. 

The death of her old friend brings Sheila into contact with the friends they knew in common when they were young. Late in the book one of them perfectly describes Sheila.
"I always said you were bright. You never had the ability to pursue an argument that Beth had, nor her clear, logical mind, but I remember how you used to make these intuitive leaps that landed you where we both were without going through any of the thought processes. I see you're still at it!"
 There's an interview with author Hazel Holt, in which she says something so startling, so unusual. 
I read virtually no fiction published after 1950.
Perhaps this is the reason her writing is so timeless, so not trendy. This is a marvelous mystery series with intelligent, literate writing. Hazel Holt in in a league of her own. Every time I read a Mrs. Malory book I am so very impressed. I've now read eleven, and when I finish the series, I may go back and read them all again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Muffin Monday - Biscuit Muffins

If you look over on the sidebar under 'Letter Topics,' you'll see one called Muffin Monday. Before today, there were only 11 postings, and the latest one was almost two years ago! I've decided to bring it back, and will post a different muffin recipe as often as I can on Mondays.

Today I thought I'd make a recipe which I got it from a Yahoo baking list eleven years ago.

Biscuit Muffins

2 cups  flour  
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) cold butter 
1 egg - slightly beaten  
3/4 cup  milk - I used buttermilk and because the buttermilk was so thick, I added a little regular milk to increase the moisture

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork or two knives.
Combine egg and milk; stir to mix.
Add to the flour mixture and mix just until flour is moistened.
Spoon into a muffin tin, greased with cooking spray; filling about two-thirds full.
Bake at 400º F for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned and tester inserted in center comes out clean.

My note on the recipe from October 28, 2002:
Delicious!  They really do taste like biscuits, without the time of rolling out, and cutting.
I can't believe I haven't made them for ten years. They are great! Tom and I each ate four for supper along with Chickpea and Bulgur Stew.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Today's picture/Campaign button

George McGovern (July 19, 1922 - October 21, 2002)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Today's poem by Mary Oliver

Lines Written in the Days
 of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don't say
it's easy, but 
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Mary Oliver
from A Thousand Mornings, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mary Oliver on the radio!

I turned on the radio this morning, and there was an interview with Mary Oliver! You may listen or read it here. Her new book is out, and my copy is on its way from Barnes & Noble.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Today's song/Born To Sing - Van Morrison

The new Van has been playing in the house for days now. It is called Born To Sing: No Plan B. Here is the title song. To Tom and I, Van Morrison is a music god - a genius poet/singer.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Today's poem by Donald Hall

 Kicking the Leaves


Kicking the leaves, October, as we walk home together
from the game, in Ann Arbor,
on a day the color of soot, rain in the air;
I kick at the leaves of maples,
reds of seventy different shades, yellow
like old paper; and poplar leaves, fragile and pale;
and elm leaves, flags of a doomed race.
I kick at the leaves, making a sound I remember
as the leaves swirl upward from my boot,
and flutter; and I remember
Octobers walking to school in Connecticut,
wearing corduroy knickers that swished
with a sound like leaves; and a Sunday buying
a cup of cider at a roadside stand
on a dirt road in New Hampshire; and kicking the leaves,
autumn 1955 in Massachusetts, knowing
my father would die when the leaves were gone.


Each fall in New Hampshire, on the farm
where my mother grew up, a girl in the country,
my grandfather and grandmother
finished the autumn work, taking the last vegetables in
from the cold fields, canning, storing roots and apples
in the cellar under the kitchen. Then my grandfather
raked leaves against the house
as the final chore of autumn.
One November I drove up from college to see them.
We pulled big rakes, as we did when we hayed in summer,
pulling the leaves against the granite foundations
around the house, on every side of the house,
and then, to keep them in place, we cut spruce boughs
and laid them across the leaves,
green on red, until the house
was tucked up, ready for snow
that would freeze the leaves in tight, like a stiff skirt.
Then we puffed through the shed door,
taking off boots and overcoats, slapping our hands,
and sat in the kitchen, rocking, and drank
black coffee my grandmother made,
three of us sitting together, silent, in gray November.


One Saturday when I was little, before the war,
my father came home at noon from his half day at the office
and wore his Bates sweater, black on red,
with the crossed hockey sticks on it, and raked beside me
in the back yard, and tumbled in the leaves with me,
laughing, and carried me, laughing, my hair full of leaves,
to the kitchen window
where my mother could see us, and smile, and motion
to set me down, afraid I would fall and be hurt.


