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Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: "All Under Heaven" by Pearl S. Buck - 1973

I love Ms. Buck's books that are about China, but I never read any of her other ones.  This one was only 50 cents, so I thought I would give it a try.  It didn't sound all that interesting, and it was definitely not the kind of book I would pick out if it wasn't bu a favorite author.

It's about a man who worked for our embassy in China for 25 years, who is forced to come home with his Russian wife and 2 children when the Communists took over China. n They decide to try to live in the US--basically a foreign land for all of them.

Nothing really happened that was interesting to this single woman with no children until the last few chapters.  The man decides to write about his experiences in China as a warning to us, here.  He wanted to promote the possibility of peace--if we chose it.

When his book was finished, he went on a book tour.  All along the way, he kept encountering those who would say, "Just nuke them." and the rest of the people who were silent.  When he got home, he was so discouraged from what he saw.

Within the last few pages, Ms. Buck wrote:

"I have come back realizing that history and facts mean nothing here.  To our people everything is a matter of feeling and emotion, a curious mixed sort of idealism that is powerful because in some ways it is very sound.  Bur it is unrelated to the facts of the world.  The problem is much more severe than I thought.  People cannot learn by hearing,  because there is no foundation of knowledge.  They do not read history.  They read only newspapers, which deal with today's events, but these events are the result of yesterday's and it is necessary to know those which come first."

Ms. Buck, in the epilogue, explains that she wrote this due ti China opening her doors to us.  She wanted us to try to understand each other.  Things haven't changed, though.  We have managed to keep the peace with China, but it is questionable whether the average American knows or cares anything about them.  It is also questionable whether the average American knows or cares about much of anything at all--let alone our history.  Her words still apply, today, sadly.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: "The Comedians" by Graham Greene - 1966

This is not a comedy.  The title refers to people playing a part in life.  It is a good book, but not his best.  It takes place in Haiti a few years after the dictator, Baby Doc, took over the country.  Our main character, Mr. Brown, is a hotel owner that is suffering from the lack of tourists.  He meets up with Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.  What follows next is violence, political intrigue, secret police encounters, rebels and secret love.  I liked this book for the story, but I liked it even more for bringing me into the world of Haiti under its dictatorship.  One of the best part of good fiction is that it can bring a different time and place to life.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tickseed Sunflower



These are my favorite wild sunflowers.  They grow profusely in Parma, so a few years ago, I gathered up some seeds and spread them around my yard.  Would you believe--the deer leave them alone everywhere but in my yard!  Enough of them survived that I have a few in my garden.  One year, I put them in containers on my patio, and that is what is pictured.  They do great in the pots.

The only problem with the is the tickseeds.  The seeds have little antennas that stick to your clothing.  It is a small price to pay for such lovely flowers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wingstem



I love flowers in my yard, and so do the deer.  I have a huge deer problem.  My options for landscaping are limited, so that is shy I allow wingstem to take over, in places.  It is a common native wildflower in Ohio.  They are a hardy perennial that grow taller than me.  If you don't want them that tall, you can just cut them down in the spring.  They will regrow, but a shorter.

They are in full bloom right now.  The deer don't like them, but the bees sure do.  When they are done blooming, I will chop them all down, so they don't go to seed. They spread readily.

As you can see, they are resistant to drought, too.  They are wilty in the garden I don't water, but they still bloom and thrive.  With a little rain, they will perk right up.

They are far from my favorite flower, but they work well.

Book Review: "Collision Bend" by Les Roberts

I found this one on the sales rack at the library for only 50 cents.  Who can resist that?  Les Roberts is Cleveland's own detective book author.  I've read a number of his books and enjoyed them all.  They are lovely junk food for the reader's soul.  Totally enjoyable, well-written mysteries that take place in Cleveland.

I loved the Cleveland references in the beginning, but by the end, I was so wrapped up in the story that I thought they slowed the pace down.  I don't need to know about the Lorain Carnegie bridge--I need to know who dun it.

