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Book Review: The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield

The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age, by H.W. Brands

This book was on sale at my local bookstore a few years back and it piqued my interest…  Murder?  Romance?  The Gilded Age?  Bring it on!

The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age

I had never heard of Jim Fisk, and you probably haven’t either.  He was a stockbroker and corporate executive, and one of the robber barons of the gilded age.  Have you heard about the 1869 Black Friday Gold Panic?  Yep, that was Jim Fisk and his business associate Jay Gould, trying to artificially manipulate gold prices, during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.  Thanks to their connections to Boss Tweed, and their buying off of New York judges, they managed to avoid prosecution.

Jim Fisk was married, but that didn’t stop him from having a high profile affair with Josie Mansfield, and setting her up in an apartment as a kept woman.  All was going swimmingly, until Josie decided to leave him for another business associate of his, Edward Stokes.  The scandal escalated and eventually culminated in Jim Fisk’s murder.  But who was responsible?

Brands’ book explores the lives of the elite robber barons of the Victorian Era, as well as the corruption that was rampant across New York during the period.  It was interesting to see how the various players were tied together, and how money ruled above all else.

3 stars.

Refreshed…

Did you miss me?  Did you notice I’ve been away?  Well I’m back!

I’ve been on vacation!  My first real vacation since before the pandemic, and my longest vacation since my road trip in 2018.  I ran away for a full 10 days, and I made the most of my time away!  It was glorious!  I barely checked my work email, and nobody from work called.  I had so much fun exploring the Midwest, roaming around finding little nooks and crannies.  I cannot even tell you how much I have missed vacation!

Today was my first day back at work, after arriving home late last night.  Don’t worry, both Cora and Yellow have forgiven me.  Cora wanted pets as soon as I walked in the door last night.  Yellow took until mid-morning today to decide to give me a chance, but once he got a taste of those pets, he was all in…

I’ll be back to posting soon.  I’ve got adulting to do, since I have no groceries and the place needs a vacuuming.  How does the house get dirty when I’m not even here!?  Meanwhile, meet Big Ole!

 

Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change, by Maggie Smith

“Accept that you do not get to choose who loves you, who keeps their promises, who forgives.  But you can choose to love, to keep your promises, to forgive.  Choose well.  Have — and live — your own say.  Keep Moving.” 

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

Maggie Smith experienced the crushing loss of divorce, after 20 years of marriage.  To begin healing and moving on, she told herself that everyday, she must write.  It might be nothing but a few sentences, but she wrote.  This book is a collection of the things she wrote, the things she told herself to keep moving.

Each quotation expresses the profound sorrow of loss, but also the idea of hope.  In reading them, her readers can choose which resonate the most; which quotations help them to keep moving.

“Tell yourself kinder truths.  You are not failing at life; you are reeling, sure, but you are succeeding at surviving.  Keep Moving.”

5 stars.

 

COVID Diaries: Day 443

Meet Yellow.  Yellow came to live with me a week ago, after I managed to capture him on May 27 and made him endure the agonizing trip to the V.E.T…

Yellow has been around outside for a few years now; my previous neighbor fed him along with a host of other feral and neighborhood cats, raccoons, deer and squirrels.  He has come over to my deck for years, where Cora got all worked up and meowed at him from her various window perches.

Sadly, my neighbor died last August and her family sold the house.  The new owners told me that the real estate agreement included a clause stating that they would continue to feed Yellow.  Instead they built a fence and got a big, energetic dog.

Yellow did what any intelligent, self-respecting cat would do; he found a new sucker.  He moved over to my house and started giving me the big, sad, ‘won’t you feed me?’ eyes.  Once I started feeding him he began to trust me and let me pet him.  So I made plans to capture him and get him checked out.  Meanwhile, Cora seemed to get used to him; she would watch him out the window, but she no longer seemed to get upset at his presence.

He has no chip, but he was neutered, so he obviously had a home at some point.  He has an abscess under his armpit, so he got an antibiotic shot to hopefully set that on the mend.  It doesn’t seem to be bothering him.  He’s doing just fine being an indoor only cat, and does not seem in the least interested in the outdoor life.  He and Cora are adjusting and there haven’t been any big squabbles, no growling, and just one hiss.  He is still wary of her, and she seems mostly interested in trying to steal his food and making sure he doesn’t steal too much of my attentions.

