Sunday, December 10, 2017

Meeting the Enemy

Propaganda dehumanizes our enemy to provide justification and motivation for war. Monstrous things happen in war. War can turn decent human beings into killing machines, and groups will commit horrid acts in war that the individuals would never have considered in peacetime. The enemy becomes the object of all our hate and fear.

The question is, who is our enemy? Is every citizen in a hostile country to be considered dangerous? Can we face our fear and find a commonality?

The Abu Dhabu Bar Mitzvah by Adam Valen Levinson appeared in my mailbox courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company. I have been reading it for some time now. It is sometimes funny and always interesting.

Levinson, a young man of Jewish heritage, reacts to 9-11 by-- according to most--risking his life by visiting countries considered dangerous to Americans. What he discovers is that people are people everywhere. He encounters hospitality in places considered hostile to Americans.

As a mother, I am appalled that the author disregards personal safety in search of knowledge; as an American citizen I appreciate his pulling back the curtain to show real faces of those we fear.

Early on, Levinson realizes everyone he meets was 'performing,' considering how to act and talk. Anyone could be a spy, an informer. He assumes an identity that he hopes will pass off as Lebanese, keeping his mouth shut and head down when on dangerous roads.

Levinson obtained work at a university in Abu Dhabi and from that home base traveled across the Middle East. So far I have read about his trips to Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. Coming up is Egypt, Yemen and Somalia. He includes actual names and dialog and draws from his recordings and notes taken on the road.

I read about camel races with robots jockeys, Levinson's belated Bar Mitzvah in Abu Dhabi, strangers who show him the sights, and his visits to ancient places decaying with time.

Photographs from the book can be found at Levinson's website.

*****
Who is our enemy? Are our fears justified? What risks are we willing to take?

My weekly quilting and craft group held a potluck. I was sitting with the two vegetarians, women from India. One was dressed in an ornate sari and dripped in her finest gold; the other wore Western clothing. I asked about their roots in India and learned about their immigrant experience.

Both are married to men with PhDs and are mothers to successful and highly educated adult children. One attended an Indian school taught in English, and the other taught herself the language watching soap operas after her immigration to America.

I heard about a child encountering prejudice in school when a classmate complained they would not be on a team with 'that child' while the mother, through her silence, showed tacit approval of he son's racism. I heard about a bright child's needs ignored because the teacher 'had' to treat all children the same. A change in schools gave the child the advanced coursework he needed.

And I heard about a honeymoon trip to the mountains of Kashmir. I was told that in India newlyweds seek out the cooler, moderate climate of the mountains for their honeymoon. (Relatives in India can not believe she now lives "in Kashmir" all the time!)

On the way to their destination their bus encountered a bridge which was closed. The couple had to either cross the bridge, return to their last hotel, or move on to the next town. All choices included a long walk with all their suitcases.

A van load of young Sikhs from a military base on a day's frolic were also stopped by the closed bridge. They offered the newlyweds a ride back to the town where they had been the night before.

It was explained to me that the Sikhs were considered terrorists. The Sikhs also make up the bulk of the Indian military force. And yet the bridegroom accepted their offer, and in great fear, his young wife climbed into the van.

Four large young men, one willowy groom, and one young woman. She feared rape.

The Sikhs chattered among themselves, and the bride could just make out some words, knowing a little Punjabi. Then, a Sikh turned and asked the groom, "Why did you come with us?" And he answered, "If I can trust the protection of my country to you, I can trust you will protect my wife."

They were stunned and thanked him. And the young wife feels goosebumps go up her arm to this very day recalling his words.

*****
I will continue to read Levinson's journey into hostile territory, learning about places and people I will never see, an armchair voyager in an easy chair with a cup of tea at my side, cuddled under a hand made quilt, grateful that someone else's son risked everything to face his fears.

I received a free book from the publisher.

The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East
by Adam Valen Levinson
W. W. Norton & Company
Hardcover $25.95
ISBN 978-0-393-60836-6

Friday, December 8, 2017

November, 1964 Woman's Day

Years ago I was gifted a box of vintage magazines and from time to time I share them on my blog. Today I have chosen Woman's Day from November, 1964 which includes 100 gift ideas to make, and some ads that recalled to mind my childhood home.
My husband recently realized we are missing six spoons from our flatware set! I've had a lot of chatter on Facebook about what to do, from using heirloom silver plate to buying replacements. I would love to buy the pattern I grew up with, which appears in this advertisement--Twin Star. The design included two abstract stars etched onto a graceful curved handle.
I do still have Mom's Miro cookie press and cookie cutters, like in the advertisement below! It is so cool to know how old they are!


