Sunday, August 28, 2016

Washington's Spys by Alexander Rose

We have been watching the AMC series Turn about General Washington's Culper spy ring and so dear hubby bought me the book that inspired it, Washington's Spys: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose.

As Nathaniel Philbrick notes in Valient Ambition, the Revolutionary War was also a Civil War, dividing families and communities according to allegiences as Loyalists or Patriots.

Then there were those oppotunists who preyed on anyone and allied with whatever side was most profitable, the "vultures, vultures everywhere" always found during war time, coyboys and skinners and piratical whaleboatmen.

I like how the series Turn portrays Setauket as under seige from all these angles.

Long Island was a British military base and under matial law. Corruption and looting was rampant. Colonel Simcoe of the Queen's Rangers was brutal. Consquently, the British served to increase citizens' Patriot leanings.

Washington's Setauket based spy Abraham Woodall, AKA Samuel Culper, resorted to setting up citizens to cover his tracks, even burning down the barn of the father of Robert Townsend, AKA Samuel Culper Jr.

Of course there is a lot of fiction in the AMC series and romances and interpersonal conflict to keep things interesting. Rose's book offers the facts, just the facts, which is mighty interesting without embellishment.

The book begins with failed spy Nathaniel Hal; it ends with war hero General Benedict Arnold's defection and ignomous end, and the hanging of British spy John Andre'--who earned the respect of countrymen and enemy alike for doing his duty. In between we learn the intricacies of how the Culper ring developed, how it worked, and the impact it had on the war.

The main ring was comprised of Setauket friends who trusted each other: Ben Talmadge, Washington's head of  intelligence; the Setauket based spy Samual Culper, in real life Abraham Woodall; Quaker Townsend, who had gone to New York to practise business and provided observations on the British; and whaleboatman Caleb Brewster, fearless and bold.

We encounter a new side of General Washington as he forged a new kind of spycraft, utilizing advanced methods and emplying flawed, couraegeous, and colorful civilians.

In a letter from Rose found at the AMC website,
"Instead of remaining faceless names or nameless faces...through their letters the personalities of the spies themselves emerge and we perceive them not as invincible superheros like James Bond or Jason Bourne, but as ordinary individuals coping the best they can in an extraordinary time. These secret agents--because they're frail, because they're flawed, because they're sometimes fearful--come recognizable, symatetic, real people having to make unenviable, hard choices while facing potential lethal challenges. 
"What I've found most remarkable about TURN is that eveyone involved is willing to throw out the conventional goodies vs baddies narrative of the War of Independence in order to explore these very human factors lying at the heart of that titanic clah of nations and ideologies."
Here is an interview with Rose about the AMC series based on his book:

Washington's Spies
Alexander Rose
$17 paperback
ISBN 9780553392593

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myselt by Julie Barton

Childhood trauma left author Julie Barton with crippling negative self-talk and a major depressive breakdown. Leaving behind her New York City job and unhealthy love affair she returned to her Ohio family. With help from her parents, doctors, and therapists she underwent treatment. But it was the love for a dog, Bunker Hill, that ultimately gave Barton purpose and the unconditional love she desperately needed.

Barton audaciously takes a chance on life again, with Bunker at her side. When Bunker is discovered to have a congenital defect she had to choose to save his life through painful and expeensive surgeries, or euthanize him.

I read Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself, A Memoir, for National Dog Day. Barton describes her life long struggle with self esteem and depression with no holds, vividly exposing depression's insiduous destruction. Her chronicle culminates in the salvation found in a warm body with big brown eyes, the joy of a puppy's unconditional love. Barton also must learn to trust herself and to accept that forgiveness, of one's self as well as forgiving others, is a necessary part of moving on.
"What if I decided that all of those mistakes were teachings? Maybe all of those choices I'd made were so that I could learn that what I wanted wasn't drama and sorrow, just love, love in the way Bunker gave love. Unconditional. No expectations. No strings. Just love, because what is more beautiful than that?"
Dog lovers, anyone who has struggled with depression or self esteem issues or childhood abuse, and those who enjoy honest and beautifully written memoirs will enjoy Dog Medicine.

