Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hummingbird Keeps Hum - Hum - Humming Along . . .

The food kept disappearing from the feeder, so I knew something was eating, but hadn't been lucky enough to spot a hummingbird yet this year - they're elusive little boogers.  But last night I finally heard that tell-tale hum and grabbed the cell-phone.  They're too fast to get a decent still photo with a cell-phone camera, but I got several videos of them flitting in for a drink.  Amazing creatures!

BTW - the title of this post is a reference to the song "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along" - recorded by Bing Crosby, Doris Day and many others.  My Dad used to sign it when I was a kid.

So, there you go - a nature lesson and music history lesson all rolled into one.  You're welcome.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Normally I cut and paste the story synopsis from the book cover in this space, rather than taking the time to sum it up myself.  This time, however, I read the blurb and wondered who wrote it - surely not someone who actually read the book.  So here goes my own description (mixed with portions of the original) and then you'll know why I avoid this part:

When Mimi, the grandmother who raised her, suffers a stroke, Dora rushes back home to Forsyth, NC.  As she waits for Mimi to recover, she helps out by running her grandmother's vintage clothing store and discovers the imagined histories that Mimi writes and distributes along with each vintage dress.  Between the hospital and the store, she searches for information about her parents and for direction.

The publisher's synopsis talks about the "adorable contractor" that Dora meets, and how Dora "trades in her boring life for one she really wants"...But that makes the story sound fluffier than it actually is.  Although this book probably falls into the much maligned "chick lit" genre, it has depth, a little mystery, and lots of emotion.  I can't recall another book where a character we never really meet - Mimi, who is unconscious in a hospital through most of the book - has such influence on a story.  I admired Ms. McKean's ability to bring Mimi to life through flashbacks and other character's memories, without any real interaction.  

I'm certainly glad I chose this book based on blogger reviews rather than anything from the publisher or professional reviewers - they both over simplified and "fluffed" a good story.  

Favorite lines:  

" 'There's some leftover ham and biscuits in the fridge."  "Ham!" Camille slapped her midsection, and her slap resounded a little too loudly.  "Can't do that, nosirree.  Some of us are watching our girlish figures."  Camille hadn't been girlish since the Nixon administration, but Dora let it pass."

"Her stories all involved the peccadilloes of the girls she had gone to high school with, who, if Dora knew them at all, she knew only as the mothers of people Dora had barely known in her own high school.  Camille had never really left high school."  - Don't you know that person? :)

"Mimi hated a lot of words.  She didn't like the word "moist", even when it was about a cake . . . She hated the word "hapless" - "What's a hap, and why should I care that you don't have one?" - but didn't feel the same way about "feckless", which she used more frequently than perhaps she should." - Never really thought about this.  Are there words you hate and words you really like?  I feel a blog post brewing...

Friday, May 25, 2012

You Say It's Your Birthday . . .

A year ago I wrote a series of posts to celebrate my 50th birthday - thoughts, ideas, reflections, lessons learned, plans, etc.  So, since that time has rolled around again, I decided to re-read what I wrote and see if I would change or add anything.  Basically, the answer was "no", but I could have been more succinct.  My life "mission statement" - if you'll pardon a New-Age-babble phrase I  hate - can be summed up in 5 points:

1.  Finish well.  This is a simple way of saying that I want to do better during the second half.  To quote Oprah Winfrey quoting Maya Angelou, "When you know better, you do better."  After 51 years, I hope I know better and have been/will continue to do better - mentally, spiritually, physically, socially.   On the physical front, I've taken off 40 lbs.  As for the other areas, I am attempting to. . .

2.  Live Graciously.  Gracious - pleasantly kind, benevolent, courteous, merciful or compassionate.  All attributes that I feel are in short supply in our country.  Tim Gunn is my mentor!

3.  Live Simply.  Weed out those possessions, relationships, commitments  and attitudes that cause stress or take more time to maintain than they are worth. 

4.  Interact with people.  I recently saw a news story about how technology is making it easier for us to avoid personal contact.  Self-checkout, shopping on-line, ATM's, Twitter,  - all ways to do what we need to do without actually talking to or even seeing people.  We have moved frequently and over the years I find myself making less and less effort to meet people and build friendships, so I am making a conscious effort to reverse that - even if it's just smiling and saying hello to the clerk at the grocery store.  Dave and I agree that, in general, we have made better friends over a beer than we have over a hymnal.  As sad as that may be, it has held true over the past 30 years, so I'm trying to interact more - you never know where I'll find my next friend.