The article on 100 Christmas gifts came with complete instructions. The ideas were very diverse, for all ages, and includes needlework, sewing, crafting, and woodworking ideas. I would love to know if anyone remembers receiving a gift made from these instructions.




I love those stuffed animal dogs and these adorable dolls!



Vermont Maid offered this sampler for embroidery. $1.25 seems like quite the deal! That would be nearly $10 in today's dollars.
Of course, every woman's magazine had to include food ads and recipes. Quaker Oats offered suggestion on motivating kids to eat their oatmeal.
Money Saving Menus in 1964 seem quite elaborate but included thrifty use of planned leftovers. On November 22 the menu was Roast Pork, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut with allspice, sautéed apple wedges, and lemon meringue pie. Left over pork was used on November 24 for Pork Chow Mein with Chow Mein noodles, peach salad, and cottage pudding with chocolate sauce. Other menus included November 4's Lamb stew with potato balls, peas and onions, marjoram croutons with mixed green salad, applesauce, and cookies for desert; November 14's Yankee Bean Soup with frankfurters, scalloped tomatoes, corn bread, and for desert stewed pears with sour cream cookies.
 I remember Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches.
 And Mom made Pineapple Upside Down Cake frequently--served warm with whip cream.
 Here is a real old pattern of Ancor Hocking baking ware.
We never had one of these Christmas Card Trees, but I knew people who did.

 Remember the Fisher-Price telephone? It seems every kid had one.
 I know my brother had that tool bench when a tot.
Oh, don't these bring back memories! Those plastic boots that we wore over our shoes! I always thought they looked quite dorky.
The shoes we needed to protect might have been Cobbies from Red Cross, "the easy way out and about suburbia." Only $13 a pair!

November 1964 was just a year after President Kennedy's assassination. Mementos of all kinds were sold.
 Reynolds Aluminum suggested making your own decorations.
 I picked up this book many years ago at a sale. There are nice chapters on quilting.
A pull-out section The Collector's Cook Book offered recipes for Gifts From Your Kitchen. Here are some selections.

Basil Salad Dressing
1 cup salad oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp of dried basil leaves
Measure ingredients into a jar and shake thoroughly. Store in refrigerator.

Candied Kumquats
4 cups fresh kumquats, about 1 pound
water
sugar
pecan halves
Stem and wash kumquats. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes, drain, and cut in halves, lengthwise. Combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water and boil until sugar is dissolved. Drop kumquats into boiling syrup. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Put into bowl, cover, and let stand overnight. The next day cook 20 minutes and lift from syrup. Lay on paper to cool. Press a pecan on each, roll in sugar.

Preserved Grapefruit Peel
4 large grapefruit
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon, broken
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps. mixed pickling spices
1/3 cup picked sweet red pepper
yellow food coloring
Pull skin off grapefruit, reserving fruit for other uses. Scald skins with boiling water. Pour off water, cover again with boiling water and boil until tender. Change water and rinse once during cooking time, about 45-50 minutes. Drain. Combine 1 cup water and remaining ingredients. Boil 2 minutes to make a syrup. Add peel and cook until thick, about 25 minutes. Pour into hot, sterilized glasses and seal. Makes about 2 pints.

Pick Up Sticks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 package (5 ounces) pretzel sticks
Combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Then cook over medium heat without stirring to hard crack stage, 290 degrees, or until a small amount of syrup separates into threads which are hard and brittle when dropped into very cold water. Reduce heat to low. Add butter, vanilla, and about a quarter of the pretzels. Stir until pretzels are boated and butter is melted. Lift out, drain, and put on a greased pan. Separate with a fork. Repeat until pretzels are all coated.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Remains of the Day by Kazu Ishiguro

I took this book slow, a chapter a day, leisurely reading a 'real' book in the evening by lamplight. I had an older, somewhat yellowed copy of the book and stopped to make notes as I read. I had not read Remains of the Day since its publication, for my original, hardbound copy was sacrificed in downsizing with one of our many moves.

I recalled I liked the book enough to be eager to see the movie version, which involved obtaining a babysitter and driving a half hour to a city large enough to have 'artsy' films. I had vivid memories of the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

In 1956, Mr. Stevens, butler for Mr. Farraday the new owner of Darlington Hall, takes his one ever vacation, to see the former head maid, Miss Kent, now Mrs. Benn. She is newly single, and nostalgic, had written him a letter.

