Wednesday, December 31, 2014

April 4 and September 18

The dates April 4 and September 18 of 2014 are very special ones in my heart. 

On April 4th Hazel Nina was 4 months minus 1 day, which is the exact age her mother Margaret was when she arrived from South Korea. 

We gave her a book we used to read to her mother - a lovely, wordless book of comfort at the end of a day to mark this once in a lifetime occasion. The pictures show such love between the parents, and the love they have for their little girl. 

I wrote in it commemorating this special day. 
April 4, 2014
For Hazel Nina on the day you are 4 months minus 1 day old - the same age your mummy was when she came to us from South Korea on November 19, 1982. We love you so much - Grampy and Grammy. 

And on September 18th, Campbell Walker was 4 months and 12 days old, the same age his father Michael was when he arrived from South Korea on August 26, 1985.

We gave him a book that was mine when I was a girl, and that Michael adored when he was a little boy. It features a happy family of long ago who buy a new truck.

I wrote inside:
September 18, 2014
For Campbell Walker on the day you are 4 months and 12 days old - the same age your daddy was when he came to us from South Korea on August 26, 1985. We love you so much - Grampy and Grammy.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

December Reading

58. Mr. Jelly's Business - book 4 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1937
finished 12/1/14

59. Winds of Evil - book 5 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1937
finished 12/4/14

60. The Bone is Pointed - book 6 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1938
finished 12/11/14

61. The Mystery of Swordfish Reef - book 7 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1939
finished 12/18/14

62. Spot's First Christmas 
by Eric Hill
children's book 1983
finished 12/19/14
written about here.

63. Bushranger of the Skies - book 8 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1940
finished 12/22/14

64. Death of a Swagman - book 9 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1946
finished 12/29/14

My reading and television life has been centered in Australia these last weeks. Via my beloved Tunnelbear, which I mentioned here, I’ve seen Janet King, The Code, Miss Fisher’s Mysteries (from Acorn and Netflix instant), A Place To Call Home, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

And as I mentioned in a couple Monthly Reading Notes, I’ve been reading the Napoleon Bonaparte series by Arthur Upfield. 

I’m not sure that I’ve ever read such fascinating mysteries, with such an interesting sleuth. Napoleon Bonaparte is the son of an Aborigine mother and white father. He knows nothing about his father, and he was found next to his dead mother when he was a baby. He was brought to an orphans’ home where he was given his unusual choice of name, and treated with love and kindly care. He grew up a happy, contented soul who is now married with three sons. His wife is also part Aborigine and part white. They are truly happy though his forays all over Australia as a detective do drive her a bit crazy. I’m hoping we get to know her better in some of the following books. 

Though the constantly used description ‘half-caste’ makes me cringe, I realize this would have been the known and used term in the time the books were published. There is prejudice. There is name calling. And there is insecurity in the man who likes to be called just ‘Bony.’ He is a little overly dependent on people looking at him as a person, not part Aboriginal, especially on women who do not judge him. He doesn’t cheat on his wife; he doesn’t fall in love with the women; but he is drawn to them and to their good opinions of him. Other than that, he is very secure because he knows he will always solve the case. He knows he is a genius because he has the logic of a white man and the tracking abilities of an Aborigine. In his mind it is very cut and dried. There are some facts which were surprising to me. One, that a person who is only part Aborigine may begin life quite white in appearance, but may, and often does, darken as he gets older. I had to look this up and see if it was a novelistic device or if it really happens, and it seems to be something that can happen or not.

I found this very interesting page

Racist definitions of Aboriginal identity
Caste categories in an identity card used in the 1940s.From 1910 to the 1940s white people classified Indigenous people into castes. They defined
• a ‘full-blood’ as a person who had no white blood,• a ‘half-caste’ as someone with one white parent,• a ‘quadroon’ or ‘quarter-caste’ as someone with an Aboriginal grandfather or grandmother,• a ‘octoroon’ as someone whose great-grandfather or great-grandmother was Aboriginal.
Another informative site is the National Geographic page (click on feature article).

Most everyone Bony comes in contact with either respects him immediately, or comes to before the book is over. He is the most amazing detective. And the reader is made privy to Bony’s thoughts, fears, worries. When he does something, we know why and how. Every single case is completely different one from another. And every place he goes is in a different area. If you’ve ever read Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, or the English title Down Under, you know that Australia is a one of a kind place. The creatures, the landscape, the weather are like no other. The language is full of words I had to look up. Never have I used my Kindle dictionary (Oxford Dictionary of English) more.

claypan |ˈkleɪpan| nounAustral. a shallow depression or hollow in the ground with an impermeable clay base which holds water after rain.