5.  Revive my faith by going back to the basics.  No pre-written devotions, no commentaries, no books preaching someone else's idea of Christianity.  Just me, the Bible, God and what He chooses to reveal to me.

 Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Weekend in Pictures . . .

A picture's worth a thousand words, or so they say, so this is a 7000+ word post.  We had a wonderful weekend with the college kids home. Mitch and his girlfriend, Mackenzie, came Friday night.  Amanda came up Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon we went here:

Yup, we're up for parents of the year!
This is Amanda and Dave enjoying the Beerfest.

This is Dave and I, also enjoying the beerfest.  Unfortunately the wind has more of a negative affect on my hair-do than Amanda's.  

Afterwards, we had S'mores and conversation around the fire.

Amanda headed back to Manhattan and work on Sunday morning.  That afternoon, the rest of us went fishing.  Normally, I don't do ponds because they involve mud, sweat, heat, bugs and other creepy things I'm not fond of.  But the man who owns this pond, and generously allows us to fish, has a cabin near-by so he keeps the area mowed.  There is no "beach" area, so you can take your lawn chair right to the edge without getting muddy.  It was a cool day so there was no sweating and the bugs stayed away.  Dave even rowed me around the pond while I fished.  Beautiful, peaceful and almost romantic - if, like me, you swoon over a man who will take the fish and moss off your hook for you.

At some point in the evening, a golden retriever named Brodee (from his tag) showed up out of nowhere to take a cooling swim. Assume he belongs on a nearby farm.  I've seen dogs swim to retrieve, but I've never seen a dog swim just for the joy of swimming.  It was adorable!  He made several laps across the pond.

Then got out to dry off.

We hung out till Sundown - the best time for fish catching, I hear.  Yes, that little spot behind the boat is Brodee.  He really wanted to ride in the boat.  Don't worry, he gave up and paddled back safely.

When we finally loaded up to go home. it was dark and the pick-up had a flat tire.  While Mackenzie and I cowered inside like a couple of cold, shivering wimps, Dave and Mitch changed the tire by the light of a cell-phone flashlight app.  Hooray for technology!  

Monday we had a lunch of freshly-caught fish and the kids headed back to college. 
Wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Reading . . .

image from
My reality TV obsessions are finished for the season and the Revolution ends July 6, so my DVR is down to General Hospital and Jeopardy.  That means it's time to hit the summer books.  I've been reading a lot of blog posts and magazine articles about "beach reads".  Some categorize summer books as "lighter", some see it as a chance to delve into re-reads of old favorites, some poo-poo the idea entirely, saying their reading choices are not affected by changing seasons.  I fall into the first group - the light reader.  Not that these books are fluff - but subject matter, writing style, and setting make them less strenuous reads.  Hot weather puts me off of anything too weighty or difficult - I don't want to work that hard. 

For summer, I tend towards cozy mysteries, humorous stories, books that feature women's friendships, and anything set on the beach.  Pretty, cheery covers also play a part in my summer selections more than other seasons.  Here's what's on my Summer Reading List:

Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates
Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank - out June 12th
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen 

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook - pub. date June 5th
Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich - due out June 19th
Stardust by Carla Stewart

So far, I only own three of these books, but I've got an inkling that some birthday gifts may add to the collection, and a few will be available at the library.  There are several books waiting in my TBR that may get substituted in, so the lineup is open to change.  But this is the general direction I'm headed.  What are you reading this summer?

Back to Reality . . .

The season of reality shows (at least the ones I watch) has come to an end.  I am thrilled that Donald Driver took the Dancing With The Stars Mirror Ball trophy.  The three finalists were three of the best to ever be on the show.  Donald's freestyle, country dance is probably what pushed him to the front of the line.  It was amazing!

Season 15 will be an All-Stars rematch, which sounds like great fun.  Although a few of the slots are already filled (click here for details), I've concocted my own Dream Season Top 10.  I want to see:

  1. Donny Osmond 
  2. Joey Fatone
  3. Hines Ward
  4. Emmitt Smith
  5. Apolo Anton Ohno
  6. Helio Castroneves
  7. Kelly Osborne
  8. Erin Andrews
  9. Kelly Monaco 
  10. Drew Lachey
Who would you like to see return?

