Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Long Time No See

I should have known this would happen. I haven't posted anything here for a while and I could have predicted it. You see, it's bowl season which annually sees me glued to the tube for the duration. I love college football (basketball too so don't expect much during the Big Dance in March) and bowl games used to be manageable. There were only four back in the day; now there are 31! I don't watch all of them, but probably too many.

I'll also have a problem during the Olympics in February. Being a sports fan does have its drawbacks these days. We went to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and I'll never forget the feeling of family we fans had. We met people from all over the states, sometimes seeing them at several events - everyone seemed to feel like we were all good friends. We won't go to the Olympics again because the ticket situation has gotten out of hand, but I do enjoy watching on television.

The odd thing is that both my mother and my mother-in-law were huge sports fans, rabid actually, but my father and my father-in-law as well as my husband can sort of take sports or leave them. So, while I watch all these games, Dave gets plenty of sleep in front of the TV set. Occasionally he wakes up, asks who's winning or who's playing for that matter, and then settles in for another nap. Life of the party, my husband.

All of this means sports is dominating my life at the moment, but I'm not so far gone that I don't know about the new would-be terrorist with the makings of a bomb in his underwear. I think we should all be patient with screening at airports, but I don't really believe we can be safe from this type of person. We're all in danger all the time, from various threats, but we can't let fear rule our lives. All we can do is watch for danger but enjoy every moment of our lives because you never know how long your life will be.

Having said that, maybe a good New Year's Resolution would be to live life to the fullest and keep nagging worries out of our heads. Life is too short to just throw it away. Happy New Year to everyone. I'll be back in January.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: The Widow of the South

This book has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while patiently awaiting the day when my mood would dictate reading it. Jeez Louise, what was I waiting for? This is the best novel I've read in years.

I love novels based on real people and real events. The Widow of the South was a real person, Carrie McGavock of Franklin, Tennessee whose large home was near the scene of the battle of Franklin. I knew quite a bit about the battle because Confederate General Patrick Cleburne died there and I had read his biography several years ago. Since I'm a Civil War buff, this was right up my alley.

Apparently this was author Robert Hicks' first novel. I certainly hope it isn't his last. He tells the story through the viewpoint of several characters, one to a chapter. That makes it sound messy and disconnected, but it isn't, and actually I can't think of a better way than to see it through each person's eyes and thoughts.

The day of the battle the McGavock house was commandeered as a hospital and for the next few days and weeks life was a blur of caring for horribly wounded Confederate soldiers. The household linens and even underwear were ripped up for bandages. Carrie's husband John organized hauling water to the house and carrying dead men and amputated limbs outside. There they were stacked like so much lumber awaiting burial or removal. The survivors later referred to Carrie as an angel for the way she comforted and cared for them; they in turn changed her life forever.

Each character is drawn so beautifully that when I came to the final chapter where there were pictures of them, I knew who they were without the captions. Carrie is the main character of course, but we also get to know Mariah, her slave since childhood and lifelong best friend. I'm not sure whether one character in the story is real or not. Carrie is fascinated by him and falls in love. As a respectable southern woman she remains true to her husband, but she spends many hours with Zachariah Cashwell and through their talks, they both learn much about themselves and life.

I won't tell more of the story because I don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read it, but I do urge you to read this book if you haven't already discovered it. This is a treasure.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

To my followers and all of the other people who read my blog from time to time, I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. If you're traveling, this will require much patience but I hope you don't have to cancel your plans because of the weather. If you're staying at home like we are, be thankful to stay in a warm, cozy house by the tree and maybe a fireplace.

We used to go away to someplace sunny and warm for the holidays. I remember our last holiday trip to Panama City Beach, FL. It was chilly (only one day warm enough for swimsuits) but we had a great time. New Year's Eve everyone appeared on the beach or their balconies at midnight to blow horns, set off fireworks, and generally celebrate. We saw weddings on the beach on that trip, and a plane went by trailing a marriage proposal for a couple in our hotel. So much fun.

Too often though a holiday trip consisted of dodging storms and paying higher prices. Now we stay home. I have no family and Dave's family lives far away, so we have a special meal and just enjoy a whole day at home doing whatever we like. It appears we'll have freezing rain turning to rain here - good day to stay inside by the stove.

Whatever you do, enjoy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Medicare Drug Plan's Donut Hole

A headline caught my attention this morning. It said that Democrats are committed to filling in the donut hole in the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Oh to think it could happen! Then I see they are discussing filling in $500 worth now and the rest by 2019.

My husband and I fall into the donut hole every year. By the end of the year Dave has crawled back out of it, but I haven't. Thus, when I ordered an inhaler I need to stay alive, the cost for a 90 day supply would have been nearly $800. I put a hold on it since I have just enough to get by until Jan. 1 when I will lift the hold. Thankfully we don't have a deductible so as we begin a new year I can get what I need.

I've discussed the problem with my pulmonologist and he said my only option is to take a chance on not using my inhalers. Since I'd like to live many years yet, I don't see that as an option. Meanwhile our total drug costs are soaring because we both have chronic diseases that require daily medication.

I see so many articles about health care reform that turn out to be speculation about what will happen that I've actually stopped reading them. All I can do is cross my fingers that a reform plan passes that will help not only us but all the people who can't afford health insurance at all. I've written to senators, congressmen, and the president and called too. Now I sit and wait and hope.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Malice in the Highlands by Graham Thomas

At this time of year many of us like to read what other bloggers have called "comfort reads." Some go back to old favorites; I am drawn to books that are set in places I love. That's why I picked up Malice in the Highlands, a mystery set in my beloved Scottish Highlands.

The hero is a New Scotland Yard detective who occasionally retreats to an inn in the highlands for salmon fishing and an ongoing contest with a Scottish detective as to who will catch the largest fish. His wife stays in London, unable to understand that he gets burned out sometimes and that this restores him. No sooner does he arrive for this particular vacation, though, than a body is found in the river. The inn sits at the edge of an estate owned by an American who has an agreement with the innkeeper that guests can fish in the river on the estate. However, the body turns out to be that American.

Detective-Chief Superintendent Erskine Powell has brought along a friend who recently had been despondent hoping to restore his spirits as well. The friend appears to have a wonderful time fishing, while Powell spends his time trying to solve the murder, frustrated that the whole thing seems to have been dumped on him.
There are several suspects, twists and turns of plot, and a surprising end. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and Thomas' descriptions of the area. I could almost feel I was there.

This is an old book, from 1998, but perhaps your library has a copy. If you love Scotland as I do, it's worth the time to look for it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Celebrities with Feet of Clay

The huge media hoo-ha over Tiger Woods' car accident and subsequently many women crawling out of the woodwork to say they had affairs with him is a cautionary tale for all of us (including myself) about attributing some kind of super-human qualities to celebrities.

I like to think I'm realistic enough to know famous people are just as human as the rest of us, and that they're subject to a horde of temptations most of us aren't - or can't afford. Yet I'm occasionally disappointed to find that someone I admire has a tendency to think with the wrong part of his anatomy.

The thing that doesn't ring true in this case, as more and more women look for their moment in the spotlight, is why did it take this accident to bring Tiger's "transgressions" to light? If he was having affairs, wouldn't someone have gone to the media before now? I mean Tiger has tons of money and the only reason I can think of for someone to publicly claim an affair with him would be for momentary notoriety and money.

Speaking of which, why has "notoriety" become something to be admired in the past few years? I know I'm a frustrated English teacher or something, but misuse of words like this really annoys me. Is it a reluctance to say, "Hey, I'm famous!" Since when have celebrities been reluctant to say that?

Anyway, back to celebrities and their feet of clay, I do wish the media would find something else to write about and talk about. Tiger is probably wishing someone else would do something to divert their attention as much as I am. Let Tiger and Elin sort this out on their own, please, so we can have some media coverage of important stuff - like football. :-)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Charles Kuralt's Life on the Road

I've just read another of my booksale finds. I think we all remember Charles Kuralt either from his "On the Road" series on CBS or from his 15 years as host of "Sunday Morning" also on CBS, or hopefully not for the scandal after his death in 1997 when it was revealed that although married, he had had a long-term affair with another woman. I really don't care about the affair; I care that for many years he educated and entertained us with the fascinating stories of Mr. and Mrs. Average American.

This book is amusing, as expected, but also relates moving stories from his coverage of the Vietnam War, and there is a story about a Russian dentist who was a POW in WWII befriended by American POW's that brought me to tears.

One great story near the end relates his trip hundreds up miles up in the Andes in Peru to meet a CBS producer. He was late and couldn't contact the man so he drove all the pitch black night on a narrow curving dirt road in a rental car. At 2 a.m. a cable broke to the accelerator and he had no way to fix it so he tied it in a knot. His dilemna then was that the car went at about 55 mph around sharp curves with horrifying drop-offs. I won't tell anymore; I'd much rather you'd find the book and read it the way he wrote it.

My mother always loved the nature piece at the end of the Sunday morning show and I loved watching it with her. Now I know how they found those places and made the films.

I was surprised to discover that Kuralt and the crew hated traveling in the motor home for "On the Road." They had tire problems, engine problems, and couldn't sleep in the RV so after two months they always stayed in motels and ate in restaurants. The only reason they kept the RV was that it was a good place to keep their equipment.

His pet peeves about travel are funny and so true. For instance, he traveled with a 100 watt light bulb because, as I've learned, in about 98% of motel rooms the lighting is abysmal, but he needed to read and/or work. Hear, hear! You'll love the story of the night he had to stay in a flea bag hotel because everyplace else was full, and then the fire trucks came.

