Archive | November 2022

Oh Joy, the Holidays…

I hope all of you enjoyed your Thanksgiving!  I had a relaxing day, with an early meal, a nap, some reading, and a puzzle.  I did some exploring for the rest of the weekend.

Which means we are now moving into the downhill slide to Christmas…  I’ve made no secrets about the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the holidays, but I’ll do my best to get into the holiday spirit.

Meanwhile it’s been over two months since I quit my job.  It’s been so relaxing and I’m certainly enjoying the retirement spirit.  I’ve been reading a lot and exploring.  I’m loving having the time to write again!  I’m really hoping that I can swing not returning to work; my financial advisor says I can! I’m pretty excited to be able to say I’m retired at 47; I worked hard for this.  I’ll write more on this at some point…

It has been so nice not having to stress about the impact of my toxic former boss (that’s another story for one day when the investigation is complete…).  Fun fact: my former boss finally “retired.”  That’s code for they let him save face instead of officially firing him.

I’ve been in Minnesota, which is so different from the Pacific Northwest.  It has been unseasonably warm here lately; after a few days of snow it warmed up and has been in the high 30s and low 40s for the last several days.  It has been lovely, but I shouldn’t get used to it.  Soon it will be downright frigid!  I’ve been trying to take advantage of it while I can.  The lakes and rivers around here are starting to freeze; they thawed out quite a bit during the warm days, but soon they will be freezing again.  And there is supposed to be snow starting this afternoon.

But I’ve been doing some hiking, finding trails in the area, and I even found a Bald Eagle nest with two eagles in residence! My cell phone photo didn’t do it justice so I plan to go back with my zoom lens. 

Some of the historic homes in the area have opened up for a few weekends, with all sorts of Christmas decorations.  It is a fundraiser they do – usually these homes are only available for special events.  We checked out a couple of them; they really did them up beautifully!  One had a Nutcracker contest.  They put nutcrackers everywhere, and you can go around the house and try to guess how many there are.  I guessed 192, but there are a lot!  I enjoyed wandering the homes and talking to the volunteers, hearing about the lives of the families who lived here.  A history nerd in her element!

There are a few cideries in the area making craft ciders; they are all so good!  They have tasting rooms with games and cards to make it a warm, family experience. 

So my world has been pretty relaxed lately, and I’m glad for that.  Soon I’ll be ready for some more travel, but for now I’m enjoying the low key days.




Book Review: The Descendants

The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings

It was hard to get George Clooney out of my head, since I know he stars in the film adaptation of this book.  But that might have been the best part…

The Descendants

The Descendants tells the story of Matt King, a descendant of the last Queen of Hawai’i.  His father has died and he is now the executor and largest shareholder of a family trust containing the family assets.  The family is looking at selling off the land, as they no longer can afford to maintain it.

But meanwhile, his adventurous, beautiful, impulsive wife has been severely injured in a boating accident and lies in a coma in the hospital.  Her doctors do not believe she will recover, and she has a living will that indicates she does not want any life prolonging efforts to be taken.

Matt has been a successful attorney, working long hours, but now he must figure out how to relate to his two daughters, to be able to parent them through this time of profound grief. 

This novel offers a lot of twists and turns, but I felt like Hemmings was trying too hard.  The family trust/land sale story-line didn’t add much to the story.  The character development was lacking, and left the reader feeling unable to relate.  What should have been a tough, raw story of grief and reconciliation seemed trite and superficial.

I had high hopes when I started it, but this novel left me wanting more. 

3 stars.


Book Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva

This debut novel by Samantha Silva was a gift exchange gift last year at a meeting of my book club.  I picked it up to read for a new book club pick in December! 

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

This novel is based on the life of Charles Dickens, and his writing of the novella A Christmas Carol in 1843, out of financial necessity.  Silva pulls from known facts about Dickens’ life, but fills in the gaps to create a rich, charming novel of life in 1840s London and what it would have been like to be the already famous serial novelist.

In the novel, Dickens is informed that his latest serial isn’t pulling in as much money as expected, and he’ll need to crank out a quick Christmas story in order to pull in some fast cash for his creditors.  He is paralyzed with writer’s block, and the stress of the upcoming holiday season puts him in a rank mood.  Soon he’s in the dog house with his wife, his publishers and his creditors alike.

