Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Slave in the White House by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

This book will unfortunately have limited appeal because of its scholarly approach and necessary supposition of much of Paul Jennings' life. I received it from Amazon Vine.

He was born at Montpelier, James and Dolley Madison's home in Virginia. His mother was Dolley's maid and Paul was mullato so he was raised in the house as Dolley's son's "boy." As Payne Todd's constant companion, Paul was present during his sessions with his tutor. Later, as Madison's valet and doorman, he was present during political discussions and long talks about running the agricultural affairs of Montpelier. No surprise, then that he learned to read and write, and that he was more sophisticated and gentlemanly than many slaves.

During the War of 1812, Paul was instrumental in saving the large portrait of George Washington as the British approached, intent on burning the White House. Master and Mistress both trusted Paul implicitly.

However, he remained a slave until Dolley Madison was in deep financial trouble living as a widow in Washington. He had met Daniel Webster, who was known to purchase the freedom of slaves and let them work off the purchase price in his household, perhaps one of the reasons Webster was always broke. By the time Webster bought his freedom, Paul was a middle-aged married man with children.

Because of Paul's position in life, author Elizabeth Dowling Taylor was forced to make too many assumptions about who he met, where he was at any specific time, what he may have overheard, and who his slave associates were. She does use any documentation she has found in her career as a curator and researcher, and there is more than usual for a slave, but still one tires of "he might have" and "probably."

I was quite interested in learning more about Dolley Madison and about President Madison's views on slavery, as well as the life of a slave in a president's house. As I don't mind scholarly works, I did enjoy this book and I believe the author knows as much as one can know about her subject. One just needs to realize what type of book this represents.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Eat, Pray, Love" the Movie

We finally got to see Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love" last night. Both of us normally love her in anything and this was no exception. Even Dave, who usually says, "Boy, you sure can pick them," sarcastically after this kind of movie, actually stayed awake and enjoyed it. Well, maybe he just likes looking at Julia. :D

For people who have been living under a rock for the past decade, the story is about a writer who suddenly realizes her life isn't at all what she wants, divorces her husband (who doesn't want a divorce), has an affair with a much younger actor, and then leaves him as well to go on a year-long search for the meaning of life. She wants balance and inner peace, but doesn't really know what else she wants.

I couldn't help noticing that her husband was the best looking man of the three she gets involved with, but I agreed that they just didn't "fit." That she fell in love with the actor was the biggest stretch for me. I couldn't see why he appealed to her at all; as a fling, sure, but in love?

However, I loved her stay in Rome and the friends she made there. I loved her stay at the ashram in India and the characters there, especially the Texan who called her "Groceries." My least favorite section was her life in Bali. Other than the young stud who stripped for her on the beach, the characters there were not at all believable to me and I wanted to see more of the island. I loved it that she laughed at the naked guy on the beach.

This is a nice movie to rent and watch at home. Now I think I'd like to read the book because Liz intrigues me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm Thankful For . . .

First of all of course, I'm thankful for my husband every single day.

All you have to do is read a newspaper, watch the news on TV or online and you know simply the fact that I have a warm comfortable home in a peaceful, beautiful location puts me way ahead of probably the majority of people in the whole world. When I look at it that way, dusting and vacuuming don't really present such a chore.

For all the complaining I do about my COPD and arthritis, in general I'm in pretty good health for my age and I'm very grateful for that. I can do almost anything I want to do and the exceptions aren't really important.

Since I don't have family of my own, I'm thankful for Dave's family who I love like my own. His cousin in Rome, for instance, who sends me messages and pictures on FB or email. We are both quite opinionated about politics and have great discussions about Italian and U.S. politicians. The rest of his family is in Ireland and Maine, and we just got the happy news that there is another one on the way. The expectant parents will be excellent parents.

I'm thankful for my friends. I don't make friends easily and have few close friends but the ones I have are valued beyond saying. I'm also thankful for my book blogger friends. Only one of my local friends loves books as I do, so my book blogger friends fill that big hole. I learn from them, get support from them, and enjoy our discussions about the world of books.