Well, I could go on and on but he tells these stories as only Charles Kuralt could and I recommend you try to find a copy of this 1990 book.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Media Hooked on Wrong Side of White House Crashers

Yes, the "lady in red" and her husband are an attractive couple who for some unknown reason think they should be "stars." However, so far the media has focused on the wrong issue here. The real issue is the failure of White House security to keep them from entering and shmoozing with actual guests and the president.

I shudder to think what would have happened if this strange couple had access to anthrax for instance, or sarin, or plastic explosives. Sure they went through the security gate but powder doesn't show up on those things. When I saw the picture of her shaking hands with President Obama, I nearly choked. She could have had anything in her hands.

Now that they've had their 15 minutes (and more) of fame, let's tighten security to keep the folks in the White House safe. There are invitations and guest lists for a reason and just because people look the part doesn't mean they should be there.

Unfortunately this is one of the problems with the media. They get sidetracked too easily by celebrity. When the media loses sight of the important issues, so does the average person.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm Thankful for So Many Things

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about the blessings in my life. It's been a very hard year for Dave and me but still we have so many things to be thankful for.

First, I'm thankful for my husband Dave. I didn't meet him until I was 34 and now we've been together for 34 years. When I met him, I had pretty much given up on finding the person meant especially for me. I'm from Illinois and he's from Maine, but fortunately I moved to Maine, signed up for classes at the local community college, and there he was. All these years later I still wake up every day thanking my lucky stars that we have each other.

I'm thankful for our home. We live in a rural area of PA in a house built in 1861 on 16 1/4 acres of beautiful land. We have a wonderful view of a mountain valley and the sunsets here are heart-stopping gorgeous. Dave's business is 30 yards from the house and I'm retired so we're together all the time which suits us very well.

I'm thankful for the wonderful memories we have of trips, people we've met or funny things we've seen people do, restoring a little house in NJ ourselves many years ago when we were known by our neighbor as Bozo Construction Co., family, and events we have attended. We miss our parents terribly but have such great memories since we were both blessed with the best parents you could hope to have.

I'm thankful for wildlife and the neighbors' dogs. I love animals and since we don't have pets, I love watching deer, foxes, birds, even woodchucks who dig holes in our yard. And I can spoil the neighbors' dogs when they come to swim in our pond. We have bears in the area, though I've never been lucky enough to see one, and reliable sightings of mountain lions nearby.

Another thing I'm thankful for will probably sound funny: college football and basketball. I've always believed it's illegal to grow up in Illinois as I did unless you love basketball. However, professional basketball isn't a team sport anymore - just me, me, me - so I only like to watch college teams. We have season tickets to Binghamton Univ. basketball and this year isn't so great for them but I look forward to every game.

I'm also thankful for the book bloggers I've discovered from all over the world, books, time to read, and old friends. I have a much better life than I sometimes remember.

So near the end of a difficult year

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decision on Afghanistan

When I was a young child, my mom (and probably yours) always said I could be anything I wanted to be, even the president of the U.S. Well, thank heaven that didn't come true!

Unless you're a diehard hawk, wouldn't the decision about Afghanistan keep you up night after night and consume every waking minute? If you send more troops, or even if you don't, you've sent thousands of our young men and women into harm's way. What happens in that country in the future depends to a large extent on your decision.

I'm sure I couldn't handle that decision and many others the president must make. No matter what he decides, too, probably at least half of the American people and who knows how many in the world will be outraged. We should think about the load on his shoulders more often. Sure we have checks and balances, he isn't a dictator after all, but in the end he is the most powerful man in the world and what he does affects the entire world. What an unbelievable responsibility!

Regardless of who holds that office, I think we should all realize exactly what it is that turns a president's hair gray and ages him during his term of office, and thus be a bit more forgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Must See Movie: "Blind Side"

After all the hype and the predictions that Sandra Bullock would be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "Blind Side," we saw the movie anyway (don't trust hype) and it wowed us. This is based on the true story of Michael Oher, who plays for the Baltimore Ravens, which makes the story even more poignant. I read today that Oher objects to the fact that the book and movie portray him as unintelligent. Actually he was uneducated, a very different thing, but this is really his story and one that should be heard.

Michael was born to a crack addict who wasn't even certain who his father was. He was taken away from her at the age of seven and lost touch with his brothers as he was shuffled from foster home to foster home. Finally a good-hearted man who had let Michael sleep on his couch talked to a coach at a Christian school who got him admitted, and thus out of the projects. At that point he was a 6'5" giant of a young black man.

His life turned around when a wealthy white family took him in, bought him clothes, hired a tutor to help him catch up academically and, most important, loved him. The scenes where he is learning how to play football are really funny. His new family includes a teenage girl and her young brother. The boy nearly steals the show. When they give him a room with a bed, he says matter-of-factly that he never had a bed before. Yet this man who has such good reason to be angry isn't. He doesn't dwell on the past; he's happy and grateful to his new family.

He graduated from Ole Miss and was drafted by the Ravens. His family is very proud of what he's accomplished, and he relates that when the wonderful white woman who took him in told him she loved him when he was 18 years old, that was the first time anyone had ever said that to him.

This movie is heartwarming, funny, and wise. If it doesn't put you in the proper frame of mind for the holidays, you should get yourself to a hospital STAT - you don't have a heart.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Sarah Palin Again!

Just when we thought we didn't have to hear about every move Sarah Palin was making every single second of every day, here she is again promoting her new book which I certainly will not read. This woman has an ego the size of Alaska and boy is it being fed now. People are actually camping out overnight to be sure to get her autograph on her book.

The publishers are the real winners here; they're making a fortune. Publishing isn't the successful venture it used to be so I don't begrudge them the well-earned money. It's the constant press attention Palin's getting that drives me nuts.

Meanwhile her erstwhile son-in-law-to-be is making a complete jerk of himself trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame, and Palin is happily bashing him while making smarmy remarks about how he has an open invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. Pulease!

I think maybe it's time for me to take a vacation from the news until this feeding frenzy dies down. Maybe someone would like to pay for me to take a vacation to Aruba or someplace. I'd write an excellent travel article - I promise!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love

I don't know about the brotherly love part, but I know I love Philadelphia. My husband Dave and I go there several times a year for medical visits and ballgames. I used to be a Cubs fan but the Phillies have grown on me, and a Bears fan but the Eagles have grown on me despite their hiring of Michael Vick. We like the history, the river, the lights of the city after dark, the neighborhoods, everything except the confusing traffic signs.

We've just returned from a couple days there to attend a Parkinson's conference. I had printed out a Google map because we were staying near the stadium and going to the conference near the airport. Like most internet maps, this was one a doozy. We spent much of our time lost, but we got to see more of the city than usual because of it.

At the conference we were like two sponges absorbing all the information. Dave has had Parkinson's for quite a long time (diagnosed about four years ago but actually had it for many years before that). These meetings encourage us as we learn about new gadgets to make life easier and new advances in knowledge about the disease. Talking to others with PD helps as well. The topic this time was non-motor symptoms. We learned so much.

I'm a great believer in being as informed as possible about health issues and seeking the best care available. I have an advantage in that I was a medical transcriptionist so I understand medical terminology, but anyone can stay informed by contacting organizations and following news on websites such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

William Least Heat-Moon

A year or two ago I discovered William Least Heat-Moon's book, "River-Horse: Across America by Boat," which is just what it seems, an attempt to cross America by boat. I loved this adventure because of his descriptions and his storytelling ability. It's said that everyone has a story. This writer must be an excellent listener; people he meets from all walks of life tell him their own story and that of the place he finds them. I've been watching for his books at book sales ever since.

I'm reading him out of order but it simply doesn't matter. I just finished reading "PrairyErth," a book I thought would appeal to me A) because William Least Heat-Moon wrote it, and B) because I grew up in Illinois. Actually the book is about Chase County, Kansas. Just that one county. I can best describe it by telling you it is 624 pages long and not a dull page in the book.

William (as I'll call him to save time) divided the Chase County into 16 grids and wrote a section about each section. It took me a long time to read this long book because the melody of his writing makes me read it slowly in order to savor his prose. He spent time in the county over a period of several years, getting to know the people, the history, the topography. He sought out the answers to puzzling features, investigated mysteries, and hiked a good portion of the land which, as he reminds us, is not as flat as people think Kansas is.

He has a wonderful sense of humor. One delightful passage is from a night he spent walking around one of his grids trying to see it in a different way and thus sort of get a handle on it. He rested in the grass at one point, listening to an owl, watching shooting stars, and feeling a grasshopper land on his leg. As he walked on a car pulled up driven by a sheriff's deputy who wondered if he had trouble. Learning it was just that "writer fella" who was widely considered to be about a half bubble off plumb, he drove on. When William was driving back to his motel, he heard a sudden scrabbling noise and saw a mouse dash across the dash :-) and then sit on the back of the passenger seat. A mouse at eye level freaked him out and sent him on another adventure trying to get rid of it. It's really fun.

I was kind of frustrated being stuck on one book for so long, but no way would I deny myself the pleasure of reading the whole thing. His writing just blows me away. Now I must find a copy of his first book, "Blue Highways."

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Men Who Stare at Goats"

I think we just set a record for us, two weekends in a row we saw a movie. Not many movies appeal to us so we usually go for months without seeing one. It has to be worth driving 25 miles or so to the theater.