Will he be able to pull it off in time for the already scheduled reading?

I really enjoyed this delightful novel, which weaves in some of the characters from his books.  While it’s accuracy cannot be known, I think Silva did a great job making the characters and story-line believable yet whimsical, and she kept it in line with the tradition of A Christmas Carol.  It was very well done and a quick Christmas read.

4 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Nicodemus NHS

Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Nicodemus National Historic Site, Nicodemus, Kansas

Sunday morning I woke up in Ellis, Kansas, with a plan for making my way west.  It was raining, foggy and cold, not a very pleasant morning. 

But first, I checked out Ellis a little bit.  Ellis has about 2,000 people, and was the boyhood home of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of the automotive giant, Chrysler Corporation.  They call it the Chrysler Boyhood home, but it was built in 1889 when Chrysler was 14 years old (Chrysler is a really tough name to type, by the way…). Unfortunately for me, the home wasn’t open on Sundays, so I took a photo outside and headed out. 

I also stopped to get a photo of St. Mary’s Church, an enormous Catholic Church for such a small town.  The sound of the bells was beautiful! 

After leaving Ellis, I drove up to Nicodemus National Historic Site.  This is a very rural area, and there wasn’t much to pass by except farmland on the way.  The residents of Damar, Kansas have a good sense of humor though!

I arrived at Nicodemus, after driving quite a while in the mucky weather, to find it… CLOSED…  I should have checked online, but most historic sites are open seven days a week so I didn’t even think about it.  THWARTED!  Good thing gas prices were a lot cheaper in 2018 than they are today.  I wandered around the town for a few minutes and took some photos, but there wasn’t much to see. 

Nicodemus was a black community, founded in 1877.  It was a planned community, with six black men and one white man coming together to form the Nicodemus Town Company.  They traveled to Kentucky churches and encouraged people to move to Kansas, advertising it as a place for “African Americans to establish a black self-government.”  Kansas had been a free state during the Civil War, with abolitionists fighting aggressively in the days before it came into the union in 1861. 

Nicodemus had a modest early boom, and grew to a town with a small hotel, three churches, and two newspapers, but unfortunately they were never able to entice the railroad, and the population fell to only about 50 people in the 1880s.  The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s contributed to the further decline.  The Works Progress Administration did some work in Nicodemus, building the Town Hall in 1939, which is the Visitor’s Center for the Historic Site now.  In the 1970s, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and donations from former residents helped to preserve and rehabilitate some of the historic structures. 

It was designated a National Historic Site on November 10, 1996, and has an annual visitation of about 28,000 people per year.  Despite all this, the town’s population is only 14 people.  The day I visited, I didn’t see another soul.  I will have to go back someday to get my passport stamp.

After leaving Nicodemus, I learned that the road I wanted to take was closed…  This left me taking a dirt road with caution signs, I’m sure due to the fact that it was raining and there was a risk of the road turning to mud.  Plus no cell service!  I managed fine and after some bumps and some photos of birds that didn’t seem like they belonged in Kansas, I made it back to pavement. 

It was certainly an interesting detour and I wish Nicodemus had been open! 

Circus Road Trip 2018: Oz Museum and Wamego, Kansas

Day 76, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Wamego, Kansas

Have you ever heard of Wamego, Kansas?  What? No?!?  I hadn’t either…  But there is a small town in Kansas called Wamego, and it is home to the Oz Museum.  As in the Wizard of Oz.  Why Wamego?  Was it Dorothy’s hometown?  Nope.  Apparently somebody felt that there needed to be an Oz Museum in Kansas and they created one!  There was a guy who loaned his Oz collection to the museum and it opened in 2003.

There was just one issue.  You see, the collection was only available for five years.  Fortunately for the museum, they were contacted by a second collector before the five years was up, and he happened to have an even larger collection of Oz memorabilia than the first one. 

There are memorabilia items from Oz’s entire history, from first editions of the Oz books to a reproduction pair of ruby slippers, made for the 50th anniversary of the movie.  There are displays featuring the characters from the movie, life-sized and perfect for selfies, and even some characters from the book series that didn’t make it into the movie.  You know that Oz was a book series long before it became a movie, right? 

