Thursday, July 30, 2009


Kristen and Beau

I've spent the past few days going through old photos. I haven't found the ones I was searching for yet, but I did find pictures of Kristen with each of our family dogs (except for our first dog, Jacques, who was before Kristen's time, and whose pictures we lost in our home fire).

Dogs have been a part of daughter Kristen's life ever since she was born. No wonder she is a dog lover. Her very first dog was Beau. We'd already had Beau, an English setter, for seven years before Kristen was born, so he had been our only baby. We wondered how he would adjust to a new baby, on top of having been kenneled for two whole months after our fire. We needn't have worried. Beau appointed himself Kristen's guardian, and always would sleep by her crib whenever she napped.

The first time I heard Kristen laugh, she was laughing at Beau's antics. And "Beau" was her first word ("Mama" came in second.)

Kristen and Brandy
When Beau was 14 1/2 years old, he couldn't walk any more and we had to put him to sleep. That was a very sad day for one little girl and her mom and dad. That was in January. That March Kristen and I came home one day to find Dan anxiously waiting for us. There was a three-year-old German shorthair pointer available for adoption. Could he get her as a hunting dog? Yes, we said, as long as we could get a cocker spaniel too.
Brandy was in bad shape emotionally when she came to us. If someone innocently made a hand gesture, she dropped to the floor, cowering. Her tail was always tucked between her legs. She had been "strictly trained", it was said. I say she was abused. But with the love and kindness of the three of us, she thrived. She became Kristen's "Baby" forever more, and always slept with her. "Take care of my Baby," Kristen would always say if she was away from home.

Kristen and Lady

We didn't forget the part about the cocker spaniel though. That May, I saw an ad for a cocker and Kristen and I went to meet the little pup. We had just a few minutes to decide on her, as a couple of guys stopped by to see her too. Kristen and I looked at each other, said "Yes" and never looked back. Lady was named - by Kristen - for the female star of "Lady and the Tramp".
Admittedly, bringing that little puppy into the house set Brandy back a bit, after she had been doing so well. But she quickly rebounded, and they became buddies. This dog, meant to be a hunter, became a beloved and adored indoor pet. But she was good in the field too, working only for her beloved master, Dan, and no other hunter.
Just before Kristen started college in Washington, DC, Dan and I found out that Brandy had cancer. As she was not suffering at the time, we did not tell Kristen, hoping to wait to put Brandy to sleep after Kristen left. But in August, it was time to say goodbye to Brandy, age 14, and we knew it.

Kristen and Penny
(Note the yellow ball Kristen is hiding from
Penny in the photos above and below)
It didn't feel right having only one dog in the house. It didn't feel right not having a hunting dog. (The only time Lady heard a gunshot, she ran away, tearing through the cornfields at a friend's farm, and was not found for hours.) And, it certainly felt wrong not having Kristen home for Christmas (she spent her junior year of college in Strasbourg, France).
So what did I do? I went out and got a hunting dog for Dan for Christmas. And that's how big, rowdy golden retriever Penny came into our lives. We spent Christmas Eve day wondering how a puppy could sleep so much, and was something wrong with her? Christmas Day and every day after that, we wondered how one little dog could have so much energy.
That Penny Pup harassed Lady no end, and she was always stealing Lady's dog bed. However, there came the day when Penny got too big for Lady's bed and "gave" it back to her. Penny and Lady became pals too.
Kristen was totally overwhelmed by Penny when she finally met her a year later. (Penny was a very demanding, "Play with me! Play with me!" kind of dog.) I think the tables finally turned the day I came home to find Penny and Kristen cuddling on the recliner. Even though Penny didn't see Kristen more than once a year, she would always remember her, and would spend at least the first 15-20 minutes licking her face. "Welcome home, my girl, welcome home!"
Kristen and Gracie - why the sad faces?
(Penny can't resist getting into the act too.)
As the years went by, Lady became deaf, cataracts nearly blinded her, she was incontinent and she was losing her teeth. But like Brandy, as long as she was not in pain we weren't going to put her to sleep. But for the third time, there came the inevitable day, and Lady, age 16 1/2, crossed over the rainbow bridge with me gently holding her.
Dan and I were heartbroken, and Kristen, all those miles away, was very sad. But Penny - Penny was devastated. She became extremely depressed. We knew we had to do something to bring her out of her funk. Wouldn't it be fun to have two hunting dogs? And we'd already had a German shorthair - they're nice pets, right?
Wrong! Gracie came bounding into our house and took over in an instant. She fought with Penny, tore all the hair off her tail, chewed her ears and her muzzle. Penny took it all patiently, only once giving Gracie a well-deserved nip. We teased Penny that she was finally receiving payback after all the grief she had given Lady. I've written often about how naughty Gracie is, and how many things she's destroyed (she's Marley The Second). Meanwhile, Penny, the former troublemaker, had mellowed into "the good dog".
And then suddenly, in January, we lost Penny, probably to an unknown heart ailment. So Gracie has been our only dog for six months. I've often wondered why Penny had to leave us at the young age of 6. Was it so that I could become so much closer to Gracie?
Of course, I'll never know. But I do know it still feels strange to have only one dog in the house. And I think there might be a little pup at a shelter who could give Gracie a run for her money. Dan is willing. How about you, Gracie?
(Kristen lives in an apartment now so she can't have dogs. However, she is Mom to kitties Arabella, Sweetie Pie and Oliver.)