Stevens has been disconcerted by his new American master, who seems to want him to 'banter' in a friendly, lighthearted exchange. He has been thinking too much of the old days and of the changes that WWII brought to Britain.

Before many miles have passed he is in Terra Nova, as unfamiliar with the landscape as he is with the denizens of this new land. Mr. Steven's journey brings him in contact with working class folk and farmers, the great democratic populace outside of the rare atmosphere of Darlington Hall's lords and titled men, his 'betters'.

Mr. Steven's trip is also a journey into another area as unfamiliar as Salisbury or Cornwall-- his own soul.

A butler must have dignity: this has been his core belief and mantra, and those butlers--like his own father--who have stood for dignity have been his role models. To be great comes at a cost. Stevens served Lord Darlington, host to movers and shakers of the British Empire in the days after The Great War. Spotless, perfect silverware could mean the rise or fall of the country, the brokering of a deal or its failure. Stevens' quest for dignity and perfection, believing he is part of something bigger, justified his renouncement of the personal even when his father is dying, even when a woman's heart is there for the asking.

Appearances are everything, and yet Darlington Hall is submersed in deception for Lord Darlington is the dupe of political extremists and Nazi sympathizers. Stevens can not condemn his former employer, justifying his essential moral goodness and making apologies for his errors in judgement. And yet--and yet--he also dissembles, unable to admit to strangers his attachment to a man now held in universal disdain.

Mr. Farraday's Ford breaks down and Stevens is left wading through muddy fields in the gloaming, remembering Lord Darlington's fall from grace and later admission of wrong doing, and how Miss Kent had admonished Stevens for being unable to face his own feelings. Stevens is welcomed to spend the night with simple farmers and their neighbors, one of whom is an ardent Socialist arguing for more power to the people. Lord Darlington had believed that democracy was "something for a by-gone era" and that strong leadership--like in Italy and Germany--would bring the social changes society needed.

It is a rainy day when Mr. Stevens arrives at the rendezvous with Miss Kent. She had not married for love, but Stevens finds his heart is breaking to learn it is too late to turn back the clock.

How does we live the remainder of our life after learning we have based our life on a sham? When we realize our choices betrayed our true dignity? For Stevens, it means not looking back but enjoying the waning days. And learning to banter.

I marvel at the structure of this novel, the measured language, the complexity of character. I am so glad my book club chose to read Remains of the Day

The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

In a time long ago and a world far away, one girl dares to claim the right to make her own fate. Against her family's desires, the demands of society and church, she resists the life laid out for her. Even the pagan gods, whose power is slowly fading, tries to harness her for their good but she will not be chattel to anyone. Vasilisa, the wild child of the woods, who can talk to horses and the household spirits, only seeks one thing: the freedom of self determination.

All my Goodreads friends had raved about The Bear and the Nightingale. I felt like I had badly missed out. I purchased a Kindle copy but had not read it...then I won a copy of the second volume in the Winternight Trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, through Bookish. I immediately started reading the first book before the ARC of the second volume arrived.

I am not a huge fantasy fan. So take that into consideration when I say I loved this book. I loved the setting in old Rus', a time when paganism had not yet been driven out by Christianity. I loved the Russian fairy tales that inform the novel. Vasilisa, with her wide mouth and large green eyes, is a manifestation of a traditional Russian folk tale of a frog who turns into a princess.

The story opens on a late winter night in Rus', with children demanding a story. And they hear about the frost-demon, the winter king Morozko, also known as the death-god who froze bad children in the night. In the fairy tale, a step-mother sends her step-daughter into the winter forest to marry Morozko. The girl was nonplussed by the demon and he sent her home with dowry gifts. The step-mother was jealous of her good fortune and sends her own daughter to the Frost-King, expecting her to return with riches. But her spoiled daughter was ungrateful and complained. Morozko did not save her.

One of the children listening, Vasilisa, has inherited her mother's and grandmother's gift of recognizing the spirit world. Vasya is happier in the stable or the woods than she is in the house, and bristles against the limited life laid out for a girl child. She understands that the spirits are languishing, which means they cannot protect the hearth, home, or stable, and she befriends them in secret. Else, she would be called a witch or a mad woman.

