About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Book one of Ken Follett's Century Trilogy begins on June 22, 1911, coronation day for King George V at Westminster Abbey in London. To the northwest of London in the mining town of Aberowen, South Wales, 13 year old Billy Williams went down in the pit for the first time. On nearby Ty Gwyn (Welsh for White House) estate, Earl Fitzherbert and his family live in wealth and priviledge by licensing the mineral rights to rich coal seams beneath the Fitzherbert farm lands. Fall of Giants is the story of five families--American, German, Russian, English and Welsh-- intertwined and conflicted by class, ideology, nationality,and world views in the leadup to World War I and its initial conflicts. ("Barmouth Evening" by Welsh artist Christopher David Williams, 1873-1934)

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should Be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may by your meme. To play, just click on Miz B's link above for the simple rules.

Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett

December 24, 1914, battle trenches near Ypres on France and Belgium border, Welsh Major Earl Fitzherbert:

"He spotted two sergeants, one British and one German, deep in conversation. He tapped the Brit on the shoulder. 'You!' he said. 'What the devil are you doing?'

The man answered in the flat guttural accent of the Cardiff docks. 'I don't know how it happened,sir, exactly. Some of the Jerries got up on their parapet, unarmed, and shouted, ''Happy Christmas,' then one of our boys done the same, then they started walking towards one another and before you could say chips everyone was doing it.' " p. 384

Book Description: As with this description of the WW I Christmas Truce of 1914, Follett tells the stories of five very different families as they live through the drama and separations of the First World War and the corresponding fight for worker rights and women's suffrage. Follett commented in an interview that his approach to historical fiction was to not take liberties with historical facts for the sake of advancing the story. In actuality, he had eight historical scholars of the period fact check his writing before publication. This attention to detail adds great richness and believeability to the stories of individual characters.

When I came to this Christmas Truce account in Fall of Giants, I was delighted. It reminded me of the 2005 Academy Award-nominated film Joyeux Noel which tells the powerful story of other soldiers who spontaneously decided to lay down their arms--for just one night--and walk out to meet each other in No Man's Land between the trenches and wish each other a "Merry Christmas." Here's the trailer:

Another example of how literature, art, music, and drama ties all the great stories together and helps us make sense of it all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


So today is the perfect day for a reading marathon. Serious rainstorms are predicted for the entire day. The house is clean and in order, laundry done, taxes filed, no visitors expected. Every one's errands are taken care of, including delivery of fresh strawberries to my sister so she can bake Aunt Draxie's old-fashioned strawberry shortcake for her Easter dinner (yellow cake split in layers with sugared strawberry filling and then the whole cake covered with egg white meringue frosting). Willie the pit bull is snoring on his bed behind my chair and, if luck holds out, will not want to go out in the rain for even a short walk. To repeat, a perfect reading day.

Here's the question though: do I keep on with this book even though I'm 56 pages in and still not feeling the love? Meltzer's fiction was recommended to me by a friend who'd seen the History Channel Brad Meltzer's Decoded programs where he reveals the background true stories for his fiction. The Inner Circle deals with a theft and murder in the National Archives. The idea is intriguing, but I must not be in the mood for this kind of story. So far the main characters seems "lite". So, I think I'll quit on Meltzer for today.

Instead, surely there should be something in this stack that's worthy of a rainy day? Perhaps Claude and Camille Monet's love story after just seeing a fresh new Impressionist exhibit last weekend at the Speed Art Museum. Or, Rutherford's Russka, a sprawling historical novel of this country since the beginning of time? Or, Sebastion Faulks' A Week in December about the current economic upheaval?

Moving over to stack 2, I could choose from the new Maeve Binchy that I intended to read in March. Or, The King's Speech diaries, or some romance set in Italy and Ireland. Or, still more Scandinavian crime writing in preparation for my August travels to Sweden, Norway and Denmark? But, after considering everything in these well-stocked TBR stacks, I think it will be the first book in Ken Follett's new trilogy, Fall of Giants. I read a few pages of it last night and was immediately drawn into the story and characters. Should see me through this rainy holiday weekend quite well.