I received a free book from Penguin through a Facebook giveaway.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Whatever is lost will be found": The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

"The past is a grenade that explodes when thrown."

The Gap of Time: A Cover Version of William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale by Jeanette Winterson was the first cover in the series by Hogarth Shakespeare. I previously read the Hogarth Shakespeare version of The Taming of the Shrew, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, and you can read my review here. I have Hag Seed, the cover for The Tempest by Margaret Atwood, on my NetGalley shelf.

I admit the last time I read this Shakespeare play was in university. The course compared the early and last plays of three playrights; the Bard's The Winter's Tale and The Tempest were his last plays that we studied. The theme of the course was that the last works of the authors revisited early themes but with a comic or hopeful ending.

Winterson's novel places the story in modern London after the financial crisis which left the rich getting richer off of the misery of the rest of us. Leo Kaiser has wealth, a beautiful and talented wife MiMi, and a son Milo--plus MiMi is pregnant. Leo, like Othello, also is in a jealous rage, imagining that his old and close friend Xeno has been having an affair with MiMi; he believes that her baby is Xeno's. To complicate things, Leo and Xeno were sexual partners as teens and Xeno does love MiMi.

The early part of the novel is full of passion and rage. We learn about the youthful love shared between Leo and Xeno and how Leo 'accidently' nearly killed Xeno. We watch Leo rant and rave in jealous fits, spying on his wife. He tries to kill Xeno, driving him into 'exile'; then both loving and hating his wife, alienates MiMi and rejects their baby.

The baby, Perdita, is sent to her supposed father but a series of events brings her into the loving home of Shep and his son Clo, where she grows into a happy and beauiful girl. Age 17, Peridta is in love with Zel; they find themsleves on a journey of self-discovery that challanges everything they believed about their--and their parent's--identities.

I was uncomfortable with Leo's thought language of hate and his strange sexual arousal in the midst of jealous rage. At the same time I realize that the original plays by Shakespeare involve these extreme emotions and sick thinking. Leo and Xeno are damaged persons; "they had a life and they destroyed it. Their own and other people's."  Xeno fathers a child, 'a vanity project' his son labels it. Xeno retreats from the world in an alcoholic daze while creating a computer game, The Gap of Time, about the end of the world, where tragic and terrible things make possible sacrifice, struggle, and hope.

The teenage Perdita's story brings the novel scenes of family love, comedy and romance. In a game she says she would want Miranda from The Tempest as her dinner guest; later she assumes the name Miranda when meeting her father Leo for the first time. Winterson explains that in The Tempest, "Miranda...gets a father worth being born for."

At the end, the complicated realtionships are unraveled to the happiness of all.

The author plays with themes of time, 'The Fall' of man, angels, disguises, and shifting identities including sexual. The greatest threat comes from within ourselves. Time is reversible, she writes, time can be redeemed; that which is lost is found.

Winterson starts with a recap of  Shakespeare's play and wraps up with a commentary on the theme of the play: forgiveness.

For all my discomfort with Leo's actions, to the point that I considered not reading on, I finished the book in one evening's sitting and feel it growing on me. I may have to read it again.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair an unbiased review.

The Gap of Time
by Jeanette Winterson
Hogarth Shakespeare
Penguin Random House
$15 paperback
IBN: 978-0-8041-4137-6

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Vintage Patterns: Circus Elephants and Flowers

Blue Ribbon Patterns p-130 includes 23 quilt patterns. The pamphlet was published in 1974, based on patterns that appeared in previous Tower Press pulications.