This one was unpredictable and fun.  The ending had a particularly Cleveland flavor to it. The story was fast paced, unpredictable and creative.  Great book for those who like detective stories whether you live in Cleveland or not.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Book Review: "Burmese Days" by George Orwell - 1934

I found this one and Half Price Books, so I took a gamble.  It was a good gamble, too.  The story takes place in the British colony in Burma.  Our main character is British, but he likes the natives.  His friends disagree with him, and that sets the tone for the whole story.  It is about race relations, loneliness, desperation and what some people would call love.  I wouldn't.  They thought they were in love, but there were other factors driving their actions--like loneliness and desperation.

It is a very sad story with a sad, but appropriate ending.  I liked how Orwell aptly described the life in Burma at the time--both the culture and the political atmosphere.  (He had lived there for a while.)  He didn't get all caught up in the description, but wove it into the story in an artistic way.  He brought Burma to life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Garden Update

I really don't expect anyone to read these garden updates.  I really just do them for myself.  That being said, it has been a pretty good garden this year.

My tomatoes have blight, but I have still been picking plenty, and it looks like they will survive and give me at a small but steady supply until the frost.  I have made plenty of salsa, and I just love it.  Also, the cherry tomatoes make great sun dried tomatoes, and that is what I have been doing with them.  I just put them in the food dehydrator with...

My green beans. I used to freeze them, but I have a smaller freezer, now.  I prefer to freeze my salsa and freezer pickles.  Though most of my green bean plants were killed upon sprouting, I got a fair amount of very strong pole beans that have been furnishing me plenty.

My cukes and definitely slowing down, and some of the plants appear to be dead.  I had a great harvest of them, and the bulk ended up as the above mentioned freezer pickles.  I will be enjoying them for months to come.

My ground cherries are scrumptious and I have been getting about a handful a day.  Most of them I eat right in the garden.

I have had so many peppers!  Whatever I don't use right away in salsa and such go right to the food dehydrator.  They are another thing I used to freeze, but they are just as good dried.

I haven't harvested any tomatillos, yet, but they are loaded with blossoms and fruit.  I have a feeling I will have plenty of them, in spite of not having many plants.

I started harvesting my dry beans, and there are still lots on the plants that are still growing.

The zukes are mediocre, but since I have enough plants, that isn't a problem.

I will have some impressive winter squash, too.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Salsa Recipe

I decided that I would make salsa this year.  Actually, I decided it last year, but I didn't have enough tomatoes.  Though many of my tomatoes have blight, I do have enough for salsa.  This is the first year I have ever tried it.  Here is the recipe.  It is based on one I found online, but I made a lot of changes to it to suit my taste.

4 cups diced tomatoes (about 5 large)
2 diced green peppers
1 diced onion
Diced hot peppers to your taste
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
Garlic (powder or fresh) to taste
Salt to taste

Mix everything in sauce pan.
Bring to boil.
Simmer 40 minutes
Freeze or eat fresh

Book Review: "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevskyn - 1866

When I saw my niece home from college for her summer break, I told her I was reading this book.  Would you believe, so was she?  Now, what kind of coincidence is that?  Maybe it is a case of great minds travelling parallel paths...

This is my first venture into Russian literature, and I guarantee, it won't be my last.  I loved this book for so many reasons.  The story is a complex psychological murder drama that kept me wanting to turn every single page.  Though I wanted to see how it ended, I didn't want it to end.  There are scenes that are so vivid and tense, that I swear I was holding my breath.

Our main character plans and executes a murder and robbery of an old woman who is a pawnbroker.  His reason for doing it was not due to his poverty, but to prove a theory he had.  He then suffers a physical and mental breakdown.  He is being investigated by a very wily detective-which puts so much pressure on him that he starts to fall to pieces, page by page.  It was fascinating to read.  Other characters in the book have their own problems that are intertwined with his.

There is love, action, suspense and more.  There is nothing formulatic about this book, at all.  If all Russian novels are like this, I am going to have some terrific reading in my future.

The author paints a vivid picture of the poverty and social circumstances of St. Petersburg at the time--without making it preachy.

The ending was very, very satisfying.  So often, an ending is a disappointment, but this one was terrific.

I had trouble with the names.  There are so many complicated names to be learned for each character.  I can't pronounce any of them, either.  That is my only complaint--but what can you expect from a Russian novel, English names?