In an interview with Book Page, Arden describes these household spirits of protection:
There is a guardian spirit for everything in Russian folklore. The domovoi guards the house; the dvorovoi guards the dooryard. The bannik guards the bathhouse, the ovinnik, the threshing-­house. Their areas of influence are almost absurdly specific. And each creature has a certain appearance and personality, and people must do certain things to placate them.
Vasya's father goes to Moscow to seek a bride, and a bridegroom for his eldest daughter. His son Sasha stays to study for the priesthood. The Rus' ruler takes advantage, offering his 'mad' daughter as wife-- Anna, a pious Christian who sees the spirits and, believing they are demons, shrieks in despair.

Also sent back to the deep woods is the priest Konstantin, a man who seeks holy glory and preaches against the old ways. When voices talk to him he believes it is God who directs him to instill fear to drive the people to God. Vasya disturbs him, in more ways than one.

Vasya strives to maintain the old ways, fighting the evil spirits that threaten her family, and finding protection from Morozko. When the spirit of Death in the form of a monstrous bear attacks their community, Vasya is blamed. Rather than being forced to marry or enter a convent, or be killed as a witch, Vasya dresses as a boy and goes out into the world with a horse from Morozko, the unworldly stead Solovey, or Nightingale.

The novel is otherworldly and enchanting. It is a delight to read a female hero's journey.
*****
In the early 1970s I audited a course in which I read Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Morphology of the Folktale by V. Propp. Reading Arden's story brought back things I had learned at that time.

The Hero's Journey as set out in Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces is found universally in folk lore, fairy tales, religions, and in literature. The journey includes separation, or leaving home and childhood; initiation and trials; symbolic death, a journey to the underworld or being 'in the belly of a whale'; meeting with a god; apotheosis; return, rescue, and freedom. There are magical agents or helpers along the way to ad the hero.

Propp breaks down the structure of folk tales. The villain threatening harm to the family, an object is sought to solve a problem, the hero is pursued and rescued, the hero is given difficult task, the false hero or villain is exposed,the villain is punished, and the hero is married.

The journey of a female hero is slightly different. First, the female hero must escape domestic imprisonment as a child. She is called to adventure, refusing supernatural aid. She may have to chose between a light and a dark man, searches for a father, and encounters an alternative mother figure.The female hero rejects her inferiority as a woman, and after trials and tests, succeeds in her quest.

Vasya is truly a female hero on a journey, born of the traditional Russian folk tale.
*****

The Girl in the Tower continues Vasya's story from The Bear and the Nightingale.

In the cruel winter, Vasya flees her home where she was driven out as a witch. Alone in the frozen winter woods with Solovey, Morozko must save her life once again. She will not heed his advice to take on the life of a wife and mother. She will not be constrained to such a limited world.

Vasya encounters burned villages and hears of raiders who take girl children. She follows the marauders and, using trickery, saves the the girls. But the leader of the marauders sees her and pursues them. Vasya comes to walled village and they are taken in. There she meets her brother Sasha, the valiant priest and childhood friend of the ruling prince. Her exploits impress the prince, and she leads his band to track down the marauders. Vasya accompanies the retinue to Moscow and is reunited with her sister. Also in Moscow is the tormented Konstintine, the priest whose misguided faith drove him to persecute Vasya in her hometown.

Vasya's identity as a boy forces her siblings to collude in her lie, a risky venture since they must deceive the prince. Also in Moscow is a foreign ruler who has a special interest in Vasya, and who also has a magical horse even more powerful than Solovey.

Morozko, the Frost King, reappears several times warning Vasya or saving her life. He needs her faith to live, but also is drawn to the girl. But to love her he must give up immortality. In any case, Vasya disdains his help and alienates him.

The story includes a twisted plot of false identities, a heritage of women who can communicate with the spirit world, and a riveting epic battle.

I can't wait for the third volume!

I received a free ARC through Bookish First in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

*****
In the story, Christianity vies with pagan beliefs. Konstantine represents the aggressive element which warns of witches and false worship, calling the spirits demons. Sasha has studied for the priesthood, but can not leave the world for the cloister. He is fights at the prince's side while also blessing the dying. He must reconcile his Christian belief with Vasya's shared wisdom of otherworldly forces.

In an interview with Book Page, Arden addresses this conflict:

BP: The conflict between Christianity and the old traditions is a big part of this book. What do readers need to know about this period in Russian history? 
KA: I think it’s important to realize that this period of Russian history doesn’t have a lot of primary sources...But what we do know: at this time period (mid fourteenth century) Muscovy was rising rapidly, buoyed by a long collaboration with the Golden Horde, which had taken power in Russia about two hundred years prior. At the time, the Horde was preoccupied by succession problems (Genghis Khan had a really absurd number of descendants), and the Grand Princes of Moscow were quietly expanding their territory and bringing lesser princes into the fold. 
During this period, much of Muscovy’s conflict was with other Russian city-­states (notably Tver), but Dmitrii Ivanovich (who is still a boy in The Bear and the Nightingale) is the first prince who will successfully oppose the Golden Horde and Mongol dominance in Russia.





