Thursday, April 30, 2015

At Last!

The sun shines! It has been a perfect two days here, finally. When we saw we had nearly four days in a row without rain and with sun and with the right temperature range, we set about preparing the deck. I unloaded most of it and DH helped with those heavy bird baths and concrete angels. Then he sealed yesterday. We have put back everything including some flowers. We can declare the deck open for 2015!

Yesterday was busy all around and when I stepped out on the front porch to fetch the mail, I walked into a humming cloud. I was swarmed by bees. Then I really listened and the buzz was a low roar. In a few minutes time they went over the roof and into the neighbor’s yard. Then we saw them form in a tree. They settled down, all hanging together. By evening they were gone again. It was an amazing sight.

In the afternoon another amazing sound….it was the song of a house wren. DH had just rehung the birdhouse the day before, just in time. The tiny bird pair worked two houses, back and forth. Again today the wrens were busy building and singing. What a joyous noise!

DH painted this metal chair for me, although he can’t understand why I keep it. It is one of four to a 1940 dinette set and they are worn out. But this was my grandparents’ kitchen set when they moved to Kansas before WWII. It became my mother’s kitchen set in 1947 and I remember it in my childhood kitchen until it was replaced years later. Then it went to the basement where we sat under the table waiting for tornadoes to pass over! Then I started my own marriage with it, using it at least a decade. Originally red and white…then brown…and now this one chair a yellow I love on the deck!

Tomorrow morning…maybe a tea pot out there to celebrate the deck opening and to appreciate the early hours of a new day. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reading and Watching Bridges of Madison County

I will not talk about the weather! It is hampering and controlling my life right now, but I am safe and okay so that is enough. However, I do feel stuck a bit in what I have for choices in how to spend my days while waiting for the warm and dry. Always books are my friends when life events close down other avenues.

Lisa Richard Claro, a fellow blogger, is close to releasing her first book. It is romance and having read a short story from the novel, I can safely say it is going to be good! Check her out over at to follow her writing and book release adventures. On her blog today, Lisa posed a couple of questions to readers: What books do you reread and what movies do you rewatch? And why?

My answer would be a long a list because I often reread books and rewatch movies. One book I read three times was Bridges of Madison County, but I did not like the movie. When Lisa asked me why, I thought I would answer here.

I picked up the title of Bridges of Madison County from an essay in the back of a Good Housekeeping magazine. When I went to my favorite eclectic book store of that decade, the store owner said they were giving a box of Kleenex with each purchase. Even men were crying at the story. So I had to try the book too and loved it. Was it a classic? Was it extraordinary literature? Was it cutting edge story? No. It was realistic and human with characters that seemed real and believable because the characters had foibles. Yes, it was a romance and it was a short read and the first time author made a killing.

The story is a love triangle of sorts where all the characters could win or lose.  Francesca is a loving wife, dutiful mother, and good citizen, but she is bored on a farm in Iowa. Along comes a good looking and interesting man. So a torrid affair on a long weekend while the family is at the state fair could set the motion for destruction…but does it? If you haven’t read the story yet, give it a try.

So then comes Clint Eastwood turning the book into a movie and playing the lead. I have great appreciation for both Eastwood’s acting and directing. (I mean who didn’t love Rowdy Yates on Rawhide!) However, he ruined this film for me. First of all, he made himself the leading man and he was no Robert Kincaid! He was too old for playing this particular lover. Kincaid was an artist, sensitive to light and color. Eastwood did not fit. The bracelet that marked Kincaid’s arm looked like grade B prop on Eastwood. His Kincaid came across slightly sullen, a little domineering to the little farm wife it seemed to me. Robert Kincaid in the book was strong, virile but generous and sensitive.

I felt like Eastwood changed the thrust of the story from the beginning when he made Francesca appear to be a woman with the “hots” looking for some steamy moments. She seems a woman on the prowl. In the book, Francesca is bored yes, but she is not sure what she is lacking in her life. Had she been alone on the farm those few days, she would probably have restored herself with a lounging bath, maybe a glass of wine alone, a walk, a book, and just some listening to the silence.  She would have grown to appreciate her family again in their absence. But Robert Kincaid comes rolling down that Iowa gravel road in an old truck, an eccentric loner and photographer of beauty. Like two semis driving down the center lane, they hit hard and fast. No one was more surprised than Francesca herself. The rest is…well, the rest of the story.