A must read.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Turn Your Overabundance of Cherry Tomatoes into Sun-dried Tomatoes!

You won't believe how easy it is.  All you need is a food dehydrator.  I know a lot of people who have them and never thought of making this delicious treat.  I have been making them for years.

Today, I started my first batch of the year.  All you need to do is cut your cherry tomatoes in half and place them face up (so the skin is on the bottom) on the trays.  In a couple days, you will have a gormet treat that will keep for months.  If I get enough tomatoes, I will make them in the hundreds--and I never get tired of them.

You can use  bigger tomatoes, but if you don't place them with the skin on the bottom, they will stick to the tray.  Also, if you cut the pieces too big, sometimes they will get moldy before the dry--not good.

I like tossing them into canned cream corn for a quick and tasty soup.  Dad and I used to fry potatoes with peppers and sun-dried tomatoes.  They were so good that way, that this year, since I have a lot of peppers, I might do that, again.  They taste good in pasta dishes and are good plain, too.

If you have a dehydrator and some cherry tomatoes, you just have to try it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sand Run Metroparks in Akron, OH

Kevin and I are running out of new trails by our houses, so we ventured down south to do some exploring.  We started out at the Seiberling Nature Realm.  I love flowers, and I could look at them all day.  Kevin and I thoroughly explored it, one day.  I was so impressed by how pretty it was.  I loved the idea of building a greenhouse out of 2 liter bottles!  In the herb garden, not only did they label the herbs, but they labeled the big boulders, too,  There was one section of weeping trees, several pretty ponds, meadows, rhododendroms that must have been gorgeous when they were blooming and enough trails to keep us busy.

The next visit, we went into Sand Run and hiked the Mingo trail.  It was certainly rugged with some very steep hills.  We took the extension and ended up on a trail that is made just for joggers and walkers.  We walked that a while, but then turned around and headed up the really steep hill to get back onto the Mingo trail.  The trail was all shady and well-maintained, but you have to be ready to hike hills.

Since we didn't have enough hills, the next time, we went on the Dogwood trail.  It was similar to the Mingo trail, but shorter.  Just the 1.9 miles of that trail was quite a workout, but of course, that wasn't enough for us.  On the way back, we saw a trail that was closed and decided to explore that one, too.  It was washed out in several places, so I could see why they closed it. I hope it is just temporary because it was a very pretty trail.  There were hills, but they weren't as bad.  At the end of it, we found the jogging trail and took that back to the car.

There was still one more trail to tackle in Sand Run, and that was the Valley Connector Trail.  It was rated as moderate, and most of it was--but at the end, there was another one of the huge hills that this park seems to have everywhere.  The trail was really pretty, mostly shady and well maintained.  It was 2.8 miles, each way.  It was a hot day, and we sweat buckets.  Kevin packed a dinner, and we ate at Sieberling, again.  There, he saw an old friend of his, and we toured some of the gardens with him.  I can never see enough flowers!

As always, I have to complain about one thing about Akron--they have terrible street signage!  I have gotten lost so many times down there, that I hesitate to visit it.  We only got lost the first time, so that wasn't too bad.  We are looking forward to exploring some of the other reservations in the future.

Book Review: "Corrupted" by Lisa Scottoline

This is one of my contemporary books by an author that is still alive.  I read another of her books and liked it, so when I found this in the bargain bin at Half Price Books, I grabbed it.

She writes legal thrillers.  This one tells two stories; one of a boy who is bullied, gets into a fight and ends in jail--the other years later when he gets in a fight with the same man who is later found dead and he is accused of murder.

The two tails are intertwined and a romance complicates things.

A real page turner; once again, from Lisa Scottoline.

Book Review: "Peony" by Pearl S. Buck

Not the first Buck book I have read about China, and certainly not the last.  She brings China to life like nothing else.

Persecuted Jews traveled to China over many centuries ago, and they were greeted with much kindness, so they stayed.  They tried to hold on to their heritage, but as they assimulated and intermarried into the Chinese culture, that became more and more difficult.

This story takes place at towards the end of their era.  A Jewish mother decides that her son should marry the rabbi's daughter to to perpetuate their faith.  The son has his eye on a Chinese girl, instead.