Friday, December 1, 2017

Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly

The worst argument I ever had with my dad when I was growing up was over astronauts. We were at the dinner table and I had remarked that astronauts had to be superior and my dad argued that they had to be 'normal'. Dad thought that normal meant a human body that functioned as it was supposed to, and I thought superior meant they had abilities--physical and cognitive--that most of us don't have.

After reading Endurance by Scott Kelly I stand by my pre-teen opinion. What Kelly achieved and what he endured was amazing. Few of us have the will and the commitment to pursue our dream when things get tough. Most of us settle for good enough, unable to push ourselves past what we consider our 'limits'. Nothing stopped Kelly. Nothing.

Unlike his twin brother Mark, also an astronaut, Scott was an indifferent student until he knew what he wanted. Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff  about the first astronauts was the fire that lit his imagination and gave him a vision of what he wanted. He applied himself to his studies and was thrilled to become a Navy jet pilot, then a test pilot, and finally an astronaut. He never said 'no' to a mission, and found himself on the Endeavor and finally on the International Space Station (ISS) for a year.

In his book Endurance we learn the behind the scenes life of an astronaut, the grueling training and vast amounts of information that must be learned, including Russian. It involves pain and adult diapers, the mundane yet sophisticated duty of cleaning an ISS toilet,  getting along with others in tight quarters, unexpected breakdowns, and long, draining space walks where every move must be considered and planned.

The book is detailed. Don't expect Endurance to be an easy, joyride read, but I myself was fascinated. in alternating chapters, we learn about Scott's life and career and about his year on the ISS.

Scott has a scientific mind and his drive and ambition are evident. Don't expect a warm, fuzzy persona. Scott does talk about his brother Mark and the tragic shooting of his wife, Gabby Gifford, and her recovery but he is not telling Mark's story. Along with Scott's family, they are included in context of Scott's story.

It was fascinating to learn about the astronauts Scott served with on his missions, especially those from other countries, and how the Russian space program differs from NASA. The Russian and American astronauts on the ISS depend on each other for survival and their trust and respect for each other is essential. (If only we on Earth saw our planet as a big spaceship which we share!)

What does it take to be a success, to fulfill your highest potential? Scott had no fear and saw risky situations as challenges to overcome. He believed that he was part of something bigger than himself, adding to our knowledge and understanding so that someday humankind could travel to Mars. He believed that if humanity works together there is no end of what we can achieve. He believed in himself. He believed in the talents of his fellow astronauts.

I was thrilled to be given a copy of Endurance from Bookish First To Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Strip Quilting Gets Sophisticated with Susan Ache

Quilters love precuts and Jelly Rolls of 2 1/2" strips have become very popular. Several of my friends have made scrappy quilts with strips sewn by sewing the strips together. Susan Ache's new book Start with Strips offers 13 sophisticated quilt patterns utilizing Jelly Rolls that go way beyond just sewing them together!

Susan shares her method of sorting and preparing jelly rolls, so all you have to do is grab and sew! The patterns shared are gorgeous. My favorite is Pumpkin Maze, seen below, an Irish Chain variation with a pieced pumpkin. It consists of two blocks. The Irish Chain block is made with 2 1/2" strip sets. The pumpkin also uses strip sets for the body of the pumpkin and stitch-and-flip units for the stem and leaf.
Four Square is a nine-patch block with a Church Dash variation block. Susan used a soft green ground. The pattern includes half-square triangles made from the strips as well as strip sets, with blocks laid out in diagonal rows.
The Guest Room pattern is a Dresden Plate variation. You make 20 blocks with Dresden corners set with the pink sashing and borders.
Airboats needs a good contrast in values to work. It is constructed by making wedge units and adding a triangle at the point, then setting the wedge units with sashing in a kind of nine-patch unit. The block is then cut to 10 1/2" squares. This is one of the more complicated patterns in the book.
Citrus Grove was inspired by Susan's native Florida orange and grapefruit groves. The luscious oranges and pinks glow against the lime green. Strips are made into half-square triangles.
Sea Glass is so easy with strip sets to make the pieced blocks and border. Susan used romantic pastels, but the pattern could be made with brights. Or imagine the quilt with white switched out for black or navy with solid pastels in the piecing!
The instructions and illustrations are top-notch, as can always be expected from Martingale!