The Circus Quilt contributed by Betty Nordwall has an adorable elephant border. Once elephants were associated with circuses; thankfully these intelligent creatures are being phased out of such servitude.
Circus parade coming into town, 1930s-early 1940s. Family photo.
"Finished quilt is 35" by 57". It is made of 11" blocks. It requires 1 2/3 yards of white or plain light colored fabric for the top, 1 yard gay stripe, 1 2/3 yards backing, 1 2/3 yards flannel for the middle layer.

"Cut 12 blocks 12"x12" of plain fabric (1/2" seam allowance). Cut a strip 12"x35" of the same fabric. Cut 12 elephants from various print scraps you have. Cut 24 ears and 12 blankets from various plain fabrics.

"Trim blankets with 2 rows of metallic rick-rack and applique on elephants.  Applique elephants on blocks, putting 8 on straight and 4 on diagonal for the corners. Chain sttich head decorations with 6 strand embroidery thread. Embroider star medallion.

"Sew ears together in pairs, leaving open bottoms; turn, and tuck in ear as indicated by arrow and sew in place at bottom and 1/2" up each side only, leaving ears to flop.

"For tents, cut two blocks 9" by 7" (allow 1/4" seams) from the stripe on the diagonal. Applique on center stip, rounding bottom and top curves slightly.

"To make a 1" deep scallop, cut two strips of plain material 1 1/2" x 9" on bias. Sew with right sides together along sides and bottom in a scalloping manner. Attach to tent along top only. Cut a triangle 9" along the base and 6" high on the diaonal stripe. Applique on tent top, curving all sides as needed. Embroider markings and flag staff. Add colorful flag, 2" x 1 1/4" (allowing for 1/4" seam).

"Sew blocks together and make washable yarn (cotton, nylon, or orlon) tails. Cut 3 strands of yarn 9" long, tie in center, fold and braid. Tie end and trim. Tack in place and also on next elephant's trunk. The tail on corer may not reach.

"Baste quilt top to backing and flannel middle layer. For the edging, but 4 yards of 3" stripe on biased, fold in half and iron down. Sew around with 1/2" seam. Quilt or tack as desired."

The Pansy Quilt applique pattern was submitted by Gertrude Riden, Rt. 3, Box 222, Rollin, Missouri. Instructions read, "Here is the pattern. Use your own color combinations. This quilt takes 32, 10 inch appliqued bloks. It is set together with 10 inch solid color blocks."

Hand appliqued, crayon and pen enchanced. by Nancy Bekofske

Next is Old Fashioned Rose, a pieced pattern submitted by Mrs. Rosa Anna Ratlff. "This bautiful quilt is rarely shown today ut if there should be any qult "addicts" among you who may want to tackle this pattern these are the instructions.

Quilt size- 82x108
No. of Blocks - 20
4 blocks wide and 5 blocks long

P-pink R-rose   LtG- light green   Dk. G-dark green  B-brown

Actual size with sean allowance chart for blocks
Four blocks assembled
Increase blcoks to 1 1/2"

Materials needed:
2 1/2 yds dark green
1 3/4 light green
1/3 dark brown
3/4 yd rose
2 1/4 yd pink
1/4 yard pink or green for square between blocks
7 yds white for blocks and strips

"This quilt is made up of 1 1/2 inch squares and at least a 1/4 inch seam allowance. However I suppose it could be made larger easier enough by the yardage would have to be re-estimated. Anyone with a rule and a block of the quilt could draft it!"

Last of all is the Rose Cross Quilt. Only the applique patterns were included.

I already shared the Bird of Friendship pattern from this issue; find it here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quilt Modern with Thomas Knauer's Design Coloring Book

Reproduction quilts have been popular since the early 20th c. In recent years we have made Amish quilts, 1930s quilts, Civil War era quilts, and British antique quilt reproductions. Today quilters are looking back 100 years to Modern Art for quilt inspiration.

It requires a real paradigm shift, a new fabric stash, and inventing new patterns.

Or you can make your own pattern.

What! How? We are used to traditional quilt blocks as the basis of pattern making. How can we make a quilt not based on a repeated set of blocks?
Thomas Knauer has written a book to help with the pesky problem of designing a modern quilt.