Yesterday we really needed a good laugh so, hoping not all the good bits were in the previews, we went to see "Men Who Stare at Goats." We both like George Clooney - the man is a genius - and decided how bad could it be with him in it. (Having said that, we did walk out on a couple of his movies.)

The verdict is in: it's a funny movie, just plain silliness that you can't help chuckling over, even when it goes over the top. Whichever Bridges it is in it (I can never keep them straight, except Lloyd) is wonderful as a hippy military officer. Yes, you read that right. Kevin Spacey is the bad guy in this one, and he is really out there as well. In fact, that's what makes the movie so funny - everyone in it is stark raving crazy and they're in the army involved in a completely insane program. The story is loosely based on something that really happened as the army tried to develop a "super soldier." Maybe I'm something bordering on a conspiracy theorist in my dotage, but I can just see the army doing this.

I must admit the best parts really are in the previews, but if you're in the mood for some sort of mindless nonsense, this is your movie. I mean really, George Clooney is in it!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sad Day: Fort Hood Shootings

This is a very sad day after yesterday's shootings at Fort Hood. Lots of questions remain of course and since the shooter is alive but on a respirator, who knows if those questions will ever be answered. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and comrades and to the wounded and their families.

There is so much violence in this world. As an historian I know there have been other violent periods of history and that our own era is relatively peaceful. The difference is that now we hear more about it, and more of us I believe are actually touched by violence. So many of us have personally been victims of violent crime, myself included, and yet we grow almost inured to it in the news. It takes a personal connection to violence or a big tragedy like this one or the shootings at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY of this year (only 25 miles from my home) to catch our attention.

I'm a peaceful person who abhors violence on any level, but with the wars around the world, continued eye-for-an-eye killings in the Middle East, and American kids beating and killing for "dissing" each other, I almost despair of the concept of peace.

Television, video games, movies, etc. are partly to blame, but that isn't all of it. Even I enjoy the CSI-like forensic science shows on TV and I'm addicted to mystery novels. No, more of the cause is an overwhelming atmosphere of anger that permeates every aspect of life, from road rage to registered sex offenders killing women and hiding the bodies on their property. I see it in teens practically knocking me aside walking down the street, in college football players purposely trying to gouge the eyes of a downed opponent, in drivers shouting and making obscene gestures at other drivers or pedestrians, in the street brawls after a city's sports team wins a championship, and as recently happened just north of Binghamton when someone dropped kittens one by one onto a highway into traffic where they were all killed.

I don't have any inkling of a solution to this terrible situation and that bothers me. How can we all just watch this happening, and yet what in the world can we do about it? The only thought that comes to me is that I think of how I was raised, how fortunate I was to have a good family and security, and I wonder what's become of good parenting. Is that the answer? I'm curious what my readers think.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Amelia" A Beautiful Movie

Last night there was a generation gap at the movie theater. "This Is It" was showing with its predictable age moviegoers, and at the other end of the spectrum we older folks attended one of the first showings of "Amelia," the story of Amelia Earhart.

I had gone along mostly because my husband wanted to see this movie, figuring the excessive hype about it meant it was probably awful. I had read some pretty bad reviews too. Turns out neither the hype nor the bad reviews fit my reaction. My husband, of course, loved the movie. I loved the spectacular views in the sky, flying into storms, soaring above thick clouds, and Amelia's thoughts about her love of flying.

On the other hand, I had read that Hilary Swank studied newsreels and photos of Amelia thoroughly to get her voice and mannerisms just right and I think that was a mistake. Earhart was a 19th century-born woman, after all, uncomfortable in those situations and as a result Swank's portrayal of her was wooden. If only she had allowed some of her own charisma on camera to shine through, this would have been a much better movie.

I was surprised to be disappointed at Richard Gere's portrayal of George Putnam, Earhart's husband. Reviewers had accused both stars of "mailing it in" and I could almost agree with that assessment. Gere is sort of a local hero since he is related to a prominent local family so we're all predisposed to like him in any part, but this definitely wasn't one of his better movies. Of course the screenwriting had a lot to do with it.

I hadn't been aware of Gore Vidal's (and his father's) role in Amelia Earhart's life so I learned something, and it was very interesting to see her reaction to criticisms of her flying abilities. I was also interested in Noonan's problems in her final flight.

Earhart's story is one of the intriguing mysteries of American history and I thought it perfect for a movie. Proof of that is the fact that it seems so current and yet she disappeared in 1937. She was way ahead of her time, a real pioneer.

Many of us have known of someone who claimed to be Earhart. When I worked in Dayton, NJ, one of my coworkers swore her friend from Jamesburg, NJ was actually Earhart. She had supposedly wanted out of the life of fame and so had disappeared on purpose to live anonymously in NJ the rest of her life. Since no one will ever know exactly what happened, we can only make educated guesses and that makes this story one that will always capture our attention.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hit by Baseball, Parents Sue

A small news item caught my attention this morning; it was on HLN as well. An 18 year old Montana boy was hit by a baseball and died from the blow. His parents sued Louisville Slugger, maker of the bat, insisting that the company doesn't inform people well enough that balls hit by aluminum bats travel faster and with more power than wood bats. They not only won the suit, they were awarded $850,000!

To begin with, I feel so sad for these people who lost their beloved son at only 18. I can't imagine the depth of their loss. No amount of money would be enough compensation.

However, to blame Louisville Slugger is outrageous. Anyone over the age of 12 knows that being beaned in the head by a baseball, no matter what kind of bat hit it or who threw it, will definitely result in serious injury. That's why players wear helmets and why now even coaches in children's leagues along the first and third base lines are required to wear helmets. Also, softball coaches must wear them now because "everyone" knows softballs aren't really soft.

Until today I would have said it's common knowledge that aluminum bats are extra powerful and therefore controversial. The lesson is that people either pay attention or sit behind the screen to stay safe. As for players, they must be particularly mindful of the dangers of the game.

I don't know more about the circumstances of this young man's death, but I am outraged that Louisville Slugger is being blamed. It reeks to me of a case of looking for "deep pockets." The company will be hurt irreparably by this case and it won't help the parents at all. Their son will not come back and their grief will not be assuaged.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This and That, Rants and Raves

Whoopee! The government is sending a check for $250 to make up for not giving us a cost of living increase in our Social Security checks this coming year. Ooh boy - how shall I spend it? Since my husband just came out of the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription plan and I won't come out of it before the end of the year, it's already spent thank you very much. I know the old saying that getting old isn't for sissies, but now that prescription drug costs are so high and continually climbing, that's even more true.

Oh well, we're enjoying nice fall weather (the leaves are all on the ground now), it's football season, and college basketball games will start next month. What more could I ask?

My current pet peeve, meanwhile, is an ad showing how Onstar can stop a stolen car once the police have identified it. In the commercial the car pulls onto the side of the road and comes gently to a stop. My vision is of a guy who has stolen a car racing down the highway with the police in pursuit. Suddenly Onstar cuts the power to the car and he loses control causing a multicar collision in which many people die. No thanks, I'm not interested.

One more bit that I absolutely must mention is a move in an NFL game yesterday that outraged me but didn't seem to bother the network guys at all. One of the Vikings was returning a kickoff for a touchdown. Great play for him, wonderful for the Vikings. Meanwhile, a Viking player who was guarding him came upon a line judge who was trying to get out of the way but just wasn't quick enough. The Viking hit him, hard, as though he were a player with pads and a helmet. The poor man lay on the ground for a while, during which time everyone celebrated the big return. The official finally was walked off the field and never returned.

There was no excuse for such a hit - no Steelers nearby, plenty of room to go around the official. The player wasn't even penalized for the hit as far as I could tell and I am really furious. I love football but there are definitely some things that could stand correcting in the sport, and that's one of them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not All the News is Really News

I've been a news junkie since I was a little kid. Almost from the day I learned to read in fact. I read newspapers, get the news on TV and radio, and now the internet. The problem is that somewhere along the line the news business deserted me.

The "news" now is guessing what might happen, telling us what happened some time ago, scaring us to death with worst case scenarios, "stuff" that is really none of our business, and last but certainly not least, celebrity gossip. Lord knows the facts of current news are scary enough without all this other garbage thrown in.

My biggest pet peeve is celebrity gossip, like for instance who isn't sick to death of Jon and Kate? From what little I've paid attention to this non-story I simply worry about their children, but otherwise I fail to see why I should be at all interested in their life. Then in recent days the "balloon boy" hoax, like we couldn't see that one coming. Again, I feel sorry for the kids but please no more about that pathetic family. Paris and Britney must be green with envy at the headlines these people are getting, and probably laying awake nights trying to figure out a way to get noticed again.

A lot of what passes for news these days reminds me of the color coded threat level of the Bush administration. We're supposed to monitor our level of stress according to the color of the day or what? We all know the world is a dangerous place. News organizations shouldn't tell us what could happen, just what actually happened. If someone is charged with plotting terrorism, that's news. On the other hand, people take their cues from news, especially TV news, so I wish TV would pay as much attention to the good things people do as they do crime. I know, if it bleeds it leads, and has for as long as there has been a way to deliver the news. However, we're evolving that delivery system in the wrong way.