Shortly after the book was a hit, DH and I were in Iowa and went to the house used in the film, Francesca’s house. Oh, it was beautiful! The old pickup truck sat under the trees, the mailbox stood at the drive, and the country road rolled up and down the Iowa landscape. Inside the house was so interesting…the bedroom…the farm kitchen…the bathtub (you know the one)…the water pump where that braceleted man washed…and more. It was a wonderful place to see and to be. 

Then in 2003 it was vandalized and set on fire, ruining the site. So sad. You can still see some of the many covered bridges of Madison County featured in the book and film though, and they are worth the trip.

So I think I will pass on Lisa’s questions to my readers and ask for your comments. What books do you reread? What films do you rewatch? And why have these stories captured your imagination, stirred your souls, embedded themselves in your memory, become some of your favorite loves? Thanks, Lisa, for your springboard! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April Showers


                                                      April Showers
          At 3:00 am with open windows,
          Stars hid in skies dark as river bottom mud.
          Outside newly emerged tree leaves soughed;
          Small limbs grabbed and tussled with  light wind.
          I smelled the moist scent of damp soil
          Before I heard the drops strafing the earth.
          Another day was coming on;
          It’d be April showers—again.

The last week has been rain and technology woes. Day after day the gray skies bore down like baskets heavy with sodden gray wool while technology things broke down, refused to work. The television quit, and the replacement could launch missiles from its command center. I have talked with eight ATT tech support people in the last week. I have talked face to face with three ATT employees. Suffice it to say, that at this point in time a new TV, our computers, a reprogramed wireless printer, my Kindle (the first breakdown point), and one of our three phones are working and Uverse is installed. I can’t face realigning the laptop nor dealing with the two unworking phones yet.

This morning it was warm and dry enough after showers for Biscuit and me to head out for deck tea. It hinted at sun, but the longer we were out there, the grayer it got. Knowing heavy storms were still in the forecast we soaked up what outside we could get. About noon, the sun came out and the sky was glorious. DH, Biscuit, and I jumped in the truck to go to Lowes for dirt and ferns and some plants that shouted hope for drier days ahead. Apparently others felt the same way.

Lowe’s had so many people in the garden shop it looked like a mosquito convention at the local swamp. Everyone was pushing loaded baskets. It was spring fever and it was catching! I put way more in my basket than I had planned. I had vowed that THIS year no plants or anything unpacked until the deck was sealed first. But as rainy weeks led into more rainy weeks I began to wear down.  I remembered the old grade school bulletin boards that shouted “April Showers Bring May Flowers”, but I was tired of waiting. So we loaded up and paid.

Then while unloading the shopping basket into the truck, the sky darkened. In the west, roiling clouds moved in. Scary looking, people began to scatter. Then the rain came down. We drove our goodies home and parked them in the garage for tonight. So hoping the weatherman is right about tomorrow—two days ahead of sunshine and NO rain before it returns on Wednesday. I am thankful no tornados, no damaging hail, no killer floods, and the stack of books waiting for rainy days, and I’m even thankful for the rain too…just ready to have some sunshine. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Woman in Gold

One would think by the time I was a grandmother that I would know who I am and where I came from in the world. But I find I am just as confused about myself now as when I was a floundering teen trying to define myself. I am always looking, making connections.  It is no secret that I have been wading through the past recently trying to explain the present. I knew I was Irish with touches of German and dashes of Native American. My family tree held a wee touch of French near the roots. I wanted to know from where I came but also how dispositions, shapes, weaknesses, and even religious beliefs were passed on.

There were some traits and trends I had I wondered about and questioned where they came from. I was drawn to Nazi Germany settings in books, hated India settings in novels. I was meek for myself, but I was staunch in defending some injustices for others. I tended to forgive easily and did not harbor grudges which made me appear a bit like a door mat in some people’s opinion. I loved potatoes and pickles and foods with kick. An avocado will make me so sick in fifteen minutes I nearly pass out. I like a beer with pizza now, liked cherry vodka and whiskey sours when young, but never ever seemed to need the stuff to make me feel better or to be socially acceptable. I just liked the taste. What in me made me able to walk away when ancestors found the drink a demon?

