Thursday, September 29, 2011

Keeping Appointments: Tux - Older Dog Wisdom

Tux and I have a daily appointment to go for a walk. He loves his routines. He expects to have his morning walk in by nine. He’s okay with walking earlier, but insists that the walk must start by mid-morning. If we’re not out the door on his timetable, he starts pacing. He goes from wherever I’m at to the front door and back again. When I don’t get that hint, he’ll sit where he can make eye contact with me, and stares at me. He’s willing me to get up from the computer and leave for our walk. 
Having a Cocker Spaniel stare at you is hard to resist. When Tux and his sister, Grace, were puppies, I couldn’t resist. Over the years, though, I’ve grown tougher. I can resist for a while. In any event, we get out of the door mostly on schedule. Tux’s schedule, I might add.
On a recent walk after a tremendous storm the afternoon before, we saw the paths strewn with puddles like polka dots dropped every few feet. There were hundreds of twigs and small branches strewn down the paths as well. There were even branches three inches thick obstructing our way. There were no trees torn up by the roots. Even the young saplings planted last fall weathered the storm, more or less in tact.
Tux kept thinking that the larger branches might be dangerous snakes or eels or something. He stalked a lot of them. None turned out to be either dangerous or dangers reptiles.
We were the only ones in the park. There were only a few squirrels out and about. Even the birds were quiet. The morning was cool and we enjoyed the walk although we had to cut it short when Grace started limping badly. 
Lesson Learned
Even Tux understands the importance of being on time. People who keep me waiting for an appointment drive me crazy. I’ve been known to walk out of doctors’ offices when they’ve kept me waiting way beyond my appointment time. At some level, I can understand being kept waiting by doctors, although why they haven’t figured out that if they’re consistently behind schedule, they need to space their appointments further apart. 
Tux obviously has a schedule: breakfast as soon as I get up, morning nap, walk by nine, nap until lunch, outside for a stroll around his yard, back in for his afternoon nap, dinner, nap, outside, and to bed by ten. He likes to keep his schedule. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Ghosts of Winter by Rebecca Buck

In Ghosts of Winter, Rebecca Buck introduces Ros Wynne, a teacher who has suffered the breakup of her long-time relationship with Francesca, the death of her mother, and her decision to quit her job all in the same year. When she unexpectedly inherits an 18th century manor house, Winter Manor, on the condition that she restore it to its previous glory, Ros decides that the renovation and restoration project is just what she needs to start her own life over again. She moves into the abandoned and dilapidated manor house and meets architect Anna Everest, who the previous owner wanted to run the renovation project. Anna, the consummate professional in designer clothes, expensive perfume and driving a very hot sports car, is hiding tragedies of her own.
At first, the two women’s relationship is strictly professional, although Ros is harboring unprofessional thoughts about her beautiful architect. As they get to know one another, there is no doubt that there is an attraction between them that has nothing to do with the on-going renovation to Ros’ manor house. However, Ros’ lost confidence in herself rears its ugly head and she purposely drives Anna away. They must continue to work together, though. Only a potentially life-threatening accident brings them back together.
In the end, both characters get what she wants and needs, but they have to fight their own demons to get there.
This is no run-of-the-mill romance novel. Nor is it all about the renovation of Winter Manor. In fact, there are few details about the renovation given. This is all about Ros and the road she must travel to regain her self-esteem and self-confidence.
One of the best things about this book is the dynamics between Anna and Ros. Buck’s dialogue sings with humor and angst in rapid succession.
Buck has given us a wonderfully written novel full of nuance. She is spot on in describing Ros’ reticence and doubts about entering into a new romance with subtlety and without trying to overwhelm the reader with it. At the same time, she carefully and slowly allows the reader, and Ros, insight into the character of Anna.
Buck gives us glances of previous owners of the house by interrupting the flow of the story to insert these chapters. She might have been better served to tell these stories by having Ros go to the local library rather than dropping the reader out of her story of Ros and Anna.
Ghosts of Winter will undoubtedly be in the small handful of the best books written in this genre in 2011.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Historical Tidbits of the Week of September 26

I fell in love with history in the ninth grade in a World History class when the teacher taught Egyptian history (thank you, Miss Fischer!). I have been collecting historical bits of information for years. A year ago, I began tweeting historical facts every day. This blog entry is like the “best of” the events, births, and deaths that occurred during this week. Just think, you'll be able to impress your friends with "Did you know . . . " days in advance of the event, birthday, or death day.