What about you? If you start reading something and it leaves you cold, do you put it aside? Or, do you press on to the end even though you're not liking the journey? For me, life is too short and there's too many important books to be read to keep trying to finish one just because you started it. But whatever your reading style--enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez

First there was Kabul Beauty School, Deborah Rodriguez's factual account of moving from the U.S. to Kabul, Afghanistan as an almost middle-aged woman looking for a new life challenge and work other than that of mother to grown sons. In the U.S. Rodriguez was a beauty salon owner and operator. Once in Kabul she was drawn into the plight of Afghan women--their struggles to support their families and enjoy some independence from husbands, fathers and brothers. She also saw that Afghan women loved and enjoyed being beautiful even though their famous beauty must be hidden behind the veil in public. Through trial and error--and sometimes plain bravado--she was able to establish the Kabul Beauty School where women could train to be beauticians and offer the Afghan style of beauty treatments as well as learning to be good business women. Now in A Cup of Friendship, Rodriguez turns to fiction with a twist. Still in Kabul, but now it's a coffee shop.

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should Be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may by your meme. To play, just click on Miz B's link above for the simple rules.

A Cup of Friendship, a Novel
by Deborah Rodriguez

"Yazmina began to sob--for the baby that was doomed before it was born, and for Halajan and how, as independent as she was, she could not move mountains, after all. . .With sadness and optimism she wept for all the daughters of Afghanistan." p. 140

Book Description: Sunny, a 38 year old American who's made her share of bad choices and mistakes, has finally found her niche operating a very popular coffee shop for the wide variety of expatriate civilians and military, as well as local Afghans, who live and work in Kabul and surroundings after the war. Sunny operates the shop with the help of several Afghans including her landlady Halajan, a daringly independent woman, and her son Ahmet who is locked in the traditional Muslim male head of the family role. And then a beautiful young , pregnant widow Yazmina ends up on their doorstep after escaping a couple of war lords to whom she was sold by her uncle for his drug debts. Her plight and the efforts of the coffee shop patrons to help her challenges the established beliefs of everyone involved. Will the bonds of friendship be stronger than a culture that accepts violence and subjugation of its women as the norm?

If, like me, you are fascinated by the Middle East and all its contrasts, Kabul Beauty School and A Cup of Friendship will give you a revealing look behind the scenes at the culture and day to day life of Afghanistan. In particular, you will learn to appreciate the daily struggles of Afghan women and their determination to survive in a sometimes unspeakably violent culture.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Old Dogs Children and Watermelon Wine"

This morning I'm thinking about some poignant lyrics written by Tom T. Hall, Kentucky's singing storyteller. In "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine" Tom T, who wasn't known for turning down good whiskey, writes about meeting an "old gray, black gentleman" cleaning up a Miami bar while he was "pouring blended whiskey down." The bar was empty, so the old gentlemen sat down and shared his thoughts on what's worthwhile in life:

". . .'Ain't but three things in this world that's worth a solitary dime. But old dogs and children and watermelon wine.' He said, 'Women think about themselves, when men-folk ain't around. And friends are hard to find when they discover that you're down.' He said, 'I tried it all when I was young and in my natural prime. Now it's old dogs and children and watermelon wine.'

'Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes. God bless little children while they're still too young to hate.' . . . "

Right now I'm worried about my Old Dog. By rough calculation, since Willie was a rescued puppy, I think my old boy will be 15 years old in September. He's been extremely healthy and steady all these years, needing to visit the vet only for yearly checkups. Every day he's eager for a walk whether a short one to the newspaper box at the end of our driveway or a longer stroll through the parks. Every morning he dines on his ration of two beggin' strips and a milkbone. If he's not particularly hungry, he buries his milkbone under the sofa cushions for later. Every evening he cleans up his bowl of dry kibble. And he still has room for the odd bite of egg yolk (which I can't stand), toast spread with nutella, or a bit of cheese and apple.