Yellow’s hobbies so far include:

  • Snoozing in the guest room
  • Wrapping himself around my legs when I sit at the computer
  • Singing the song of his people between 1 and 3 am
  • Producing copious amounts of eye boogers

He is very friendly and very mellow; he didn’t have any objection to me trimming his claws even!  I do suspect he’s been low energy due to the fact that he got several vaccinations and his infection, so we’ll see!  Even though it has only been a week, I’m confident that he will settle in just fine…

Book Review: The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Le Sommet is a luxury hotel located deep in the mountains of the Swiss Alps.  It is also a converted tuberculosis sanatorium.  Elin Warner is a British police detective who is on a leave of absence from her job after an attempt to apprehend a murderer goes horribly wrong.

The Sanatorium

The hotel has recently opened after an extensive revisioning, fraught with conflict, protests, and the disappearance of the principal architect. 

Elin’s brother is getting married, and she would like to repair their estranged relationship, as he is the only family she has left.  Elin and her boyfriend head up for a week at Le Sommet, where her brother’s fiance works.  While they are there, the road up is wiped out due to an avalanche, and the funicular is stopped due to high winds.  And then, the murders begin. 

The police can’t get there, because all access is blocked.  But Elin can help, by beginning the investigation.  Does she have the nerve?

Sarah Pearse thriller takes the reader on a fast paced murder mystery with a series of twists and turns.  Don’t assume you know who did it!  She weaves the story of the hotel’s prior life as a sanatorium into her novel, making its history an integral part of the story.  Even though this isn’t a genre I typically go for, I was intrigued the whole way through!

3 stars.

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

In the years after World War II, the residents of the tiny English village of Chawton are coming to terms with their collective loss.  Husbands and brothers have been lost to the war, and the economy is struggling. 

The Jane Austen Society

However, 150 years previously, Chawton had a resident who, although unknown at the time, is rather famous now.  Jane Austen.  Her distant relatives still live in a deteriorating manor house, with an impressive library of books that Jane Austen would have read during her time here.

Several members of the community decided to try to save the small home where Austen lived while in Chawton.  They were an unlikely band, including a widower doctor, a farmer, a widow, a 16 year old girl, a descendant of Austen herself, an American actress, and a Sotheby’s memorabilia scout.  As they embarked on their charitable cause, they also revived old friendships and formed new ones. 

The Jane Austen Society has parallel stories; the surface story is the mission of the group to save Austen’s home and open it as a museum.  This story is interwoven with the stories and lives of the characters, which provide a rich depth to this novel.  Their stories often parallel the life of Austen, and her connection to family, and also her loneliness.  It is this connection that makes this a fantastic book. 

Natalie Jenner writes believably about literature, friendship, grief, and loneliness.  Her characters are believable, with real trials and victories.  I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

5 stars.

Note: Although there really was an effort to save Austen’s home in Chawton, Jenner explains that her novel’s characters are purely fictional. 

Memorial

Hey you…

You weren’t supposed to die this soon. You weren’t supposed to die like this. You weren’t supposed to leave me wondering if I’m now at that age where my people die.

We didn’t want the same thing out of life.  I was the shy introvert who always felt awkward around your friends. You were the larger than life extrovert. I wanted the quiet career and the white picket fence (I still don’t have that fence by the way).  But for that four years starting with the Halloween after I turned 18, you were my people. My first roommate. My first adult relationship. The one who taught me about love.

You wanted to be in a metal band. To make it big. I hated metal and wanted to be in bed by 9:30 – well maybe midnight back then… You stayed out all night going to band practice and playing Dungeons and Dragons, while I studied and watched M*A*S*H before bed. I never worried about what you were up to because band practice and Dungeons and Dragons was your obsession. I knew where you had been because the smell of that damned pizza on your sweat when you crawled into bed.

You were a genius. One of the smartest people I ever knew. You knew so much about history. We used to talk about it when I was learning things in school. I always wondered why you didn’t want to go back and get a degree. 

We shared my car until you got your own.  You borrowed the money from my parents.  Do you remember how you would get off work late on the day the payment was due, and even though I would try to convince you to do it tomorrow, you insisted on driving over to my parents house that night so you could make the payment on time.  My dad always respected that about you.  I wonder if you have seen dad up there in Heaven and have had the chance to catch up. 

You bought me my first legal drink at 21.  You nursed my hangover when that night ended up like most 21 year old birthdays do.  You made sure I didn’t feel so adrift at parties.  You were always a better cook than me. And your bathroom habits set the standard to which I compare every man since you. Every parent should teach their sons so well how to keep a bathroom clean.