The Walls of China 

A billy-can
billy 1 |ˈbɪli| (also billycan |ˈbɪlɪkan| ) noun (pl.billies) Brit. a tin or enamel cooking pot with a lid and a wire handle, for use when camping.ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: perhaps from Aboriginal billa ‘water’.

A swag
 Austral./NZ a traveller's or miner's bundle of personal belongings.

Cabbage trees 

We also learn much about the Aboriginal culture, including what to me was one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard. Pointing the Bone.
The expectation that death would result from having a bone pointed at a victim is not without foundation. Other similar rituals that cause death have been recorded around the world. Victims become listless and apathetic, usually refusing food or water with death often occurring within days of being "cursed". When victims survive, it is assumed that the ritual was not done faultlessly. The phenomenon is recognized as psychosomatic in that death is caused by an emotional response—often fear—to some suggested outside force and is known as "voodoo death." As this term refers to a specific religion, the medical establishment has suggested that "self-willed death," or "bone-pointing syndrome" is more appropriate. In Australia, the practice is still common enough that hospitals and nursing staff are trained to manage illness caused by "bad spirits" and bone pointing.
So, you see that reading these books is an education for this reader. Every book teaches me something new about the country, the culture, the people, the history. As well as an endearing sleuth and excellent, well-solved mysteries. 

November Reading

53. The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe - book 15 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction 2014
finished 11/1/14

I love this series, I love the characters, I love the setting. It is one of the most perfect reading experiences I've ever had. I can't believe this is the 15th book. AMS is a wonder. He is my age, and I am just astounded at all the writing he does along with his many other activities. 

54. Mystery in White
by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon
mystery 1937
finished 11/9/14

Have you heard about the British Library Crime Classics reprints? You may read more here. I am thrilled with the new-to-me reading opportunities! Mystery in White is the first one I've read, but I've bought a few others in paperback. I'm pretty sure I will end up buying them all. Beautiful covers and old mysteries. Heaven. 

I so enjoyed Mystery in White. It begins in one of my favorite settings for a mystery - a train, and then moves to another favorite setting, the English country house. The train is caught in a snowstorm and cannot go on. Five passengers get off to find another train, get lost, and find an abandoned house. It looks like whoever lived there left very quickly. And the reader is off on a little Christmas adventure. 

If the name Farjeon seems familiar it may be because his sister was Eleanor Farjeon, a writer of books for children, whose words I recently posted in a 'Book Passage' quote here. And she also wrote a very special song that is sung in churches, and was made famous by Cat Stevens, who is now known as Yusuf. 


November 2014

He put the song up on his Facebook page recently when a new grandchild was born. What life Eleanor Farjeon's 1931 song has all these years later!

55. Holiday Buzz - book 12 in the Coffeehouse Mysteries series 
by Cleo Coyle
mystery 2012
finished 11/12/14

In 2013 I made myself a reading schedule for the Coffeehouse Mysteries I hadn’t read yet so I would end up in November or December with Holiday Buzz. Well, that went out the window with the excitement of the pregnancies, then Margaret’s hospitalization and Hazel Nina’s early birth. So, this year I tried to catch up so I could read it this year and I did pretty well, except I haven’t read book 11 yet, A Brew to a Kill. I decided that if I wanted to read Holiday Buzz in time for the holidays, I wouldn’t make it unless I skipped ahead, something you may know I never like to do! But, because Cleo Coyle does such a good job catching the reader up on who’s who and how they fit into the story, it worked out okay. I'm happy in the company of these ongoing characters whose lives change a bit with each new book. Great series.

56. The Sands of Windee - book 2 in the Inspector Bonaparte series 
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1931
finished 11/17/14

57. Wings Above the Diamantina - book 3 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1936
finished 11/24/14

I briefly mentioned this series in my October Reading post. Many of us who read series books know the disappointment that may come with the second book, or the fifteenth. I just wrote about this with the Isabel Dalhousie books. Sometimes we go back, but sometimes we leave forever. As of this writing, I have now read nine books in this marvelous Australian series, and I can't imagine stopping until I finish. Much more in the December Reading post.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

October Reading

It took me over four years to get back to Isabel Dalhousie after my disappointment with The Lost Art of Gratitude. I bought the next in the series by Alexander McCall Smith, The Charming Quirks of Others, a few months after I read The Lost Art, but only began reading it this fall. I’d read a fair bit of Doctor Thorndyke, and wanted something else for a while. I looked through my Kindle books, and found this, and thought I’d give it a try. I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t care for it but apparently the Lost Art was a fluke. I loved this book. Really loved it, and remembered why I so enjoy the Isabel Dalhousie series. 

