Sunday, March 26, 2017

Best Stuff This Week

Spring showed up on the calendar this week, folks! Spring typically hangs around Montgomery for about 47 minutes, and then we just dive right on in to summer. But those 47 minutes are grand. 


One of the surest ways that we know it's spring in our household is when our new zoo membership cards arrive in the mail. I am not kidding you when I tell you that this is the best investment we make every year. If you have kids or grandkids -- even if your grandchildren only visit a couple times a year -- you won't find a better value anywhere. I mean it.  Our grandchildren have been utterly delighted by the new ringtail lemurs, and I am just holding my breath waiting for Stingray Bay to open!


I never, ever, ever win anything. Well, that's not exactly true, but I so seldom win anything that I can be forgiven for forgetting that it happened before it happens again. I'm using Goodreads to keep track of my reading these days, and especially to keep track of books I want to read. That's something I didn't really have to do much of all those years when my job including being the the same room with books every weekday. I mean, my TBR list was just there. One of the cool features of Goodreads is that once you've marked a book as something you want to read, you  begin to get notices of giveaways. It's really simple to enter, and of course the odds are usually pretty slim that you'll get one of, say, 10 copies of a book when 2,257 people have signed up for the same giveaway, but it does happen, and here's proof. 


I hope you can make out the hawk in this photograph. I had gone to feed my boss' dogs for her this morning, and on my way back saw this magnificent creature perched on the fence around the high school's parking lot that's near my home. I couldn't believe it was so still, and turned around to go back to find it still there. What I'd missed on the first pass was that the mate had just made a kill, to which it was attending on the ground.  I really do geek out over this stuff, y'all, but then I was raised on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and I still miss Marlin Perkins, who outgeeked every present day geek there is. If you'll click on that hyperlink, you'll see a particularly harrowing episode of that great show. But come back afterwards or I will just be crushed.


This was another sign of spring I discovered today. The tiller came out and this guy is getting around to do his planting. I'm not sure what's going in those beds this year, but I do hope I'll have some vote.  I need cucumbers. I really get to craving them this time of year, and I eat 'em whole. They are really good for you, and if you have any doubt about that at all, watch this.

 Note: When I posted this video, I couldn't help but notice that the screen shot is of Macka B. holding up some okra, which I also hope makes it into this year's garden. Just in case anybody's with a tiller is paying attention.....


I'm also out walking again, after a hiatus that has lasted too long. Part of that is down to having really zapped my ankle back in the fall and the impossibly long time it's taken to truly get it healed again, but it's at least 95%, and I expect that's as good as it's going to get. You work with what you have, and decide that it doesn't matter if you've gotten fat again (don't argue with me about that - I am owning it and naming it). Working with what I have, where I am means my walks aren't particularly challenging, and the best part of them is heading out to see what there is to see again. Yesterday I opted to head out to the Blount Cultural Park, where I used to get a fabulous cardio workout taking the "big hill" on the other side of the footbridge. I wasn't planning on doing that yesterday because I know I'm too out of shape, but when I saw that the footbridge was closed I was bummed! I hope it's a temporary thing, but the setting is still so pretty. 

After one short lap at Blount, I decided to check out Ida Belle Young Park again.  It provides a well-maintained flat walking track, and interesting glimpses at how nature gets along without us. In the streams that run through it, which serve as a filtration system and are therefore horribly littered, I spied several sets of nesting ducks and geese. The other thing I spied there were children on the playground with their parents -- all of whom were talking on their cellphones. Every single one of them. I can't go totally old-fogey on that, but I would very much wish those young parents could know how fast these days will be in the rearview mirror, with no way to go back. 


Before I go from preachin' to meddlin, it's time to stop and smell my own rose
delivered to me yesterday from my back yard by my gardener. 



And finally, this. This is the reason I write this blog, really. It's for the people I'll be part of who'll never know me, but who might find themselves curious about me somewhere down the road. 



Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Read on Kindle

Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, in less talented hands than Becky Masterman, would have been the worst kind of caricature, but Masterman clearly figured out how to exercise the sort of restraint that would keep that from happening.

Rage Against the DyingQuinn has given up her career and married a gentle, widowed, retired priest, whose house"came with a set of Pugs, which are sort of a cross between Peter Lorre and a bratwurst." When, however, she is made aware that a man has confessed to being the serial killer suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of Quinn's protege years before, she gets caught up in the investigation.

This is not a novel for the squeamish, but if you've got marginally thicker skin there is so much here to really get excited about. Quinn is 58 (like me!) and she's kick-ass tough trying hard to soften her hard edges because she loves her husband so and wants this very different life to work out for herself.