Monday, July 27, 2009



KFYR-TV, our local NBC news station, carried a story a few days ago about recent sightings of the Virgin Mary. Famous apparitions of Mary have happened at Medjugorje (former Yugoslavia), at Fatima (Portugal) and at Lourdes (France), and I've heard that people have seen the image of the Blessed Mother in everything from a piece of toast to bird poop on a pickup truck (I kid you not - just Google Virgin Mary sightings.)

These new sightings interest me because they're much closer to home - or at least the place I used to call home, Crosby, ND. Some motorists traveling on Highway 5 about 10 1/2 miles west of Crosby say they've seen the Virgin Mary's image on a 10-foot-tall piece of field stone in a cattle pasture on the south side of the highway.

"Lots of people have seen it, some say they can't see it at all and other people see it right away and it really depends on the time of day," said Shannon Gjovig, of Ambrose (near Crosby in Divide County, ND).

Gjovig said the best time to visualize the image of the Virgin Mary is around 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. He said light from the setting (summer) sun creates shadows on the rock that creates a likeness of Mary.

"It looks like the Virgin Mary is holding a baby when you're coming from the west,"said observer Dan Goff. Goff was one of the first to witness the Marian apparition. Now many other people claim to be able to see it too. "As soon as I drove over I could see the silhouette of it," Gjovig said.

Here is a link to KFYR-TV's video by Cliff Naylor: At about 1:05 minutes into the video, as the camera zooms in on the rock, I admit, I can see what other people describe: the likeness of a woman's face at the top of the rock, with a veil and flowing robes that extend down the side of the figure to the ground. "You can see the head here from a distance and then it goes down and you can see the shawl," said Gjovig, who, by the way, had intended to paint the massive boulder with some type of artwork, "but since it seems to already contain an image", he plans to leave the rock as it is.

That begs the question, Where did this 10,000 pound rock come from? There was certainly no mention of the Virgin Mary Rock when I was growing up, nor from my aunt, who died about five years ago - and she knew everything that went on up there. Was the rock, like so many North Dakota boulders that cause immense headaches to North Dakota farmers, heaved up out of the permafrost? Was it moved to its present site, and if so, when?

Well, I'm not saying whether the image is or is not the Virgin Mary. Considering its location, it would be natural for it to be either Mary or Martin Luther, as most people who settled there were either Catholics or Lutherans.

But then again, would it be natural to have a rock with a Christian image? Because I'm thinking of another rock with spiritual connections found in this very same area of extreme northwestern North Dakota many years ago. I'm talking about Writing Rock.

Writing Rock, a granite boulder four feet high by four and a half feet wide, is inscribed with Native American petroglyphs, including the thunderbird. Thunderbirds, mythological creatures responsible for lightning and thunder, were central to the stories of many Plains Indians such as the Ojibway (Chippewa), Assiniboine, Dakota (Sioux), Mandan and Hidatsa (Gros Ventre).

Writing Rock, or Hoi-waukon, was "discovered" by white settlers, but no one knows its origins. However, most artifacts of the Northern Plains with thunderbird imagery - bones, shells, pottery and rock art - date from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1700. On Writing Rock, a large thunderbird is surrounded by many other images incised into the stone.

There is also a second, smaller granite boulder that features a smaller thunderbird. It was once located some distance from the larger Writing Rock. The smaller rock was relocated by whites to a nearby stream in 1919. It was kept at the University North Dakota for study for many years, but has now been returned to Divide County.

