Sunday, December 30, 2012


If you follow my blog, you know I read some quirky books now and then.   My interests are so eclectic that you just never know what will appeal to me.  This one I can't really explain very easily though.  I was a huge fan of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, yet I've never seen the movie where they starred as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Still, I am interested in outlaws of the Old West and wanted to know more about their real story.

The author of this little book is one of many people who have researched Butch Cassidy's real life story and tried to figure out whether he was killed in Bolivia or made it back to the U.S. and lived to be an old man in the State of Washington under the alias William T. Phillips.

There are photographs in the book and although they didn't look at all like Newman and Redford, it was fascinating to see the real men.  Their wives, legal or common law, are pictured too.  There are also facts about his early life.  He was born Leroy Parker, Jr. and used many aliases during his outlaw life.  He loved children.  People found him charming and anyone who got to know him loved him.  He never robbed an employer, no matter how easy it would have been.  

If you're looking for definitive answers, though, you'll be disappointed.  This book presents the different theories and the "proof" behind them.  I'm a born researcher so this really caught my interest.  I'm almost convinced that the two men killed in Bolivia were misidentified, and that Cassidy did live in the U.S. until he died between 1937 and 1941.  However, I'm not totally convinced and neither are most people who have looked into it.  Guess it's one of those mysteries that will never be solved.  I think Cassidy would get a kick out of that; he had a great sense of humor.

Source:  Win from LibraryThing
Recommended reading

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS by Harlow Giles Unger

Despite my lifelong love of American history and politics, I knew very little about John Quincy Adams.  Oh of course I knew that he was the first son of a president to become president himself and I knew that he died serving in the House of Representatives.  That last bit should have alerted me to the fact that this was a most unusual man; can you imagine any of the presidents in recent memory to serve afterward in the House?  Anyway, that little tidbit somehow just passed right over me.

Now I know that his real service to this country came before and after his undistinguished presidency.  He had a long career in the foreign service, learning as he traveled with his father throughout Europe on diplomatic missions.  His mother and father were very hard on him, making him study a classical education seriously and then restudy to enter Harvard.  He became a scholar and excellent diplomat, but wasn't able to reach down to the level of the common man.  Washington habitues thought of him as a snob and they weren't wrong.

I hadn't realized that alcoholism ran in his mother (Abigail's) family so many of the Adams sons were lost to that disease and were a constant thorn in the side of John Quincy.  He supported them and tried all his life to help them.  

Ironically, after his presidency he discovered that he actually liked campaigning and realized his true love of politics.  To his wife's despair, he threw himself into his work for the House and to the despair of his colleagues, he became passionate about bringing an end to slavery.  

As a child, John Quincy sat with his mother on a hill near their home and witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill.  He died in 1860 shortly before the Civil War.  Imagine all that this one man who was so deeply involved with our government witnessed and took part in during his long life.  That and the highly readable prose of the author make this one fascinating look at our history and a man who led a life one can only dream about.  I won't overlook him again.

Source:  gift from a friend
Highly recommended reading

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Now

Tomorrow I hope to review a wonderful new biography of John Quincy Adams that I've recently finished.  For today I'd just like to wish all of my readers a happy Christmas.  

We have a little bit of snow.  Not enough to make driving hazardous, just enough to be pretty.  It's cold, but then it's December in northeast PA.  Santa's reindeer left footprints all over our yard last night but I guess he decided we hadn't been good because he didn't leave any gifts.  Oh, except for the cookies I found in our grill on the patio.  Seriously!  A neighbor who is always very thoughtful, brought a huge container of cookies while we were gone yesterday and so the animals who wander around here wouldn't be tempted, she left them in the grill.  Thankfully, she called later to tell me about it.  I don't think it would ever have occurred to me to look in our grill for goodies.  :D

It's a lovely quiet day and that's exactly what we need.  I hope you are all having just the kind of day you like as well.  Until tomorrow . . .

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sad, Discouraging Times

I spoke too soon when I went on and on about how easy radiation therapy is.  Turns out it wipes me out as much as chemo did.  I come home from treatments each day about noon, sit down in my recliner, and sometimes that's about as far as I get.  Watery eyes have prevented me from reading much, so I nap and nap and eventually crawl out of the chair to get supper or go to bed. This is very discouraging.