The last thing I'll mention, though there are many more, is how thankful I am for memories. Dave and I have made wonderful memories through our 36 years together. Laughing at funny memories has gotten us through many a tough day, and remembering particularly sweet things he has done and said have gotten me through many a tough time.

I hope you have a long list of people and things to be thankful for too on this day when we take time to think about being thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"The Legend of Bagger Vance"

We've slowed down on Netflix films during football season, but still have one ready all the time. Last week it was "The Legend of Bagger Vance," an old movie with Will Smith and Matt Damon, directed by Robert Redford.

It's a silly movie really, but the characters win your heart. It's about a small town golfer with a promising future who enlists for World War I. His entire unit is killed, leaving him alone on the battlefield bereft and lost. He just disappears for several years after that, but finally returns home. The girlfriend he had left behind is unmarried yet but they can't get together, too much hurt on both sides.

A great country club and golf course owned by the girlfriend is going bankrupt, so an idea is born to save it. Have a golf tournament with Bobby Jones and I forget the second famous golfer, as well as a local guy to bring local crowds. A wonderful young boy sets out to convince drunkard Capt. Junuh (Matt Damon) to play. Suddenly, out of the misty twilight, appears Bagger Vance (Will Smith), a caddy who can save Junuh and bring back his golf game.

Well, everyone knows how this will turn out of course, but that doesn't ruin the movie at all. Matt Damon's engaging smile and his manner are perfect (although he isn't so convincing as a drunk), and Will Smith is terrific in this part. Sorry I don't remember the boy's name offhand because he's so good as an innocent symbol of hope and goodness.

I think although it's set in summer, this is a good holiday movie because of it's message. It's fun for anytime.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's National Caregivers' Month

I'm very late announcing National Caregivers' Month, but I only found out about it last Friday at a conference in Philadelphia. We attended our fourth Parkinson's event hosted by the therapists who helped Dave. Every year we learn something new, and it's so nice to see the therapists as well as other PD patients and their caregivers.

Last year on the evaluation sheet we all fill out I noted that some attention to caregivers would be appreciated since we all face difficulties both physical and emotional. This year I was happy to discover caregivers were the focus of the event.

In addition to hearing a wonderful speaker and having a break-out session with her too, I tried yoga. I've been curious about yoga for some time and there are classes about five miles from us; now I'm thinking I'll enroll in one of the less energetic classes. It was excellent for my arthritis and other aches and pains, even the tendinitis in my shoulder.

We all know caregivers for people with chronic diseases or a child, perhaps one who is autistic. I had thought some people were just better suited for this role, but you never know when you might find yourself in that situation. If you don't find a way to relieve the stress and fear, you can wind up quite ill yourself. So, the focus in this program was to take care of the caregiver. After all, if you become ill, you won't be able to take care of the person who needs you.

In the room were people who are professional caregivers, but most of us are caring for a spouse or a parent. Sometimes I think the fact that it's a loved one makes it even more difficult, so I was happy to participate in the forum and learn how to help myself. Maybe the program even gave my husband a better appreciation of the fact that this is hard on me too.

This Thanksgiving would be a good time for you to acknowledge the caregivers in your family or group of friends. Maybe you have a sister who takes care of your parents, or a friend with an autistic child, or a grandfather who cares for your grandmother. They don't have an easy life and it wears on them. Can you think of some way to help? Try to suggest something specific you are able to do; maybe bringing dinner to them one day a week or grocery shopping for them. If you live far away, get in touch with an organization that cares for the elderly and ask how you could hire someone to give the caregiver respite once in a while. There are many ways to get involved; you just have to be a little creative.

For all of us, thank you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nevada Barr's Best Anna Pigeon Novel Yet

Thanks to Amazon Vine I've just read Nevada Barr's new novel coming out January 17, 2012. The Rope is a prequel to the whole series.