I'm very sad that newspapers across the country are either going out of business entirely or limiting their publication to the internet. However, part of the blame lies at their own door. What we want from newspapers is a fuller account of things that happen than we get on TV or radio or even the internet. When they stop fulfilling that need they become redundant and useless. I still read the local papers for the local news, but I'm hard put to find a way to learn more in the knowledge that I'm getting the information from a reliable source. I sure miss it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our New Stone Wall

Finally discovered that Walmart still develops 35 mm film, in one hour yet, so I took advantage of a trip to Vestal, NY to get the pictures of our new stone wall developed. This has taken so long everyone has probably forgotten that I had promised to show the wall. It's so beautiful though I can't resist.

Figured I might as well show you the front of our house as well. Next spring the "artist" who built the wall will be back to build a wall from the house to the road and across the front to our neighbor's property line. Then we can get rid of the mound of dirt by the driveway. It's going to be outstanding!
If I ever get my home office cleaned up enough that you won't think a tornado went through it, I'll post a picture of my blogging space. Don't hold your breath though - I still don't have a digital camera.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Drowning in Magazines

Help! I'm drowning in magazines!

I haven't posted anything for a few days because I've been trying to read a few of the magazines on my table before the whole stack falls over. I love books but I also love magazines and I'm forever trying to catch up with the latter. Since my favorite magazines are long reads like THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR, WILSON QUARTERLY, HARPER'S, THE NATION, THE ATLANTIC, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, and several history journals it takes a while. I also receive a couple health newsletters about "our" diseases. Too, I find that the older I get the slower I read nonfiction. In other words, this is frustrating. It's sort of like Chinese water torture . . . drip, drip, drip.

The next book I've selected to read is a big one so I think it'll be quite a while before you see another post about my reading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I've Been Reading

I seem to be back in the history-mystery rut. Many of the books I read are older ones because I love book sales so much. My poor husband must feel like a pack animal when he accompanies me to a sale, but actually I think he enjoys watching me act like a child on Christmas morning. I need to get some of the to-be-read piles down because next month comes the annual Putnam's warehouse sale. I missed it last year since I had just had a knee replacement, but I'm raring to go this year.

Anyway I recently read CONQUERING GOTHAM subtitled "A Gilded Age Epic: The construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels," by Jill Jonnes. We take modern transportation for granted so it's startling to realize that 100 years ago the only way to get to Manhattan from New Jersey was by ferry. No bridge, no tunnels, just a port crowded with passengers and cargo and then a river full of ferries. The river crossing was terribly dangerous of course, and in the winter sometimes impossible.

Meanwhile, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, was frustrated because his trains could only take people as far as the Jersey side of the river. Manhattan was growing fast; already many people were commuting from Jersey to Manhattan for jobs. A plan to build a bridge had fallen through. Then someone suggested that Cassatt should look at the huge metro station in Paris. There he saw electric train cars smoothly traveling in and out of tunnels. The idea that became Penn Station and the tunnels connecting both New Jersey and Long Island to Manhattan was born.

Penn Station opened in 1910 after years of planning, horrible accidents in the tunnels, fights with Tammany Hall for permits (without paying bribes), and financial overruns. The station itself required buying up all the property in a two-square mile area which was called the Tenderloin because so many houses of ill-repute were located there. The whole story is fascinating, enough so that although this isn't great literature you stick with it. I enjoyed it very much.

Then for a change I read a Marcia Muller mystery novel, BOTH ENDS OF THE NIGHT, one of her Sharon McCone books. This one is about flying and the people in the world of private planes. McCone and her boyfriend Hy both fly and love planes. When McCone's former flight instructor comes to her because her own boyfriend has disappeared leaving his young son behind, McCone butts up against the secret world of the Witness Protection Program. There have been changes in McCone's personal world as well that readers of the other stories in the series will appreciate, but this would also be enjoyable as a stand-alone. It's just plain a good story.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: "Even Money" by Dick & Felix Francis

After a long career in which he published some 42 books, nearly all mystery novels involving in some way horse racing in Great Britain, Dick Francis retired. His beloved wife, the person who had done most of the research for those books, had died, and I suppose he simply didn't have the heart to go on without her.

Fortunately for his fans, including me, his son talked him into writing again and they have now co-authored three mysteries. Recently I won a copy of the third one, "Even Money."

One thing I've always loved about Francis books is that I learn about something fascinating even though it's a topic I never dreamed I would find at all interesting. In his younger days Dick Francis was a jockey. After an injury ended that career, he began writing. In "Even Money" the hero is a bookmaker at tracks in England where this is legal. Math is certainly not my forte and I've never bet on anything in my life, so that part of the story went right over my head. Still, I learned much about identifying race horses, ringers, and such.

Ned Talbot, the hero, is portrayed expertly, something we've come to expect in a Francis story. Talbot's personal life and profession as well as the mystery he becomes entangled in draw the reader in with the result that this is a can't-put-it-down book. All the chores I should have been doing were still waiting to be done when I reluctantly finished the book.

You see, Ned's father supposedly had died 36 years earlier when Ned was a year old. Ned had always been told his parents died together in a car crash and he was raised by his paternal grandparents. Then one day a man shows up at Royal Ascot claiming to be Ned's father and their conversation convinces Ned he is telling the truth. A short while later they are walking through the parking lot together when they are attacked and Dad is stabbed to death in the assault. You can imagine Ned's head is reeling. Meanwhile he is dealing with the institutionalization of his bipolar wife and the problems of other major characters, all beautifully drawn.

I like the fact that when something frightening happens such as the assault in the parking lot, Ned is properly scared. I hate it when characters in mysteries do foolishly dangerous things and you're thinking, "No, don't go in there, you fool!" or something similar. Ned is just an ordinary man suddenly thrust into a mystery and he reacts just as you and I would.

I had missed the first two books in this collaboration but I'll certainly read them now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Folksinger John McCutcheon

Last night we drove up to the little town of Homer, NY for a concert. I'm sure you've never heard of Homer but don't feel bad, neither has anyone else. However, an old church there houses the Center for the Arts of Homer. We go there several times a year to hear musicians we wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to hear and are never disappointed. We've found a little restaurant we like in the nearby town of Cortland, and enjoy a wonderful evening.

The entertainer last night was a folksinger, John McCutcheon. He has six Grammy nominations to his credit, but lost every time so he refers to himself as the Susan Lucci of the Grammies. He's an amazing man who writes books as well as songs and plays the banjo, guitar, hammered dulcimer and autoharp masterfully. He is a born storyteller. His stories are of the human condition, things we can all relate to in some way, some that make the listener smile and others that make us cry. He's also a very funny man.

Years ago we lived in a suburb of Chicago and regularly drove to Woodstock, Ill. to a similar place, the Woodstock Opera House. It was closer to us, and wasn't located in the "snow belt" as Homer is, so we went to more programs there. I don't know if it still exists, but if you look hard enough you'll find these venues in unlikely little towns all across the country. They are usually inexpensive nights out, but more than worth the price. You won't regret supporting them, becoming a member if you can, and enjoying the variety of entertainment they offer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Out of Control Athletes

My husband and I are season ticket holders for both men's and women's basketball at Binghamton University 20 miles north of us in NY. It's a Division I team that last season got as far as the NCAA tournament. Very exciting, even though our first game there was against Duke so it was also our last game in the tournament.

Our only problem with the team has been disciplinary issues with some of the stars of the team, young men recruited and given a second chance by our coach to show their talents and try to straighten out their lives. We were concerned about the behavior of some of them, and now the chickens have come home to roost. Six of the best players and upcoming players of the men's team have been booted out for criminal problems, attitude, and just plain troublemaking.

Lois DeFleur, president of the university and #1 basketball fan, finally put her foot down and rightly so. She called in the AD and told him she would not tolerate any more problems from the men's team. I guess the AD and the head coach were sick and tired of babysitting too, because the axe fell almost immediately.

You know, this isn't just a problem at BU. What is it with college and professional athletes across the country? Their enormous egos and belief that they don't have to live by the same rules as the rest of us poor schmucks is threatening to make me a FORMER sports fan. I've loved sports all my life (not participating since I grew up in the 40s and 50s when young ladies didn't do those things) but watching others. My mother and mother-in-law were also sports fans but the men in the families weren't so much. Strange I guess, but that's the way it is.

I'm already not watching baseball much because I'm tired of the steroids scandals and tantrums. I never watch professional basketball because they just don't play as a team anymore. Everything is me, me, me! College sports are my favorite and I still have hope, but I believe every college and university needs to clean house like BU is doing. We don't need any more athletes with mouths bigger than their talents, and with complete disregard for the law. Michael Vick is surprised he isn't coming back as a starting QB? Plaxico Burress is upset because his fellow inmates in prison aren't suitably impressed with him? T.O. has bounced from team to team because he can't keep his mouth shut? These are all football because it's football season, but basketball is soon to follow with its own examples.

I think the answer is to stop treating high school and college athletes like they are so special that they don't have to live by the rules. We baby them and help them get by with things, and then we wonder why they still act like babies when they are grown men making millions. The athlete who lives his life as a good person is so rare as to be newsworthy, on the rare occasion when the media isn't busy reporting on the foibles and crimes of the rest. This must change. Actually fan behavior needs to change too but that's a topic for another day.

In short, congratulations to Lois DeFleur for standing up for what's right. We will support her through this necessarily "building" year and in the future. Although last year was fun, we prefer to have a team we can really be proud of.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No Books in House!

Recently while I was cooking I turned on HGTV to see what new design horrors they've come up with. They were showing a woman in a beautiful house with bookcases on each side of a fireplace in her living room. She was saying, "I don't know what to do with those shelves. They absolutely have to go!"

