Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Different Worlds

We've just returned from a couple days in Philadelphia where I spent an inordinate amount of time just looking out the hotel window because it was pouring rain. However, we had a wonderful view of the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. I couldn't stay away from the window at night. The lights on the bridge, the trains taking passengers to Camden and back to Philly, the brightly lit tugboats pushing barges in and out of the port, and the people walking their dogs or running were fascinating to this lady who has lived in the country for 15 years now. Incidentally, I wonder why they are known as tugboats, when actually they push vessels?

I noticed that some people live on their boats at a marina near the bridge. Dave and I tried to buy an old ChrisCraft yacht many years ago. It was our intention to live on it, in New Jersey in the summer, and in Florida in the winter. Dave was an expert in both outboard and inboard motors then so he could have made a living with that kind of a lifestyle. All our dreams went poof, though, when we couldn't get a loan to buy the yacht - yet a couple months later we easily got a mortgage on a house that cost much more. Go figure.

At least one of the old warehouses on the water has been transformed into an apartment house (or condos I suppose) and I thought of how romantic that would be. As I said, I had lots of time to stare and dream.

Now we're home and a nor'easter is blowing through. I look out my window in our rural house and see trees covered with heavy, wet snow, a near white-out in the fields, and occasionally hear the rumble of the state plow going by. Other than the wind and the plow, all is peaceful and quiet; no sirens, no heavy traffic or trains, nothing. Just snow silently falling and covering everything. It's so beautiful that once again I can hardly stay away from the window. Thankfully we can stay home until after the storm is gone.

It proves to me how adaptable people are. I greatly enjoyed being in Philly, even with the bad weather than prevented us from doing much more than going to an appointment there. On the other hand, I'm perfectly content at home in the country on a day like today (now that I don't have to go places of course) with all noise muffled and most people inside at home by the fire. It's a wonderful day and if we get the 15" predicted, what a great excuse to just hunker down with a blanket and a good book or watch the Olympics.

Whatever your weather and your location, I hope you're getting the most out of your time and place.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I've Been Reading

While sitting in various waiting rooms this past week, I read a mystery by an author new to me. The book was so good I'll be looking for more books by her. This was another book sale find.

Although I like going to the library, I love to support them by going to book sales. Our library is a county library which has suffered budget cuts of drastic size, unfortunately a common problem in this country, and therefore remains in an inadequate space with an inadequate amount of funds or space for new books. So I take advantage of their annual book sale to try new authors. If I don't like the book, I haven't lost much and anyway I'm contributing to a cause that means a lot to me. We're currently fundraising for a new building so the county historical society can take over all of the current historical building on the green.

INDELIBLE by Karin Slaughter was a lucky find. The book starts out with a bang - literally. Two well-armed young men shoot up the police station in a small town, killing several people and injuring others. At the time, one young patrolman happens to be giving a group of small children a tour. The chief is shot and his pediatrician wife is there but not allowed to treat him. As the scene turns into a settled hostage situation, we are taken in a series of flashbacks to the beginning of this couple's story. Meanwhile, the reader is a hostage as well since Slaughter makes sure you'll read the whole book to find out how the situation ends. If you don't read the flashbacks, you won't understand what has happened and is about to happen in the police station. Don't skim or you'll regret it.

I was on the edge of my chair through most of the book. There were so many twists, fascinating characters, and small town grudges and misperceptions involved that I was taken by surprise several times. The story involves an exaggeration of a truth of small towns. Small town people might not agree with me, but I've seen it happen. People are judged not as much by their own character and actions, but more so by their family history. If you have a drunk or a violent person in your family, people don't expect much different from you. And if your family is poor, people don't expect you to make much of yourself. That dynamic is at work in this story to the nth degree.

I will certainly read more of Karin Slaughter's books, I guarantee it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

It's Official - Media Has Taken Over

I came home from getting the car serviced this morning to find my husband in the house rather than his shop, sitting in front of the TV. He had come in to watch Tiger Woods' public mea culpa.

Well, that just beats all! Normally he figures trangressions like Tiger's are none of our business and should be kept between husband and wife. In this case, though, even Dave got caught up in the media frenzy over this gossip and he just had to see what Tiger said.

I take this as an official sign that the media has taken over the world. It was the media that demanded an apology from Tiger, and any other celebrity who does something stupid, and it was the media that hounded anyone involved in this scandal. They contacted other golfers hoping that they would denounce Tiger for his actions, they searched the world over for Elin Woods and finally photographed her skiing in Europe but to their frustration have never been able to talk to her. Everyone on TV has speculated from the time Tiger's car hit the tree on Thanksgiving on exactly what happened.

Okay, media types, you've had your apology and I hope you will do us all a favor and leave Elin and the kids out of it as Tiger asked. The problem is that the apology won't be good enough for the media; they'll pick apart every word, every nuance of his demeanor, how his mother looked, and every other possible detail and there will still be endless speculation.