Peony is a servant in the household that was raised with the son--and has fallen in love with him. She knows her place in the world, and feels she would be content with just staying in his household the rest of her life.  If he marries the Jewish girl, that seems unlikely.  Peony does what she can to encourage a Chinese marriage.

The story explores the two cultures as the son is torn between them.  It takes some unexpected turns that totally shocked me.

Once again, Ms. Buck hits it out of the park.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Garden Update


Garden Update

We have had so much rain that my garden has turned into a swamp.  So far, there doesn’t seem to be any damage except the lower leaves of my tomato plants are turning yellow.  That could become a big problem if things don’t dry out.  It may even be too late.  Still, I should get enough tomatoes because I planted so many of them.

I did pick my first one, yesterday.  It is an orange cherry tomato. I am going to make a salad with it, today.

My peppers look fantastic.  I thought the overabundance of rain would hurt them, but so far, they don’t mind.

I am excited about my ground cherries.  I tried growing them, last year, and they had a terrible germination rate.  To make matters worse, I had them with the rest of the tomatillos, and they were too crowded.  I only got a handful of them, but that was enough for me to know that I like them; alot.  

This year, I tried starting them in the house.  I still got a horrible germination rate--but it yielded 7 healthy plants.  They transplanted in the garden beautifully.  I gave them their own section and spaced them out correctly.  They are now blooming and soon, they will fall to the ground--hence the name.  That is how you know when they are ready to pick--or I should say--pick up.  I am looking forward to eating them, soon.

My tomatillos are blooming, too.  They are related to ground cherries, but are much bigger plants and get much bigger fruit.

The cukes and zukes are blooming.  I don’t see any female blossoms, yet.  The few bush beans I have are blooming, and I bet I will be picking in about a week.  The pole beans are looking particularly healthy, though they haven’t begun to bloom, yet.

Overall, things are progressing well.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One Year of Retirement

One Year of Retirement

All I can say is, this is the best thing I have ever done for myself.  I just love not working.  Sure, I still work with the horses, work in the garden, work in the house and work taking care of my ever so demanding cat, Thunder, but this is work that I want to do.  I didn’t want to work for anybody else, anymore, unless they have 4 legs.

I haven’t done anything spectacular with my time, and that is just what I expected in retirement.  It is about the day to day living, not the big events.  I take long walks with my dog--that’s not exciting--but when I find a new dragonfly or flower, it is exciting for me.  

Of course, I ride nearly every day.  I have to make a conscious effort to give Cole a day off.  Most days, the rides aren’t long, but they are always fun.  I contemplate getting a second horse, but that’s as far as it gets.  I do help my sister take care of her retiree, Ranger, so it is almost like having a second horse when she isn’t there.  I just take him on walks.  He is a good walking companion--something I missed when Cruiser died.  I mostly walked him the last year of his life, too.  

I joke about it, but there is a lot of truth when I say that I retired so I could take better care of Thunder.  We formed a mutual admiration society.  My day isn’t complete if I don’t get to spend a lot of time with him.  I don’t know how I managed on those busy work days when I went right to the barn after dinner and right to bed after the barn.  He wants me with him all the time.  I am so glad to say that he never seems to get tired of me being around.

I get along much better with my dog, Maggie, now that I can spend more time with her, too.  Sounds odd, but she just needed more attention and longer walks.  Now, I hardly ever call her Dumb Dog, anymore.  She is a fun little dog to be around.

I can finally get enough time in the garden without thinking I should be doing something else at the time.  I try to time it during Thunder’s naps.  My veggies are doing well, so far.  If I get any bumper crops of anything, I have all kinds of new things I can try with them.  Right now, it looks like I will have more peppers than I have had in years!

Of course, I spend lots of time with Kevin, too.  I think he is as happy as I am that I retired.  He rides with Ellen and I quite often.  We hike all the time.  Now and then, we go on excursions--but not as often as he’d like.  I have a hard time taking time away from Thunder...We watch a lot of DVDs, too.  Both of us get them from the library, of course.