Well, after I picked myself up off the floor, I had to take a close look at this house. As far as I could see there were no books and no magazines at all in the house except for the children's schoolbooks in their rooms. I was flabbergasted. Not only did I wonder how anyone could live without any sort of reading material in the house, I worried about the example this set for the children in the family.

I've always thought that my parents were responsible for turning me into an avid reader and that my good grades in school were because of my father's example. Both of my parents read the local newspaper every day and on Sundays we bought the Chicago Tribune. I don't remember how old I was when I took up the habit but I was quite young. Both of my parents read books as well. My father preferred technical books, but they joined the Book of the Month Club when I was a small child and both of them read the bestsellers. They subscribed to magazines such as National Geographic and the Saturday Evening post. There was always something new to read.

My father was a self-made man who missed out on college because of the Depression. In lieu of that experience, he took every math course offered by the correspondence school at the University of Illinois. I remember Mom and I being quiet nearly every evening because he was studying, so I grew up thinking lifelong learning was a desirable trait.

They took me to the library to get a card and borrow books, they put bookshelves in my bedroom and gave me some of the shelves beside the fireplace for my books, and I don't ever remember them saying I should put a book aside to do anything else. I was perhaps overly sheltered from outdoor activities because my mother was afraid I would get hurt, but they never censored my reading. (One comical memory is that my mother liked to read the old pulp detective magazines of the 40s but she hid them from my father knowing he wouldn't approve. It was her only deception in a long marriage.)

My own house is overflowing with books, a fact my father would shake his head at. He was big on discipline. I've had a big effect on my husband. He wasn't a reader when we married but now takes so many magazines concerning his work and his hobbies that the mail carrier is about to go on strike. No regrets. I think this is the only way to live and I thank my parents immensely for starting me on the right path.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Henry Gibson and his Flower are Gone

Do you remember Henry Gibson on "Laugh-in" years ago? He was such a little guy and he would stand there holding a flower while he recited poetry in a completely earnest fashion. He was one of those few people, like George Gobel (which I'm not sure I spelled correctly), who could just stand in front of a camera and completely break me up. I heard yesterday that Henry died and I felt the loss even though I hadn't seen him on television in years.

"Laugh-In" was a rare television show. It was as giddy and silly as Goldie Hawn's giggle, it used repetitive gags, but it was so funny I couldn't miss it. I loved Arte Johnson's dirty old man who regularly gotten beaten over the head with a purse, and even the repeated "Sock it to me!" never ceased to make me laugh. Remember Richard Nixon of all people appearing in the hole in the wall and saying, "Sock it to me," deadpan?

I've loved Goldie Hawn ever since. No one ever had such an infectious giggle. But little Henry Gibson gone? It's just hard to believe.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kancamagus Highway, a NH Gem

In yesterday's paper I read an article by Holly Ramer of The AP about one of our all-time favorite places, the 34.5 mile long Kancamagus Highway from Conway to Lincoln, New Hampshire. Turns out it is 50 years old this year.

The highway follows the achingly beautiful Swift River most of the way with many spots to pull off and explore. You can also hike a variety of trails from parking areas along the way. Fall is the best time to go when the foliage in the surrounding mountains is spectacular.

When we were first married, we lived in southern Maine and quite often went to North Conway; in fact we were there for our wedding night. We would stay in a motel that had a view of Mount Washington, maybe see a play at one of the small theaters, enjoy the shops in the village, and spend most of one day on the Kancamagus (the last part pronounced like "Saugus").

I remember lazy days clambering across the rocks in the river or sitting with a book while my husband fished. One year we stayed at a campground and had the fish he caught for breakfast - not my cup of tea for that meal but when in Rome . . . It was proof that anything cooked on a campfire tastes heavenly, well at least good. (What can I say? We were young and in love. Now we're old and in love and I'm quite a bit more picky about what I eat.)

There used to be a breakfast restaurant in North Conway that served walnut waffles and a place called The Scottish Lion where we had wonderful dinners after a day of outdoor activity. Things have changed there; North Conway is now known for outlet shopping centers, one of which took the place of the motel with the view of Mount Washington. Lots of chain restaurants have moved in as well and the atmosphere in the village is different.

However, get out of town and you're back in the New Hampshire we always loved, especially the Kancamagus.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hal Borland, Naturalist/Writer

As promised, I'm writing more about Hal Borland, a naturalist/writer best known for his books and his Sunday nature piece on the editorial page of The New York Times for many years.

When Hal was a young boy his parents homesteaded in eastern Colorado, a tale told in his book "High, Wide, and Lonesome." Like most homesteaders, they had a hard life. It was just too much for a couple and their young son to handle. All it took was bad weather or insects to ruin their meager crops and thus their livelihood. In winter his dad would work in town, too far to come home, and Hal and his mother, a cow and a dog endured the winter isolated. He often awoke in the morning with snow covering the foot of his bed. A Christmas treat was a bowl of snow with maple syrup drizzled over it. Thanks to a cowboy who came through occasionally, they had lots of good magazines to read and he learned to write from them. In summer he and his dog spent hours watching a gopher town, the beginning of a lifetime observing nature.

In 1915 his family gave up homesteading and moved to Flagler, Colorado where his father bought and edited the local newspaper. Hal learned the newspaper business from the ground up, and his book, "Country Editor's Boy," tells the story of those years with colorful anecdotes of itinerant typesetters (many alcoholics) who spent periods of time working for his dad. Afterward he went off to college, into journalism, and followed his career east.

He wrote some western novels, quite a few short stories for magazines with his wife Barbara, books about dogs who "chose" to live with them, and many books about the natural world all around us.

I had grown up in a family who never went outdoors unless forced to, but in my late 20s I was introduced to Hal Borland's books which inspired me to get outside and see what he was writing about. I learned to love hiking, camping, and canoeing, and I began to notice the wildlife and plants around my home. He opened a whole new world to me.

His last years were spent in a house by the Housatonic River in northwestern Connecticut near the Massachusetts border. I drove past the house once and saw him riding a mower, but didn't stop because I didn't want to intrude. I've kicked myself ever since. A few years after he died, I wrote a piece for a newspaper in Mass. where he had been a regular columnist about how much I missed him. His widow saw it, wrote me a nice note, and subsequently I went to work for her as an assistant for a couple years. By that time she was an invalid and we worked on a rewrite of one of her novels, more as a way to keep her mind busy in a difficult time than anything. We were bonded by our feelings for Hal.

I owe a great deal to this man I never met. Barbara Borland gave me his candle holder made by Ute Indians that he had known. It is one of my most prized possessions. I encourage anyone to read Hal Borland's books. They are funny, interesting, and educational without being preachy. You'll never view your property the same way again.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Swallows are Gone!

On Sunday morning I turn first, even before the comics, to Rick Marsi's column in Binghamton's Press and Sun Bulletin. He is a naturalist in the vein of Hal Borland who wrote a nature column for The New York Times for years and who I greatly admired. (Someday I'll write more about Borland.) Nature in your own backyard is Marsi's forte, and he writes often about kayaking on the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers too.

This morning he wrote about birds leaving the area in early September, especially swallows, and I realized what I should have noticed earlier. The reason it is suddenly so buggy around here is that the purple martins and barn swallows are gone. Just the other day there were orderly rows of them on the wires overlooking our back yard, swooping down across the pond, and giving me an aerobatics show while I mowed. Now, nothing! As much as I enjoy them, I guess I was just too busy to realize they weren't here.

All I'm seeing now are blue jays, sparrows, and occasionally a few starlings in our yard. The hummingbirds aren't here anymore, the red wing backbirds have gone away, and all that's left cruising the sky are vultures and sometimes a hawk. I'm amazed that it took Marsi's column to bring all this to my attention, but then he often makes me see things I would have overlooked.

I have two of Marsi's books and I hope he never stops writing his column. If you live outside this area, look for his work on the Press & Sun-Bulltin website,

Friday, September 4, 2009

Warm Days, Chilly Nights, and Football!

We're embarking upon my favorite time of the year. I see hints of color in the trees on our mountain, the school bus takes the children to school each morning and their dogs doze in the sun waiting for that yellow bus to reappear. Meanwhile it's quiet, or would be except that we adults are busy catching up on our yard work and we have a crew finishing up a section of stone wall along the front of our property.

We sleep soundly these chilly nights with the bedroom windows open to take full advantage. I fall asleep listening to the chirp, hum and buzz of crickets, katydids, and cicadas, and occasionally the loud twang of a bullfrog in our pond who sounds like a bass guitar with a broken string. Looking up, I can see a quadrillion stars despite the security light on our outbuilding. There isn't much night traffic on our country road; it's the best time to live here. Oh, we might get a rare whiff of a skunk passing through or hear the snarl of an animal or the cough of a startled deer, but mostly it is just peaceful.

During the day our only problem is gnats who seem to be having a last fling before cold weather. Otherwise it's pleasant getting the bushes all trimmed and catching up with the work we had to let slide during this unusually wet summer. The flower garden has to be cleaned up as well and the netting taken down from the blueberry bushes. There is always plenty to do to fill the days outside before we hunker down for the cold winter.

My husband has been cutting the fields. He won't let me drive the tractor, much as I would like to, and he was too busy earlier to brushhog the fields. Now it's looking very nice; almost like an extension of our lawn. I'm too busy to cut the fields anyway; I have a section of stone wall to repair thanks to a woodchuck who burrowed into loose stones in the middle of it. I also need to do something about a forsythia bush that was damaged in a storm and trim the rose bushes.