In this story Anna Pigeon is 35 and she is still numb with grief at the loss of her husband, Zach, in an accident she witnessed in NYC. She has a satisfying career as a stage manager on Broadway, but she decides it might help to take some time completely away from everything familiar. She takes a summer job at Glen Canyon National Park, stationed at Dangling Rope Marina on Lake Powell.

Anna and her housemate Jenny work hard at their job clearing the area of human waste, and trying to educate vacationers about the proper way to handle toileting (to put it nicely) in the great outdoors. Jenny likes Anna but can't make a connection. Then Anna disappears. She went hiking alone on her day off and accidentally found herself in a peck of trouble.

In this story we see the making of the strong, independent woman we've grown to love over the years. She enters this summer job weak, too thin, and grief stricken. She ends the summer strong, resilient, and determined to become a national park ranger; I don't think that's giving anything away.

Meanwhile, the characters she meets and the trials and dangers she withstands are engrossing. This is an old-fashioned page turner. Anna learns that the area isn't desolate; it has its own life and beauty. I discovered another place I want to see for myself. I also came away with a new respect for her character now that I know the beginning of her story.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hill Towns by Anne Rivers Siddons

This novel is a book sale find from several years ago. I finished reading it yesterday and still cannot really make up my mind about it.

My main problem with it is that I didn't like one single character in the book. The protagonist, Catherine (Cat) Compton Gaillard, lives on a mountain in Tennessee near famed Trinity College. Her father is a teacher there and her mother is from a poor family, and they are killed in a grotesque accident on a bridge down off the mountain. Five-year-old Cat is sleeping in their car near the bridge so she is unhurt. From that moment she believes she is only safe on the mountain, and refuses to leave, even to live with her wealthy Compton grandparents. She instead insists on staying with her mad maternal grandmother and her grandfather who is a janitor at Trinity.

She marries Joe, a teacher, and they have one child, a daughter who is born blind. Cat's entire life revolves around her home and the mountain. Finally she seeks counseling, and when Joe's protege and his girlfriend decide to get married in Rome, Joe and Cat accept their invitation to go to Rome for the wedding and then accompany the newlyweds on their honeymoon through Tuscany.

It ends up with a group of seven people traveling together and the discord the journey evokes. They drink so much I felt half drunk throughout. One of the women keeps going off after a man, any man, so mostly they are three couples, but three more different couples you couldn't find.

All this time Cat has occasional panic attacks, but stubbornly continues to wander off alone. I just couldn't understand her, so most of the time I felt like shaking her silly.

At the same time, the story seems to be leading up to an event and I couldn't stop reading because I needed to find out how the trip eventually ended. So I must admit it was quite a story even though it drove me crazy more than once. The characterizations are masterful, the description of the places they all go is enough to make me want to pack a bag and go, now. Siddons is an astonishing writer, but I do wish I had been able to like at least one character.

Sad Day in Pennsylvania

I should tell you at the outset that I'm not a Penn State alum or a fan. I'm a Rutgers alum and fan, and Penn State is a rival we don't like very much.

Having said that, the firing of Joe Paterno, "our" JoePa, is very sad. He has insisted on integrity, the necessity of good grades first and athletics second, and that the members of his football team be good citizens. Obviously one of his assistant coaches of previous years was the antithesis of the values JoePa represents.

When Paterno was told of the sexual misconduct of his assistant coach with a 10 year old boy in a locker room shower, he immediately did what he was supposed to do - reported it to his boss, the athletic director. In retrospect, however, he should have followed up and when he discovered his boss wasn't doing anything about it, he should have reported it to the police. That he didn't follow up is a tragic lapse of his usual good sense and personal ethics.

I think the fact that the Board of Trustees fired him in a kneejerk reaction to the media frenzy that hit Penn State yesterday is wrong. Paterno had already stated he would retire at the end of the season, but they refused to let him retire with dignity, and that ignores all the money, media attention, and students that Coach and Mrs. Paterno have brought to the university, not to mention all the money they have given the university. Next thing you know, they'll be taking his name off the university library!