 If you want to read even more of these events on a daily basis. Follow me on Twitter at @kay_bigelow
September 26
September 27
  • September 27 is the 270th day of the year. There are 95 days remaining until the end of the year. 
  • September 27, 1389Cosimo de' Medici, Italian art patron, was born. He died in 1464.
  • September 27, 1540 – The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) received its charter from Pope Paul III
  • September 27, 1722Samuel Adams, American revolutionary leader, was born. He died in 1803.
  • September 27, 1777 – Lancaster, PA  is the US capital for one day. 
  • September 27, 1840Thomas Nast, German-born American political cartoonist, was born. He died in 1902.
  • September 27, 1871Grazia Deledda, Italian author of 17 novels & Nobel laureate, was born. She died in 1936.
  • September 27, 1906 – Jim Thompson, American author of 28 crime novels, was born. He died in 1977.
  • September 27, 1908 – The first production of the Ford Model T automobile was built in Detroit, MI.
  • September 27, 1911 – Marcey Jacobson, American photographer, was born. She died in 2009.
  • September 27, 1917Edgar Degas, French painter, died. He was born in 1834.
  • September 27, 1928 – The Republic of China was recognized by the US. 
  • September 27, 1937 – The Balinese Tiger was declared extinct. 
  • September 27, 1954 – The “Tonight Show” debuted on NBC.
  • September 27, 1956 – Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American athlete, died. She was born in 1911. 
  • September 27, 1995 – The US unveiled the first of its redesigned bank notes, the $100 bill. 
  • September 27, 2009 – William Safire, American columnist, died. He was born in 1929. 
September 28
  • September 28 is the 271st day of the year. There are 94 days remaining until the end of the year.
  • September 28 is World Rabies Day
  • September 28, 1791 – France became the first European country to emancipate its Jewish population. 
  • September 28, 1928 – Sir Alexander Fleming noticed a bacteria-killing mold growing in his laboratory.
  • September 28, 1953Edwin Hubble, American astronomer, died. He was born in 1889. 
  • September 28, 2003Althea Gibson, American tennis player, died. She was born in 1927. 
September 29
September 30
  • September 30 is the 273rd day of the year. There are 92 days remaining until the end of the year. 
  • September 30, 1791 – “The Magic Flute,” the last opera composed by Mozart, premiered in Vienna, Austria.
  • September 30, 1882 – The world's first commercial hydroelectric power plant began operating in WI.
  • September 30, 1927Babe Ruth became the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs in a season.
  • September 30, 1928Elie Wiesel, Romanian Holocaust survivor & Nobel laureate, was born.
  • September 30, 1935 – The Hoover Dam, astride the border between the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada, is dedicated.
  • September 30, 1938 – At 2:00 am, Britain, France, Germany and Italy sign the Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.
  • September 30, 1938 – The League of Nations unanimously outlaws "intentional bombings of civilian populations.”
  • September 30, 1947 – The World Series, featuring the Yankees and Dodgers, was first televised.
  • September 30, 1955 – Film star James Dean dies in a car crash at age 24.
  • September 30, 1962 – Labor leader César Chávez founded the United Farm Workers.
  • September 30, 1962 – In defiance of segregation laws, James Meredith enters the University of Mississippi.
  • September 30, 1985 – Charles Richter, American seismologist, died. He was born in 1900.
  • September 30, 1990Patrick White, Australian author and Nobel Prize in Literature winner (1973), died. He was born in 1912.
  • September 30, 2004 – The first images of a live giant squid in its natural habitat were taken 600 miles south of Tokyo by the National Science Museum of Japan and the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association. 
October 1
October 2