I went on to read the following books, and loved each one. So happy to be in her company again. I must admit that she reminds me of myself a little. I am always thinking things out, as Isabel does. I wonder, I ponder.

46. The Charming Quirks of Others - book 7 in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction 2010
finished 10/7/14

47. The Forgotten Affairs of Youth - book 8 in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction 2011
finished 10/12/14

48. The Perils of Morning Coffee - book 8.5 in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction novella 2011
finished 10/13/14

49. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds - book 9 in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction 2012
finished 10/18/14

And then when I got caught up with Isabel, I began reading a series I had never heard of in my youth. I got a 15-book megapack of Mildred Wirt’s Penny Parker books.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself. She is a teenager who lives with her father, a newspaper man. She gets involved in cases through him. I felt amazed at how much freedom she had. He trusted her to do the right thing, and she mostly did. 

Mildred Wirt Benson is the same woman who wrote the Nancy Drew stories, and I read 
Benson, who was a newspaper reporter herself, favored Penny Parker over all the other books she wrote, including Nancy Drew. Her obituary quoted her as saying, " 'I always thought Penny Parker was a better Nancy Drew than Nancy is,' Mrs. Benson said in 1993."
I greatly prefer the ones I've read so far to the Nancy Drew series.

50. Danger at the Drawbridge - book 3 in the Penny Parker mysteries
by Mildred A. Wirt
young adult mystery 1940
finished 10/23/14

51. The Tale of the Witch Doll - book 1 in the Penny Parker mysteries
by Mildred A. Wirt
young adult mystery 1939
finished 10/25/14

And now I come to the best, best mystery discovery of this year or any year. I’ve read Arthur Upfield’s name occasionally but for some reason was never drawn to begin his work. And I don’t know why I decided to buy the first of his mysteries but am so very happy I did. You will see in my November and December book notes that this series is pretty much all I’m reading now. The minute I finish one I start the next one. Never have I been so involved in a place, a detective, a society. He was the first to write about the Australian Aborigines. It isn’t always easy reading to learn how they were treated and thought of, but the tales are so good that I just go on and on. There will be more about the author and the series in the December reading post.

52. The Barrakee Mystery - book 1 in the Inspector Bonaparte series
by Arthur Upfield
mystery 1928

finished 10/30/14

August and September Reading

I shall always remember August 2014 as the month I was first introduced to the character Dr. Thorndyke. I can’t believe that Arthur Conan Doyle is so famous for Sherlock Holmes, while R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. Thorndyke isn’t nearly as well known. I think Freeman’s character is more well-rounded and interesting. I also feel that Freeman's books are much more readable and appealing. I’ve tried Sherlock Holmes time and again, and just can’t get interested. More about the character here.

The Fantastic Fiction site says:
 For the first twenty-five years of his writing career, Freeman was to dominate and remain unrivalled in the world of detective fiction, introducing the well-loved and highly memorable Dr Thorndyke.
You may get them for free, or for peanuts, on the Kindle. Indeed, one of the greatest things about ebooks is the availability and low cost of old books.

41. The Red Thumb Mystery - book 1 in the Dr. Thorndyke series
by R. Austin Freeman
mystery 1907
finished 8/15/14

42. John Thorndyke's Cases - book 2 in the Dr. Thorndyke series
by R. Austin Freeman
mystery short stories 1909
finished 8/20/14

43. The Eye of Osiris - book 3 in the Dr. Thorndyke series
by R. Austin Freeman
mystery 1911
finished 9/2/14

44. The Mystery of 31 New Inn - book 4 in the Dr. Thorndyke series
by R. Austin Freeman
mystery 1912
finished 9/14/14

45. The Singing Bone - book 5 in the Dr. Thorndyke seriess
by R. Austin Freeman
mystery short stories 1912
finished 9/19/14

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Quote du jour/Theodore Roosevelt

I bought the DVDs of The Roosevelts by Ken Burns for Tom this Christmas, and as I was watching this evening I heard this.