We had lots of good days together, as broke kids just starting out, even though we were destined to go our separate ways. I loved you. You were kind. You treated me well. Those who came after you could have learned a thing or many from you.

We stayed friends after we broke up, after we got through that awkward phase.  I hope we both recognized we were good people who just wanted something different from life. I know I always thought you were a good man.

I see all your friends’ tributes to you on Facebook, and I feel removed from them. Most of them don’t know me. I came from a time before. My pictures are from a time when we almost children.  Now your oldest daughter is older than we were then.  My pictures have fresh young faces unmarked by time, and the weight of life. But I see the grief in your friends’ words, and I feel that too. I feel their pain. I feel what they feel so profoundly that it makes my heart ache and the tears fall in torrents.

I could never get behind all those cheesy sayings you did later on.  It’s the introvert in me. It’s the Virgo in me too.  I never wanted to be on stage, to be the center of attention the way you did. But you connected people with those cheesy sayings and made people feel valued and seen. That was your gift. I wish more people had that gift and used it. I wish some of the men that came since you had that gift and used it.

God speed Jeff. I know your soul is free and you will shine down on me and everybody else who is hurting with your loss. Vaya con Dios.

April 27, 1975 – May 25, 2021

 

COVID Diaries: Day 431

I had a great weekend.  Friday was my day off, and I ended up being kind-of lazy.  I did walk to the store to pick up fruit to make fruit salad for book club on Friday night.  We were able to meet on the rooftop of a downtown building, with fabulous views!  I love the company of these smart, compassionate women, and our topics of conversation ranged from COVID, to jobs, to love.  The love part makes a lot of sense, as the book, my pick, was about healing from a broken heart. 

 

Saturday was chores day.  I did get quite a bit done that I intended.  I did a deep clean vacuuming, including the stairs, the corners with the wand, and the hardwood and linoleum.  I did a lot of laundry (sheets and blankets and jackets), and folded most of it.  I did dishes, and put things away and broke down some boxes to recycle.  I mowed the lawn and raked up the heavy clumps of grass that were left behind.  Even better though, I had a chance to spend a couple of hours sitting in the sunshine, reading.  Heaven! 

Today, Tiffany and I went to lunch at a place a bit south of us, that has excellent food.  My elk burger was so delicious that I ate the whole thing! 

 

Then we went to check out a state park we had never been to before.  Rasar State Park was well worth the trip!  We spent a couple hours walking the few miles of trails, talking, and were mostly alone the entire time.  The trails take you down to the river, which is a feeding ground for bald eagles in the late fall and winter.  I’m going to have to come back in the winter…  They have a small campground with camping cabins that look like they would be fun to stay in too! 

We came home happy; there just something about nature that is so good for the soul.  And our timing was wonderful, since it started raining about a half hour after we got back.

In COVID news, our Governor FINALLY announced a full reopening no later than the end of June.  Yay!  It’s about time!  Of course, there’s still a chance that he could move away from that, but hopefully it happens.  I guess that means you have 5 more weeks of COVID Diaries, before I’ll have to abandon it for a new series! 

COVID Words of Wisdom: It is not your job to make other people comfortable with who you are.  Be wary of those who don’t want you to change or grow.  Grow anyway — there is no alternative.  Keep Moving.  -Maggie Smith

 

Circus Trip 2018: The House of Seven Gables

Day 57, Monday, September 10, 2018
The House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

First off, I must admit, I never read this book in high school or college.  I did read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s other well-known classic – The Scarlet Letter.

This home in Salem, Massachusetts, was the home of Hawthorne’s cousin during the 1800s; she entertained Hawthorne at the home often.  It is widely believe to be the inspiration for the home in the book.  In the House of Seven Gables, the home plays a large role and takes on the quality of a distinct character.  The dark shadows and creaking floors, the hidden staircase, and rooms tucked into the gables of the home added to the dark ambience of the story.  The cent shop that created the occupation for Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon provided a backdrop for the local children to mock and tease the old woman.  So given all that, what literary nerd wouldn’t want to see the home that inspired this fascinating story?

The House of Seven Gables was originally built in 1668 in Jacobean and Post-Medieval architectural styles, and its original owner, Captain John Turner I, was well off enough to expand it twice while he owned it.  During this period, it was originally believed to have had seven gables.  Future owners updated the interior in the Georgian style, with thick wood paneling, and removed four gables to make it appear more as a Federal style home, which was popular in the late 1700s.