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 32: Bunnies and Branches

We were in the park by 6:00 a.m. this morning. Rumor had it that it was going to rain. Our weather people haven’t gotten it right (except for major events and then only when the tornadoes were practically upon us) that most of us have given up checking the TV weather people or even checking the weather apps on our phons. You see people stepping out their front doors and stopping a moment to check the sky. If it’s cloudy, we go back inside for an umbrella.
Tux, however, doesn’t care what the weather is or will be. He’s only interested in the walk. Everything else is totally immaterial to him. 
So there we were out in the park before the sun was even up. It was getting warm. The humidity was high. Ugh. Grace, Tux’s sister, and I were already suffering from the heat. 
There were birds singing on the tree boughs above our heads. Squirrels were running amok in the grass. The park was empty as we started our walk. As we made our way around the park, we saw a half dozen bunnies, most of whom headed for the underbrush when they caught sight of us. There were two, however, who held their ground. They hunkered down in the grass trying to be invisible. Grace, however, saw them, but she’s not one to waste energy chasing after other animals, especially those faster than her. 
Tux looked to see what Grace was staring at and immediately went into his 3-point hunter’s stance. Then he started advancing toward the bunnies. Slowly he place one paw in front of the other. The bunnies didn’t move. Tux advanced. Finally, Grace and I realized that he wasn’t stalking the bunnies. No, he was stalking a small fallen branch with its leaves still attached. The branch lay between Tux and the bunnies. He’d completely missed the bunnies. 
Once Tux determined that what he was stalking was a branch, he returned to the path ready to resume our walk. Grace didn’t move. She turned around to look at me. I swear she was giggling. As for the bunnies, I’m sure one of them snorted his derision.
Once again, our intrepid hunter had stalked an inanimate object rather than the living, breathing wild creature standing not two feet beyond the object of his choice. Never mind his idiosyncrasies, he remains our favorite intrepid hunter.
Lesson Learned:
There are times when we cannot see that which is directly in front of us, be it love or an opportunity. We need to learn to see the forest and the trees. Or, in Tux’s case, he needs to learn to see the branch and the bunnies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Grace 4: 3x5 Cards

Tux has his many and beloved 11-year-old toys. Grace, though, is a girl after my own heart. She has a fascination, dare I say it? an obsession, with 3x5 cards. She loves her index cards. I dare not leave any within her reach, including on tables because they’ll be gone when I return. I love being able to blame my misplaced/lost cards on Grace.
She caught on to my ruse not long ago. She no longer tries to hide the fact that she has taken my index card. Nope. She tears off a corner and leaves the rest for me to discover. I like this about her. Since I get the card back only a little worse for wear, I don’t lose the data on the card.
At one time, I thought I could foil her theft by attaching a pen to the card thus making it awkward to carry because of the added heft. It didn’t deter her at all. I found the card with the pen nearby. The obligatory corner was gone, the pen was unharmed, and my list remained legible.
I have a confession to make. I love my iPhone and all the many apps I keep on it, including shopping apps like Grocery iQ to keep my grocery list, apps to keep track of books, apps like Awesome Notes which is the closest I’ve come to having 3x5 cards on my iPhone, and a host of other apps. Even so, I continue to use 3x5 cards to make a list of things I need to accomplish on a particular day, for instance. I’ve recently discovered 2x2 cards. A quick perusal of the cards next to my chair includes a reminder to download Steven Tyler’s Dream On from iTunes, another reminds me to get some Journey tunes, while a third reminds me to get distilled water the next time I’m in a grocery store. Even with loving my iPhone and its apps, I haven’t given up my need for 3x5 cards, regardless of their size.
Grace is inordinately pleased that I continue to use 3x5 cards. She loves the heft of the cards, the ease of carrying them around, and how satisfying chewing off one corner is. For my part, I’m pleased that she likes the cards rather than plush toys. 3x5 cards are a heck of a lot cheaper than plush toys, and since I can’t seem to stop buying the cards, we now have a life-time supply stashed in a cupboard in the family room.
I asked Grace what lesson I could pass on about her passion for 3x6 cards. Her answer, while rude, was pithy. She said to tell you to figure it out yourselves. Such a mouth she has.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 31 - Meeting the Westies