Retirement has brought me to a very contented state of mind.  I seldom feel like I am in a hurry--something I always felt when I was working.  I was very depressed after my dad died, and that lasted so long.  I truly didn’t shake it off until I did retire.  Sometimes I still feel a little down about “whatever” but I don’t feel the black cloud enveloping me, anymore.

Oddly, I don’t worry about money half as much as I used to, even though I get no paycheck or pension.  If my investments go south, I will just have to deal with it.  After weathering the great recession, I feel like I can get through anything besides a huge disaster.  I can’t predict the future, so I no longer worry about it.  

So retirement has meant more time and less stress.  I recommend anyone who can afford to retire early--should.  Life should be about enjoying it while we can.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: "What Maisie Knew" by Henry James - 1897

I swore I would never read anything by James, again, but I got tempted, and I am glad I did.  His work can get so bogged down in language, sometimes I just don't know what is going on--and sometimes nothing is going on at all!

Not much went on in this one, but it was still a fascinating story.  It is about a young girl whose parents divorce.  They start with sharing custody, and eventually don't seem to want her at all.  That is where the step parents step in with the help of a governess.

The morals of the day as far as divorce and such were very different, then.  That caused a lot of conflict and uncomfortableness in the story.

It kept my interest and I enjoyed it.  I won't completely write off Henry James, anymore.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Garden Update--Thank Goodness for Volunteers

Volunteer Tomatillos, that is.  This is the third year that I planted them.  The first was on a whim.  The second, I gave them more room.  This year, I gave them special treatment.  I didn't just scatter seeds, I planted carefully--and got terrible germination.

I was very upset about it, and then I found a volunteer--then another one.  Every few days, I find one.  They are in all different spots--a few are nowhere near where they were growing last year.  I think I have about a dozen, but there may be more.  They are thriving, too.

It will be interesting to see where they grow the best and with what plants.  Will the one with the peppers grow as well as the one in the cucumbers?  How will they get along with beans and eggplant?

I also have volunteer winter squash. At least that is what I think they are.  I ate my big winter squash in March and tossed the seeds in that area.  It was a good squash, so I am pleased I will have more.  It is possible there are some pumpkins mixed in, but right now, nothing is looking like a vine.

I even have a few volunteer tomatoes.  Since they happen to be where the tomatillos are supposed to me, that worked out well.

 The peppers look better than they have for years, and the tomatoes look awesome.  I didn't have the best germination with my beans and limas, but I replanted the areas with dried beans, which I had an abundance of seeds.
Of course, I have volunteer basil, I always do.  Good thing, since I got poor germination from the basil I planted.

The cukes and zukes look great, too.

This might be a fantastic year, but I won't get my hopes up.  Usually, something goes wrong, somewhere...

Book Review: "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton

This is Crichton's most current book--published after his death.  Of course, I liked it, as I like all of his books.  This one was a bit different than most of his recent books.  It is historical fiction rather than current fiction with a scientific bend.  He did manage to be just as scientific--he talked about the science of the time.

It takes place in 1665 in Jamaica and the waters thereabout.  Pirates were legitimate government business.  Our pirate, Charles Hunter, plans and attempts to execute the most daring escapade in history.  The greater the risk--the greater the reward.

With the help of science, technology and even geometry, this exciting adventure story keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It is fast - paced and fun.  Everybody is a bad guy, too.   I sure will miss this author.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eastern Pondhawk

On my dragonfly quest, I found this guy.  It seems I don't have to go far from home to find dragonflies.  He landed on the steps by my house.  He was a tough one to identify.  I got my ODNR dragonfly guide and searched and searched.  It wasn't until I read the various descriptions that I found a clue.  The Eastern Pondhawk is blue--but it hatches out green and changes to--starting on the abdomen (tail.)  That is what I have, here.  I searched on the internet and found pictures of them at this stage.  The next day, I saw a completely blue one out in the park, and this morning, I saw a completely green one on the outside wall of my house.  What confuses me is, why are they by my house?  There are no ponds, here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene

The story takes place in Mexico in the 1930s.  Religion is outlawed, and a renegade priest is being prusued across the countryside.  The priest is a "whisky priest" who is far from sinless.  Yet, he does his duty in the face of danger--just wishing he would be caught and executed--to free him from the life of danger.