At 84, after an association with Penn State that began in 1946, Paterno was understandably tearful when he told his team he was no longer in charge. On Sat. they play Nebraska. Will the team go out determined to win for Joe, or will they be so saddened and unable to concentrate that they will lose badly? I hope it's the former.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm Just Plain Worn Out

This past few weeks have been exhausting but there is finally a tiny little light at the end of this particular tunnel. The auction of my husband's machine shop equipment will be Sat. Nov. 12. It's devastating for him, and even emotional for me.

We've been going back and forth to a scrap metal yard in Scranton getting material off the floor and out of the way in his shop. Don't want any prospective buyers falling and killing themselves on sharp edges. The auctioneer and his son have been here nearly every day tagging, sorting, and cleaning.

Meanwhile, the tension builds in our house as Dave's nerves become more frayed. Then yesterday I took my car to the dealer's because I heard squealing, clanking and other assorted bad news noises. It's a 2004 but has been the most reliable, dependable car I've ever owned. Well, after they looked it over, the verdict was, "You have to leave it here for a few days, and by the way there will be $2500 worth of repairs." I called Dave to come pick me up, and of course he was furious and suspicious. (He never drives the car.) It was only later when he realized how emotional I was that he calmed down and smiled at me. Thank you, Dr. Parkinson, these mood shifts from your disease are loads of fun.

Last night saved us I think. We have been buying season tickets for Binghamton University Div. I basketball for many years and the first men's game was last night. It was fun to see our "basketball friends" and see the new guys on the team. Tonight we will be going to the first women's game. Getting out and watching the game was very good for us.

We will get through this just fine, as we have other difficult issues we've faced together. We've always said as long as we have each other, we're okay. But we certainly will be happy when it's over!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Letters of a Woman Homesteader, Elinore Pruitt Stewart

These fascinating letters written between 1909 and 1913 by a woman who homesteaded in Wyoming were free on Kindle. I enjoy learning about those intrepid pioneer women who went west when conditions were harsh and dangerous. Perhaps I want to know more because my own great-grandparents homesteaded in Nebraska, and both my grandfather and his sister were born on the homestead. That's also where my great-grandfather lost one eye when he was chopping wood, a friend of theirs was murdered by an outlaw, and then my grandfather got polio. After all that, they returned to Illinois and a more peaceful life.

If ever a woman was made for the life of a pioneer, though, it was Elinore Rupert, as she signed her name before marrying Clyde Stewart. She was the single mother of a toddler and full of dreams to see Alaska and Hawaii and do all sorts of things when she decided to skip the Civil Service exam she had registered for and take a job as a housekeeper for a homesteader in Wyoming. Eventually she married her employer, a "gude mon" who played his bugpeep (bagpipes) every evening.

Her daughter Jerrine called her stepdad "our Clyde." Soon she had a little brother but he died as a baby. Later two more boys were born. Jerrine wrote about one of them, "My brother Calvin is very sweet. God had to give him to us because he squealed so much he sturbed the angels. We are not angels so he Dont sturb us."

They have many adventures which Elinore writes about in her letters to a former employer and friend, Mrs. Coney. She and her daughter get lost in a blizzard at one point and are running out of food. Then they see a light and hear a voice which fortuitously is that of a bachelor settler. He takes them to his cabin to warm and feed them, and he becomes a lifelong friend. In another excursion Elinore, Clyde and friends discover two Mormon women who have been left in cabins alone, and one is in labor. They deliver the baby and later return with an old-fashioned Christmas including tree and gifts for the Mormons.

One thing I do like about my Kindle is that I can find free books like this, something I would probably never have discovered without Kindle. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in the pioneer life in America.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Have a Winner!

The winner of the Macmillan Audio of Jeffrey Archer's Only Time Will Tell is Margot of Joyfully Retired!

Congratulations, Margot. Enjoy. I know you'll then be looking forward to the second book in this trilogy.