As we’ve walked through our favorite park, Tux and I have met a lot of dogs along the way. Among the many have been the trash-talking Daschunds, the drooling devil dog that attacked Tux and his sister Grace, and a number of mutts and purebreds. I haven’t yet mentioned the Westies.
The Westies are a pair - in more ways than one - of small white dogs, one female, the other a male. They live in a house where the backyard abuts the park. We start and end our walk across the street from the Westies’ house. When we first started walking in their park, Tux and the male Westie exchanged words. After several months, they stopped doing it. I think they just got tired of it. We walk every day unless the temperatures are below freezing or above 90. So after a while, it became too tiresome to trade insults.
On the other hand, Grace has exchanged nose bumps through the fence with both the male and female Westie. Tux maintains his dignity and won’t go near the fence. How, you might, ask does one determine which of the two white dogs is the female? That’s easy. She has a dainty, lady-like bark, while the male has a deeper, louder, and in-your-face kind of a bark.
One day, while Grace and the Westies were exchanging nose bumps, I noticed that someone had been trying to dig out beneath the fence. We went around the neighborhood and found the Westies’ front door. We reported the attempted prison break and received many thanks. Tux was mortified that we’d reported the Westies’ escape attempts. He wasn’t too keen to return to the park the next day lest he hear the dreaded daschunds murmur “Snitch” at him.
It only took another day for both Tux and the Westies to forget that they’d even tried to escape. All returned to normal. Thank goodness. There’s nothing harder to face than Tux when he’s embarrassed by something I’ve done.
Lesson Learned
It would be nice if we humans could forget intended and unintended slights and embarrassments as easily as Tux. He’s one of the lucky beings who lives pretty much in the moment. He doesn’t seem to worry about the future and quickly forgets the past. Would that we could all live life like that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review: Jane Doe by Lisa Girolami

Jane Doe is Lisa Girolami’s fourth book. Girolami introduces Royal Wooten, Las Vegas pawn shop owner. As she leaves her shop one evening, she sees three men mugging someone. She and an employee go to the victim’s rescue, scaring off the muggers. They find a woman who is seriously injured and requires hospitalization. However, since Royal knows nothing about her, the woman is designated a Jane Doe.
When Jane recovers her memory, she tells Royal that she is really Emily Carver who lives in a small Oklahoma town. She won a free trip to Las Vegas playing bingo, but her family didn’t want her to leave town, even for a few days. She’d made the trip despite the objections of her fiance who predicted dire consequences. She’d only been in Vegas a few hours when she was mugged. 
When Jane is discharged from the hospital, she has no where to go, no money, no airline ticket home, no credit cards, etc. Royal feels sorry for her and invites the woman to stay with her until she is able to return to Oklahoma. 
Girolami has written the story of Jane’s journey to herself. Jane finds that being away from her home town is very freeing. Royal, too, has a journey to make in order to trust herself enough to love again after a disastrous relationship with a straight woman.
This is one of those quiet books that ends up getting under your skin. There is no torrid romance, there is no sex on every other page. This is, however, the story of two strangers becoming friends and acknowledging they are attracted to one another, and then admitting they love one another despite everything saying that it shouldn’t happen.
Girolami’s characters, even the secondary characters, like Royal’s older employee Heinrich and her best friend Delilah, are likable. She also has two bad guys, Nann, who has a crush on Royal, and Charles, Jane’s fiance. There are twists and turns along the way that give the reader insight into both main characters.
The story flows with the ease of a slow moving river. There was nothing to take the reader out of the story. All in all a well-written story with an unusual setting, and well worth the read.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom: Tux 30 - Storms of Our Lives