1965 Pulitzer Prize Winner The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
One final note. I have no idea why some of the text showed up blue. I've tried to fix it five times. 
Life's too short to go for number six. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week(s) in Review

Oh, I know. I missed a week. Things got a bit hairy around here last weekend, and my attention was divided in too many ways. By the way,  if you really want to experience the feeling of utter humility, let a scheduled blog post go missing. Prepare yourself to hear a whole lot of this:

Anyway, this one will be fast and furious and to the point since there's so much catching up to do.


After a spate of spring-like days, I decided it was time to break out the sandals again. That means it's time to expose feet again, and mine were looking pretty rough. I treated myself to a pedicure a week ago Friday......   after which our temps plummeted again for another week of winter.


We took Jimmy and Rosemary to the zoo last Saturday to celebrate Zoo Weekend. It was a madhouse, but a happy one.

We even braved the playground area in order to get to the petting zoo so they could pet all the soft, furry animals.

Uh huh. 

Jimmy made a bee-line for the tortoise, and as you can tell, offered the poor fellow some directions on how he might best escape the crowds. 


The zoo offered pony rides. Nothing doing.

Girl had to ride the camel.


I attended my Little Old Lady Literary Luncheon this week. The table arrangements were simple and quite lovely. When I got up close to this one I discovered that the arranger had used dried split peas to stick those roses and tulips in. I have no-zip-zero-nada esthetic abilities, so this sort of thing just amazes me. 


Oh, let me back up to that whole zoo thing for a second. You might remember that I keep a pseudo-journal on my desk in the home office. I write notes like "got pedicure yesterday, but too cold to bare toes today -- bummer." You might also remember that Rosemary sneaks into my office at every opportunity, and that she has discovered my journal. She left a little Valentine message a few weeks ago, you might recall, but this time what cracked me up (and warmed my heart during this past week's cold snap) was discovering that she'd taken it upon herself to journal our zoo visit  to save me the trouble. 


We ended our week going to the rodeo last night, which was always a huge deal when I was growing up. My Grandpappy (who was inducted, posthumously,  into the Alabama Cattleman's Hall of Fame in 2001) was a world-famous auctioneer. He died just before I turned nine years old, but to this day, because of the trips I took with him to the stockyards, the earthy-clean smell of dirt and animals summons the feeling that he is very much still a presence in my life. Henry and I used to take the boys when they were little, but we haven't gone ourselves in a number of years. It didn't take me 30 seconds after entering Garrett Coliseum to feel like a kid again. I want to come back as a barrel rider in my next life. I want to know what it feels like to be in control of that much beautiful power, that much speed. I cannot imagine anything more thrilling.


The week for our Rosemary ended with her experiencing a pretty big thrill. She and her Mama and little brother went on a camping trip with their Granna and Papa Marsh, where she caught her first fish!  It was kind of a big deal, as you can plainly tell. I'm so grateful for modern technology - this is a moment her Pop and I were thrilled to be able to witness. 




WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes the hype is true! I cannot wait until my grandchildren get to read this story about being different, and loving people who are.

Like all really great books for kids, this one works because, at its heart, it's about just how tough and glorious just being a kid can be. There are universal themes: being the new kid at school, the weird push and pull of not being a little kid anymore but not quite being ready to let go of that... all of that.

Garnethill (Garnethill #1)Garnethill by Denise Mina
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first-in-a-series had been on my TBR list for a long time. I jumped through lots of hoops to get my hands on a copy: the person I just knew had a copy was in the middle of a move and couldn't put her hands on it, the local library didn't have a copy, it wasn't available for Kindle download, and I am on a "book diet" trying only to buy bound copies when it's a book I am certain I want to have in my home library. I finally found a used copy on sale, and bit.

Quite a mixed bag for me: strong start, enough interest to read the second in the series, and probably only disappointed because of heightened expectations I had for it. 

In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War IIIn Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual rating: 3.5 stars

I chose this one because it was offered at a discount to download to my Kindle, and Rhys Bowen is an author with whom I was familiar, although I'd never read one of her books. One of my old bookselling saws is that there are great writers and there are great storytellers. Even when a writer is only one of those, I find their books well worth my time, and this novel was certainly that. Bowen is a solid writer, and a very good storyteller.