I intend to post some pictures of our beautiful new stone wall and our property but I'm an old geezer who still uses a 35 mm camera and has the pictures developed so you'll have to wait until I finish the roll of film. I don't have a cell phone or a digital camera - still live in the stone age.

I'm not really a country person having grown up in a midwestern city. Actually when we moved here 14 years ago it was my first experience with living in the country. As you can see, though, I have enjoyed many aspects of life in the country, things I will miss when the day comes that we must leave here. Changes come very gradually to this area so even though there is more traffic, more houses, and far fewer working farms, it is still "the countryside."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Joan Baez: Feet of Clay

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock I've been reading Joan Baez's autobiography published in 1987. This is a book I picked up at a book sale quite some time ago and apparently there was a good reason it stayed in my pile of books to be read. I wasn't at Woodstock, you understand, although I've heard that if you remember Woodstock, you weren't there. No, that drug scene wasn't for me at all; I was too old to be drawn into it.

At any rate, I always loved Joan Baez's voice and her songs, and I admired her involvement with the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam-War movement. I thought she was very brave to stand on the front lines of those movements and risk the possible consequences of her actions.

I should never have read this autobiography. Now I know that not only was she quite often just a hanger-on at civil rights and antiwar photo ops, she seems to have been more directed by her feelings for a certain man than by real commitment to a cause. Her admiration for Martin Luther King, for instance, was what led to her appearance at Selma. I do respect the fact that she admitted to being scared to death, so she understood the danger, but in some of her other adventures she appears to have just blithely gone with the crowd.

It seems like she was always playing a role, usually in the company of her current man. When she tired of that particular lifestyle, she gave away all of her clothing and began a new role with a new man. She was led by her libido rather than intelligent opinions.

I definitely did not agree with her trip to Hanoi during the war. She and Jane Fonda each suffered a severe lack of judgement when they decided to visit Hanoi. The only thing that Joan appears to have learned during that trip is that she didn't like spending time in bomb shelters while our guys were trying to bomb the heck out of the city.

What really turns me off, though, is her ego. The main point of the section of the book on her trip to Poland to meet Lech Waleska is how the people there adored her. I don't think I've ever read a biography or autobiography of a person I had admired and finished the book with a distinct dislike of that person. I still love her singing, always will, but my admiration for her as a person is gone.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Little League World Series

Normally this Saturday, championship weekend at the Little League World Series, we would have arrived at Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, PA very early to set up our chairs on the hill. For years we've stayed over there for the last several days of the series and just lost ourselves in the purest form of baseball and happy children.

The last couple of years we went, though, the crowds had grown so large that we came back to our chairs near game time to find them in a sea of chairs and blankets and running, hyper kids. You'd fall over six people trying to get out to the rest room or concession stand, and another six on the way back. And after the rain we've been having since yesterday afternoon, I'm sure the hill is slippery and muddy. This year we decided to watch on TV.

Having said all that, I encourage anyone who loves baseball and/or children to go to the Little League World Series at least once in their lifetime. The complex is magically transformed into a community of people who smile and laugh and have a wonderful time. They watch 16 teams from around the world compete. The baseball skills are amazing; sometimes it's hard to believe the kids are only 11-13, and the 13 year old kids must have had their 13th birthday after May 1st. The only time you remember their age is when there are a few tears because of an error or a loss, but shortly after the game those same kids are happy and having a great time again.

Admission is free - that's right, free! Parking in the complex lots is also free - free! Everything is handled efficiently by volunteers, people who do this year after year, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. That's why concession stand prices are so low you can take your whole family, eat well, trade pins, and see some good games. My husband has Parkinson's and I have COPD so in the last years we parked in handicapped parking, walked a short level distance to the security checkpoint, then were shuttled up a steep hill in a bus or golf cart to the stadium.

We loved to see the mascot, Dugout, getting the players and umpires dancing on the field. By the way, those officials are also volunteers who pay their own way. The Williamsport newspaper puts out special editions each day of the series and kids wander the complex yelling, "Little League Extra. 50 cents!" One year we had to laugh at a very small boy whose older brother had conned him into selling the papers for him. The boy couldn't pronounce it right, so he yelled "Wittle Weague Exta Fitty Cent." I think he sold more papers than anyone else - smart brother.

Well, today we'll settle down in front of the TV to watch Texas play California for the U.S. championship, and Mexico play Chinese Taipei in the foreign championship. Tomorrow the winners of those games will play for the overall championship and the weather is supposed to be perfect. We'll wish we were there but must admit it's more comfortable watching from home. We still have our memories.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Since I learned of the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, I've been puzzling over what to say. Knowing this was coming doesn't make it any easier; I'm relieved that his suffering is finished, but I'm devastated at this great loss. To say I admired and respected him just doesn't do justice to what I feel.

Kennedy was a giant of a man and his faults were also huge. Around this part of Pennsylvania Chappaquiddick is never far from people's thoughts of him since Mary Jo Kopechne, his passenger in the car who died, was from PA. I heard an interview on television yesterday though in which I think the interviewee had a real insight - that Chappaquiddick and the Florida rape trial of his nephew were turning points in Kennedy's life, and thereafter he devoted his life and political power to doggedly fighting for John Q. and Jane Public in attonement for those tragedies.

Whatever the case, he certainly did fight for us, using every bit of that Kennedy charm and his political savvy to make our lives easier. He didn't care about the wealthy. They didn't need his help. He cared about the rest of us. When the Senate reconvenes shortly, he will be there in the minds and hearts of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle. I can only hope the Senators will be prompted by his memory to cooperate, negotiate, and find common ground to pass a health care reform bill that will really help the American people.

Other families have suffered tragedies like the Kennedy family, but Kennedy tragedies were played out in the public eye, beginning with aviator Joe's death when Ted was only 12. Anyone who knows anything about Joseph and Rose Kennedy is aware that their children didn't have an easy life despite their weath. Their parents expected impossibly high standards, but I believe their daughter Eunice exceeded even their expectations. Her devotion to mentally and physically challenged young people and founding of the Special Olympics is one of the greatest Kennedy legacies of all.

The world won't see the likes of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sen. Ted Kennedy again. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Social Security Raises for Two Years?

So there will be no cost of living raises in Social Security payments for the next two years. Well, that's just great. Go ahead, kick us while we're down, won't you?

"They" say we won't need it. For those of us on the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that just ain't so. My husband and I both fall into the infamous "donut hole" by midsummer. Then we pay 100% of the bill until January. Don't try to tell us the meds we need to keep going don't cost more every year. That premium will go up too, the amount deducted from our Social Security checks, a double whammy.

Every time I see a full page ad or a TV commercial for Spiriva or Advair, for instance, I feel like I'm paying for it. (We have a friend who works for a pharmaceutical company who tells me they NEED those ads. We've agreed to disagree.) All we can do is wait for a generic version to come out. How long do those patents last anyhow? Meanwhile, if I want to breathe, I'm stuck paying for these brand names.

Apparently "they" haven't been grocery shopping in years either. My grocery bill gets higher and higher but I get less and less for my money. Even the soap we bought for 40+ years is so scooped out, we've switched brands in disgust. Quality of name brand products used to keep me loyal, but quality went the way of quantity so I buy store brand now. I won't even get into the pathetic quality of the "fresh" produce in the supermarket. Thankfully at this time of the year we can buy from a farm stand.

Do "they" buy auto, homeowners, and life insurance? Even here in a rural area our premiums are terrible. And don't get my husband going on taxes - school and real estate taxes, state taxes, federal taxes all beat us down. Still our taxes are lower than friends 20 miles away in NY state pay.

Well, "they" say not to worry, we'll get along just fine. Sure thing - just try living my life for a while.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hazy, Hot, and Humid

The only good thing about hazy, hot, and humid weather is that it provides an excellent excuse for finding a relatively cool spot and reading the day away. Last week was just perfect for reading mystery novels and letting the chores slide. Now of course I'll have to pay for that neglect of reality, but that's a small price to pay for reading time.

I had stocked up on mysteries at the recent book sale, so I read J. A. Jance's "Justice Denied" and Martha Grimes' "The Grave Maurice." This Richard Jury novel is about the abduction from a stable of a young woman who loves horses. Actually I had read the Grimes novel several years ago but could only remember the story as I read so I enjoyed it all over again. There aren't many authors I could say that about, but Martha Grimes is a wonderful novelist who just happens to write mysteries.

J. A. Jance writes two series, one about a detective named J. P. Beaumont in Seattle and the other about Sheriff Joanna Brady in Arizona. I love both series. This one was a Beaumont story I hadn't read that begins with the sudden murder of a young man who has been released from wrongful imprisonment. He had been working at a charity and caring for his mother so his killing was all the more shocking. Although I figured out some of the solution early on, there were several surprises at the end.

One of the things I like about mysteries is their settings especially when I'm familiar with the area. For instance, I used to love Sara Paretsky's stories set in Chicago but apparently she's abandoned the series in favor of her other work. My love for Boston has a great deal to do with my love for Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, but who wouldn't love his characterizations and plots? It's strange but I enjoy his concise, spare writing and I also enjoy someone like P.D. James who writes lush description and goes deeper into stories.

I've also been catching up on magazines but how I love to settle in with a good book. Summer and mysteries - they just go together like sand and surf.