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook: 91 Modern Art-Inspired Designs and Exercises has 90 ready-to-color pages and design prompts for creating your own modern quilt.

Knauer begins by introducing the history and attributes of modern art.

WWI toppled Europe and changed how people viewed history and life. The values and expectations of the past did not coincide with the experience of modern life.

In literature we call the writers of this time The Lost Generation. Hemingway's classic novel The Sun Also Rises  about veteran American expats wandering about Europe looking to drown their memories in thrills and liquor is the classic literary representation.

Knauer offers a concise tour of how artists responded to this upheaval. He begins with writing about 'Blending Traditions: Art, Quilts, and Novel Inspirations."

Along with WWI, other early 20th c influences include photography, scientific advances that opened new understandings of movement and vision, and shifting cultural and political issues.

Knauer also reviews basic color theory and his own starting point of finding a mid-tone color then introducing lighter and darker colors.

Chapters cover the use of space, balance, intuition and chance, simplicity, the grid layout, geometric, repetition in Modern Art, and how to adapt the concepts to quilts. Short essays with illustrations from Modern Art introduce each design concept with their influences.

The exercises can be completed with colored pencils or other medium after drawing the design with an erasable pencil.

Some of the exercises require determining line, others are based on his completed quilts which illustrate the design concept.

I was not able to copy or print the exercise pages to give it a try; my ebook galley did not allow it.

For those interested in art history the approach will be very interesting. For those who don't care but like the challenge of design the exercises will be useful.

Thomas Knauer's column Quilt Matters appears in the Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. He is the host of Design Studio with Thomas Knauer on and author of Modern Quilt Perspectives. Find his blog at

I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Quilt Design Coloring Book
Thomas Knauer
Storey Publishing
Publication Date: August 23, 2016
$18.95 paperback
ISBN: 9781612127859

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mini Reviews, Life Stories Real and Imagined

I read that A Whole Life was an international bestseller similar to John William's Stoner and Marilynne Robinson's Lila. And since I was very impressed with Stoner and have read Robinson's Gilead THREE times I put in my request at NetGalley.

I woke one night and couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and read this short novel in one sitting. It is the story of Andreas Egger, a woe-begotten man for whom life was one disappointment after another. Orphaned, beaten, suffered WWI in battle and in a Russian prison camp, tragically widowed, and then he dies. What he does have is a love for the landscape of his isolated village.

"Scars are like years", he said,"one follows another and it's all of them together that make a person who they are."

Andreas survived "his childhood, a war and an avalanche." He lead a clean life, turning from worldly temptations. And he had loved. He had no regrets. Andreas learned that "Every one of us limps alone."

This novel is far darker than Stoner. I felt more pity and felt a lack of affirmation. But thousands across the world have catapulted the book into an international best seller.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
$23 hard cover
ISBN: 9780374289867

I bought John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire on Kindle after watching Ken Burns' National Parks on PBS. I wanted to know more about Muir.

Although I read this ebook over many months, mostly in waiting rooms, I enjoyed it and found it informative, moving, and inspirational. Heacox offers a wonderful biography of a man who could have had a lucrative career but gave it up for his love of nature and the wild. Muir dared to stand against a country worshiping wealth, a nation that had lost it's vision of the sublimity of America's unique landscapes.

Dedicating himself to research, educating and writing and pushing for polity to protect his beloved lands, Muir had a mystical belief in the healing property of the environment which today is becoming recognized as truth.

The book's particular focus is on Muir's enraptured love of Alaska's glaciers. I appreciated that the book does not end with Muir's death, but continues to the present day, addressing how climate change is affecting the glaciers (which were already diminishing during Muir's lifetime.)

John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire: How A Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America
Kim Heacox
Lyons Press
Published 2014

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award. I borrowed it from my public library. Written as a letter to his teenage son Coates offers an unvarnished and appalling condemnation of race in America and what it means to be born 'black' in a 'white' dominated culture. I have thought about this book for several weeks. I don't feel qualified to make a statement. Just read it.  Read the Atlantic Magazine article written by Coates here.