After marrying Alice Hathaway Lee, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his diary:
Our intense happiness is too sacred to be written about.
Isn't this just so amazingly different from many people now who proclaim their love everywhere? Sometimes I think too much is said to the world that should be between the couple.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Today's picture/hilarious tee shirt

A secret santa at Matt's work gave him this tee shirt. I was in stitches when he walked in wearing it yesterday. Found these pics online.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Child's Christmas in Wales movie

The movie A Child’s Christmas in Wales takes on a whole new meaning for me now that I am a grandmother. We first watched it with our Margaret and Michael when they were very young. I identified with the mother, and now suddenly I see the grandfather, played wonderfully by Denholm Elliot, as my contemporary. When did I change from a mother in her thirties/forties to a grandmother in her sixties? It doesn’t seem real in a way because I see this movie every single year, and it doesn’t change at all. 

I took special notice of a particular part of the movie. Geraint has been telling his grandson about Christmas when he was a boy. His daughter, the boy’s mother says, “thanks, dad, for keeping an eye on him," and he responds, “it’s no trouble, it’s a pleasure. He sits there good as gold while I ramble on. He seems interested, too.”  

This may be the last great gift of a lifetime - the grandchild (or great grandchild) who hangs on your every word. The way Campbell Walker and Hazel Nina look at me sometimes, I begin to feel like the genius of the world when I’m just telling them about say, the KitchenAid mixer, or remote controls, or Jack Johnson. 

The first year I began writing the blog I posted this as a quote du jour:

Monday, December 25, 2006

Looking through my bedroom window, out into
the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,
I could see the lights in the windows
of all the other houses on our hill and hear
the music rising from them up the long, steadily
falling night. I turned the gas down, I got
into bed. I said some words to the close and
holy darkness, and then I slept.

After the grandfather says these words to the boy, he looks down and his grandson is asleep. And then the most tender look comes upon his face as he kisses the boy goodnight, and the boy gently touches his face. I’ve always loved this scene, but now. Oh, I know the feeling behind that look. The love, the amazing, amazing love for a grandchild is in his eyes. I know now. I thank God I lived to experience this. 

The story is one of continuity. The grandfather is living with his daughter, her husband, and their son in the very house he grew up in. He gives the boy a snow globe he was given when young. The boy sleeps in the same room his grandfather slept in. Since my children’s children have been born, they speak often of their childhoods. They want Hazel Nina and Campbell Walker to experience what they did. Margaret in fact showed Hazel A Child’s Christmas in Wales as her first movie. At one point the boy says your Christmas as a boy is just like my Christmas, and we see that yes, in many ways it is. 

I’ve actually bought a second copy of the movie just in case something happens to mine. If you don’t own it, you may see it on YouTube here.

To me it is the essence of Christmas and family and indeed, life itself. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Today's poem by Maxine Kumin

The Sunday Phone Call

Drab December, sleet falling.
Dogs loosely fisted in torpor. 
Horses nose-down in hay. 
It's the hour years ago
I used to call my parents 
or they'd call me.

The phone rings. Idly
empty of expectation 
I answer. It's my father's 
voice. Pop! I say, you're dead! 
Don't you remember 
that final heart attack, 
Dallas, just before 
Kennedy was shot?

Time means nothing here,
kiddo. He's jolly, expansive. 
You can wait eons for an open line.
Time gets used up but
comes back. You know.
Like Ping-Pong.

Ping-Pong! The table in 
the attic. My father, shirtsleeves 
rolled, the wet stub of 
a burnt-out cigarette
stuck to his lower lip as
he murdered each one
of my three older brothers 
and me yearning under the eaves, 
waiting for my turn. 

You sound ... just like yourself,
I say. I am myself, goddammit! 
Anyway, what's this
about an accident? 

How did you hear about it?
I read it somewhere. Broke 
your neck, et cetera. 
He says this vaguely, 
his shorthand way 
of keeping feelings at bay. 

You mean, you read my memoir?
Did you know you're in it?
Didn't read that part
No need to stir things up.

Now I'm indignant. 
But I almost died!

Didn't I tell you 
never buy land on a hill? 
It's worthless. What's 
an educated dame like you
doing messing with horses? 
Messing with horses is 
for punks. Then, a little 
softer, I see you two've 
put a lot of work into 
that hunk of real estate. 

Thanks. Thanks for even 
noticing. We love it here.
We'll never sell. 

Like hell you won't! 
You will! 