Friday, August 21, 2009

COPD: The Bane of My Existence

For the past year (OK it's only been a week) I've been reminded constantly that I have COPD. In hot, humid weather I use up most of my energy just breathing, and my COPD is "moderate" at this point. Since the humidity is unusually high today, I'm tired from going to the fair last night (a story for another post), and I'm having too much trouble breathing to do much else, I decided this is as good a time as any to talk about my disease.

I quit smoking in 1968 after smoking for about 12 years, so as years passed I thought I escaped any consequences from that vile habit. Then about 10 years ago I started having days where I couldn't seem to get a deep enough breath. As time passed those episodes got longer until they were lasting almost 3 days. Still, doctors told me it was simply stress.

Then 5 years ago I complained once again to my doctor and he sent me for yet another x-ray. That time there was something to see - a "shadow." He sent me to a pulmonologist who ordered a CT scan which showed a nodule in my left lung. Thankfully, 2 years of follow-up CT's proved the nodule is scar tissue from pnemonia, but on my first visit to him the pulmonologist had diagnosed COPD. Finally I knew why I had been having those episodes of breathing difficulty!

Since then my lung function has deteriorated very slowly. I'm fortunate, but I was alarmed to discover COPD is this country's 5th deadliest disease and deterioration is inevitable.

Right after my diagnosis we sold our woodstove and got a gas stove to supplement our electric heat. Since neither of us smoke and none of our friends do, my exposure to second-hand smoke is minimal. However, the doctor told me anyone who ever smoked for any length of time is a ticking time bomb. Yes, quitting decreases your risk tremendously, but some damage remains. I think of all the years I worked in smoke-filled offices, ate in smoke-filled restaurants, met friends in smoke-filled bars. It's a wonder I made it so far without suffering consequences.

Despite the fact that my case is still moderate and I don't need oxygen, this disease has changed my life greatly. I'm affected by the weather but also by anything that requires upper body strength. Running the vacuum cleaner used to just be a mundane chore, now it has to be done room by room resting in between rooms. I can only pull weeds for a few minutes at a time - and my flower garden gets out of control earlier each year. We're thinking of digging it up and planting small bushes that don't have to be trimmed - that is another thing I can only do for short periods of time.

In short, COPD makes me feel old and though I'm not young chronologically, I don't feel old mentally. Now that COPD inhalers are so prominent on TV it seems like just another "disease of the moment" but if you know someone who has it, please take it seriously. This isn't something to laugh at like a Billy Mays "but wait there's more" spiel, and those inhalers help but they don't cure. The people in the commercials appear to be well after they start using them, but unfortunately it just ain't so.

If you would like to join the fight to find a cure for COPD, you can donate to the COPD Foundation, info at Also, please ask your congressman to join the Congressional COPD caucus. Thank you on behalf of all of us who have the disease.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Saga of Brett Favre

Not again! Just as we thought Brett Favre had grown up and retired, he signed with the Vikings.

Why is it that so many athletes just cannot live without the adulation and the applause and the life of fame? He's only the latest in a long line of unretirees. Not only that, he has a small rotator cuff tear which will soon become a large rotator cuff tear. After going through my husband's rehab from rotator cuff surgery twice (thankfully he's run out of shoulders to abuse), I just can't imagine Favre going through the immobilizing cushion, strap, etc.

I'm a football fan who just recalled why I prefer college football - in college it's more about the game and less about big stars with huge egos.

End of Life Counseling

One of the more misunderstood provisions of proposed health care reform concerns end of life counseling. This is not a "death panel" to decide who lives and who dies.

The proposal is an attempt to do what doctors and families are often unable to do - have a rational discussion with terminally ill people about their wishes and give them facts to help them come to an intelligent decision on their own. We've all had dying relatives who obviously needed to talk to someone about what was happening to them. Usually the doctor, who has sworn to help people live, is reluctant to discuss the subject. The people who should be talking honestly with the patient, family members/loved ones, just keep saying, "Oh don't talk like that. You're going to be fine." Right?

I remember when my own mother was terminally ill. She desperately needed to talk about it and say her goodbyes. My father simply couldn't handle that sort of discussion, and I'm an only child so it was up to me. Mom and I spent most of every day together for many weeks as I helped take care of her and it was emotionally draining. She adored my husband and was very happy that he flew down to see her and say goodbye. They lived in Florida; once a day I would walk on the beach to pull myself together. During that time we drew closer than we had ever been and we had many long and deeply satisfying talks. When she died, she was at peace and ready to go.

I think perhaps families either convince themselves that the patient will survive because they can't come to grips with reality themselves, or they think the patient will be traumatized further by hearing the truth. Whatever the case, they need to realize the patient's real need to say goodbye. Hospice workers sometimes are able to help in this way; they do such wonderful work.

In short, end of life counseling helps not only the terminally ill person but his loved ones as well. No one is going to "pull the plug on grandma" or decide whether she lives or dies. The counseling is an attempt to make this inevitable time less traumatic for everyone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guns Plus Alcohol = Huge Trouble

It's August, we're in the middle of a heat wave, I'm already grumpy, and now I hear news that really makes my blood boil. Tennessee has legalized carrying concealed weapons in bars and restaurants that serve liquor. How dumb is that?

Have the powers-that-be in Tennessee lost all common sense? I know, I know - I'm a person who wouldn't have a gun in the house if someone paid me to, but I also know I'm in the minority and people have a right to own weapons. Gun control is something gun owners and I will never agree on, and in this area I'm surrounded by deer hunters. So be it.

Just this morning, though, I saw a picture of a man carrying an assault weapon at a rally for health care reform attended by President Obama. It was actually legal for anyone to be there with any kind of gun! Unbelievable. The security people must be going nuts.

At least that man was sober, or appeared to be. Now put a man (or woman of course) in a bar with a pistol in his belt and a few belts in his belly . . . Does that make sense to anyone except lawmakers in Tennessee? What if that person has an anger problem - ever see a mean drunk? Of course you have. We all have. The next sound you hear will be likened to the shootout at the OK Corral.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Uncivil Discourse

I am outraged at the conduct of some of the people at what are intended as informative town hall style meetings held by our senators and representatives during their "vacation" from Washington. Those who attend to learn about the proposed plans for health care reform and ask questions may as well stay home. Only the person who can shout the loudest will have the floor and no one will learn a thing.

These red-faced, arrogant idiots ride roughshod over everyone else in the apparent belief that their opinion, right or wrong, is all that's important. The other taxpaying citizens in the room don't even exist for them, even if they happen to agree with that particular view. Meanwhile, the shouters are the feature of media reports about the meetings in lieu of anything constructive because reporters can't learn anything either.

For many years my self-employed husband and I paid ever-increasing health insurance premiums for ever-decreasing coverage, and I fought with our insurance company many times - sometimes successfully because I was polite but persistent. The last few years we've been on Medicare and a supplement and happily so. Heavens, a government-run health insurance program! We chose our own doctors and hospitals and enjoy excellent care. The scare tactics of people who obviously have employer-paid health insurance don't bother us at all.

I had thought that I would attend if a town hall meeting were held in our area, but after seeing such travesties on television and reading about them, I won't go. I would want to learn something and that obviously wouldn't be in the cards.

Whatever happened to civil discourse? People seem to make up their minds by listening to the most ill-informed, biased, so-called expert they can find and then refuse to listen to reason. We've become a nation of "sides" with nobody willing to discuss, listen to another viewpoint, compromise, or negotiate to achieve a common ground.

When I have a strong opinion about government policy or programs, which is often, I write or call my senator or representative or even the president. If I'm angry, I say so, but keep my comments reasonable. I usually get an explanatory messsage in reply. Don't these shouting boors realize no one ever listens to them? Their way guarantees that they won't get their point across. Unfortunately they may also manage to keep needed reform from being passed.

I can only hope civil discourse will come back into vogue in my lifetime, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

See "Julie and Julia" for Good Laugh

Who of us doesn't need a good laugh in these uncertain times? Solution: See "Julie and Julia" ASAP.

Meryl Streep is brilliant in this and I very much liked Amy Adams as Julie as well. Despite some critics' unhappiness with the casting of the two husbands, I thought they were just right. I don't know how long the movie is but the time just raced away and before you could say "Bon Appetit!" it was over.

It brought back nice memories of my father. We shared a few physical characteristics, a love of learning, and an offbeat sense of humor, but he was impossible to get close to, silent, and standoffish. Every week, though, we watched Julia Child's TV show together. No sooner did she open her mouth than we were laughing, and we didn't stop until after her signature close of "Bon Appetit!"

Finally I developed a pretty fair imitation of Julia which was guaranteed to make my father break up. We loved her clumsiness, her "careful measuring" of the wine, flour all over her kitchen, and the way she absentmindedly patted a chicken as she explained what she intended to do with it.

Best of all, Julia Child was herself, no matter what, which is what makes Meryl Streeps's characterization of her so funny in this movie. I also appreciated how the movie showed the fact that she and her husband Paul absolutely adored each other and were always supportive of each other. Strangely enough, I hadn't realized Paul Child came under suspicion during the McCarthy era and how his diplomatic career went downhill afterward even though he was cleared.

The parallel story of Julie Powell and her husband was charming and funny. Having tried a couple of Julia Child's recipes myself many years ago, I know how difficult they are. I can only admire someone who managed to cook every recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" while holding down a full-time job, a husband, and a cat. Bravo!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Favorite Book Sale

All year I look forward to the first Friday in August. The Blueberry Festival in Montrose, PA runs that Friday and Saturday as a benefit for the county library system and historical society. The blueberries aren't the big draw for me although I love them. We have plenty of berries on our own bushes, especially in a rainy summer like this one has been. We do always buy raffle tickets for the quilt made by local ladies; this year's is the prettiest ever I think. Haven't won in 14 years but you never know. That isn't really the big attraction for me either.