Set during WWII, when the German invasion of England was imminent, there were a group of British citizens who cooperated with the Germans. They weren't Nazi sympathizers, they were (in their view) pragmatists who didn't want their country's architectural and national treasures destroyed by bombing. It is from this piece of history that Bowen weaves her tale.There are many elements in this story that readers looking for different things can get hooked on: wartime romance, spies, the ongoing fascination that Americans have with the British aristocracy, and Bowen manages them all with nary a misstep. There were a couple of wild leaps, but hey!, it's fiction. Altogether an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. 

(and will probably splurge on) 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Weekly Whatever

My husband traveled to New Orleans this week, in time to celebrate Mardi Gras, although he was busy working the whole time he was there. Of course, while he was there, he suddenly remembered that he had a Twitter account and that his phone could be used as a camera and that those two things could work together.... just about the time I'd decided that, bless his heart, he was probably holed up in his hotel room wishing I were there with him. 



Meanwhile, back at the office..... 

No holiday goes unobserved at the office, and Fat Tuesday was no exception. The table on the Board room was covered with beads, and there was a box of these beautiful iced cookies from Ligers Bakery, and a King Cake. It was almost exactly like being in NOLA, less the opportunity to wake with a hangover on the first day of Lent. 


One hears lots of music when one is in New Orleans, but I'm betting you cannot find a 7 year old girl dressed as her favorite Pokemon character Pikachu practicing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture when you're there. 

... and if there is music there should always be dancing. 

I have recently been in touch with my second cousin, Kitty. Our grandmothers were sisters. We've been exchanging old family photographs and filling in blanks for one another over the course of the last couple weeks, via email, so I decided to reopen an old valise that belonged to my grandmother, which contains a world of old letters, a scrapbook, and loads of pictures. Within the scrapbook I found this charming little bit of newsworthy gossip pertaining to my grandparents, Tom and Sarah McCord, and their behavior on the dance floor. Not only did this delight me to know, it delights me that my Nannaw carefully preserved it, and that it remained in this valise as a treasure for me to find. 


On Friday night, Henry and I began to work through our DVR queue and watched the episode of This Is Us in which Randall and his biological father William go on a road trip that becomes, quite literally, the journey of a lifetime. Let me just say this: I cry at the drop of a hat, so that's never a good gauge for anyone to use to judge what sort of emotional wallop a book, movie, TV show, or Coca-cola commercial might have on them. But honey? This particular episode threw me right into the sort of cathartic cry I haven't had in years, the kind that you're pretty sure -- if you went and got on the scales when it was finished-- would have meant you'd lost weight. 

And, by the way, if you aren't watching This Is Us, I'm not sure how we can remain friends. 


It's been a long week for this girl, and a couple hours before I picked her up for the ballet, she and her Mama made it home from a road trip to Texas. Her great grandfather, Jack Hanifan,was laid to rest just a couple days ago. I only met him once,  when he was in town to see his granddaughter marry my son a decade ago, but I will never forget the sparkle in his eye, and the way he looked at his granddaughter when he saw her in her wedding dress for the first time. He was 92, and he had lived well, and was loved even better. 

The ballet, a series of vignettes featuring the Disney Princesses (Aurora, Jasmine, Pocahantas, and Belle), was an enchanting presentation by the wonderful dancers of the Alabama Dance Theatre. Rosemary enjoyed it, and loved meeting the dancers (in full costume) afterwards, but she was just pooped. She wanted to walk down to the Court Square to see the fountain afterwards, and we did, but by the time we'd perambulated the couple blocks between the theatre and Court Square, she was done, just like this week's edition. 


Books I Finished This Week:

The Sleepwalker
Borrowed from public library
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this one for a couple reasons: I have never been able to get his powerful novel, Midwives off my mind, and because one of my children was, for about an year-long period in his life, a sleepwalker. His were not benign midnight rambles: he suffered night terrors which, frankly, terrified me and my husband as well. They finally ended the way they'd begun: abruptly and with no explanation, even to this day.   (Read the rest of my review by clicking HERE.)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Read on my Kindle  

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Look, I'm not going to spend tons of time reviewing this book. It's another of those that everybody read when it first came out, and it had been on my TBR list for a long, long time. So here's my review:

This is a lovely, lovely novel, and you should absolutely make time to read it.

Favorite passage: “Oh, it’s simple pragmatism, Dad. It’s called the real world. If we refused to do business with the morally questionable, the deal volume would drop in half and the good guys like us would end up poor. Then where would we all be?” “On a nice dry spit of land known as the moral high ground?” suggested the Major.

What I'm reading now: 

Garnethill by Denise Mina  (bound book)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Kindle)