The displays and items include more recent memorabilia too, even featuring Michael Jackson’s The Wiz version of the movie.  All in all, it’s a small museum that will please Wizard of Oz fans, and takes about an hour to see (unless you stay to watch the movie, which plays on an endless loop). 

Next door was the Oz Winery, and I stopped in to do a tasting of their wines, and found a couple that I liked.  I bought a bottle of the Emerald City Lights and they had all sorts of Oz themed items for sale, so I got a friend a t-shirt that she loves! 

Before I left Wamego, I wandered around a little bit to see a few of the Toto statues that are placed around town; each one is painted differently and they were fun to see.  There was even a Yellow Brick Road!

On the way out, I saw a sign for the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church.  Of course, I had to check this out.  What the heck is a Rifle Church?!?  As it turns out, the town of Wabaunsee, Kansas, where the church is located, was founded in 1855 by emigrants from New Haven, Connecticut who established the Connecticut Kansas Colony.  The colony then became known as the Beecher Rifle Colony, due to the following history. These abolitionist settlers heard a sermon by abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother) and he also helped supply rifles for the men to defend themselves.  Remember, at this time, there was a heated debate about whether Kansas Territory would become a free state or a slave state and tempers were high. As legend goes, the rifles were smuggled through pro-slavery areas in crates marked “Beecher’s Bibles,” and later the guns themselves were called Beecher’s Bibles. Wabaunsee became part of the Underground Railroad in late 1856 and helped Lawrence, Kansas after Quantrill’s Raid.  How’s that for some pre-Civil War history?  Of course, none of this history was explained at the church so I had to look it up later on the internet. 

I also learned that the church was finished in 1862, made of local limestone with stone accents, and built by church member Robert Banks.  It is built in a style known as Plains Vernacular and the church has designated men’s and women’s sides.  How interesting!  The church was closed, so I took a photo outside and continued on my way. 

It was time to continue on the road west.  I drove for a few hours and then stayed the night at the Ellis City Campground, in Ellis Kansas, just off I-70.  It was a small campground on the shore of the Ellis City Lake, and a quiet place, even on the weekend.  And for $15, it was a steal!  It was cold and windy that evening, so after my dinner of leftover BBQ ribs, I nestled early into my car cocoon.  One of the perks of having the bed in my car, rather than having to sleep in the tent!

Book Review: The Jury

The Jury, by Fern Michaels

I picked this one up out of a Little Library; three CD audiobooks all in one package.  I figured I would give it a listen.  I had heard of the author Fern Michaels but don’t know anything about her.  I was expecting some sort of feel good friendship novel; boy was I wrong.

The Jury (Sisterhood, #4)

The premise here is a group of women who take turns choosing who they want to get revenge on.  For whatever wrong of the past they choose, they can mete out a punishment to fit the crime.  Every quarter the women meet and decide who will be the target of their wrath.  Then then plan and carry out the revenge as a group.  It could be a drunk driver who killed a family member, someone who abused animals, or a spousal abuser.  The revenge is no holds barred…

I found this novel rather disturbing; the eye for an eye kind of justice that isn’t part of our mainstream culture.  The women were good at what they do too, which was a little unbelievable as they seemed to be socialites and soccer moms and I’m not sure where they’d pick up the ‘beat someone within an inch of their life but not leave identifiable evidence’ type of skills.  I supposed it is entertaining to think that someone that evil just may get what they deserve, but I think karma doesn’t really work that way in real life. 

The writing style was choppy and there were too many plot lines in a very short novel.  Michaels would have done better to keep it more focused.  Not having read any of her other books, I’m not sure if that is typical of her writing style.  Michaels is an author who really cranks out the books, and it shows…  At any rate, it was a quick ‘read’ at only three discs, and it was a freebie, but I wouldn’t pay for any of Fern Michaels’ books.

2 stars. 