While the meaning of many of the images on the rocks have been lost to history, the Native American tribes who lived in the area considered the rocks sacred. They felt that they could foretell the future when reading the changing pictures on the "Spirit Rocks".

If I close my eyes, I can imagine a band of Sioux or Assiniboine Indians trekking their way to Canada on horseback, following very closely what would later become the border of North Dakota and Montana. In the years since the stones were incised, they have become a wayside shrine for these highly spiritual people. Here, nearing sunset on a July day, they camp for the night and hold religious ceremonies and make offerings near the rocks. The next morning, they again head north, refreshed in body and in spirit by the Writing Rocks. (I don't know if the trail came first, or the rocks, but I do somehow know they went hand in hand.)

According to tradition, the supernatural powers of both rocks vanished when whites moved the smaller rock.

So what's the Virgin Mary doing, appearing now on the old stomping grounds of the Native American peoples who once roamed this land? It's all very interesting to me. I no longer go back "home" to this isolated, remote corner of the state (no loved ones left), but it would certainly be worth a trip to see both the Virgin Mary Rock and the Writing Rocks. I wonder what spiritual experience I might have?

I was raised a Lutheran, and we confirmation students were often told by the pastor that the Catholic practice of praying to Mary was "stupid". "Where in the Bible does it say to pray to Mary?", huffed Pastor Klemp. "Jesus said to pray to me." (Fifty years ago, there was definitely no sign of the ecumemenical spirit that exists between North Dakota Lutherans and Catholics today.)

Now I've grown up and shed that denominational hogwash. As I've gotten older I've also done some reading about the ancient Celts and Vikings. I realize that once the Catholic church took away their pagan goddesses, they were bereft. I believe they went looking for a goddess and found her in Mary. And bless the millions of Catholics who have found solace in praying to her. Too bad we Protestants didn't get to have a goddess too.

Frankly, at this point in my life I don't give a damn if people are praying to Mary, or to Jesus, or Buddha, or Krishna or Mohammad. Or to the Native American "Great Spirit" or other pagan gods or goddesses - as long as they practice the Golden Rule and revere Mother Earth. Whatever is going on now or went on long ago at this crossroads on the North Dakota prairie, if it makes people stop and take stock of their spirituality, I'm all for it.



(Writing Rock and the smaller rock can be found at Writing Rock State Historic Site 12 miles northeast of Grenora. The two boulders are enclosed in a shelter and protected by iron bars.)
(Information on the Virgin Mary Rock was taken from the KFYR-TV video.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


There's a new movie coming out August 7 that I might just have to check out, called "Julie & Julia", based on the true story of a young New Yorker named Julie Powell who sets out to devote an entire year to cooking every.single.recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cookbook. (524 recipes in 365 days.) The movie adds the back story of Julia Child's life during the time when she lived in France and attended cooking school. Meryl Streep, who plays Child, is good in everything she does, so I'm sure she'll be a delicious JC (pun intended).

Amy Adams plays Julie Powell - smart, saucy (Bearnaise or Hollandaise?) and self-deprecatingly hilarious. I like Adams too, so this should be a fun movie. I hope they give Julie Powell "equal time" and more to her character.

Before there was "Julie & Julia", the movie, there was Powell's "Julie and Julia", the book. I read it a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much. Even if you've never made a roux, souffle or fricassee, it's quite entertaining - a lot more entertaining than "Martha Stewart Entertaining". (I would venture to say that Powell is not a huge Martha fan.)

But before the movie and the book, there was the blog. I was unaware of this blog until a few days ago. Powell no longer writes the blog, but it is still open. To read "The Julie/Julia Project" go to This will take you to the very first entry so you can read it forward instead of backward.

Anyone who's even paged through "Mastering the Art..." can ascertain that Powell's was a colossal undertaking. She often doesn't get home from her "soul-sucking government job" until 8:00 p.m. and her long-suffering husband and/or guests sometimes don't get to eat until 10:00 or even midnight. After moving from Manhattan to Queens, Powell has to scour various markets for ingredients and cart her food and wine home on the train or subway. A picky eater in childhood, she has to cook some really gross stuff (to me - hey, I don't even like snails or mussels). Brains, anyone? But she and hubby Eric "gamely" consume it all.

The not-well-off Powell spends a lot of money on expensive ingredients, she and her husband both gain weight on all that rich food (even as much as I love butter, oil and cream, I don't think I could have handled this diet), some nights she just doesn't feel like cooking - but usually does - and about five months into the project craves a simple salad.