This is all none of our business, folks! Please leave these people alone so that they can try to save their marriage or not, whatever they choose. Meanwhile, there is one thing most of the rest of us can be eternally grateful for - not being famous.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Upset with the President

Okay. Everyone knows I am a huge fan of our president and have been since early in the last presidential campaign. Now, however, I am very upset with him because of his announcement of a new nuclear plant to be built in Georgia.

I am not convinced that nuclear power is the answer to our energy problems. It isn't so much being afraid of a meltdown as it is the unanswered question of what to do with nuclear waste. And when a site is found for it, the dangers of transporting the waste to the site. An additional fear for me is what that waste will do to the environment where it is disposed of.

I know our energy problems need to be solved and I am in favor of drilling for natural gas such as the Marcellus Shale in my own neck of the woods (and not just because landowners are getting rich from it). Wind power is attractive to me as long as precautions are taken against killing large numbers of birds. I'm in favor of solar power and water power but these things are still expensive.

There has recently been a campaign for something ads call "Clean Coal," also endorsed by President Obama. Hate to tell you, folks, but there ain't no such animal. "Clean" and "Coal" do not belong in the same sentence. I know this because I was born and raised in Illinois coal country and now live in Pennsylvania coal country. I'm also against ethanol, which won't sit well with my good friend, a distant cousin, who is an Illinois farmer, but the reason I'm against it is because it takes so much energy to make a gallon of fuel that it's wasteful.

Needless to say, I don't have the answer to the big problems of what to replace oil with and what to fuel power plants with. If I did, I'd be a millionaire many times over. I just know in my heart that nuclear power is not it. I remember many years ago protesting the Vietnam War; maybe I need to get back out there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading While Olympics not Available

Like Tina at Tutu's Two Cents blog, our local TV networks weren't on Sunday afternoon so Dave couldn't watch the Daytona 500 and I couldn't record the Olympics. So frustrating. Dave decided to go to work, and I was a little glad to finish my current read because I just had to know what happened.

I was reading ALL THE PRETTY HORSES by Cormac McCathy. I know, I know, it's an old book but I just never had the chance to read it. Since it's the first of a trilogy and I liked it, now I'll have to find the other two books.

At first I wasn't really into it; it isn't my kind of book and it was slow. I stuck with it though because of McCarthy's beautiful use of language. The descriptions of Texas and Mexico were dreamily evocative, I felt like I was there. And finally I became quite attached to the characters, especially the hero, John Grady Cole. He's probably too stoic for many readers but I'm used to such a person since my father was a stoic.

John Grady Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins run away to Mexico when they are 17. Along the way a younger boy begins to tag along and gradually they start to feel responsible for him and even a kind of affection. Unfortunately the young boy's immature behavior causes all kinds of trouble for all three. The story has many stereotypical western plots and subplots and even the lone cowboy riding off into the sunset alone, but despite that, I fell in love with this book.

I noticed that Dick Francis has died. His last book will come out in late summer so we have one more Dick Francis mystery to look forward to. I reviewed EVEN MONEY co-written by his son Felix in this blog some time ago. I've been a fan for years but he was 89 years old and I felt like he had been a lost soul ever since his beloved wife died. May he rest in peace after a long, successful life.

And now, back to the Olympics . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Giveaway Open for Baseball Book

Head to the blog on my list called "Tutu's Two Cents" to find out about a giveaway of a new book about baseball in the Dominican Republic. What better reading to whet your appetite for the upcoming season?

The post you're looking for is Giveaway-Spring Training Opens Soon, posted Friday, February 12, 2010. The book? THE EASTERN STARS by Mark Kurlansky and it sounds like a winner. You'll learn a lot about the country and how it has become such a fertile source of baseball greats.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Betty White Can't be 88 Years Old!

Like many of you, I love Betty White. I've been watching her since back in medieval times and she never fails to make me laugh. I even remember her on the old game shows. (I know, I'm older than dirt, and I don't care.) Her portrayal of flakey Rose in "Golden Girls" was just perfect, a character I liked better than the one she played on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but not by a whole lot. She simply can do no wrong for me.

Her comment at the SAG Awards about how "plain" Sandra Bullock had nevertheless achieved so much was priceless and pure Betty White. Actually she affects me kind of like George Gobel did - all she has to do is stand there and I start laughing.

Yet she's sort of a misfit in show business. Just think, she was married to only one man, Allen Ludden, and he died back in the 1980s. She never married again. She has devoted years of her life to helping animals and loving animals. There has never been a scandal about her that I know of, and I'm certain if there had been, it would have been big, big news.