This was a very well-written book--could be Greene's best.  The priest is a very well-rounded character--as are the minor roles, too.  The subject is deep and the tension is high.  The Catholic religion is a very important part of the book--but it isn't preachy or judgemental.  I was rooting for the priest's escape as well as understanding how he didn't really want to escape, anymore.  It was just his duty.

Wonderful book.

Book Review: "The House of Seven Gables" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mystery, unexplained deaths and drama are all in this nineteenth century novel.  An elderly spinster living in a cursed house, awaits her brother's release from prison.  A young, pretty niece shows up to liven the atmosphere--bringing some lightness to this dark drama.  Of course, that leads to some romance, but the real story is much deeper--and that is what keeps the book going.  It does drag a bit in the middle, but once you get through that, it becomes very suspenseful.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Book Review: "Comanche Moon" by Larry McMurtry

This is one great western.  If you liked "Lonesome Dove," you will love this one, too.  In a way, it was better.  There were all the old, familiar characters, but I knew they wouldn't die in this story--it is a prequel.  Best of all, Gus is back to life--and he is the same old Gus that he was.

The book has all the flavor of the old west.  It goes back to the years that the guys were Texas Rangers.  It fills out the backstory that we got in "Lonesome Dove," too.  The story was adventurous and interesting.  The characters, including some new ones, are true.  Overall, it was a very worthwhile book.

Garden Update

I am nearly finished with putting my garden in.  I have too many tomato plants, never enough pepper plants, 9 eggplants and beans galore.  That includes green beans, lima beans and dry beans.  I have a few ground cherries and a bunch of tomatillos.  Of course, there are lots of cukes, so zukes and a few winter squash.  It looks like I have some vlounteer pumpkins, so I will let them grow.

Most of my seeds haven't sprouted, yet, but the beans are just beginning to peek out.

I still need to add my herbs and some sunflower seeds to brighten things up.

It should be a good garden, but you never know about the weather and pestilence.  It is fun, though, and that's why I do it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Calculus

I finished up Algebra I, Geometry and Trigonometry at the Kahn Academy website, and I have moved into Calculus.  Some of it gets complicated, and I have troubles with making dumb mistakes, as always, but I am moving through it at a slow but steady rate.  I can differentiate all sorts of things, but I have yet to see any purpose in it.  Is this all just mental gymnastics?  How can this be applied in life?  I am only 38 percent of the way through, so maybe it will become clear as I move along.

As of yet, I am not enjoying it as much as the Geometry and Trig, but maybe I will as things all pull together.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: "Babylon Revisited and other stories" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is a collection of wonderful stories.  Fitzgerald captures the feeling of the roaring twenties, the depression--without seemingly intending to.  He writes so in the moment of his time.  Most of the stories--I simply couldn't put down.  I read them when I was walking Maggie--a story a day.  If I didn't finish it when I got back, I would sit outside until I was done with it.  I just had to see how they ended.

I noted that writing became less descriptively sumptuous over time.  He went from lush, colorful descriptions to nearly skipping descriptions altogether.  Was this because of his life becoming darker or the world becoming darker after the stock market crash?

I was thrilled to hear "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" mentioned in an episode of "Madmen" just a few days after I read it.

I will be looking for more of his short stories in the future.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: "Mornings on Horseback" by David McCullough

I like David McCollough's biographies, and I think I have like this one best of all.  It is about the early days of Teddy Roosevelt.  The author tries to answer the question, "How did this extraordinary man become who he was?"

He shows the influences of his family, his poor health as a young man and how he just loved the natural world.  These elements shaped Teddy and inevitably shaped our country.  He believed in a very physical lifestyle, hence the title of the book.

The book was fascinating throughout, and if you like history and are interested in Roosevelt, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Book

My publisher is downsizing their warehouse.  Consequently, I now have several cartons of books at my house that I want to sell.  

“Trail Training for the Horse and Rider” is a highly readable, how-to book for trail riding.  I cover training the green horse, retraining the spoiled horse, negotiating difficult obstacles and terrain, conditioning, dealing with difficult weather and more.

