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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Reading Mysteries

Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys were series that I devoured as a child. Recently I reread a Nancy Drew mystery and still enjoyed it although found it sexist and pretty predictable. ----------One summer when Jim was teaching at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, David Scholer introduced me to two LA detective series--one by Michael Connelly featuring Hieronomous Bosch, and the other by Walter Mosely featuring Easy Rawlins. At this point, I have read most of their works. I eagerly anticipated the latest Connelly book featuring Mickey Haller and was on the wait list for it at the library when it came out this month. However, I read the first chapters of Law of Innocence and then the last--to make sure Mickey got exonerated, but I didn't have the interest or the stomach to read the whole book. Not sure why I returned the book, mostly unread, but life is too short to read books that don't give me pleasure. -----------During this pandemic with libraries closed, I have purchased many ebooks for my iphone Kindle App. Every day I get sales pitches from Early Bird books or BookBub. I scroll through the offers--usually at $2.99 or less--and vet them with Goodreads reviews. I would hate to count up how many I have ordered this year--not all mysteries but probably most are of that genre.
However, I have standards. I don't read books about serial killers or sexual assaults. I don't read "cozy mysteries." I stay away from books with titles like Chocolate Covered Murder or Just Desserts or Scone Cold Killer or Survival of the Fritters. I remember when I was volunteering at the St. Joseph Public Library and finding books for the homebound, I asked Elaine, the staff person, how to know if a book was a cozy mystery. She, with much experience, told me to look at the cover. If it was in pastels, it was a cozy mystery. I didn't want to send a book with lurid violence to the nursing home resident who requested a cozy!
As of today because I read a post on LitHub, I will avoid books by Ross MacDonald or Margaret Millar because I read a horrible account of their parenting and tragedies in their own lives. I also will not probably read any more books by Anne Parry because of her life story. That is probably an unfair prejudice but there are plenty of other books to read. --------------I enjoy the mysteries that are set in a location like Venice (the Brunetti books by Donna Leon) or Quebec (Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny) or Ireland (the Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty) or Boston (Spencer series by Robert Parker). I like a little romance in my books (the Blue series by Emma Jameson or the Freeman Files series by Ted Taylor)--although I think Gus Freeman is making some big mistakes in his love interests. I am eagerly awaiting the next Maisie Dobb book and have lived and agonized with her story from a child to a widow. Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers--the classic age of British mystery novels--are fun authors to read--but need to be spaced apart and not have too much of a good thing. Their own lives are interesting enough as is Sara Paretsky who writes the V I Warshawski novels set in Chicago. I have enjoyed their biographies as well as PD James or Paretsky's memoir Writing in an Age of Silence. ------------Our local Princeton and Plainsboro Libraries have had curbside service for requests during this pandemic time which has been wonderful. I have enjoyed my Kindle app but still prefer a book in my hands so I have ordered many books from Better World Books in Mishawaka, a business started by two Notre Dame business school graduates that is socially responsible in reselling and donating books. I am thankful I can have the eyesight to read and the opportunities to buy and borrow books. More than ever in this time of social isolation, reading has been a great escape and pleasure.

Breath Prayers (written in late September)

Trigger alert--If you are reading this post and voted for President Trump, you may want to stop reading right now! I don't want to offend anyone but I also want to record the events and my reactions in the last few weeks. ----------September--During the months when Jim was receiving radiation, I spent some time each day using "breath prayers."   I breathed in "healing" and breathed out "fears."   I think this calmed my spirit.  We are in a good place right now for Jim's healing although he will have regular blood tests.

I thought that I should continue to use these breath prayers to calm my spirit about the political process and the upcoming election.  I prayed these breath prayers at the grotto along the tow path yesterday.  It was a beautiful spot and very peaceful.  I could see reflections in the canal and hear the rustling of the leaves making a canopy over me.   But when I prayed for healing, my anger takes over.  

Yesterday President Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of the election should he lose.   He says it will be rigged  and would have to go to the Supreme Court.   It is unimaginable that we should have a president who refuses to leave office if he loses.  It makes me sick in my stomach to hear about this threat to our country and to read that the Russian media is expecting civil war in the United States.   There have been vocal Trump supporters telling folks to buy ammunition and we know Trump has called out federal troops to clear out protestors in Lafayette Square when he wanted his photo op holding a Bible at a nearby church. 