Yesterday we used a year old gift card and went to a movie on a Sunday afternoon. Both were worn and frazzled from an emotional Saturday with family burying the ashes of DH’s mother. A movie complete with soda pop and popcorn (that turned out to be as expensive as a full meal dining out!) seemed to be a nice relief. We chose Woman in Gold as it sounded like just an average good story. I remember when Maria Altman made news getting her family’s painting back from Austria and placing it in an American gallery.

Here we were with the Nazi setting again that both DH and I have read about in many books over the years. Helen Mirren is always superb to watch. I settled back waiting to be lost in an escape with story. To my surprise the movie was more than good; it was extraordinarily good. Maybe my mental state was right for it, but the story proved to be very emotional too. In the middle of the movie, I felt a warm tear slide down my cheek, the first of many.

That the Nazis humiliated, stole, and killed the Jews was no news. That family belongings were taken in front of their eyes, that loved ones vanished daily was not news to me. But one line from Maria Altman’s character resonated with me. She accused the Austrians of waving and greeting the Germans when they came in. Her anger accused them of being knowledgeable participants in the atrocities, not ignorant bystanders. Once again I felt terror at the thoughts of what humans can do, did do, and are still doing to one another…and sometimes even in the name of religion.

I was a young woman with children before I learned my paternal grandmother was German. She was married to an Irishman and I thought her red hair was Irish too. I knew my maternal grandfather had lines back to Germanic areas. But I was shocked to hear my paternal grandmother, and only once did she say it, tell of how careful she had to be in WWI because people hated Germans. She had to hide as much of her Germanic traits and background as she could despite her people living in American a long while. I have recently learned in genealogical searches that I am more German than just her line because the Irish grandfather had a German mother! I have traced many people back to mid and southern Germany, areas I know nothing about.

I guess in the movie, watching the human pain during 1940 Austria, something became a little more personal. It doesn’t matter on which side a person stood, there was just too much evil and ugliness done by everyone during that time. My mind jumped all around and I wondered: what did my people do and say during those years? Where did my blood relatives stand on the issues? Were they strong and take risks to help others? Or did they wave the Nazis on in this ugly time? Either way I sat in the movie theater and felt tremendous pain come right through the years.

Although the movie is mainly a story about a woman getting back a Klimt painting, her fight in courts, her dealings with laws, it is the back story that is so moving. The dialogue is superbly written. Visuals of physical cruelty are minimal, but the story is emotionally moving. When Altman’s Jewish lawyer makes his own family’s historical connections to this violent time, he breaks down sobbing with anger and pain in a public bathroom. It was seeing his pain that reached inside of me and allowed my thoughts to start bouncing around like bricks from a crumbling wall.

I continued to make some connections in my mind on family yesterday, but enough about me. The movie is one to see. It has a good ending. At one point I raised my arm in silent cheer to Altman’s strength, her victorious stand. Down a few rows a man shouted out and other mumbled approval. So I knew that I was not the only one in that theater that was entrenched in and moved by the story.

My Native American side of me and the Irish too adore the oral tradition. I love the power of story. When all is said done, our valuables can be taken or destroyed. It is what lives inside of us, our stories that live on. Those stories hold both good and bad, both should be told. Now if we can just learn from the remembering……

Friday, April 10, 2015

April Is Poetry and Lilacs

The lilacs are just beginning to burst forth here. First come jonquils and crocuses, then Bradford pear trees, and then redbuds, dogwoods and lilacs. I love the floral smell emitted by clusters of bluish flowers. The fragrance is sweet and fills the house quickly if a very few branches are brought inside; it reminds me of my grandmother who had many lilac bushes she shared in spring. She let me cut mounds of lilacs and white spirea to include with cookies and candy in my May Baskets left secretly hanging on friends' front doorknobs.

April is also National Poetry Month. I always loved this month when I was teaching. I was never erudite about poetry, but I wanted my students to be aware of beautiful words and thoughts. I don’t like poems I have to study to understand or appreciate. Poetry should be pure pleasure and enjoyment in my book. I like lovely words trickling over a page or scenes that provoke my own internal thoughts.

I wished I had started the month writing my own poems, had challenged myself to produce. But I did face three new poetry books, all very diverse. The first is Cowgirl Poetry: One Hundred Years of Riding’ and Rhymin’. I had heard of Cowboy Poetry and read some, always enjoying Baxter Black’s work. But I had never heard of Cowgirl Poetry. This is a sweet little volume one can carry in her purse, pulling out at rare moments for a good poem here and there.