American Idol:  I didn't watch this week - not out of spite because my favorite was eliminated last week (although I was disappointed) but in frustration over AI's messed up voting/judging process.  I hope every year that the producers will wise up and limit votes-per-person as they do on DWTS.  Hopefully this would eliminate the mass voting by computer and the websites like this one that encourage people to vote for the worst.  By the way - the "Vote For The Worst" pack is rooting for Phillip.  Just saying...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One Of These Things . . .

One of these things is not like the others.
One of these things just doesn't belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others?
Just have them sing you a song!*
Thank you, Sesame Street, for supplying the theme song for American Idol's Final 3.  Here are my scores for last night's performances:

1.  Joshua - 15 out of 15
2.  Jessica - 13 out of 15
3.  Phillip - 6 out of 15

Steven Tyler hand-picked a song for Phillip and begged him to sing the melody, but no go.  Even the eternally perky JLo dinged him a little for messing with the melody in defiance. It's been a season-long battle between judge/mentor advice and his stubborn desire to "be himself" - right down to re-wearing a gray shirt Tommy Hilfiger advised against weeks ago. The reason was painfully obvious (even more so than usual) when Phillip sang Bob Seger's We've Got Tonight - chosen by mentor Jimmy Iovine.  I think Phillip tried to sing it straight, with a minimum of screwed-up facial expressions, backbeats and adjustments to the melody.  Bizarrely, it was his best performance of the night, in my book, but (hopefully) it reminded everyone that this is a singing contest and he just doesn't have the voice.  Compared to Jessica and Joshua, he's a chihuahua among the pitbulls. When the fight starts, no amount of swagger is going to make him as good as the big dogs.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the Sesame Street song quoted above, here's the original:

The Unseen and The Lost Years

I'll tell you right up front, that both of these books should probably take advice from their titles and remain "lost" and "unseen".  Sorry, but with so many good books lined up for the summer, I was a little disappointed that I spent time on these newest from a couple big names.

1800s. San Antonio, Texas: In room 207 at the Longhorn Saloon, in the long shadow of the Alamo, a woman renowned for her beauty was brutally murdered. Her killer was never found.

One year ago: In that same historic room, another woman vanished without a trace. Her blood was everywhere, …but her body was never recovered.

Now: In the last month, San Antonio has become a dumping ground for battered bodies. All young women, many of them long missing, almost all forgotten. Until now.
Texas Ranger Logan Raintree and U.S. Marshall Kelsey O'Brien team up to use their psychic abilities to track down the killer. 
Together, Kelsey and Logan follow their instincts to the Alamo and to the newly reopened Longhorn Inn.  If the spirits of those long-dead Texans are really appearing to the victims before their deaths, only Kelsey and Logan have the skills to find out why.
And if something more earthly is menacing the city's oldest, darkest corners, only they can stop it—before more innocent women join the company of San Antonio's restless ghosts…. (from publisher's blurb)

There's just no pleasing some people . . . and evidently I'm one of them.  I'm not, generally, a fan of paranormal stories (OD'd on them in my teens), especially the current trend toward the vampire-zombie-freakish end of the spectrum. I'm a Paranormal Lite girl.  That's why I bought this book - Heather Graham's stories aren't usually too spooky.  But I found myself wanting more spook from this book.

The whole thing was rather bland and too easy.  The hero/heroine fall in love too easily.  The crime is solved too easily.  Although there is a strong plot foundation, she doesn't build on it.  There's no tension, either in the romance or the mystery.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It's an easy, pleasant read, but it's not going to keep you up nights.