Book Review: Lucky

Lucky, by Alice Sebold

Years ago, I read The Lovely Bones, a novel by Alice Sebold about the rape and murder of a teenage girl.  The writing was powerful and compelling, and when I learned that Sebold had written a memoir about her own rape, I purchased it.  Of course, as is typical for me, it has been sitting on the to-be-read shelf for years until recently when I pulled it out and gave it a read.  I’ve been trying to go through some of the books that have been waiting for a long time…


Sebold’s writing in this memoir is powerful and compelling, and she writes with a rawness about her experience.  She was brutally raped and beaten in a tunnel in a city park, followed and attacked as she was walking home from a frat party after midnight during her freshman year of college in 1981 at Syracuse University.  The police said she was “lucky” to have not been murdered.  Five months later she sees her rapist on the street, contacts the police, and he is caught and convicted. 

This memoir tells the story of her attack and rape, her process of healing and coming to terms with it for years afterward, and the subsequent capture and trial of the rapist.  She testified in the trial after he was caught, and based on her testimony and hair analysis, the prosecutor successfully convicted him.  The story is true, and she tells it in graphic detail; a purge of the feelings that she must have held in for years after the attack.  Her descriptions are hard to read, and she makes it easy to identify with the horrific experience of her attack.

In fact, there’s only one problem with this story, and it is a huge problem.  Ms. Sebold identified the wrong man.  When she was brought in for the lineup, she chose the wrong man.  Yet, they tried and convicted him anyway.  That is how good she was at telling her story.  And that wrong man spent 16 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.  He was released from prison in 1998, and finally exonerated based on a reexamination of the evidence in 2021.

When he was exonerated, she “apologized” for his wrongful conviction, but in reading her statement, one sees a half-assed apology.  One where she says she’s sorry for what happened to him, but she does not apologize for her role in it.  In fact, she basically blames the criminal justice system and does not own up to her part of the inaccurate identification of an innocent man.  And that’s where this story falls short for me.  Lucky sold over a million copies and launched Ms. Sebold’s career.  She made a lot of money off this man’s misfortune.  Her publisher has now ceased distribution of the book, pending consideration of “how the work might be revised.”  But is that enough?  Does she owe a debt to the man she helped put in prison?  His life was destroyed as a result of her testimony.  And while I can identify with the trauma she went through, what is the appropriate way to move forward?

I will say one thing; this novel really does make one think, but I can’t recommend purchasing any lingering copies on the market. 

2 stars. 

Book Review: A Regular Guy

A Regular Guy, by Mona Simpson

I read Anywhere But Here about 20 years ago, and enjoyed it, so at some point picked up this one by the same author and never read it.  But the time finally came for me to pull it off of the TBR shelf!

A Regular Guy

Two young adults fall in love, have a wild fling one summer, and make a baby.  But Tom Owens doubts the baby is his, and doesn’t take responsibility for his daughter Jane.  Mary struggles to raise Jane alone, in and out of a series of hippie communes, and shacking up with a series of men who never go anywhere.  Meanwhile Tom has made it big in the bio-research industry, founding his own business.  But his hippie roots are hard to shed and he lives a fairly itinerant lifestyle for a millionaire, living mostly in one room of a dilapidated mansion with his long-time girlfriend that he never marries.

Mary decides that she can’t take it anymore when Jane is ten years old, and teaches her to drive so she can make a middle-of-the-night trek down the mountain alone to her father’s home.  But what will he do when she shows up?  Will he accept responsibility?

I had trouble appreciating this novel.  The characters were annoying, with nobody ever seeming to take accountability.  Mary never acts like an adult, just expecting a man she hasn’t been with in over 10 years to take care of her.  Tom never lifts a finger to go out of his way for anyone, only doing what is convenient for him at the time, an entitled rich kid.  Jane is more adult than either of her parents, yet they both impose ridiculous rules on her, like not going to school. 

The places in the novel are confusing and detract from the story.  Simpson tells about real cities in California, but then chooses to fictionalize others.  It was unnecessarily distracting.  Choose one method; either all the places are fictionalized, or none.  The plot meanders, with no real direction and no real point.  I couldn’t tell you the purpose of the plot, or the climax, other than to teach a moral lesson that some people shouldn’t be in relationships, and shouldn’t have children. 