She has as many whopping disasters and miserable failures as she does scrumptious successes and rousing triumphs. After the first nasty comment her blog receives, she explains that she had not been in possession of culinary expertise, but just "simply thought it might be good for me and hopefully entertaining for others to map my progress as not an accomplished, but a passionate, cook." She also adds that she probably slightly overemphasized the culinary disasters, finding them inherently more interesting to read (and write, I'm sure).

The blog, naturally, is not as finely edited as the book, and I don't mean just for spelling and grammar. (Potty mouth Julie!) But that makes it more real and more immediate, and must have been a delight to follow day by day. Apparently, Powell's blog is the first blog ever to be made into a book - and then a movie. Bon Appetit!


In the past few weeks we've had to say goodbye to a few really good men (and I'm not talking about Michael Jackson). This week I learned, with much sadness, about the death of Frank McCourt, best-selling author of "Angela's Ashes", "Teacher" and other books. McCourt is considered to be an Irish writer, but actually he was born in America. His family later returned to Ireland, where they suffered the grinding poverty depicted in "Angela's Ashes".

"Angela's Ashes" has been described as a book almost too painful to read. But I believe it is an essential read, especially for any American - or anyone - of Irish heritage.

I belong to, a website for book lovers (link on sidebar). In goodreads, members list and rate the books they've read. Prospective readers of those books can ask you, "Should I read this book?" I always give a resounding "Yes" to "Angela's Ashes", and also to another well-known book, Anne Frank's "The Diary of A Young Girl."

I'm going to add another strong recommendation, for a not-so-famous book: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zuzak. I've actually seen it on some goodreads' readers "Worst Book Ever Lists". Universally, they call it depressing.

I can see that a book narrated by Death about a little girl living in Nazi Germany could be a downer. Yes, the story of Liesel - the young collector of books not her own - is not a happy one, but that's no reason not to read this book - or any book that rings so true about the human condition and the enduring human spirit in times of desperate situations and unspeakable horrors.

Monday, July 20, 2009


The Pyrenees Mountains are home
to the Basques of France and Spain.
The night before Apollo 11 launched into space, David Brinkley, host of the NBC Evening News, remarked, "If this (the moon landing) is not a permanent and enduring event in history, then nothing is."
Most of us oldsters remember vividly where we were when we learned of momentous historical events like John Kennedy being shot (9th grade algebra class). Do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon on July 20, 1969? (OMG - 40 years ago today!) As for me, I was in France!
On July 14, 1969, two friends and I arrived in Pau. Tired and worn out after traveling via Eurailpass to this southwestern French city, we discovered it was Bastille Day. We were definitely re-energized by the feasting and fireworks celebrating the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789.
Just six days later, these same French celebrants happily joined in observing a historic event for us Americans (and the entire world) - the landing on the moon of Apollo 11 (or as it was known there, Apollo Onze).

Our first glimpse of the chateau, on Bastille night.
We came to Pau so I and fellow French student Jo could attend school at the Summer Universite de Bourdeaux et Toulouse. Mitch (Michelle), another UND student, stayed in Pau with us for a few days before boarding a train to her school in Germany. We were window shopping downtown one day when we began to be harassed by several French youths.
The little old shop owner shooed them away ("Nasty boys" seemed to be what she was saying) and invited us "petites Americaines" in for some Jurancon wine, the region's famous sweet white wine. She got us just tipsy enough so that we were giggling and lagging behind the group when we later toured the chateau, birthplace of King Henri IV (Henri de Bourbon, who promised the French "a chicken in the pot every Sunday"). Legend has it that Henri was christened with Jurancon, and we were certainly "baptized" with it that day.
The momentous moon landing happened just a few days after school began. I can't remember whether we saw TV coverage at the school, or in some restaurant/bar. I do remember, however, that the newspaper headline read "Ils sont sur la lune!" (They are on the moon.)
We had continued to visit Madame at her shop. (How I wish I could remember her name, but my travel journal - and that French newspaper - were lost when my home burned.) The day after the moon landing, we dropped by the shop. Madame and her friend - equally ancient and tiny - were discussing the merits of the American astronauts. "I like Neil Armstrong", said Madame, but she (pointing to her friend) LOVES Buzz Aldrin!"