At its center of The Lost Years is a discovery that, if authenticated, may be the most revered document in human history.  Biblical scholar Jonathan Lyons believes he has found a letter written by Jesus Christ. Stolen from the Vatican Library in the 1500s, the letter was assumed to be lost forever.
Now, under the promise of secrecy, Jonathan is able to confirm his findings with several other experts. But he also confides in a family friend his suspicion that someone he once trusted wants to sell the parchment and cash in.
Within days Jonathan is found shot to death in his study. His wife, Kathleen, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, is found hiding in the study closet, incoherent and clutching the murder weapon. It is up to their daughter,  Mariah, to clear her mother of murder charges and unravel the real mystery behind her father’s death. Mary Higgins Clark’s The Lost Years is at once a breathless murder mystery and a hunt for what may be the most precious religious and archaeological treasure of all time.  (from publisher's blurb)
There is nothing "breathless" about this book - except me because I read the e-book while walking on the treadmill.  Maybe, again, I was too hard to please, but I expected more Dan Brown and less Encyclopedia Brown.  The whole thing was rather bland and too easy. (I think I've said that somewhere before.)  Perhaps Ms. Clark has become too familiar with her long-time amateur detectives, Willie and Alvirah, and forgets that readers may not be.  There were a ton of suspects, but none of them was fleshed out enough to distinguish them from each other. Again, no tension and, just a detail, it seems that a 2000+year-old document would need to be handled with more care than it was.  3 out of 5 - will appeal to Willie and Alvirah fans.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oooh, I Totally Forgot . . .

Remember a few days ago when I wrote a post about quotes and revealed that, shockingly, I have no organized way of keeping track of lines/passages I want to remember from books?  Here's proof.  I was listening to the audio version of "The Other Side of the Story" (see previous post) and there was a line that may be the most perfect line every written.  Seriously, I had to pause the CD and wait until I was in the grocery store parking lot, then replay it repeatedly until I got it saved on my Nook.  

Whew! Quote safely saved where I can find it and include it in my review.  But I forgot that I saved it until last night when I was cleaning out lists on Fliq Notes (excellent app, by the way).  So here it is:

Jo-Jo Harvey is filling out a questionnaire to be used in a magazine article featuring her:

Q: What five things could you not live without?
A: Fresh air, sleep, food, a circulatory system, and books.

Thank you, Marian Keyes, for the perfect description of a book-lover's life.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

Jojo Harvey is a dead ringer for Jessica Rabbit and the most ferocious literary agent in town. A former NYPD cop, she now lives in London making million-dollar book deals while trying to make partner at her firm . . . all the while sleeping with the boss man.
Lily Wright is an author who believes in karma, and is waiting for the sky to fall after stealing her former best friend's man. Though her first book failed to sell, her life turns upside down when her most recent book becomes a huge bestseller.
Gemma Hogan is an event designer extraordinaire, but her personal life is nonexistent after losing the love of her life and her best friend in one fell swoop. To make matters worse, her father has just left her mother. While taking care of her mother, she e-mails a close colleague about her frustrations, who in turn forwards the hilarious e-mails to a famous literary agent named Jojo Harvey, who just happens to represent her former friend, now enemy, Lily Wright. . . .
Written in the charming and chatty voice that has become Marian Keyes's signature style, this hilarious and heartwarming novel proves there are three sides to every story . . . especially in the world of publishing!

This is an older book (pub. 2004) that I grabbed in audio form from the library to listen to during my work commute.  In print, it's 528 pages, which adds up to twelve hours of listening. I was surprised, and maybe a little concerned, about how quickly I went through it. (I only live 11 miles from work.) 

There's not much I can say beyond the publisher's blurb above - except they're right. It's charming and chatty and hilarious and heartwarming.  Oh yeah, and great fun!  It would make a great beach read - or porch swing read if, like me, you're a l-o-n-g way from a beach.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Six Word Saturday: Party Till The Cows Come Home...

This is Dave hoeing the garden.  When he started, the cows were all on the hill in the background.  As soon as one of them spotted him, they all ambled up to chat.

This is Gabby, chatting with the cows. They are best buds. (Pardon my poor mowing job along the fence there.  I'm not big on the "details" of yard work.)

This is Gabby getting "up close and personal" with one of her cow buds.

This is Dave taking a break.  He tells the cows jokes.  They don't think he's any funnier than the rest of us do.  I've never heard a single cow chuckle.

That's all.  No point, really.  Just thought it was cute.

Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something in it) in exactly six words.
Then visit Cate at Show My Face to link up with other participants.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Quotes and Questions

Button courtesy of The Broke and The Bookish
with alteration by me.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by the folks at The Broke and the Bookish just because they like making lists.  I frequently see participant's posts on blogs I read, but I've never taken part.  And I'm not actually taking part now, because it's not Tuesday.  You're supposed to look at next week's topic in advance and prepare your list to post on the assigned day.  Yeah, and you're "supposed to" get a Nebraska driver's license within thirty days of moving here, but we know how that goes.  It goes to the tune of $73 when the patrolman discovers you've lived here 14 months and still haven't done it, that's how it goes! So, in keeping with my rebel spirit, I'm posting my Top Ten Tuesday on Friday.  Viva la Revolucion...or whatever!