Jim says there will be others who will uphold the law.  I don't trust the Republican senate to do so.  I hope I trust the Supreme Court--even if the 9th appointee is appointed by Trump in the next few days and approved by the Republican senate.  If it is Amy Barrett from Notre Dame, I think she would vote her own mind and not be beholden to the one who appointed her.   

But I am scared and angry.  So when I tried to pray for healing for our country yesterday, I just felt angry at the disastrous situation we are in.   There is an ignorance of science and a lack of civility at the top of our government.   How can Trump hold rallies with people close together and not wearing masks?  How can we trust a vaccine if it is rushed through by election day?   How can we respect a leader who uses name calling to mock his opponents?  Who just yesterday made fun of Joe Biden saying he has spent all that money on plastic surgery just to hide behind a mask!   What a juvenile way to treat an opponent and to make the crowd cheer in approval!   

This will be the third post I have written and not actually put on my blog.  I hesitate to offend anyone--although with very few exceptions my small number of readers would agree with my point of view.  But my blogs are written for me--as a record of our lives and for my Blog2Print book at the end of the year.  And this is what we are living through right now.  Jim tells me not to read what folks post on Facebook.  But I can't avoid the news.  I turn on the TV news while doing my exercises or see it come up every day on my online news sources.  It is not easy to ignore.    

So I will try to pray for healing for our country. My anger does not do me any good.   I want to be proud to be an American and feel patriotic again.  

--------------October 23 I still haven't posted this blog. We have voted and put our ballots in a box at the township offices. 47 million have already voted. There was another debate last night. I can't imagine that many have yet to decide how they will vote. Earlier this week I woke up at 2 am and found myself praying for a peaceful transition after the election. I have voted in presidential elections since 1968 and have never felt the need to pray for a peaceful result. But this time I do hope for a change but also if there is one, that it is done without the instigation of violence and charges of fraud which Trump has threatened.
--------------November 6 Two days after election day and we are still awaiting the results. It may not be decided yet today. As expected, President Trump has started filing lawsuits and has claimed the Democrats are stealing the election. He does not have evidence of any fraud and a couple of his lawsuits are already thrown out. Joe Biden has asked for calm and has not claimed victory. Neither one has the 270 electoral votes he needs. Biden has 253; Trump has 213. Five states are too close to call--Biden is ahead is three of them I think. He is ahead in the popular vote as was Clinton in 2016.
------------November 8 Biden has been declared a winner. Trump has not conceded and has said there will be legal challenges. It is a relief to know that soon, we hope, there will be "headspace" as a psychologist friend put it for something besides what has Trump done or said on Twitter today. God bless President-elect Biden and Vice-President elect Harris. I am very thankful.
-------------November 12 President Trump will not concede. Some lawsuits have been dismissed others are pending. Recounts have to wait until the lawsuits are settled. Meanwhile, Biden cannot access funds to begin a transition. He has not been allowed access to state department briefs as all other president-elects have been given. President Trump has fired Pentagon officials and replaced them with his men. So who is going to escort him from the White House come January 20? He has fired the Secretary of Defense and a head of cybersecurity who had the guts to say that the election was fair. It is all very frightening and a threat to our country's democracy and stability. ------------November 24 President Trump has not conceded and says he will continue the legal challenges. However, a very important and reassuring step has been taken when the GSA began the official transition to a Biden presidency by releasing funds and allowing Biden staff to participate in briefings and have office space. Enough states, including an all-important Michigan--have certified the election with Biden as the winner. I will breathe a greater sigh of relief when we see the swearing in of President-elect Biden and Vice-president elect Harris on January 20. .Trump has posted 550 tweets since November 3, 75% of them "attempting to undermine the interity of the election results." (NYT)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Golf for One; Grotto and Youtube for the Other