Le Boulevard des Pyrenees, the best view in town
So that's my moon landing memory. Reminiscing about it reminded me of our days in France. I had never heard of Pau until the spring before when Jo and I, having won language scholarships, were choosing a university to attend. (Not everyone goes to the Sorbonne!)
Jo, Mitch and I traveled around Europe and other parts of France before landing in Pau. It was a wonderful place - Mediterranean, semi-tropical, with lots of palm trees and a magnificent view of the nearby Pyrenees Mountains. The entire time we were there, the air was permeated with the scent of flowers. I'm not sure what they were, but they were heavenly. That scent, and the smell of diesel (which I love) are definite sense memories of riding the bus to school every morning.
Pau, located in Basque country (I'd never heard of the Basques either) is a city located on two levels. The two are joined by a funiculaire (a funicular - or inclined - railway, on which tram cars on rails move up and down steep slopes or cliffs.)
Le Bon Roi Henri
After riding the funiculaire, Mitch, Jo and I met some sightseeing French sailors. It was all very innocent - just talking - but one, Daniel, gave me the red pompom from his hat. I kept it until I lost it in the fire as well.
The city of Pau may have been balmy and pleasant, but the accommodations were smelly and unpleasant. The university classes were held at the local boys' school, L'Ecole Normale. The bathrooms had no toilets, just impressions on the floor for feet. Yeah, we didn't go to the bathroom while we were at the school.
The girls stayed at a building that housed female teachers during the regular school year. We had little cubicles for rooms, with curtains drawn across the doors. The showers were cold and there were bedbugs in the beds. We always slept on top of the covers.
The meals at the school were generally awful too, especially the day I found a worm crawling across my slice of meat. There were two bottles of wine on each table, noon and evening. I had just turned 20 a few weeks before arriving at Pau - and had only sampled some beer in Germany and a bit of wine in France - but found myself drinking wine at every meal to wash down the nasty food (the only good menu item was pommes frites - French fries).

The pompoms on French sailors' hats
are interchangeable and held on with brass fasteners!

We had taken written placement exams our first day, and I was placed in the superior level, though I had taken less French than Jo. I was so lost in my classes, and hated them, especially my pronunciation class. A she-ogre with bad breath was always hissing in my ear, "Ca ne march pas! Ca ne march pas!" which I took to mean, "You really suck at pronunciation."
I finally asked to move to the moyen, or middle level. Even though the administrators told me I was too "modiste", they let me transfer, and thereafter I was much happier studying with Jo and the other students. However, Jo and I and our pals always skipped the boring afternoon lyceum programs. Instead, we explored the city - the shops, the supermarket, the swimming pool - and I think we probably learned a lot more French that way. We also ate a lot of sandwiches de jambon (ham) and drank a lot of warm Cokes.
It's been 40 years since I was in France and man first landed on the moon. So when will the first woman land on the moon? Oh, that's right, there's always been a lady on the moon.

Beautiful Pau

NOTE: I wrote this post last Thursday, before Walter Cronkite died. I vividly remember his superior coverage of America's first early ventures into space (and other momentous events, such as the assassination of JFK). He truly was "the most trusted man in America." Goodnight and Goodbye, Mr. Cronkite.
"And that's the way it is," Monday, July 20, 2009.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I first saw this painting on my friend Gemma's blog ("Gemma's House"). I fell in love with it and asked her to sell it to me. As it turns out, she gifted me with it. Thank you, Gemma!

I fell for this painting for its colors and because I immediately thought the girl portrayed was me. That was the color and length of my hair in my 20s, and I have always envisioned myself as a free spirit who would dance by the light of the moon.

Since Gemma is from Arizona, she was probably drawing her vision of some desert landscape. But when I look at it (especially after I received it), I see myself standing on our short-grass prairie with one of southwestern North Dakota's landmark buttes in the background. (It could be Black Butte near Regent.)

Do you see something else? I didn't see it at first - and Gemma DID NOT add it deliberately. Another reader of Gemma's blog spotted it. See it now? It's a hand - with the thumbnail on the left and the forefinger on the right, holding up the lady.

Somehow, unconsciously, Gemma gave this lady a hand to support her when she falters. Such are the powers of art! Gemma, I love it better in person - even without the moon and the first evening star (via the magic of computers, she darkened the edges and added the moon and star when she posted the picture.)

Looking at that girl in the painting who could be me, I wonder where that girl went. That girl who:

Danced by the light of the moon.

Read poetry aloud.

Wrote poetry.

Made snow angels in the park. At midnight.

Waded in a Colorado stream in her underwear (navy blue set that passed for a swim suit).

Wore bell bottom jeans.

Turned somersaults.

Wore chokers.

Did "the butterfly" mime.

Picked the petals off a daisy.

Had a black light.