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

Starting with Strips
by Susan Ache
That Patchwork Place
On Sale Date: December 19, 2017
ISBN 9781604688719, 1604688718
Paperback $25.99 
80 pages

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

This book called to me with its story of a new mother starting over in a new house while the woman who had lived there for sixty years is learning to let go of the life she had. Having moved so often, settling into a new place and home, I connected to the story right away.

This is a book that delves underneath the surface of a life, past the mundane externals to hopes and dreams and fears, to memories and how they are skewed over time, and to the losses that come with age.

It is a story of mothers and daughters, of expectations and the misunderstandings that drive them apart. And of fathers who, amazed, suddenly realize everything has changed and that a child can turn their life upside down with love. And all the lessons that we learn about who we are and who we thought we were.

Author Ashley Hay was pregnant when she and her husband moved from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia. She found herself in a world where the landscape itself was alien as was her new role as mother. This influenced her to explore the theme of motherhood in her new novel, "imagining one woman (Lucy Kiss) arriving in motherhood, as another woman (Elsie Gormley) prepared to leave it."

Lucy, her husband Ben, and their child Tom have moved into Elsie's home of over sixty years. Elsie at age 89 had a fall and her children moved her into a senior home. Ben's work keeps him away, and Lucy becomes overwhelmed with motherhood's fears and concerns. She is curious about Elsie, hyer-aware of her legacy in the house, and she finds mementos left behind that give her a glimpse into Elsie's mysterious life. Lucy is convinced that Elsie, or someone, has been entering the house.

Elsie loved being a mother, putting other's needs first, but her daughter Elaine wants a different life. And yet a young Elaine marries and has a child, her life choices chaffing like a manacle. The love of Elsie's life and Elaine's father, Clem, never aspired to be more. Neither parent could help Elaine find her wings.

Scenes that allowed me into the character's inner lives stunned me, such as when Ben suddenly understands his wife's obsessive fears about protecting their child and when he thinks he sees an intruder in the house, his worst fears arising. I loved that Hay explored Clem, Ben, and Tom as well as the women.

The title of the novel comes from a poem that Lucy had once read to Ben, and reads to Tom, The Story by Michael Ondaatje:

For his first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives.
Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.

I think that Hay's novel will be appreciated by readers who enjoy connecting with characters and the slow revelations that come with experience.

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

A Hundred Small Lessons, A Novel
by Ashley Hay
Atria Books
Pub Date 28 Nov 2017 
Hardcover $26.00
ISBN:9781501165139

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Life in a Resort Town: Two Years in Pentwater and Retirement

View from downtown Pentwater, MI
We moved into the Pentwater UMC parsonage in late June 2012.

Parsonage, Centenary UMC Pentwater, MI
July 4 was the beginning of the summer tourist season. The village of about 900 became bloated to 1,5000 with summer people--people with summer homes, or who lived on sailboats in the marina, or who camped at the state park. And it was the first Sunday the church held summer worship service on the city green, using the gazebo with the congregation sitting on lawn chairs on the green.
Downtown Pentwater; the church at the left

The Gazebo at the village green
It was a daunting first Sunday in the pulpit! Surrounded by strangers in shorts and sun hats, talking into a mic from the steps of the gazebo. After the service, the pastor had to move quickly for the second service in the church for the older or more traditional folk.
The Pentwater beach
When our son was growing up we had attended the conference Family Camp at Pentwater. Chris loved the beach. I would go into town to look at the antique stores and shops. One day I remarked to a teen that it was a beautiful place to grow up. He just scowled at me.

I have severe dry eye from Sjogrin's syndrome and an autoimmune reaction to sunlight. I avoid a lot of direct sun. We went to the beach at day's end a few times.
The Pentwater lake opens to Lake Michigan
photo by Thomas Gochenour
It wasn't until the end of summer and the summer folk left that we could find out who the year round folk were, the folk who ran the church.

In the fall, a series of meet-and-greets in private home was set up for us at a rate of two a week for about a month. Each gathering had a dozen or so folk. It was, for introverts, frankly exhausting. Some folk we met were gone to winter homes before Thanksgiving, not to be seen again until spring.
Lake Michigan during Hurricane Sandy
We left with sand in our nose and ears
As winter closed in, the last of the downtown shops closed. Remaining open were some bars and the grocery store near the marina, stocked with small sizes of products and loads of booze, but with a minimum of stock. A very minimum.
The Pentwater marina in early winter

The lake in early winter
We drove down the expressway to Ludington, or Hart, or Norton Shores for essentials like groceries, vet care, doctors, or a mall.