Jim has been playing golf once a week at the MIddlesex Meadows course. He signs up for a tee time and plays with others who have also signed up as singles or doubles. Usually this works out well for him. Sometimes he even plays with a previous partner. Today the weather is cold but it is not raining so he is out there again. He may not get in 18 holes this late in the fall because the sun sets at 4:30.
This is one of the rare times that we are apart in the week--the other is my hour of practice at the organ at the Kingston Presbyterian Church at noon on Thursdays. I have my own routine when Jim golfs. He drops me off at the entrance to Barclay Square and I walk to the grotto along the towpath. It is a good spot to meditate and pray. I usually use Sacredspace.ie on my phone. I observe the changing of the seasons--today noticing that there were no longer leaves floating in the canal because most of the trees are bare. There were not as many people walking on the towpath but there was still one kayaker on Lake Carnegie. I didn't hear as many birds today but could hear traffic noise and probably roadwork noise across the water.
I was feeling somewhat despondant when I left home. Covid is affecting so many lives. President Trump will not concede the election and thus President-elect Biden cannot get going on the transition in the way other winners have been able to do. He cannot even work with the Covid task force in order to facilitate the vaccine distribution. It makes me angry and sad but it is totally out of my control. And I have to avoid "doom-scrolling" because it only makes me feel worse.
So I am writing a blog and writing my thoughts is a way of processing them. I am thinking how thankful I am for my husband as a partner in my life. So many friends have lost their spouses due to divorce or death and I still have my loving husband. I try not to think about the fact that time will change this blessing. When that time comes, we will endure but for now we have each other.
Now, for the next item on my solo afternoon. I treat myself to an episode of Fake or Fortune, a BBC production that has elements of a mystery and a travelogue as the presenters try to determine if a particular work of art is really by a master or is a copy. It's an honest program--not all works turn out to be worth a fortune. I enjoy the British accents, the views of London and Paris and Venice and Amsterdam, and of course, the works themselves. And then I will be happy to welcome my husband home again.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Life in a Pandemic

(Note--There are paragraphs in my draft. They disappear when I post. I need help!) Maybe I don't really want to remember the odd routines of life during this Covid pandemic. But I am motivated to record them and hope they become a thing of the past. Some changes will last. And getting back to "normal" may take a long time. We have been told there will be no church choir rehearsals until there is a vaccine. We just returned from our weekly Saturday trip to McCaffrey's--the Princeton grocery store that we use most often. We wore our masks but the aisles are no longer marked one way only. We can bring our reusable bags now but we made a mistake by putting them down on the conveyer belt. That must spread germs. We pack those bags ourselves. Jim reminded me that at least the shelves are full now. A few months ago, there were empty places--no toilet paper,canned beans, spray cleaners. As soon as we get into the car, we use hand sanitizer. ---------We didn't have any doctor's appointments this week. But when we have had them, we fill out a form ahead of time saying that we are symptom-free and haven't been out of state or exposed to someone with Covid. Jim had one incident when he marked that he had been to Pennsylvania and the assistant smirked at him and said Pennsylvania was not international travel. He rightly pointed out that it asked for domestic travel as well. When we arrive, we call in and stay in the car until we are told to enter. Our temperature is taken and then we walk into an empty waiting room or are ushered into an exam room right away. The doctor is in full PPE--personal protective equipment. Jim and I have both had a few telemedicine appointments for routine chats. ---------Jim spent three full days this week participating in a conference originating in Poland. He had said he didn't want to travel there, but when the conference was held as a Zoom meeting, he did his part. He read a paper, chaired a session, and gave some summary remarks. It was too much time in front of a screen and his eyes suffered. He learned to discipline himself to looking away from the screen often. In the future there probably will be meeting in person and some live streaming from home. This will enable more participants, especially young scholars, who can't afford to travel or don't have travel funds. ---------And then there's that word--asynchronous--which our dear granddaughter Ruth at age 9 used in her phone conversation with me this week. It rolled off her tongue far better than it does mine! She has half days of in person school and then afternoons and Fridays asynchronous education. ----------We have been able to see Jeff and Susan andtheir family by sharing meals on their deck. How will we celebrate Thanksgivingand Christmas? That is all very uncertain. Laura has suggested taking Covid tests which she and Michael have done in preparation for a few events. Maybe that will be an option so that we know we will not infect anyone else. --------Yesterday we watched the video of a funeral of our friend from years ago-Harvey Stob. His wife sent us a link to the tape and a slide show of photos. It was good to be able to see these but how strange to see a masked family and to know that one of their sons couldn't even be at his dad's funeral because he had been exposed to Covid. The funeral was in their Grand Rapids church and was limited to 50 participants with no singing and no food served. --------Today we will watch Notre Dame play its first away game--in Pittsburgh. The last three games were at home in ND Stadium to a sparse crowd of students and players' families. What an economic hardship this is for the city of South Bend. I think of the busy times at Martin's Supermarket on Saturday game days and realize that all that is over for now. --------Tomorrow we will go to church sitting on the couch in our pajamas. We are getting too accustomed to this informal way of worshipping. I have done a few Wednesday evening choir "gatherings"--the word used instead of rehearsals. ---------We treat ourselves to one take-out meal a week. The only times we have eaten at a restaurant were on our trip to the Hudson River Valley and our anniversary dinner at the Ruth Chris's tent. How long will this continue? Probably through the winter when there is greater danger of infection when we are all indoors. There is the promise of vaccines in early 2021 but we will not be eager to be first until they are proven effective.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Hudson River Road Trip