This week's topic was Top 10 favorite quotes from books.  I can't honestly say these are THE best lines, I can't even limit myself to ten, but these are SOME of the best of the ones I remembered to write down somewhere so I would remember them later when an appropriate occasion arose - but that's too long to write in the title space.

And while we're on the topic of writing them down, does anyone have a good system for keeping track of quotes you like?  I've tried writing them in a notebook but I forget to do it and sometimes the passages are too long to write out long-hand.  The ones that I have mentioned on the blog I have just printed, cut and physically pasted into the notebook.  I could make a separate blog page solely for quotes or I could create a Pinterest board.  Anyone have experience with these ideas, or have better ones?  I would love to hear some ideas.

1. "Love what you love without apology." - The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth 

2. "Probably she was sitting propped up in bed reading and heard the brush of wings and smelled the cold clean air and the angel appeared like a deer in the bedroom and Evelyn said 'Not yet, I have to finish this book.'" - Pontoon by Garrison Keillor

3. "He talked of the future so easily...But she couldn't start this because then it would end.  Stories like this always ended.  She couldn't take this pleasure, because she would spend the rest of her life missing it, hurting from it." - Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

4. "Our mother shook her head...'You girls are all the same like that.  I don't know what we did to give you the idea that you had to be some master in your field by the time you were thirty'...'I don't really want to be a master in my field,' Bean said, 'but I'd like not to be a complete and total f***-up.'  Here we expected our mother to rebuke Bean for her language, but she didn't.  She just smiled indulgently and said, 'Oh, Honey, we're all f***-ups in our own special way.'" - The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

5. "industrial-strength not happy" - If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster

6. "Being met by the sharp scent of chocolate mingling with the moist scent of brewing coffee had a dark, secretive feel to it, like Willa had finally found the perfect place to hide." - The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

7. The Captain attempts to explain Heaven:  "It's all the beauty and serenity and nobility you have ever experienced on earth.  It's all your grandest and most generous feelings, and the finest sunsets and greatest music - and then you're only on the fringe of understanding." - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick

8. "I'm sorry that we worried the children, but I've spent most of my adult life worrying about them, so I'm gonna call it even." - The Leisure Seekers by Michael Zadoorian

9.  "I wanted more than anything to be that girl, to be a child again and carry crocus or hawthorn or larkspur instead of buckets of thistle...I wanted to start my life over, on a course that would not lead to this moment...Every decision I'd ever made had led me here, and I wanted to take it all back, the hatred and the blame and the violence.  I wanted to have lunch with my angry ten-year-old self, to warn her of this morning and give her the flowers to point her in a different direction." - The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

10.  "This the kind of story we learn over and over again about everything in the world: your life starts out as a wild open frontier that you explore until the forces of time or history or civilization or nature intervene, and then suddenly it's all gone, it all weathers and falls down and gets built over; everyone dies or moves away or becomes a grainy photograph, and yes, at some point you just get fat and fall off a streetcar.  Progress - it dumps you on your aging and gigantic ass!" - The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

11.  "He had been smart enough not to have children, so he could never know the peculiar sensation of caring terribly, insanely for a person over whom you had no control; a person who was your responsibility, yet no longer had to answer to you." - Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.

12.  "'I have everything I've ever wanted right here and now.  My house, my friends, Luc.'  She gave me a stubborn look.  'I'm not going to have any of that taken away from me,' she declared mutinously. . .'Don't look like that, girl.'  Armande gave me a rallying nudge.  'After a five-course banquet, you'd want coffee and liqueurs, wouldn't you? You wouldn't suddenly decide to ruin it all of with a bowl of pap, would you?  Just so you could have an extra course? . . . I'm saying you need to know when to stop, Vianne.  You need to know when to push away your plate and call for those liqueurs.'" -  Chocolat by Joanne Harris 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

American Idol: Four to go . . .

American Idol was pretty easy to score this week, for me anyway.  Narrowing it down to the final two next week will be a lot tougher. 