However, my treatment Tuesday will put me halfway through the 22 treatments I'm to have.  That will lift my spirits for sure.  At least the tiredness is the only side effect of this part of my fight against cancer and for that I am very grateful.  I'm even getting my sense of taste back, after months of everything tasting like cardboard.  Since Dave's cousin sent me a box of See's chocolates, that's a very good thing.  He spoils me awfully, having sent chocolates and flowers earlier.

I suppose this weekend, especially today, I'm just generally sad because it's dreary and rainy here which makes my grief over the victims of the school shooting in Connecticut so much worse.  I have lived in Connecticut, not far from Newtown.  That little town is a Christmas-card pretty New England town where you think of involved, loving parents and their beautiful children.  It's a small town haven from the cities and people live there particularly in order to give their children the best possible childhood.  Now of course people will think of this tragedy when they think of Newtown, but those parents whose children survived the horror will be especially loving and again strive to give the kids the best possible childhood.  I wish them the best.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

About Me, Again

I see that I've been letting friends on Facebook know how the cancer battle goes, but haven't filled in Blogger friends for some time.  

The good news is that I've finished chemotherapy.  I didn't have the awful time of it that many others do, but still it's definitely not fun.  I absolutely despised the bad taste in the mouth, the painful mouth, the "chemo brain" that made me feel like I only had half a brain, the draining fatigue, my dying fingernails, and the occasional nausea and vomiting.  Nearly all of that is gone except for the fatigue and the yucky fingernail thing.

One VERY annoying side effect for the past month has been watery eyes.  When I try to read, it looks like the words are doing the breast stroke across the page.  I can't even see the players well at our basketball games.  I'll be overjoyed when this is gone.

However, radiation is going well.  It actually takes longer to undress, put on the gown, and then get dressed again than it does to have the treatment.  After having 4 dots tattooed on my chest and sides, I fail to see why anyone would elect to have a tattoo.  Ouch!   The treatment itself is painless, nothing touches me except the tech who positions me on the table, and I'm back out of there in minutes.  

It's so nice to begin to feel like myself again.  As the drugs leave my system, I can think and I don't sort of space out every once in a while.  I can figure things out.  It's great.  Now to get my physical strength back.  I'm tired of being weak and judging whether I can walk far enough to go into a store with Dave.  I'm tired of having him doing things for me; I actually want to go grocery shopping for myself!  As much as I've always hated grocery shopping, this is a big thing.  :)

I won't be done by the end of the year but it will be close.  Then I'm planning for a happy, healthy 2013 as a cancer survivor.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Digging into Mount TBR with A MAP OF THE WORLD

Several years ago I noticed a copy of Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World and stuffed it into my bulging bag to purchase.  I recognized it as having been a big seller and remembered hearing of Hamilton as a wonderful literary writer.  Then the book sat on my shelf until recently when I had time between review books to explore a little.  I hadn't noticed it was also an Oprah pick or I might not have bought it to begin with.  I haven't had much luck with her book club choices.

As I opened the cover a couple weeks ago, I discovered a previous reader had left a post-it note:  "An awful lot of introspective and retrospective in the beginning.  Heats up a bit when trial and jail episodes are told."  It was signed with the reader's initials.  If that note hadn't been there, I think I would have given up on the story before I had gotten very far, but thanks to it I persevered.  

To say I liked A Map of the World would be going too far.  However, the story with all that introspection and retrospection made me think.  I did get involved with the characters and the concept of how we have a tenuous grasp at best on our own lives, and in the blink of an eye it can all come spiraling out of control.  A farm couple, Howard and Alice, struggling to make their living and working hard have two small daughters.  They are friends with a couple who also have two daughters and one day while all four girls are at the farm, the friends' youngest daughter wanders away and drowns in their pond.  Alice has a breakdown.

Alice has been working part-time as the elementary school nurse.  A boy she dislikes who has been abused at home makes some accusations out of spite, and now the whole world has gone crazy in Alice's mind.  Meanwhile, sensible, calm Howard can't seem to make sense of the world either.

This is no happily-ever-after story.  In fact, I found it depressing reading at a time when I should have been reading cheerful stories.  It's definitely food for thought though and I'm not sorry I stuck with it to the end.  The quality of Hamilton's writing cannot be denied and I think my literary education is better for having read this book.