This was our fourth fall river road trip in the last several years.  We have done the upper Mississippi, the lower Mississipi and the Ohio River.  This year it was the Hudson River road trip with the bonus of being able to visit family and friends along the way.

We left Tuesday around 11:30 am.  Our first stop was Olana, the elaborate Moorish house that Frederic Church built in the mid-1800s.  After a bad experience years ago, we don't do house tours but we were eager to see the view of the Hudson River from the grounds of the estate.   And it was magnificent.

From there we headed north to Troy, home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where we checked into a Courtyard by Marriott with an upgraded riverfront room.  The real purpose of our visit was to have dinner with our grandson James.  We found his off campus house easily and headed to Dinosaur BBQ where we could have patio dining on the river.   We enjoyed southern ribs and pulled pork meals complete with corn bread and sweet potato casserole and for two of us, great beer.   James' college experience is very strange thanks to Covid.  Most of his classes are online even though he is near campus.  He does go into RPI a few times each week. 

Covid also affects hotel stays.  There was no place to get a breakfast in the hotel so we walked to a nearby Starbucks.   As it turned out, it was a difficult uphill walk crossing very busy streets sometimes without signals.   We ordered at the Starbucks but we were not allowed to eat inside.  We brought our coffees and sweets outside and I immediately got stung by a bee.   I sat down on the curb and a kind young man came up to check on me.  He went inside and got me a plastic glove full of ice.  We found a nearby bench across the mall area and I recovered enough to walk downhill back to the hotel.   

Trinity Episcopal Church
Our plan was to meet Dan in Rensselaerville and hike at the Huyck Preserve there.  We got there early and walked through the charming old village.  But our hike was aborted due to rain so instead we drove to Dan and Alex's home on Engel Road near Potter Hollow where we enjoyed Alex's pear cake and the view from their porch.   

It was really peak leaf peeping time in the Catskills with the hills a panorama of color.   We left Engel Road shortly before three and drove to the Hampton Inn off I87 in New Paltz.  Our plan was to eat in the garden patio at Garvan's, an old Dutch farmhouse but the weather was so windy and cold that we asked if they could place us inside.  Fortunately they had room even with the need for social distancing.  We had a lovely leisurely meal with Dan and Alex. 

Engel Road
We left New Paltz around 9:30 this morning and drove to Dobb's Ferry where Sue VanEngen was visiting her son Stefan and his family.   We hadn't seen Sue for a year since we moved so it was a treat to visit and to see Stefan's lovely neighborhood of historic houses.   Sharon, Stefan's wife, had purchased a spread from a nearby deli for lunch which we ate in the backyard.

We were home before 3 pm feeling that we had seen beautiful scenery and had more sociability than we usually have in this time of social distancing.  

Jim had a three month follow up doctor's visit and blood test just before we left on Tuesday.  The results were supposed to be in yesterday but when we got home he had a frustrating experience of trying to access his portal to get results.  And when he finally got the password and access code all working, the results were not in.  So we will have to wait a bit more for what we hope will be low numbers again after his spring radiation treatments.  I have been very anxious about these results but it was good to be distracted for a few days and not think as much about doctors' appointments and lab tests.  

There is so much more we could see and do in the Hudson River Valley area but we hope to have other opportunities to travel that way again especially if Dan and Alex make that their home instead of returning to New York City.  