Kicking the leaves today, as we walk home together
from the game, among the crowds of people
with their bright pennants, as many and bright as leaves,
my daughter’s hair is the red-yellow color
of birch leaves, and she is tall like a birch,
growing up, fifteen, growing older; and my son
flamboyant as maple, twenty,
visits from college, and walks ahead of us, his step
springing, impatient to travel
the woods of the earth. Now I watch them
from a pile of leaves beside this clapboard house
in Ann Arbor, across from the school
where they learned to read,
as their shapes grow small with distance, waving,
and I know that I
diminish, not them, as I go first
into the leaves, taking
the step they will follow, Octobers and years from now.


This year the poems came back, when the leaves fell.
Kicking the leaves, I heard the leaves tell stories,
remembering, and therefore looking ahead, and building
the house of dying. I looked up into the maples
and found them, the vowels of bright desire.
I thought they had gone forever
while the bird sang I love you, I love you
and shook its black head
from side to side, and its red eye with no lid,
through years of winter, cold
as the taste of chicken wire, the music of cinder block.


Kicking the leaves, I uncover the lids of graves.
My grandfather died at seventy-seven, in March
when the sap was running; and I remember my father
twenty years ago,
coughing himself to death at fifty-two in the house
in the suburbs. Oh, how we flung
leaves in the air! How they tumbled and fluttered around us,
like slowly cascading water, when we walked together
in Hamden, before the war, when Johnson’s Pond
had not surrendered to houses, the two of us
hand in hand, and in the wet air the smell of leaves
in six years I will be fifty-two.


Now I fall, I leap and fall
to feel the leaves crush under my body, to feel my body
buoyant in the ocean of leaves, the night of them,
night heaving with death and leaves, rocking like the ocean.
Oh, this delicious falling into the arms of leaves,
into the soft laps of leaves!
Face down, I swim into the leaves, feathery,
breathing the acrid odor of maple, swooping
in long glides to the bottom of October —
where the farm lies curled against the winter, and soup steams
its breath of onion and carrot
onto damp curtains and windows; and past the windows
I see the tall bare maple trunks and branches, the oak
with its few brown weathery remnant leaves,
and the spruce trees, holding their green.
Now I leap and fall, exultant, recovering
from death, on account of death, in accord with the dead,
the smell and taste of leaves again,
and the pleasure, the only long pleasure, of taking a place
in the story of leaves.

Donald Hall
from Kicking the Leaves, 1978


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

52. The Old Woman Who Named Things
by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
children's book, 1996
library book fourteen
finished, 10/10/12

I 'met' Cynthia Rylant when my children were little. My very favorite is one I wrote about last year, The Children of Christmas. Whenever I read one of her books, I feel an ache, and my eyes fill up, even if a story ends happily. Her people are often on the fringe; the ones the rest of us don't always notice or pay attention to. The old, the homeless, the sad. She captures them. She makes them real to her readers, and I like to think that children gain compassion through the reading of her books. In this one, the woman is quite old. She lives alone, and she has
outlived every single one of her friends. … She didn't like the idea of being a lonely old woman without any friends, without anyone whom she could call by name.
So, she names things, but
only those things she knew she could never outlive.
Her car is Betsy. Her chair is Fred. Her bed is Roxanne. Her house is Franklin. 

And then one day, a puppy appears at her gate. She thinks he looks hungry so she gives him a little food, and then tells him to go home. This happens every day. She thinks about the puppy, but doesn't dare to let it stay because 

'she might outlive it. She didn't want to risk that. She didn't want to outlive any more friends.'
We understand that woman's pain and her fear. After a while, the pup grows up. He still comes each day, until one day he doesn't. She calls the dogcatcher and asks if there is a shy brown dog there, and is told there are many. He asks her,
"Was yours wearing a collar with its name on it?"
When she hangs up the phone, she begins to feel very badly.
Wherever it was, no one would know that it was supposed to come to the old woman's gate every day. … The shy brown dog had no collar and no name, and no one would ever be able to know these things about it.
She proceeds to the dogcatcher's place, and tells him she has 'come to find my dog.' When asked its name
The old woman thought a moment. She thought of all the old, dear friends with names whom she had outlived. She saw their smiling faces and remembered their lovely names, and she thought how lucky she had been to have known these friends. She thought what a lucky old woman she was.
"My dog's name is Lucky," she told the dogcatcher.
We read of their adventures together, and the book ends

The illustrations by Kathryn Brown really capture the kind of person the 'old woman' is. Look at those cowboy boots!

 And that wild hair!

 May we all grow old with such spirit, and a good, good dog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

51. The Coroner's Lunch - Book 1 in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series
by Colin Cotterill
mystery, 2004
library book thirteen
Nook book 19
finished 10/9/12

When I first heard of this book at BooksPlease(note the blog has since moved to this address), I laughed at the title. Somehow the idea of a coroner leaving his morning's work of cutting up corpses and then going off to eat lunch struck me as quite funny. In the five years since, I have kept the book in mind as something I would like to read. There are now eight in the series with a new one coming out next year, and the author has another series featuring a new character and setting, Jimm Juree in Thailand. You may read more at the author's fun website.