No, the attraction that pulls me to the town green early that Friday morning is the giant book sale. I learned shortly after we moved here that this area is populated by mystery lovers. I fit right in. That means many residents do the same thing I do - stock up on mysteries at the book sale and then donate them right back the next summer. We have quite a recycling program going. There are also boxes of books by other popular writers, but the majority of boxes are full of favorite mystery writers such as Robert L. Parker, Martha Grimes, Sue Grafton, P.D. James, Marcia Muller, and others.

Each year I try a few new authors. If I don't like the books, it's no great loss for me and I've made a donation to a cause I care about. The problem is that I also buy some nonfiction books that I keep, adding to the overflow in my own library. I'll bring home something like four large tote bags full, and donate three.

In November I go to the Putnam Publishing Co. annual warehouse sale in the Binghamton area and come home with a box or two of new books. Some of those will get donated to the Blueberry Festival, but many of those as well stay on my shelves.

Years ago my husband built a library for me in a spare bedroom. It has floor to ceiling shelves on two walls. I remember him saying at the time that I'd never fill those shelves. I just grinned. Sure enough, he had hardly finished building them when they were full. Still, I have stacks of books around, and more bookcases downstairs filled.

At least I'm not alone in this situation. Every time I go to a book sale I'll overhear people talking about the overflow of books in their house and how they absolutely must do something about it. Our library will soon break ground on a new building near the high school so the historical society can take over the old building on the green. Both are in dire need of more room. In Susquehanna County people do read. Not all of us can afford to buy new books, but we certainly make good use of what books are available to us. I think that speaks very well of the people of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Harsh Penalties for Poor Judgement

So former President Clinton is in North Korea to negotiate the return of the two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who strayed across the border to investigate a story last March. It was a story worth pursuing, certainly, but to knowingly go into North Korea illegally was one of the worst examples of poor judgement by journalists in recent history. These are not stupid women; they knew how unstable North Korea's dictator is and yet they took a chance, thereby setting up an international incident that could have plunged us into war and, incidentally, getting themselves sentenced to a labor camp. What in the world were they thinking?

I hope they have learned that there are limits you just don't cross in investigative reporting. Meanwhile I feel very sorry for their families who have been put through hell.

Now we have another instance of very poor judgement. Who in their right minds would decide that Iraq was a good place to take a vacation in 2009? Apparently four young Americans thought it was a great place to go hiking. One didn't feel well so he stayed in the Iraqi hotel. However, the other three ignored warnings by hotel management that the nearby border was unmarked and easy to cross accidentally. Off they went, blithely hiking through the countryside. They have been arrested in Iran. Oops, they crossed the border. Once again, poor judgement by young people has put them, along with the U.S., in a terrible position.

I remember feeling immortal when I was young too. Nothing could possibly happen to me. Fortunately my adventures were mild in comparison so I survived to grower wiser and more cautious without suffering the consequences of taking chances. These five young people defied common sense and, I'm sure, knowledge of the danger involved in their actions. When they are all safely back in this country, I think they should be held accountable for what they did to U.S.-Korea and U.S.-Iran relations.

I hope their example gives others pause when contemplating similar adventures.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Our Killdeer Family

I've gained a new companion as I work in the yard, a killdeer. If you aren't a bird lover, a killdeer is a smallish brown and white bird with distinct brown bands around its head and neck. I'm not really sure why they haven't become extinct since they nest in a shallow depression on the ground in fields and rural yards.

We have a pair here every year so as soon as I see one in the spring I know to start watching very carefully when I mow. Thankfully the young ones are usually out of the nest and able to fend for themselves before my husband takes the tractor out to cut hay.

This year there were initially four chicks, tiny replicas of their parents and unbearably cute. Soon there were only three; no wonder since they are such easy prey. The three chicks thrived and grew for a couple weeks, but then they discovered grass across the road and, since they prefer to run rather than fly, one was hit and crushed almost beyond recognition by a vehicle. The father bird has long since left, but the mother bird stood vigil on the roadside calling to her dead baby all day long. I felt so sad for her.

I've always talked to her (I know it's nutty) as she feigned a broken wing to lure me away from the nest, and later as she tried in vain to keep up with her chicks. Now that she doesn't have to be with them all the time, she has apparently decided it's more fun to hang out with me than with those darned kids who drive her nuts. Every time I go outside she comes running and stays with me until I go back in the house. I still talk to her and she seems content just to be near me. It's probaby a coincidence (she has to be someplace after all) but I feel like she's doing this purposefully.

And I thought it would be lonely and boring living in the country! I can hear her calling loudly right now; probably wondering why I'm indoors on such a nice day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pres. Obama and the New Haven Police

One thing I really admire about President Obama is his ability to be reasonable and calm in the face of criticism. His recent remarks about the New Haven Police Dept., Sgt. Crowley in particular, and their arrest of Prof. Gates are further proof of this.

I considered his initial remark that the New Haven police had "acted stupidly" to be a lapse in judgement. This kind of statement could only inflame the situation and alienate police departments all across the country. As Obama stated at the outset, he wasn't there and didn't have all the facts at his disposal; for that matter, neither did anyone else who wasn't there.

Now he has acted to defuse the situation and he will meet with Gates and Crowley to have a calm, rational discussion. He hopes this will teach us all something. First, it should teach the president that even when it is a friend who is involved in a controversial act, he should weigh his words very carefully. This could have set off a firestorm of racial conflict. Thankfully, President Obama had the good sense to back down and bring the parties together for a discussion.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt is Gone

I see Frank McCourt has died. It was only last year that I finally read "Angela's Ashes," his memoir of his childhood in Ireland. I had picked up a copy at a book sale, and soon discovered why it had been such a bestseller.

Since I had grown up in a stable midwestern family in a middle class environment, I couldn't imagine how Frank and his brother Malachy had survived the hunger, lack of even the most basic necessities, and neglect of their early years. I read most of the book alternately gasping in horror and laughing in delight. Perhaps it was that Irish wit that saved them after all.

As a writer I greatly admired McCourt's ability to put the reader squarely in the scene, for instance when the first floor of their house was flooded and stinking with the overflow from the shared toilet so they moved upstairs to their "vacation home" where they heated bits of food over bits of fuel. (And as a writer I shouldn't indulge in such a run-on sentence.) He also remembered that they passed the time telling wonderful stories. His father, when sober, told them fantastic, and totally incorrect but very entertaining, tales of history.

It's almost too much to believe that in the end Frank McCourt was brought down by a skin cancer, even though it was the deadly melanoma. Ah, but I'm sure he would find the humor in it and look forward to a roaring Irish wake. At 78 he was most certainly blessed with long life and the knowledge that from such tragic beginnings he had made something of himself. I hope Malachy won't be too lonely without him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

In the past few weeks I have developed a true admiration for Sonia Sotomayor. Throughout the game show otherwise known as confirmation proceedings she has maintained good humor, dignity, and a firm refusal to let anyone get under her skin.

Personally, I would have told a few senators where to get off, especially in the past four days. I don't know how she managed to let them get their air time, insulting her, badgering her with the same question over and over about her "wise Latina" remark, and insisting she is something she isn't without losing her cool, calm demeanor.

I was particularly impressed when she said that she could not sit there and tell them she was for or against issues at this time knowing that the Supreme Court, presented with those same issues, would study and debate the constitutionality involved for months before coming to a decision. What kind of a justice would have all the big issues of the day firmly decided in her own mind before hearing any sort of specific case or debate? It surely wouldn't be a justice I would want on the court.

Having said that, though, we are all a product of our individual backgrounds, education, gender, and life experiences. The fact that she doesn't come from a wealthy WASP family and that she is seemingly a down-to-earth realist I think bodes well for her decision making on the court. Her coolness and poise since being nominated bodes well for her ability to judge cases without bias.

Oh yes, and she was a Nancy Drew fan as a young girl. I guess it doesn't hurt my opinion that I was too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Public Enemies"

We saw a movie, "Public Enemies," last weekend that I want to encourage people to see. Most critics seem to think the movie fails in some way. As far as I can tell, they want it to tell more of the story of the 1920s and all about the gangster scene in Chicago and on and on: in other words they want a documentary. I have news for them. If this were a documentary, no one would pay to see it.

I should admit at the beginning that I've been a Johnny Depp fan for many years, ever since he was a young star of the TV show "21 Jump Street." I think he's one of the best actors in the business. He's a chameleon who can have fun playing an outrageous character like Capt. Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies and then absolutely nail a character like the 1920s Chicago gangster John Dillinger.

I was born and raised in central Illinois and although I was born long after Dillinger was killed coming out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago, everyone knew a lot about him when I was a kid. There was an abandoned old house just off Route 66 south of Springfield, in fact, that was pointed out to everyone as having been one of Dillinger's hideouts. Now I wonder if that was true, but it was certainly common knowledge in the 40s and 50s.

People were fascinated by Dillinger - his wisecracking, his cocky grin, the fact that he robbed banks but let the customers keep their own money, his frank enjoyment of the life he led. In the movie they show crowds of people lining the street to see Dillinger being taken in by the police and that rings very true. He was a celebrity in Illinois.

This movie about the end of Dillinger's life is really worth seeing, despite what the critics say. And Johnny Depp is terrific as usual.