Daydreamed about the Beatles.

Looked for shooting stars.

Watched for shapes in clouds.

Knew all the radio hit songs.

Had long, long hair and then cut it into a pixie haircut.

Was shy.

Dressed like a bohemian.

Stayed out all night talking and watched the sun come up.

Made things from macrame.

Wore a silver ring with fleurs-de-lys.

Discussed literature.

Went to avant garde films.

Flew a kite.

Sported a peace sign.

Clipped pretty, romantic pictures to put on my bulletin board.

Went to bonfires on the beach.

Chased fireflies.

Played Frisbee in the rain and mud.

Wore a floppy felt hat and a fringed suede jacket.

Had goals and dreams.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Armed with birthday money from Kristen, I was browsing the new hardcovers section at Barnes & Noble. I seldom go into B&N anymore, and if I do, it's only to browse - not buy.

I haven't stopped buying books - I don't think I could. I've just stopped buying NEW books. I gave up my B&N discount card some time ago. I come in to scout out books, then purchase them used on

But this visit I had some mad money, and I found a big fat book - 550 pages! On the cover of "The Forgotten Garden" is a painting of an old English cottage - very like the cottages I had recently seen in "Lark Rise to Candleford".

I opened the book and saw that the end papers were a reproduction of Arthur Rackham's brown-toned painting of faeries being blown about by a brisk autumn wind. Because of the cover and endpapers, I was nearly sold on the book right then and there. Reading the dust jacket flap completed the sale in my mind.

That was a few days ago, and I have finished the book. I heartily recommend it. It was all I expected it to be, and more: it's part Gothic mystery novel, set in Victorian and Edwardian England, and part modern mystery, set in present day Cornwall and Australia.

It's also part romance and part fairy tale. There are several actual fairy tales incorporated into the book, which is about - among other fascinating characters - "The Authoress", who is a writer of fairy tales, and a painter who illustrates fairy tales in the style of Rackham.

And - ta da! - it has a secret walled garden, much like Mary Lennox's secret garden in the much-loved book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In fact, the secret - or hidden - garden of the book is a homage (an homage?) to Ms. Burnett, who makes an appearance in the book as herself, a party guest at Blackwell Manor, the Montrachet family estate in Cornwall.

This book is nearly perfect, as a birthday book should be. I say nearly because it does skip around in time and place. At first it was a bit difficult to follow, not because I could not immediately sense the era or the setting, but because I got the girls/women confused. For this book follows the lives of four women of one family: Georgiana, Eliza, Nell and Cassandra. Read this book and you will love them all, and remember them for a long time.

"The Hidden Garden" starts with a four-year-old girl, later to be named Nell, found alone and abandoned on the docks after her ship has arrived in Australia from London. A dock worker and his wife "adopt" the girl. Only as an adult does she learn her true circumstances and, later, returns to England to discover who she is.

Nell comes close to unraveling the mystery, but has to stop searching to assume responsibility for her granddaughter, Cassandra. It is up to this granddaughter to travel to Cornwall and finally learn the circumstances of "Nell's" birth.

I had never heard of author Kate Morton before, but I've learned that she wrote another book, "The House at Riverton", a bestseller in her native Australia and in England. I'm off to locate a used copy of that book now!

"JOY OF A FALLEN LEAF" - Arthur Rackham

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Today, July 9th, is Kristen's 27th birthday. Happy Birthday to my Darling Daughter! The last time we were able to celebrate Kristen's birthday with her in person was her 21st birthday. She now lives in Virginia (metropolitan Washington, DC). It's been hard being away from her and seeing her so seldom (only at Christmas, usually). It's especially hard to be separated on the special days.

So today I celebrated the day by remembering the day of her birth, as much of it as I can. Because she was a footling breech, I had a scheduled Cesarean, so I wasn't in pain before the birth, and was awake for it, but shortly afterward (still during surgery), the saddle block anesthetic wore off, so the rest of the day was spent in a haze of pain.

Subsequent birthdays were much better for me, LOL! I looked through a bunch of early birthday party photos today. The photo above is of Kristen's first birthday, with me, her cousin Nick (second from left) and his friend John. I also made a large cake, and we have the requisite photos of her with a face full of chocolate cake. (We had no idea how to celebrate a first birthday! That evening we had another couple over for dinner and they brought her a card with a dollar. She, of course, had no idea what it was all about.)