A recent storm came upon us quickly. It seemed as if one minute the sun was shining and the next it was so dark it could have easily been twenty minutes after the sun set. Then the winds came up whipping the tree branches back and forth bending saplings nearly to the breaking point. Next, the skies opened up and deluged us with rain and small hail. All of this could be a tornado. I quickly turned on the television and, as quickly, lost service. Next, I pulled out my iPhone and started opening weather apps. 
The national weather apps were useless because their information was a half-hour old, which is usually not a problem, but it becomes a problem when dealing with a tornado that can change direction in a nanosecond. Closing those apps, I opened first one and then another and yet another of the apps put out by the local television stations. Not only was their information nearly as old as the national apps had been, but their sites are cover in advertisements making it hard to find the information I was so desperately seeking. I had no idea whether a tornado, like the F4 tornado that hit Joplin, MO and left over 100 people dead (making it the deadliest tornado in US history) and 1100 injured, was coming at me or this was only a severe thunderstorm.
While I was trying to find information about the weather, the thunder arrived. Both Tux and his sister, Grace, are afraid of thunder. It only took seconds for them to seek comfort in my lap. Grace, in particular, was affected by the noise. She shivered, her eyes got very big, and she hid her head between the chair and me. Tux, on the other hand, was putting on a brave face, but I noticed that he cringed whenever a clap came too close to the house.
As fast as the storm came upon us, it started moving away. It didn’t make it any less dangerous or any less scary, though. The rain continued for another hour or so, and the wind continued to blow. Two hours later the sun was out again. We had weathered yet another storm.
Lesson Learned
We all have storms in our lives. Relationships end, jobs are lost, loved ones pass away. Those storms can be devastating, they can be life changing, and they can be demoralizing. It is, however, how we react to them that is important. If we arise from the devastation, learn about ourselves from them, and then move on, we have grown and gotten stronger.

Tux has learned this lesson. He was scared of the noise, of my desperation to find out whether our lives were in danger, and of his usually brave sister's reaction to the storm. His reaction in the face of the storm was to whistle in the dark as it were. 

The storm passed and I learned from Tux that sometimes we all need to put on a brave face and whistle in the face of danger.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Jefferson Key by Steve Berry

Steve Berry’s latest thriller, The Jefferson Key, revolves around a little known organization, the Commonwealth, which received letters of Marque from an early US president allowing them to act outside the law in order to aid the US. The organization has stretched the parameters of the letters to the point of breaking. The organization is run by four wealthy men who inherited their position in the Commonwealth from their fathers. The organization goes back nearly 200 years and is based on pirate principles. The US government has decided it’s had enough of the Commonwealth and has come after them. The Commonwealth is fighting back. As dead bodies begin piling up, the US President calls in Cotton Malone, a former CIA agent, and Cassiopeia Vitt, an independent operative, to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it.
Berry has given us a complex plot, complete with presidential assassination attempts, kidnappings, lots of dead bodies, a cipher, evil wealthy men, and what seems like a cast of thousands of bad guys. It was sometimes hard to tell one rogue agent from another. The book seemed overly long and a good edit would have done wonders for it.
That being said, the book is a fast read aided by the author’s penchant for breaking his chapters  into small parcels, i.e., jumping from one set of characters to the next in rapid succession. Some readers, however, may be unable to resist stopping in mid sentence to check to see how many more pages he has to read before the book ends.
This outing wasn’t nearly as exciting a read nor as historically interesting and detailed as Berry’s previous book, The Emperor’s Tomb. That book took off from page one and was a page turner from there to the end. The Jefferson Key doesn’t live up to the readers’ expectations of being a thriller and a fast read from start to finish.