Then, at 88 of all things, she makes a commercial to run during the Super Bowl in which she plays football (although a stunt double filled in when she was tackled) and lands in a mud puddle. Abe Vigoda was good too, and unexpected, but Betty was wonderful as usual. No wonder that was one of the most popular commercials on a day when people watch as much for the commercials as for the big game.

I guess one of these days she'll have to retire, but I sure hope not. She's one of the few show business personalities that I would truly miss. And I still find it impossible to believe she's that old.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This and That

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the political sexcapades in the news. My first inclination is to laugh - this has been going on since Thomas Jefferson's day and probably before. The only difference is that now we have taped evidence, wives in the glare of the TV cameras and/or writing books about their betrayal, a media frenzy to be the first to break the news of any misbehavior (unlike media silence re FDR and JFK), and the fact that politicians now live their lives in a glass house. That last fact alone ought to cause second thoughts when they're tempted to cheat, but they never learn. The public also should learn not to expect politicians to be better than the rest of us; they're human - they just have bigger heads than most of us.

Although I like the Colts, I'm pleased about the Saints winning the Super Bowl. This is a long-coming uplift for that city's people who have suffered so much. They really needed something to cheer about. How would you like to be there for Mardi Gras this year? I'm also inspired by Drew Brees who has overcome so much to be the leader of a championship team. I noticed online this morning, though, that Peyton Manning didn't shake hands after the game. That disappoints me; I've always thought better of him than that. Did you notice it was the Peyton/Payton game - the Walter Payton award before the game, then the Saints coach and the Colts quarterback. Funny. Speaking of Walter Payton, now there was a football player and a real man.

I see Angelina and Brad are suing a UK tabloid for publishing an article that they were breaking up. Good grief! That's the headline on every tabloid in the world nearly every week. Thank heaven Dave and I aren't famous, or as good looking for that matter. I don't know how they live with such animosity. We just recently watched "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" on TV, the first time I had seen them together in a movie, and I know it wasn't great entertainment, but we laughed all the way through it. Silly, but fun.

Joe Jackson just can't keep his mouth shut, can he? Now he thinks there was a conspiracy to kill Michael. Well, Joe has always been a little off, now I guess he's gone completely round the bend. I personally believe the doctor gave him too much anesthesia, under pressure to do so by Michael himself. But what a screwed up family the Jackson's are! So much talent, so little common sense.

Washington is bracing for another big storm, and this time we might get a little snow too. This is a crazy year: Vancouver has to truck in snow for the Olympics, northeast PA where I live has had only minor snowstorms, and D.C. is socked in twice in a week. My neighbors say this is proof global warming doesn't exist - I say it's just more proof because weather is getting erratic, and storms are more severe.

Meanwhile, as the newspapers and TV cover these stories, our young people are still dying in Afghanistan and the military is beginning a new offensive in Helmand province. Why are we so concerned about whether Brad and Angelina are happy or not when we are in a war that we shouldn't be in? Why aren't we letting Pres. Obama that we want to get out of both wars? Just think of all the money going down the tube in both wars, money that could help our own people and be used for humanitarian efforts in Haiti, etc. Somehow our priorities have been skewed and they won't change unless we let our feelings be known.

Monday, February 1, 2010

DEEP CREEK by Dana Hand

This excellent novel is based on a true story, a tragedy which occurred on the Oregon side of Snake River south of Lewiston, Idaho, in 1887. Several of the characters were real people, but all of the characters are wonderfully drawn western types who are affected by the mass murder of Chinese gold miners at Deep Creek.

It begins when Judge Joe Vincent takes his daughter Nell fishing. Instead of catching fish on this day they are both enjoying so much, she catches a dead, mutilated body. More bodies turn up in the river until Vincent realizes he is faced with a mass murder of terrible proportions. The men worked for a San Francisco company which sends a representative out to hire an investigator. In due course Vincent, the company rep and a guide head down the Snake River to figure out what happened and why. This investigation will lead to disclosures of crimes and secrets far beyond their initial thought.

The story is also true in that it depicts how Chinese and Indian people were thought of as less than human. They had no rights and the best they could do was stay out of the way of whites, under the radar if possible. The guide, Grace Sundown, is half French, half Nez Perce. Although she had been taken in by the local doctor and his wife and is well educated, she is persona non grata in town. She is also an old, dear friend of Vincent. I learned quite a bit about Chinese and Indian culture; Dana Hand's research was detailed.

Once I got into this book far enough to feel like I knew the main characters, I couldn't put it down. The changes in them felt true due to their hardship and struggle. Some parts of the book are very frightening, others made me cringe, and it's difficult for the modern mind to comprehend the rampant prejudice of that time. There are many surprising twists in the story.

Dana Hand is the pen name of two people who have published nonfiction for years; in the interests of full disclosure, they are friends of mine. This review, though, isn't biased. As a former journalist, I have a lot of experience in setting aside personal bias when writing. It's just really a good book and I hope you'll read it to see for yourself.