Pop, I say, tearing up, 
let's not fight for once. 
My only Poppa, when 
do I get to see you? 

A long pause. Then, 
coughing his cigarette cough,
Pupchen, he says,
I may be dead but 
I'm not clairvoyant. 
Behave yourself. 
The line clicks off.

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)

You may watch her reading this poem at 4:11.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Darlene Love's Last Christmas Appearance on Letterman

Still the best! And still so beautiful!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Spot's First Christmas by Eric Hill

Today we read Spot's First Christmas to Hazel Nina. It was published the year her daddy was born, and the year her mummy was the same age as she is now. This is one of a series of the most terrific books for little ones. It offers that treat of reading treats, the little surprise when you lift the flap.

We have all of the Spot books and read them over and over to Margaret and Michael when they were young. Sadly, Mr. Hill died this year at the age of 86, but his books are timeless and I'm sure will be read by coming generations of children. 

Hazel Nina took her reading very seriously. As she gets older she'll see the humor and the warmth, but today she really concentrated on what she was doing. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Today's poem by May Sarton

December Moon

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
Where the wild creatures ranged
While the moon rose and shone.

Why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

May Sarton (1912-1995)

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Yesterday Margaret and Matthew gave a party to celebrate Hazel Nina’s first birthday, and Tom’s sixty-fourth birthday. Margaret asked Tom to make his specialty, spanakopita, and it shall be today's contribution to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.


1 box phyllo (from the dictionary - can be spelled 
filo pastry, phyllo, fillo) dough
This is what we always use
2 10-ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1 1/4 cups grated cheese. Tom used Cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano.
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup olive oil - more or less depending on how much you need to brush onto the phyllo dough

If your dough is in the freezer, remove it and put it in the refrigerator overnight. 
The next day unwrap and unroll the sheets so they are in a pile like a stack of paper.

Thaw spinach, and cook until tender. Drain and press to remove water.

Sauté onions in olive oil until tender, and then stir in cooked spinach until most of the moisture from the spinach has evaporated.

In a large bowl mix the cheeses. Add the spinach/onion mix. Add beaten eggs and mix well.

Grease 10-inch x 15-inch pan with olive oil.

Place 2 sheets of phyllo into the pan and using a pastry brush, brush lightly with olive oil. Repeat twice more until 6 sheets are on the bottom.

Put about a third of the cheese/spinach/egg mix on top, and spread it around. 

Then repeat whole process twice more.

Add two sheets of phyllo, brushed with oil, and then two more, brushed with oil for the very top.

Bake in preheated 375º F. oven until golden brown, about half an hour. 

This was a huge hit at the party!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Today's picture/When I'm Sixty-Four

Grandchild on his knee. Not 'Vera' but Hazel Nina! On December 5, Grampy turned 64 and Hazel Nina turned 1. Miracle of miracles.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Year of Afternoon Gardens - December

I can't believe that a year has gone by, and this is the twelfth afternoon garden. I wanted to have Sadie in one of the photos and she and Tom finally made it today! She turned 10 in October, and though a little lame, she happily walks around outdoors and has a great appetite. Those of you who are longtime readers may recall that Sadie likes only four people, Tom and I, and Margaret and Michael. We all wondered how she would react to Margaret's baby - if she would think that Hazel Nina was an extension of her mother, but no. Sadie gets a look in her eye that is not at all friendly. Our solution is that she goes into the laundry room when we take care of Hazel. There's a really plush little rug that Tom's mum gave us, and we put on a fan to block noise, and she happily snoozes the hours away. When Hazel Nina naps upstairs in the crib, Sadie comes into the whole downstairs for that time. It has worked beautifully. We've always done this anyway when visitors come. All we say to her is 'quick, quick' and she heads right into the laundry room. She's so intelligent that I think she knows we are saving her from herself.

We had a little snow around Thanksgiving but nothing like the rest of the state had. Today was in the mid-thirties, and rather dark. But not dreary. There is no dreary weather now that we have our wonderful grandchildren.

Today Margaret and Hazel dropped in, and Hazel met the Santa that Tom's aunt gave us many years ago. She immediately started chattering away to him.

And then she 'helped' put the angel on the tree. It's not at all fancy - just something Tom and I picked up in a store a long time ago, but like so many familiar Christmas items, it is beloved by all of us. Michael and Margaret would alternate years of putting it on the tree. And now Hazel Nina and Campbell Walker can carry on the tradition.