On our way to Ludington we went past a large wind farm 
I spent most of my time in the family room!
The parsonage was huge, built in the 1970s for a large pastoral family. But it was cheaply made and needing TLC. Early on my dog and I both tripped on the back door steps. Suki would never again go in that door. If I let her out the back door to do her business she ran to the front door to get back in! When I tripped and fell I asked the Trustee chair about safety improvements. The entry steps were all too high and the basement stair rail was inadequate.
Kamikaze

Suki
A man volunteered to improve the basement railing. I asked the trustee if there was paint and painting supplies so I could first paint the wall that would be covered by the railing. It had not been painted since the house was built and looked pretty sad. The man exploded and yelled. I was shocked. He said I 'wanted everything' and he resented that pastors got free housing, and because they got free housing they should pay for the upkeep out of pocket. He had me crying.

It was like I had PTSD, the hurts from past church experiences just below the surface. I called the Staff Parish chair and told her what had happened. They knew the Trustee had a short fuse. He later called to apologize but said we were both in the wrong. I said no, he was in the wrong, he attacked me and made me cry and continued to vent at me after I was crying. I said I would not work with someone who was abusive.

His behavior changed for the rest of our stay and he and his wife was very friendly.

A new trustee chair came on. He was just wonderful to work with. I talked him through the concerns we had, and he systematically addressed them. Some were dealt with after we left, but they were dealt with.

We joined Chris in Clawson for holidays. We had also brought Gary's dad from Grand Blanc to spend holidays with us in Clawson. In January 2013 Herman passed at age 96. Now all of our parents were gone.

I joined a Sunday school class and made friends with the teacher and several other ladies. I spent a lot of time on genealogy in these days and began my blog. Gary and I went on a vegetarian diet, too, and we both lost weight. There was no fenced yard and I walked the dogs every few hours. They liked to go a block away where there was a woods. In the winter when the roads were sheets of ice, Gary walked the dogs with cleats on his boots. I could not take the bitter cold; I would walk with my eyes squinted or closed and had to wear double thickness mittens.
Downtown Pentwater in winter 2014
Winter in Pentwater! Yikes! We looked out the windows at empty houses. The roads were not salted, only plowed, and the snow packed down and became treacherous. I could not even walk to the mailbox. We shoved a path in the snow for our dogs to use.
January 2014
We could hear the waves on the beach, we were so close to Lake Michigan. The windows would shake and rattle in the wind.

I got such cabin fever! Getting to the expressway on back roads could be treacherous. There was a reason so many only live in Pentwater during the summer! Our second winter there was 196 inches of snow in Ludington just a few miles up the road. Gary had to shovel out the mail box every day.

Gary shoveling out the mail box winter 2014

Trillium in the yard of a local summer home
Spring was very welcome! Morel mushrooms sprouted up in the yard under the pine trees.
Morel mushroom that grew in our yard
And the people returned. Every weekend there was some special event to draw tourists. Some weekends people were parked on all the streets across town.
Centenary UMC church
I designed a quilt for Charles Dickens. Embroidered scenes from his books have titles based on Dickens own handwriting in his manuscripts. I used fabrics and a quilt style reminiscent of 19th c British quilts. The center features Dickens with his signature.

Charles Dickens quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske
Prince's Feather by Nancy A. Bekofske

I organized a quilt display held at the church. A mostly older congregation of retirees, they had a lot of heirloom quilts.



We displayed the quilts on the pews. Some beautiful quilts came out of the closets! A man who was in the marina that weekend, on his sail boat, heard about the show and was eager to see it. He turned out to be the organizer of the Coopersville Farm Museum show, Quilts and their Stories, which I had attended and had quilts in. He was also the brother of a well known quilter! He was excited to find a Gees Bend quilt in the show, owned by a member.
Detail of Gees Bend quilt
The church held a free midweek dinner for the community. Oceana County is very poor, and Pentwater was a rich man's playground. Those who could donated much and those who had not ate free. People came from all over the county.

The head cook wanted a better oven. A committee was formed. They studied other kitchens, investigated, and wrote up a report with suggestions. The problem was they had Cadillac tastes that were too expensive for the church's budget or need. The committee felt slighted. They wrote a letter of complaint, and mentioned the pastor.
Gary and I, 2012
Well, that PTSD thing I mentioned? It hit Gary hard. He hated what was going on, people leaving the church over, in the big picture, what was a small thing.