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Time with Three Conway Fellows

 Laura was off on an adventure with the three older children.  Alex (age 5) was supposed to have a sleepover with us so that he could have an adventure too but he was not feeling very brave.  So Michael wondered if we could come to spend time in Gladwyne with them.   We left Saturday morning hoping to be in time for Alex's teeball game but that was cancelled due to rain.  So we spent the afternoon hanging out with Michael and Alex and Henry (almost 9 months).   Michael took advantage of our being there to get in a long run. Later in the afternoon, Jim and I took Henry for a walk in his new stroller.  Henry chattered most of the way making happy baby noises.

After supper Michael with some difficulty was happy to find the Aggies playing a conference game with Vanderbilt on the SEC2 network.  The Aggies were supposed to be a 35 point favorite; the final score was a 17 to 12 win. Michael paused the game a few times in order to get Henry to bed; I convinced Alex to surprise his dad by secretly getting ready for bed and pretending he was asleep.  It was a good surprise for his dad! The game was not pleasing to Michael but it was a W!

Henry does not sleep soundly so Michael was up a few times during the night with him.   At 7:30 am we sent the patient Daddy back to bed for a while and helped with the boys.  


Henry is the happiest little fellow and responds with big smiles to us.   When I would sing a song like Row, Row, Row your Boat, he would make motions to do it again and again.   He is just beginning to crawl and we were amused to see how motivating the Minecraft sword was to get him moving in that direction.  

Alex and Minecraft--that is his world but it is one big puzzle for Jim and me.  Fortunately, Michael seems to understand it and is willing to patiently play the video game with him even if he says it can make him nauseous!

At 11 today we headed to Alex's rescheduled teeball game in Aardmore.  En route Michael showed us the estate he and Laura are buying.  The setting was magnificent on a private road with a large expanse of lawn.  We will be eager to see the historic house and gardens later this year or next.  They probably won't be moving until work is done which may be next spring.  

Teeball was a trip down memory lane with a lopsided score and kids unable to find the bases easily when running and fighting with their own teammates to field a ball.   Henry was happy enough sitting on the blanket outside or being held by his dad or grandpa watching the game.   It will be his life for many years as the young one with four older siblings.   

We left for home after the game.  Our house seems strangely silent but at our age that may be best.   Having livesteam church meant that it was available to us at 5 pm.

Living here on the east coast makes these short visits possible.   In a few weeks Michael may .be going to an Aggies game with a few of the older children.  I think we should offer to help Laura out on her single parenting weekend.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Good Things Happen at the Grotto

 Over the years I have lit a candle at the Notre Dame Grotto and prayed.  I remember a time when Dan was very unhappy in second grade and I chatted with Our Lady herself telling her she was a mother too and should know how concerned I was for Dan.   That situation resolved itself with another school and a happy boy. There were many such times over the years not always with such clear answers.

We were surprised and pleased to find a grotto just a ten minute walk from our apartment along the towpath by the Delaware Raritan Canal.  It may be left from the days that there was a St. Joseph Seminary across the street in a large campus now used by a private elementary school.   It is not as impressive as the one at Notre Dame and it would be unsafe to light a candle.   But at least I don't feel I should donate $3!

Last week when Jim went golfing, I went there and used the Sacred Space app on my phone.  In the morning, Chris Rea, our pastor in South Bend, had prayed for me at my request at the Women's Bible Study.  I asked to find ways to use my skills here in Princeton.  While sitting on a bench there, my phone dinged with a text from Lauren McFeaters, one of our pastors here.  She made an appointment to chat with me about opportunities.  It was progress toward answering my prayer!

Today again when Jim went golfing, I walked down the path and sat on the bench praying particularly for a good friend in Michigan who had a stroke and had begun hospice care.   We are so sad and feel very far away from him and his family.  Again, my phone dinged with a text from our dear granddaughter Katie.  I had been planning to text her about getting together for a takeout supper.  She must have got that word from her parents so she was suggesting a time and place.   I was aware that life is so full of sorrow, but also full of joy.  And her text brought me great joy.  

It makes me wonder what good thing will happen the next time I go to our own little grotto to pray.   I don't usually think in these terms,  but I feel as if God may have another surprise for me.  In any case, I am grateful for these two visits and the texts that arrived while sitting in that quiet place.