A few years ago, I was in touch with his wife Jess through blogging but then there weren't posts for a long time, and now I believe she is just on Facebook.

Dr. Siri Paiboun is a reluctant coroner. He never trained for such a job, and at 72 years old believed his working days were behind him. The new Communist government in 1976 Laos has different ideas. It essentially believes that the people should work until they can't. Even on occasional weekends he has to do manual labor work for the good of the country. Mostly, he is placid and goes about his business with his two assistants, Nurse Dtui and Geung, a young man who has Down's Syndrome. Siri swears by Geung's good work (especially at sawing) and his terrific memory. This trio makes for a happy workplace, unless they are interfered with by government types.

The unusual thing about Siri is that the ghosts of the dead visit him, and in the case of wrongful death help him solve why they were murdered. He isn't terribly disturbed by this, though he puzzles over the reason. A later situation in the book helps to illuminate why he may have the gift. I really loved these mystical features of the book. They flowed naturally without any sense of being forced. They just were. There is a most charming one involving a dog, and a heartfelt one with a late, worried mother.

I really enjoyed the Laotian setting, and the time period. This is soon after the US left Vietnam, and the author offers political and historical perspective on both Laos and Vietnam. I know nothing, seriously not anything, about this part of the world. Cotterill brings it alive in a way that almost felt like watching movie scenes.

The reader doesn't forget for a moment that this is taking place thirty-six years ago. There are no cell phones. In fact, Siri has never used a regular telephone. There are no computers to help with forensics, and there are precious few opportunities for any kind of test.
The morgue at the end of 1976 was hardly better equipped than the meatworks behind the morning market.
Most of the results from Siri's morgue relied on archaic color tests: combinations of chemicals or litmus samples. These were more suitable for telling what wasn't rather than what was. Assuming the necessary chemicals were available at Lycée Vientiane's chemistry department, Siri could usually eliminate fifty possible causes of death, but still be left with a hundred and fifty others.
Yet the man does an admirable job pursuing the truth in spite of great obstacles. He is one of the most endearing fictional characters I've come upon. This series is often compared with the work of Alexander McCall Smith, and while I tend to shrink from such comparisons, the elements which tie them together are a kindly spirit, a touch of warm humor, and a lack of seediness. In the first book of the series, you aren't going to find the lurid descriptions of death (very often of women or children) that crop up in many mysteries.

I so enjoyed reading this book that I stayed up until 3 this morning to finish it. I've already downloaded the state library's e-book of the second in the series, Thirty-Three Teeth. If it is as good as The Coroner's Lunch, I will happily continue on with Dr. Siri Paiboun as he goes about his life.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Library Loot - October 6

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I am a kid in a candy shop when it comes to the library. It is a minor miracle to me that I can just walk in and borrow all these books. I always, always bring home more than I can usually read in three weeks, or even six if I renew. And then of course there are the books I've ILLed. Another minor miracle.

 The children's books

The grown-up books

You'll notice a few Canadian books for the 6th Canadian Reading Challenge. Raining outside, woodstove going inside - a perfect day for reading.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Quote du jour/Henry David Thoreau

… it is after moist and rainy weather that we notice how great a fall of leaves there has been in the night.
Henry David Thoreau
Autumnal Tints
Published posthumously in Atlantic Magazine October 1862

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quick Apple Crisp

This truly is a quick recipe for when you want an apple dessert but don't have a lot of time. Only five ingredients. You can slice the apples while the butter is melting and the oven is preheating.
I wish I'd noted when I first made this, as I usually do with a recipe. It isn't even on a card. Just a post-it note. Very faded and worn, so I must have written it down quite a while ago.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Slice 5 cups of apples into greased 7 x 11 pan. You may peel or not. (around here, all the leftover parts of the apples go into a bowl for the farm animals. I hand feed Daisy the donkey, and scatter the rest for the sheep and goat.)

Melt 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
In a bowl, mix:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
Stir in melted butter, and sprinkle mixture over apples.
Bake around 30 minutes, until top is browned and apples are soft.

Crunchy, strong apple taste, delicious.

Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Today's poem by George Cooper

October’s Party

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came.
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,
And leaves of every name.

The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses maple
In scarlet looked their best.

All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then in the rustic hollow
At hide-and-seek they played;
The party closed at sundown
And everybody stayed.

Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly "hands around."

George Cooper (1838-1927)