This is her second birthday, at Grandma and Grandpa Fredericksen's house - Grandma and Grandpa spoiled her with many presents. Grandma Lil made an angel food cake with butter creme frosting. This was the traditional birthday cake in the Fredericksen Sr. family and I continued the tradition in our family.

From the third birthday on, I would make an angel food cake for the family, and get another cake for the party. The third birthday party featured a Smurf cake. This was the first birthday we invited a bunch of kids to.

For the fourth birthday, we went to Happy Joe's pizza and ice cream parlor. I don't know that I would do THAT again (I was the chauffeur/chaperon for all the half dozen kids who attended!) Kristen is sporting what I call her "Cheesy Grin", which she always produced when I told her to "Smile".

For the fifth birthday, we were back to celebrating at our house. It was a gorgeous day and we put the folding table out on the lower deck. I think the cake for this one was a "My Little Pony" ice cream cake. This is the only birthday we recorded with a video camera. Well, partially recorded. The "On" button was left on while the camera languished on the deck, and so we got a lot of "dead" film.
The little girl on the right in the photo had long, long dark hair and bangs too, and looked very much like Kristen. It so happened that they had the same tops, and sometimes, from the back, you couldn't tell one little girl from another.

We had a tropical theme for Kristen's sixth birthday. All the kids were asked to wear tropical type clothing, if they could, and bring swim suits. Once again, it was a beautiful day and the party was held outside. That's the nice thing about summer birthdays - you can fill up the kiddie pool or turn on the sprinkler and let them run and scream to their hearts' content.
Kristen, I hope you are having a wonderful day and received our presents.
All our Love,
Mom, Dad and Gracie

Friday, July 3, 2009


"COTTAGE NEAR WELLS" - Helen Allingham
How is your summer going? I can't believe June is already over and tomorrow is the Fourth of July!
After a bitterly cold and extremely snowy winter, flooding in the spring and unusually cool temperatures and torrential rains through the first two weeks of June, summer is finally here.
The prairie is as green as the hills of Ireland, the temperatures are balmy, the air is laden with the scents of my hardy shrub roses and the breezes are mere zephyrs. The mosquitoes have made their presence known only in the past few days.
"THE GIRL AT THE GATE" - Sir George Clausen
So far this summer I have marked my 60th birthday and observed my 35th wedding anniversary. I am still processing these two events and will mark them as milestones in a later post. Note that I did not write "celebrated". Dan forgot my birthday, so he has been in the dog house for a week.
Gracie is out of the dog house, as she has been very good lately. Now that the weather is nice she spends most of the time outdoors. She has worn paths all along the perimeters of the yard. There is Maggie the mutt to run the fence with on the north side, Daisy the golden doodle to bark at across the alley to the south, and Ollie the golden retriever and his springer spaniel pal to sniff noses with at the west fence.
Gracie also has established sentry posts at the two east gates which face the street. When the patio door is open, she can spot a passerby at the southeast gate, tear into the house to view him or her passing the living room window, tear to the bedroom to view that passing, then tear out of the house to the northeast gate for one final look before the person passes out of sight. All this is accompanied either by barking or else by a nervous, agitated moaning which I find hilarious.

Note the older lady on the left spreading linens on the hedge. (Click to enlarge.)
And me, I'm reading like a fiend and have been going through books at a rate of one every day or two. If the afternoon is fair and Dan is working late, I can sit on the deck and read until 9 p.m. with only a break for a sandwich. Occasionally I will lift my eyes to watch the sun slanting through the greenery, listen to the neighborhood kids or check on Gracie. When she has tired herself out from tearing around the yard, she naps on the deck by my feet.
In my efforts to be thrifty, I have re-discovered the joys of finding second-hand books. I can usually find a book for $3.00 or less at a used bookstore, and thrift store books are even cheaper - as low as 50 cents.
In recent years, I have been reading mostly trade paperbacks. I know I will seldom be disappointed with a trade, and I still look for them at the above-mentioned places, as well as rummage sales. But I've also discovered books I would have otherwise overlooked. Two such books I just finished reading are "Thale's Folly" by Dorothy Gilman and "Shadows on the Ivy" by Lea Wait.
"Thale's Folly" is written by the author of the Mrs. Pollifax series, which I have known about forever but never read. Because I enjoyed this book so much, I will be looking for a Mrs. Pollifax book. "Shadows on the Ivy" is "An Antique Print Mystery", in which the main character is a antiques dealer who specializes in old prints. At the time this book was published, Wait had also written two other antique print mysteries, "Shadows on the Coast of Maine" and "Shadows at the Fair." I'll be looking for those too.