The Amazing Joshua is still on his thrown at the top of the heap.  His gospel-flavored version of You Lift Me Up was everything a song should be.  It showed his complete range, low-to-high and soft-to-loud, there was a dramatic moment with the keychange in the middle, he didn't clutter it up with runs and other tricks to show off.  He just sang the beautiful melody in that clear, perfect voice and wowed me.  During his second song, I do believe he channeled James Brown.  Awesome!

The two girls share the middle of the line-up, with Hollie edging forward just slightly. For starters she looked amazing.  Either she has the best stylist or she has some style of her own.  I totally disagreed with the judges on her second song, Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me.  I thought her emotion was obvious and I loved it. 

I would like to interject another topic here: the stage productions.  Who is coordinating this stuff?  The maze of moving canister lights that Hollie had to navigate detracted from her performance. One even shone directly into the camera, momentarily blinding the audience. No wonder the judges didn't think the song connected, she was trying to dodge the Bat Signal the whole time. Same goes for having the ENTIRE freaking orchestra milling around on stage during Joshua's second song.  The musicians belong in the background and props like fabric swings are unnecessary and unfair to the singers.  Anyway - back to business...

Jessica is near perfection - if you close your eyes while she sings.  That voice is big and powerful and incredible, but an Etta James song coming out of that 16-year-old face is just silly, not to mention slightly creepy.  The judges knocked Hollie down for not having "gone through enough" in her life to put the proper emotion into her song, yet applauded wildly when Jessica sang the blues, which Randy described as being about "soul, heart and pain".  The most pain that girls had was when the head came off her Barbie doll.  Someone tell her to pick age-appropriate songs, please.

And lagging sadly behind, we have Phillip.  Sorry, but his voice is just not in the same class as the other three.  No matter how much praise the judges pile on for being "himself" or being "original" - his voice just isn't "big" enough.  He fades into the background.  And singing on key would be a good idea, too.  I think Phillip is the obvious choice to go home this week, leaving three amazing competitors for the last two shows.

And finally, the biggest question of the night . . . Who told Jennifer Lopez that lavender lipstick was a good idea?

The Fifth Witness/The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Mickey Haller has fallen on tough times.  He expands his business into foreclosure defense, only to see one of his clients accused of killing the banker she blames for trying to take away her home.
Mickey puts his team into high gear to exonerate Lisa Trammel, even though the evidence and his own suspicions tell him his client is guilty.  Soon after he learns that the victim had black market dealings of his own, Haller is assaulted, too--and he's certain he's on the right trail.
Despite the danger and uncertainty, Haller mounts the best defense of his career in a trial where the last surprise comes after the verdict is in.  Connelly proves again why he "may very well be the best novelist working in the United States today".

Longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller is recruited to change stripes and prosecute the high-profile retrial of a brutal child murder. After 24 years in prison, convicted killer Jason Jessup has been exonerated by new DNA evidence. Haller is convinced Jessup is guilty, and he takes the case on the condition that he gets to choose his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.
Together, Bosch and Haller set off on a case fraught with political and personal danger. Opposing them is Jessup, now out on bail, a defense attorney who excels at manipulating the media, and a runaway eyewitness reluctant to testify after so many years.
With the odds and the evidence against them, Bosch and Haller must nail a sadistic killer once and for all. If Bosch is sure of anything, it is that Jason Jessup plans to kill again.

Word to the wise - don't read two books from the same series simultaneously.  Very confusing!  Dave and I read The Reversal during various roadtrips, and I listened to the audio of The Fifth Witness during a trip on my own.  The two only overlapped for a short time, but the storylines got twisted in my head like a kitten and a ball of yarn.
In spite of my confusion, they were both great stories. I'm blowing the whistle and putting the Prolific Author Rule into affect.  Michael Connelly is a fabulous author, both of these series (The Lincoln Lawyer series featuring Michael Haller, and the Harry Bosch series) are strong.  It's top-knotch mystery/thriller reading.  Go do it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Into the Wild Blue Yonder . . .

Oops!  Wrong branch of the armed forces, but it seems so much more fitting than Anchors Aweigh when you know our future son-in-law does THIS for a living:
 As a member of the Navy Leapfrogs Parachute Team, he's on the road over 250 days/year jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.  Should that concern us?