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau

Another book I borrowed through Overdrive was Mary Gaitskill's novel The Mare. The characterization and story is captivating and I read it in two days.

A woman with a troubled past and unable to ground herself hosts an inner city girl through the Fresh Air Fund, changing their lives and the lives of their families in complicated and unexpected ways. The girl Velvet connects with an abused mare; together they cobble together their redemption.

I loved the juxtaposition of the two worlds, the inner city and the suburbs, peeling back the pressures and stresses of each. My favorite ah-ha moment is when Velvet's host mom recognizes her own latent racism, the sad and horrible tragedy of American society that affects us all.

The Mare
Mary Gaitskill

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Eugene Gochenour Memoirs Part III

I have been sharing Dad's memoirs over the past weeks. Today's excerpt continues his childhood memories from the Depression.
Gochenour family in late 1930s; Eugene is front right; his mother back right,
sister Mary back left and to her right is Al Gochenour.
"Military Road was built centuries ago for armies to travel from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. The road was elevated at the location where the house we lived in was built. On each side of the house was a gully. The strip of land where the farm house was placed was filled [with dirt] to the level of the road.

"The foundation of the house was about three feet thick, built of stone that probably came from a nearby quarry. When we first moved there the house had a dirt floor in the basement but later Dad and some friends put in a concrete floor. Huge logs with one flat side supported the floor of the house. Wooden pegs held the logs together. A cistern was located under the rear porch but of course it had not been used for dozens of years.
1865 Military Rd in the 1940s after Al Gochenour bought the
property and fixed it up. 
"The house sat quite far back from the road and one day as we sat on our front porch, to our amazement, we saw elephants walking past on the road. The elephants led a parade of horse-drawn wagons filled with lions, tigers, and other animals. Now as children we had never seen elephants, and we were amazed to see the size of them. The circus had come to town and this was their way of advertising it.
Circus passes down Military Rd at Ensminger Rd; an Ensminger family house in the background.
"The first photo shows the elephants as they passed by. Across the street is the Ensminger farm house. It sat at the corner of Military and Ensminger Roads.

"When we first moved there Ensminger Road was just a dirt road leading into the fields. The barn that sat behind the house had already been torn down, and soon [about 1960-61] the house would be intentionally be burned down to make room for a bowling alley. A childhood friend, Ridgely Ware, had lived there with his mother and aunt. As a child I remember drinking water from a well with a hand pump that was on their side lawn. I drank it with cupped hands and it was cold and delicious. Before the barn was torn down, two old horse carriages were parked in it. Ridgely was about two years older than I, but occasionally we did things together. Sometimes we would go into the barn and sit in the carriages and make believe we were driving them. There was also a well with a hand pump in the barn, but I was told that the water in that well was bad, so I never tried it.

"During the ‘40s the Ensminger barn was torn down then during the ‘50s the house was sold. One
day early in the morning I looked out of my upstairs window and saw the Ensminger house burning. Rather than tear the house down the owners decided to have it burned down. So they got the firemen to set it afire and control it. It is an awesome sight to see a burning house with the flames reaching high into the sky. The heat was so intense it could be felt blocks away. A bowling alley was built on the lot next to where the house had been, and the house lot became a parking lot. Such is progress.
Circus parage with donkeys passing on Military Rd near Ensminger past
where a bowling alley would be built in the 1960s
"The next photo shows a donkey, pony, and horse. As you can see the previous animals had made their contribution to the highway and the fly population. Across the road is the field where there would soon be a bowling alley.
Circus parade traveling on Military Rd north towards City of Tonawanda;
field would later house the Erie County Highway Department garage; foreground
later had a Texaco gas station and Schwinn Bicycle shop.
"The third photo shows the parade as it travels north toward the city of Tonawanda. The field across the street is where the Erie County Highway Department garage would be built. The lot on this side of the street is where a Texaco gas station and a bicycle shop would be built. The lot had once been a town dump.