Gary wanted to retire in February when he turned 65. The Bishop said no, he could only retire July 1 when the usual pastoral appointment started. We had a choice: leave in two months or fourteen.

The prospect of another Pentwater winter was daunting. It took us 4 to  4 to 4 1/2 hrs to get to Clawson on a good day, traveling with two dogs and stopping several times to stretch all our legs. Christmas 2013 it took over five hours. Gary had a Christmas Eve worship service so we did not leave until Christmas Day--in a blizzard. We did not drive out of the snow until Lansing.
Our car was covered in snow on Christmas Day 2013

Trees broken by the icy snow storm of Christmas 2013
Gary checked with the investment manager. He said we could afford to retire right then. Gary gave his notice: he would retire on July 1, 2014.
The Clawson house; my brother gifted a tree at Gary's retirement
We had to scramble! We had a big garage sale in Pentwater and gave away all our kitchen stuff, bedsteads, mattresses, and a couch to an organization that helped people with household needs. Then we went to Clawson and held another big sale at giveaway prices, gave away things on Freecycle, and carted truckloads to the Salvation Army. We left the doggies with Chris and returned to Pentwater to pack.

A week before we moved in I was in Clawson getting a basement crack repaired. It was providential.
The basement stuffed with our boxes, June, 2014
In late June we moved to Clawson. The house was stuffed with boxes, especially the basement with all of our books, my quilts and fabric, and photographs and files. In August heavy rains caused area-wide flooding. Our son and I looked out the window at the street like a flowing river, pooling into a lake at the low spot in the road a block away.

Neighbors lost everything in their basements in the August 2014 flood
Over the next weeks we counted ourselves very lucky for having fixed that cracked basement wall before moving in. Our block, on a hill, was not flooded. But everywhere else people lost everything in their basement, from the furnace to their furnishings. One gal we talked to even lost her brand new truck when the garage flooded and said the water reached her front doorstep.

Our son had been living in Clawson since his college graduation. He had a good job at Kelley Services and was being prepped and promoted by his boss. On Sundays young men  came to the house for role playing games. At first we vacated the house for them, but as they got to know us we hung around and just gave them space. Last year our son bought his first house.

John Quincy Adams by Nancy A. Bekofske
In 2014 I responded to a call for quilters to contribute to a Presidents Quilt traveling exhibit; I asked for John Quincy Adams. The quilt traveled for a year and appeared in Sue Reich's book Quilts Presidential and Patriotic..
 The book also shows my quilt Remember the Ladies.
Remember the Ladies in Quilts Presidential and Patriotic
I joined the local quilt guild and a weekly quilt group, and Gary and I helped start a book club at the local library. Over the last three years our doggies health declined. They became blind, and then cognitive disorder set in. We lost them both this past summer.
Suki and Kamikaze in their last months
My son told me about NetGalley which connects publishers and book reviewers. Then I learned about other sources for books for review. I have read 160 books a year these past few years!
My writing desk, with one of Mom's paintings
I keep busy with blogging, reading and reviewing, quilting, my weekly quilt group, and two book clubs.

As a girl I wanted to work in the library and help people find books to read, and now I am as a book reviewer.

As a girl I wanted to write a newspaper, and now I blog.

As a Christian I wanted to promote justice and peace, and now by choosing what books I review I do that, too.

As a teen I became interested in environmental protection, and again, choosing books I can promote that interest.

And of course, my love of books and art and music has been with me since Philip Sheridan Elementary School in Tonawanda, NY. Quilting has allowed me to use my creativity as art and as comfort.

All that I have seen and read and been feeds into this blog. Thanks for sharing my journey with me.

Nancy as a baby
Nancy age 3
Nancy, age 8, with brother Tom

Nancy, 7th grade
Nancy, age 15
Elina Salmi, my Finnish exchange student sister, and me 1969
Nancy's high school graduation pic
Nancy and Gary, 1971
Nancy and Gary, 1972

Gary's graduation, 1975
My graduation, 1978, with my parents

Nancy and Gary about 1979
Nancy and Chris, 1987

Chris, Gary and Nancy about 1990
2005, Gary, Chris and I, Hillsdale MI goodbye

Kili and I 

Nancy, Chris and Gary, Lansing MI
Nancy, 2011
Nancy 2014
Nancy and Gary 2017