Actually, not at all.  Saturday, we attended the Sight and Sound Air Show in St. Joseph, Missouri - partially to see the cool stunt planes and the jet truck, but mostly to meet Tom, who will be marrying our oldest, Amy.  (Date/location to be determined.)  Amy and Tom met when he parachuted into the Albuquerque Balloon Festival last fall.  Talk about manna from heaven!  

We got to see Tom jump twice and a lot of other cool things, then took him out for a nice supper and "grilling" session (the "What are your intentions?" kind of grilling, not backyard cooking.)  We think she made a great "catch".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

While the Music Plays On . . .

This past week, Dave and his sister placed their mother in a nursing home.  That's a difficult sentence even to write. She is only 70. With the perfect vision of hindsight, we can find evidence of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease as much as fifteen years ago.  There were small changes in personality; behavior that seemed slightly irrational, but not serious enough to challenge.  Over time, the questionable choices became more worrisome, the flashes of anger more frequent, the confusion more pronounced.  It cost her her job, then her driver's license, then her independence, her memories, and finally, the recognition of even those dearest to her.  Her daily care now mimics that of a toddler - routine tasks like getting dressed require assistance; if left unattended she can wander into danger.  For the past few years, her husband dressed her, bathed her, cooked her meals, washed her clothes, kept her safe and, through it all, did his best to maintain her dignity.  But it all came at the cost of his own lifestyle, freedom and health.  Finally it is enough.  Professional care is now the "right" thing, the best thing for all.

Follow me while I wander for a minute, please.  Have you read the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova?  It is an "inside look", if you will, at a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.  We see and feel the loss and confusion through her eyes.  At the end of the book, she sits in her own kitchen, surrounded by her family, and unaware of her connection to them.  But inside, she's still Alice.  Inside, she knows who she is, who she married, she knows how many children she has - but she can't connect that knowledge with the faces around her.

Now I'm finding that the process also works backwards, in a way.  When I look at the overweight woman in the nursing home, I still see the slim, health-conscious woman who spent years trying to convince me that steamed broccoli is good (its not).  When I look at this woman's close-cropped hair and shapeless, elasticized clothing, I see the beautiful woman with a fashion flair that I so admired.  When I watch her sit blankly in a room of loud, laughing grandchildren, I see the vivacious woman who delighted in socializing and adored her family.  This woman - the one who occasionally calls me Irene and insists it's time for me to go home - is a stranger.  But inside, she's still Dee!  

Here's how I know:  Dee has a vocal talent that defies my descriptive ability.  At fifteen she was performing in musicals at a nearby college.  In her early twenties, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Metropolitan Opera, but when she read the fine print of the contract it stated that she would not, necessarily, be singing in New York.  She could be placed in a traveling company and perform around the world.  She chose to give up that dream rather than leave her young son.  She became a music teacher and shared her talent wherever she could - church, school, local theater - she even sang at our wedding.

Now, with all that is jumbled or confused or lost in her mind, music remains.  She can still sit at the piano to play and sing the familiar hymns.  How can it be that she can no longer tell time or read a simple children's book, but the music is still there?  As time passes, the words are sometimes mumbled and the endings are almost comically loud and flourishing, but the love of music still comes through.  Sometimes it makes me laugh, and sometimes it makes me cry, but it always gives me hope.  Because God created a beautiful, talented, loving woman and, despite the ravages of this appalling disease, she is still that creation. She is still Dee.

*While the Music Plays On by Emery Heim, recorded by Tony Bennett, Doris Day and others.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

And Then There Were Five . . .

American Idol:  It's coming down to the wire - only five contestants left, at least for a few more hours.  We thought last night was a phenomenal night for everyone.  Even our least favorites had a good moment.  Here's how the points stacked up, according to me.  (The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of our household.)

Joshua - 10+  Perfect, yet again.  After his first song, Dave said "I would pay to see that concert."  Guest that about covers it.

Jessica - 10  Finally, she puts some personality into her flawless singing!  She got lucky with the minor change in the arrangement that Steven Van Zant suggested for Proud Mary.  It was subtle, but gave a slightly different flavor to the opening. Her second song was tender and beautiful!  Fantastic job!

Hollie - 9  She came out of her shell and ROCKED River Deep, Mountain High!  Her second song was a current pop song that I was only vaguely familiar with and didn't care for, but she sang it beautifully.