Lines from Carole Jarvis’s Round Up Hand:
The day’s been long and Rose and I are weary,
But we held our end up, like the cowboy crew.
And I will go to sleep tonight rememberin’
When the cowboss smiled at me and said,
“You’ll do!”

 Melissa Fite Johnson’s While the Kettle’s On recalls her parents and grandparents with love, loss, and sadness; the last section tells of meeting her husband Marc. Simple and tasty are these poems are like a piece of basic apple pie, satisfying. I loved the cover of this poetry book when I saw it!

A line from her poem Poetry Group where the poet writes about the group moving outside to meet in early spring: 

Something about sipping hot tea, feasting on homemade muffins, 
listening to birds chatter, 
and feeling a breeze on my arms, 
makes everyone’s poems better.

The latest book by former poet laureate Ted Kooser is also gentle and kind…soothing…pleasant to read. I
wait for his next books. Splitting and Order is definitely one his best. One of my favorite poems was his At the Kitchen Table which starts with this description:

Not a flock of stories,
Not usually,
But a few that arrive at dusk,
In pairs, quietly
Creating themselves
In the feathery light.

Who is your favorite poet or what is your favorite kind of poetry?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cooking with Willa and Reading with DH

My new cookbook from The Cather Foundation is a delight to read. Sections are recipes from Willa Cather’s fiction, recipes from places she had been, and recipes from her friends and family plus a section of recipes from the Foundation board. I loved revisiting Cather’s books with snippets of her stories. I think some rereading of Cather is due in the future.

When I saw the Spinach Enchiladas recipe in the section from Taos (where Cather wrote Death Comes from the Archbishop), DH said just forget it. He hates spinach and most green stuff. I will admit this dish doesn’t look so pretty, but it has a great taste. It is unique in that the spinach and green chilies are blended together to make a sauce to cover the Monterrey Jack cheese filled tortillas. DH really liked them because he could not taste the spinach. At first he was leery of the green, but then declared this dish a success before asking what was the green stuff anyway!

The weather here is like a ping pong ball, bouncing all over. Last week we were in middle of tornadic turmoil. By Saturday we had a lovely day with sun, and we had lunch on the deck with afternoon reading afterwards. Easter Sunday was rain, darkness, and chills. Today I got up and it was 70 so I took tea and books out to deck early. It was a first early morning for my ritual. The skies were the color of stone-washed denim and light clouds were bustling across the rather dark skies. I figured more rain coming so I read while I could. Then the sun came out about noon so DH and I read while we could. Tomorrow we are back to tornadic skies with rain and hail on the way tonight too. Ah geez….Mother Nature rules!

I had finished Frozen in Time yesterday and handed it over to DH then. This is nonfiction about downed flyers in Greenland during WWII. As more and more men went out to save the flyers on the ice cap, more accidents happened and more men were lost. I found the idea of a glacier and ice crevasses scary; it was not a relaxing book to read. However, it was interesting despite all the freezing cold, ice, agony, death and survival for some.

I started yesterday and finished today a book titled Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Big Horn. At first I had to wonder how much new could be said about Custer’s demise, but the more I read about Dewey, the more I was into the story. He survived Custer’s Last Stand and went on to face much other anguish in what are gently called the Indian Wars. Dewey was also at Wound Knee and here was an even more vivid portrayal of this massacre. Dewey watched his father, mother, brothers, sister, wife and eventually new born baby son die on that field as they all were stood under a white flag of surrender.

I have been on the Pine Ridge reservation and been in a cemetery near Wounded Knee. The poverty is staggering. The cemetery moved me as it was so dry and poor and gravelly and weather-beaten. I remember seeing a child’s gravestone with a teddy bear hanging off the stone and thought how sorrowful it was. Then I noted the child had died in 1910 or so. Definitely, someone was keeping this ancestor’s name on their lips.

Phillip Burnham wrote realistically of the massacre at Wounded Knee….and from the Indians’ side of the story. When I stood at Sand Creek last summer I thought I had seen the worst, but I believe the Wound Knee story tops it. Just as many of us read Nazi stories to keep the horrors alive so we don’t repeat them…we should read the stories of the Native Americans too for the same reason. 

What is your favorite Willa Cather book?