That's all changed in the last couple of weeks. He's not eating his food or drinking much water. He breathes heavily on walks and, in general, just seems unsteady on his old props. Before, if he wanted to lie beside me on the sofa he just hopped up there. Now he has to take several run 'n gos and sometimes just decides that it's not worth the effort. This morning I noticed that his collar slides easily over his ears. And he's lumpy as a bad mattress--some of the tumors are large and growing fast. And he's distant, going off by himself and getting confused.

I am scared. I know what it means when dogs get bony heads and too many lumps to count. Cancer. So, this week I'll take my Old Dog in to the vet for his annual checkup. But I'm not expecting great news. Regardless of the vet's verdict, we'll just concentrate on enjoying the time we have left because like Tom T says, this Old Dog has been worth every solitary dime--and more.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Henning Mankell's "The Troubled Man"

Henning Mankell, one of Sweden's most prolific crime writers, has delivered the final Kurt Wallander mystery. In this tenth novel following the career of the brusque, effective and, at times, controversial police inspector in the small coastal town of Ystad, Sweden. In this series finale, Wallander is 60 years old, in poor health, lonely, and worried about his future. He struggles to maintain good relationships with family as always. He is in frequent conflict with colleagues in the Ystad police department. Even with all his shortcomings, he still knows how to get to the bottom of the most challenging case. In reading this novel, the question is: who is "The Troubled Man"? The main suspect in the crime? Wallander himself? Or, both?

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme. If you want to play, just click on Miz B's link above for the very simple rules.

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

"The only thing that struck him right now as being an incontestable fact was that Hakan von Enke had stood face-to-face with him in a side room during a birthday party on Djursholm and seemed to be deeply troubled. That's where it all began, Wallander thought. It began with the troubled man." pp. 207-8

Book Description: In Stockholm a retired, high ranking naval officer disappears on a routine daily walk. Soon thereafter, the officer's wife disappears also. The investigation falls under Stockholm police jurisdiction. Wallander is on vacation/sick leave at his home outside Ystad. In typical Wallander fashion he becomes involved in this case because the presumed victims are his daughter's future in-laws. The investigation leads back to Sweden's involvement in the Cold War and suspected espionage activities involving submarine maneuvers within Sweden's maritime borders.

Mankell's Kurt Wallander mysteries were first adapted into a Swedish television series. This highly acclaimed production was then adapted into a PBS Masterpiece Mystery series starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. From the beginning, I was drawn to the series theme song "Nostalgia" by Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo. Here she performs the song in one of the setting for "Sidetracked" from the first season. The song captures the Wallander character.

Friday, April 1, 2011

First of the Month - Spring Greening

For the past four months I've been studying Kentucky skies, on the lookout for photo opportunities that capture the current season. In January I discovered an exciting blog photography meme started by Jan at Murrieta 365 . This meme appealed to me because I need to work on taking better photos, which do a lot to enliven and illustrate blog posts. Here's how it works: Jan is calling her new meme First of the Month. Here are her directions: "The goal is to capture one thing repeatedly on the first day of each month. It can be a landscape, a person, an animal, a project; whatever your focus is fine. It can be a record of where you are each first day of the month." Interesting exercise, right? I decided to photograph Kentucky skies. So, after a week of unseasonably cold, wet weather and gloomy skies with the occasional snow flurry, here you have Spring Greening on April 1. These trees are huge maples in my neighbor's yard. I love the soft yellow-green new growth against the pale blue spring sky: I could have shared photos of dazzling pink saucer magnolia blooms or white flurries of Bradford pears or even sprays of brilliant yellow forsythia against the spring sky. But being able to look up at this subtle green growth and see the sky among the still bare almost bare branches says springtime in Kentucky. If you'd enjoy seeing some more beautiful photography from all over and on many subjects--Norway to Australia--just click on Jan's web page for a list of other First of the Month Players.