Here's a shocker:  I gave Phillip 7 out of 10.  His first performance was a song I've known and loved for years - well, since the 60's, obviously.  He totally rewrote it - which can be a fine line to walk, but it worked. 4 stars!  His second song, Time of the Season, was mostly good - but, whoa, the chorus!!!  The verses were gorgeous - on pitch, mellow tone, he actually sang the melody - but then came the chorus.  Just one line - "It's the time of the season for loving." - It was horrendous.  It was too high for Phillip so he went off key and his voice faded out.  Ruined the song!  I gave him a 3 because the rest of the song was so good - but he should have lowered the key or chosen another song.

And then there's Skylar. I gave her 6 out of 10, not because she doesn't sing well, but because she's stuck in a rut.  For her first number, she took an up-tempo song where she could stomp her foot and jump around and sing as loud as possible - Surprise! 2 stars.  When she started her 2nd song I was hopeful.  It was quiet(er) and beautiful. I thought she was finally going to show a different side - but she just couldn't help herself.  She just had to blast it at the end and the last note went horribly wrong.  Note to Skylar: Restraint is your friend. Not every song needs to be belted at full volume. I gave her 4 stars for the first 3/4 of the song. 

And a quick note on Dancing With the Stars - I'm so disappointed that Jaleel White got cut.  He was miles better than Little Laura Ingalls, who's footing went obviously wrong multiple times - not to mention a vulgar lift.  Evidently more people watched Little House than Family Matters.  The top 4 contestants - Donald, William Levy, Katherine and Maria - were unbelievable.  Can't wait for the finale of this season!

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

The new owner of a 16th-century Wiltshire farmhouse, Julia finds herself transported back and forth in time to the life of a woman named Mariana. Enthralled with the long-ago world, in love with a man who lived centuries before, Julia must lay the past to rest if she is to find love in the present.

This is my second Susanna Kearsley novel, and I'm hooked.  She is reviving my love of a good ghost story.  As in The Rose Garden, the heroine travels back in time and falls in love with a mysterious man.  And, also as in the first book, I fell in love with the setting as much as the characters.  I'm a sucker for an English countryside, manor houses, and picturesque villages.  It's one of those places you want to visit over and over, and the background characters are interesting enough to deserve their own story.

The "ghost" portion of this story took a different slant than anything else I've read.  Rather than connecting with a stranger from the past, Julia relives scenes from her previous life.  No, I don't believe in reincarnation, but that suspension of reality is an earmark of a good story.  The plot had me wondering "How will this possibly work out?"  The answer was not what I expected.  With the exception of one tiny plot-point that is left dangling (and who needs to have every detail sewn up?  That leaves no room for imagination.), the solution was beautiful and perfect.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It Does a Body Good . . .

This is Kylee, an American Mastiff puppy with a new lease on life.  She was adopted by a family who was aware of her heart murmer and the probability that her life would be shorter than average. Unfortunately, Kylee's condition deteriorated more rapidly than expected and the surgery to correct the faulty valve cost $2600 - a price they were not prepared to pay on such short notice.  But Kylee didn't have time to wait while they saved the money.  So, they turned to other dog owners.  

Dave found Kylee's story through the American Mastiff Family Forum site and chipped in a few dollars, as did many other Mastiff fans.  Here's a portion of the thank-you email we received:

We were able to raise $2390 toward her surgery. This was no small feat and we couldn't have done it so quickly without the help that you all so graciously gave. Purdue required that we pay half the surgery fee ($1300) in advance and we were able to cover the other $1300 + change when we picked her up.  It was such a relief to be able to cover 100% of these expenses.  Do you guys realize what you have done???  YOU HAVE SAVED KYLEE!!  We'd have scraped every penny to make it happen, but don't know if we'd have made it in time. Please do not think we take this lightly! Kylee is our baby and it was devastating to know she needed this to live, and that we could not provide it in the time frame she needed.
Kylee came through surgery just fine and is now active and growing (and growing....and growing...).  Look at that face!  Can you think of a better investment for what basically amounted to spare change?  There are uncountable opportunities to make a difference with just a minor effort.  And it did OUR hearts as much good as it did Kylee's.

Here's a few other opportunities where you can help by just giving a week's spare change, or the cost of a latte at Starbucks:

Dove's Nest Rescue Mission
St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital
Nebraska Children's Home
Your local Humane Society