"The old farm house had a basement only under part of the house. When we first moved there, it had only a dirt floor. The kitchen area had a crawl space under it, and when the water pipes would freeze during the winter father would have to crawl under there with a blow torch to thaw them out. Rats and mice had chewed passages through the walls and ceilings for a hundred years, and during the fall and winter you could hear them scurrying around. Our kitchen cupboards had many holes covered with tin can patches that had been nailed on probably from the time when tin cans were first made. But the rats would just chew another hole. One night a rat got into the house, and we saw it. Well, everyone went chasing it through the house trying to whack it with a broom or stick. We finally cornered and killed it. That was our excitement for that evening! A few years later when I was older, it was my job to go into the crawl space and retrieve any dead smelly rats that had ate the rat poison bait that we had set out for them. We eventually hired an exterminator who treated the house monthly.
Emma Becker Gochernour with Mary and Alice on left,
Gene on right, and Emma's brother Lee in center. Open land on right
would eventually be where Rosemont Ave. was built.
"As kids we could always find something to eat. There was a house on Deleware Avenue that had a garage that sat quite far back from the street. There a person sat all day making the sugar cones used for ice cream cones. Broken cones were always left on the window sill for us to eat. They were like candy to us.

"Many people had fruit trees, strawberry patches, and grapevines in their yards, and we always knew when they were in season. We usually would raid them at night, but occasionally we would pull a daytime raid. The neighbors we took from probably did not even care, but to us it was exciting. We also had a Bartlet pear tree in our yard that had great pears.

"In the springtime, [my Uncle] Lee and I would pick and eat all the meadow mushrooms we would find in the fields. Eaten fresh and raw, they are very good. The second week of June is when the wild strawberries were usually ripe, and mother would spend hours in the fields picking them. She always took the dog along because she was afraid of snakes, and the dog would chase them away. Mother made jam from the strawberries. Mother would also pick dandelion leaves during the spring, and make a salad with it. Even I liked that salad.

"Near the airport and the dump was a golf driving range. During the late ‘30s some of us kids were hired to pick up golf balls from the field. We were paid ten cents for our work and we would give back five cents for our favorite candy bar, a Milky Way. We liked to go to the dump also. There we found what we thought was some neat stuff, and took it home. When our parents saw what we had hauled home, they made us put it out to the street so the rubbish man could haul it back to the dump. I often wonder if the rubbish man thought that some of those things seemed familiar!

"The Sheridan Park Golf Course had some nice hills where we could sled during the winter. One day I slid down the hill and ended in the creek. It was a long freezing walk home! There was also a pond where we ice skated on.

"When summer came, I would go to the fields next to the golf course to find golf balls that the golfers had lost. Then I would sell them back to them. One day I found and sold twelve dollars worth of balls, with which I bought a portable radio. Since they were new on the market at that time few people had them. The radio was large by today’s standards. I liked the smell of the plastic material that covered it. The plastic looked like leather, and the radio had large batteries. It was great to take anywhere and have music.

"During the '30s and '40s I had many ways to make money. I picked up pop and beer bottles from along the roadways and took them back to the store where I got two cents each for them. I had a paper route, cut lawns, worked in the field with John Kuhn, and got a weekly allowance of twenty five cents from mother for my home chores. During the fall and winter, I went to the housing project where I received a dollar for each ton of coal I could carry from the street to the customer’s coal bin. My friend Dale Thiel and I would usually do the coal jobs together. We would use the customer’s trash cans to haul the coal. It took about 20 to 23 cans for the ton of coal. Also during the winter I would shovel snow from people’s driveways and sidewalks, for two or three dollars.

"The nearby horse riding stables rented out horses to the public. They made many trails through the woods and fields that we would ride our bikes on. We literally had trail bikes in those days! Also in the woods we would build tree houses from scrap wood we found."