Only as I was sitting down to write this review did I learn that author Mona Simpson is the biological sister of Steve Jobs, who founded Apple Computers.  He was put up for adoption as an infant, and only as adults did Steve and Mona meet and develop a relationship. This novel is apparently a loose fictionalized version of his life.  When I think about it after the fact, it makes sense in terms of some of the events in his life.  Perhaps this really was what Steve Jobs was like, but ouch, her portrayal of him stings. 

While it was a quick read, there are far better novels of family.

2 stars. 


Circus Trip 2018: Brown V. Board of Education NHP

Day 76, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park, Topeka, Kansas

After staying a night at a KOA in Topeka, Kansas (nice place), I took the opportunity to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park in Topeka, Kansas.  This was one of the pivotal sites in the Civil Rights Movement! 

The Monroe Elementary School had a long history even before the Brown legal case.  John Ritchie, an abolitionist, bought a 160 acre plot of land in 1855 and after the Civil War, a number of black families built homes on this land.  Due to the large size of the black community here, the local school board decided to set up a school here for the black children in the neighborhood.  The current Monroe Elementary School is the third school on the site; it was built in 1926 and operated as a school until 1975. 

So, back to Brown v. Board of Education.  You have heard of this landmark case I’m sure, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, ruling that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.  And this, I agree, is true.  But how did they know?  It’s interesting, because social scientists helped to answer this question.  They had done research with black children, showing them white and black dolls and asking the children which dolls were good and which dolls were bad.  The black children overwhelmingly said that the white dolls were good and felt that they were most similar to, and preferred, the white dolls.  Evidence was presented during the case to show that this impact of segregation would follow the children for the remainder of their lives.  More recently, implicit bias studies performed at Harvard have shown similar results. 

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  At least at Monroe Elementary, a segregated school wasn’t necessarily a bad school.  Black teachers sat on the committees to select books for the school district, so books were the same at all of the schools in Topeka.  Teachers at Monroe were highly educated.  Teachers and parents alike worried (rightfully so) that black teachers would be unable to find jobs at the desegregated schools.  However, the research showed that even at good segregated schools, the segregation itself would leave black students with a lasting feeling of inferiority. 

Monroe Elementary School had a self-guided tour and the exhibits were interesting.  I spent about an hour reading the information and exploring the rooms of the school, which was in good shape for a school that was almost a hundred years old.  One of the dolls from the experiments was on display, along with a detailed timeline of the case, as well as timeline of this history of African Americans in the United States, from the time they were first brought to the colonies on slave ships. 

It was certainly worth a visit to this important site in our nation’s history!

As I made my way west, I made a couple of brief stops at historic buildings.

The historic Ritchie House, built in 1856, was the home of John Ritchie, the abolitionist who bought the land where the community and Monroe Elementary were built.  It is open to the public a few days a week, but it was closed when I stopped by.

And the historic Hinerville School was a cute stone one-room schoolhouse, built in 1898, in Alma, Kansas.  Both places were neat to see!

Book Review: The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair, by Margaret Creighton

What a fascinating book!  I was wandering around the local bookshop with the last $5.00 on a gift card.  If you know me, you know me in a bookshop is dangerous news.  But I digress.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair

This book was just sitting there, with it’s brightly colored cover and the words Assassination and World’s Fair.  Wait!?!  A book about McKinley’s assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair?  Of course this book was going to suck me in!  And it was on sale! (but I probably would have paid full price)

But it is much more than that.  The book details the events in Buffalo, New York over the summer and fall of 1901, from the World’s Fair, to the assassination and McKinley’s slow death, to the decision to execute Jumbo II, the enormous circus elephant who was exhibited at the fair.  She captures the peripheral events involving the daredevils at nearby Niagara Falls; men and women attempting to make a name (and a fortune) for themselves by surviving a plunge over the falls, as well as the performers who made up the cast of the midway, one of the most popular parts of the fair. 

The author skillfully weaves together the stories, using a number of primary sources, including the journal of a young woman who visited the fair dozens of times over the course of the summer.  I was intrigued and interested, as Creighton told the story of a major event in U.S. History, and juxtaposes it with the smaller, mostly forgotten stories of people who never achieved fame. 

Very well done.

4 stars.