The home was purchased in 1908 by Caroline Emmerton with the intention of preserving the home and opening it for tours, in order to support her work of assisting immigrant families who were settling in Salem in the early 20th century.  Emmerton had the exterior of the home restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, with seven gables.  She also added the cent shop that is currently a feature of the home, as an attraction for the tours. The hidden staircase from Hawthorne’s story was also added at this time.  Over the last hundred years or so, I can only imagine the numbers of people who have toured this home!

It is incredible to me to think about the people (and fictional characters) who have made this their home for the last 350 years!

The tour was really neat, with a couple of bonuses.  You can take photos inside!  And the tour takes you up the hidden staircase!  It was narrow and steep and oh-so-wonderful!  If you are uncomfortable making your way up a steep, narrow, claustrophobic staircase, you can take the regular stairs up.  I think every home should have a hidden staircase!

The grounds and a few other historic homes are on the property and open; visitors can do a self-guided tour.  One of them is the home that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in.  It was built in 1750 in the Georgian style, and was moved to the House of Seven Gables site in 1958.  Be sure to check out this home!

Of course the gift shop sells copies of The House of Seven Gables, and Hawthorne’s other works, and I did buy the book and read it.  You can read my review here.

This was such an interesting tour for anyone who enjoys historical homes, literature, or both.  At $15 in 2018, it was on the more expensive end of history home tours, but I thought it was worth it!  So whether you read the book or not, I hope you check it out.  I would love to go back!

 

Book Review: Everything is F*cked

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson

Mark Manson tells it like it is.  Without sugar coating, without appropriate language and without apology.

And yes.  Before you even ask, this post is equal parts book review and my opinion on the state of society these days…

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope

Global statistics tell a story about the world’s residents, and especially Americans, being better off than we have been at any time in the past.  We are more affluent, and less likely to be killed by any number of diseases that used to run rampant, and exploitation through slavery and other forced labor, while it still exists, is at a historic low.  Yet our PERCEPTION is that we are worse off now…

Americans have adjusted our expectations to expect that the minimum standard of living is to own a cell phone with unlimited data plan, at least three streaming services, two cars per household at a minimum, and that any home less than 2,000 square feet is not worth having…  People have all the conveniences of modern life, including riding lawn mowers, chainsaws, power wheelchairs, electric bikes, RVs, and everything else under the sun, and yet people won’t walk a half a mile these days…  Have we created our own crisis of hope?

Manson details the story of Elliot, a successful financial broker who gets a brain tumor.  Elliot’s tumor is excised, but he is left as an apathetic man; in short, he has no ability to give a f*ck.  He is seen by a multitude of doctors, who all give him a clean bill of health.  He has the ability to think rationally, he has the ability to make decisions, he even has the ability to cognitively know what he should do, based on his memories from before surgery.  But he can’t bring himself to care about the outcome.  He loses his job, his wealth, his wife, and his relationship with his kids as a result of choices that do not reflect his best interests.  But why?  

He finally finds a doctor who determines that the surgery has damaged his “feeling brain.”  And we need that part of the brain, just as much as we need the “thinking brain.”  In short, we can’t make good decisions for ourselves without the feeling brain.  Manson hypothesizes that the feeling brain is what is really driving the bus, while the thinking brain is really just trying to keep the bus from careening off the cliff.  It’s a balance.

And, Manson goes on to explain, we have become so acclimated to having it easy that we have begun to associate a little inconvenience with real suffering.  The brain is hardwired to get used to what it is given.  You experience a tragic event, and over time, your brain simply begins to process it as the new normal.  You can stay on Cloud Nine forever, and on the flip side, you can’t stay in crisis mode forever.  The brain just adjusts.  The funny thing is though, that if there isn’t a real crisis, your brain creates one around an event that wouldn’t otherwise be a big deal.  We begin to see devastation and drama where there really isn’t any.  We rage about inconveniences, or about things that our ancestors would have told us were simply not an issue.  Because they had real shit to worry about, like whether or not half of their children might survive to adulthood.  Or whether that broken arm would kill them.

So where did we go wrong?  The world today is simply so focused on rationality.  So focused on getting ahead.  So focused on having “things”, that we can’t see our true fortune.  Focused on denying our emotional needs, and the degree to which they control our choices.  We replace our emotional needs with stuff.  We are so focused on suppressing those pesky feelings, that we have created a world in which we have trouble making good decisions.  We perceive our affluence as misery…

We have it good people.  We have it really good.  So why have we become programmed to think that we don’t?  If we can’t shift this focus, we truly are f*cked.

4 stars.