"THE EDGE OF THE WOODS" - Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes
Last December, when I was ordering books for Christmas gifts on, I found an inexpensive hardcover copy of "The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford" and snapped it up. I already had the Penguin Classic paperback of LRTC, but I just had to order the illustrated copy because it features some of the best Victorian paintings of a bygone era. (All of the paintings on this post are from the book.) When the book arrived, I put it aside, as I knew this was a book to savor in the summertime.
LRTC is actually a trilogy of three books written by Flora Thompson: "Lark Rise", "Over to Candleford" and "Candleford Green". The illustrated edition condenses the second and third books, but since book one is my favorite, this did not bother me. (What does bother me is that the paintings - and actual black and white photographs - aren't attributed until the end of the book, and since there are dozens of them, one has to continue flipping to the back page to find the information.)
"LEAVING HOME" - Henry Herbert La Thague
(Above: People usually walked everywhere. The rare sight of a pony and trap attracted many onlookers!)
LRTC depicts the life in the English countryside in the bucolic, pastoral days before the Industrial Revolution changed the face of England forever. And thus its attraction for me, an Anglophile who is drawn to those times. The frontispiece of the book calls Lark Rise "Perhaps the most vivid, detailed and immediate portrait of country life ever written." The book is largely autobiographical, although Flora calls herself Laura in the book, and has changed the name of her Oxfordshire village of Juniper to Lark Rise.
In LRTC, the cottagers are poor, but not impoverished. Thompson describes the children as sturdy and healthy, though few (unlike Laura) are ever given milk to drink. She also describes the inhabitants as almost universally happy. (I did take her writings with a grain of salt. Thompson wrote the book when she was older, and age may have lent a rose-colored tinge to her memories.)
"GATHERING FIREWOOD" - Helen Allingham

In addition to the text, paintings and photos, the pages include old woodcuts, and facsimiles of pressed flowers, herbs and leaves. The paintings of Helen Allingham, perhaps the best known English cottage/garden painter, are heavily featured. These cottagers, with very limited resources, grew front-yard gardens more beautiful than we modern-day gardeners could hope to imagine.
Most likely, Thompson's descriptions of the homes, gardens, local flora and fauna and landscapes are what drew me to the book in the first place, but she also outlines the daily life of the villagers as they go about farming, housekeeping and cooking, visiting, celebrating holidays and going to "town". She also peppers the book with interesting "characters" of all sorts.

"THE MOWERS" - Sir George Clausen

I would have liked to find more paintings to illustrate this post, but searched the Internet in vain. With the exception of Helen Allingham paintings, the publishers must have used works by lesser-known painters, or else lesser-known works of famous Victorian painters. I would have loved to have included "The Lacemaker", showing a young girl plying a craft now all but forgotten, and "Scaring Birds", a funny painting of a young boy trying to smoke out pesky birds from garden or field.

"MAY DAY GARLANDS" - T. F. Marshall

I wish I would have been able to see England in that long lost time, to have tea with the cottage women, walk the woods for wildflowers, sit by a pure babbling brook or visit with Old Sally, Miss Lane and Sir Timothy. I would like to make May Day wreaths with the children and romp with them as they spent all day outdoors (unlike our kids), and watch the grain being reaped and harvested by hand in the haze of a late summer day.

Thompson was called "a dunce" by her country school teacher, but, as the book jacket says, "Flora possessed the literary gifts, the eye and memory, for everyday detail and the intimacies of experience, which would one day combine to produce this gentle masterpiece."
Lark Rise was made into a miniseries by the BBC, but I have not viewed it. I understand there is also a "Lark Rise Recipe Book" with accompanying "Cook's Notebook".

Thompson as a young woman
Flora Thompson was born in 1877. LRTC is set mostly in the 1880s and 1890s, as Laura grows from child to young woman. As the books progress, the scope enlarges from the village to encompass the hamlet, setting of the the village school, and the market town, where the post office was located. (Like Laura, Thompson went to work at the post office at age 14.)
During this remarkable time, there was a great transition in the English countryside. Home life, methods of schooling, work and social interactions all changed drastically in the last years of the 19th century.
Thompson married young and later wrote mass-market fiction to help support her family. She wrote the LRTC trilogy while in her 60s, from 1939-1943. These were the worst years of WWII for British people. I think that it is no coincidence, therefore, that Thompson may have romanticized that lost world of rural Victorian England. But I also think she was the keenest of observers with the strongest of memories, and well worth reading.