It costs $20.00 plus $4.00 to ship.  If you are a local person, we could arrange to meet to save shipping costs.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

My Life as a Mathematician

The Kahn Academy

I was always excellent at math, and I loved it.  In high school, I took it through Calculus.  Since I only went to a community college, I didn't need any math for my degree unless I was deficient.  When I went to take the placement tests, the woman in charge saw my transcript and told me not to take the math section because it was an insult to my accomplishments.  Even though it was required, I didn't take it and no one made me.

I ended up in a career that involved a lot of math, but not at a very high level.  Most was just arithmetic and some word problems.  I came to excel at the word problems that came my way at my job. and it was fun to try to solve them by turning them into algebraic equations.  (By the way, I was a printing estimator.)

I have loved math my whole life, and I even credit it for allowing me to retire early.  Knowing how math works, compounding interest and the "rule of 72" encouraged me to save and invest.

Then I retired--and found out I didn't miss my job, but I missed dealing with math every day.

In January, I signed up at the Kahn Academy website.  It is a free service that is for students in high school and below.  It has all kind of math courses.  There are videos covering everything and tests.  I described it to my niece, and she said it is a form of "mastery learning," and it has been found to be the most effective way to learn things.

I started with Algebra.  I mastered Algebra Basics and then Algebra I.  Much of it I remembered or almost remembered, but quite a bit of it seemed foreign--and it was tough.

Next came High School Geometry.  The early parts of it were pretty simple, but then it got very tough.  I am 98 percent finished with it.  From Geometry, it was a natural transition to go the Trigonometry.  I didn't remember any of it from High School.  Still, with hard work, I am 73 percent complete.  From there, I many work on Algebra II some more.  I am at 44 percent, there.  Eventually, I will tackle Calculus, and I am sure that will be as tough as can be.

Yes, I am a math nerd, and I can't believe how much fun I am having doing this.

If you know any students who are struggling with math, please, please direct them to the Kahn Academy--it is an awesome way to learn--and it really is free!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review: "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

This is an awesome, awesome book.  I didn't want it to end.  It was one of the books my niece recommended, so I'm not surprised it was good.  She has great taste.

A man takes up a job as an art instructor for a young lady at a house in the country.  On the way there, he meets a mysterious woman in white who is running from something.  She knew the mother of this man's new student, and when he arrives at his destination, he does a little detective work to find out more about her.

He tutors and inevitably falls in love.  Things then get complicated, fast.  The woman in white keeps appearing in the story--driving the plot.

Things happen.  I don't want to give anything away.  The book consists of various characters telling their part of the tale from their point a view.

Though the story moves slowly, it still kept me on the edge of my seat.   This is definitely a must-read book.

Book Review: "The Real Custer" by James S. Robbins

I like historical non-fiction, and I like reading about interesting characters.  Custer is certainly that.  He was courageous and flamboyant; smart and politically unsavvy.  He was a great general in the Civil War, without doubt.  After the war, in the cavalry, he struggled to find his greatness.

His time at West Point as a young man was particularly interesting.  The Civil War battles got a little boring for me, but they were well written and thorough.  Those who like that kind of thing would like how the author handled them.

I thought his relationship with his wife was one filled with much love and devotion.  As in everything--Custer went into love with both feet first--and conquered.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn is the tragic climax of the book, of course.  Since no one survived, the author admits that the details are sketchy and gives the most honest account, possible.

I liked the book.  Now the big question that I always have with biographies--did I like the man?  If I met him, I don't believe we could have been friends--he was just way too different then me.  Seriously, would anyone call me flamboyant?

Book Review: "Naked Prey" by John Sanford

Yes, I do read some contemporary novels.  I like police stories, detective stories and mysteries in general.

This was a good book.  It was fast-paced and had a creative plot.  Two bodies are found hanging in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  The young lady who found the bodies is fascinated with the investigation and gets herself involved in it.  She was the best character in the book.

Before you know it, more murders occur and the plot gets more twisted and exciting.  It is an easy read compared to what I have been reading, but sometimes that is a good thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: "Anything for Billy" by Larry McMurtry

This is a totally fictional and totally enjoyable version of the story of Billy the Kid.  Truly, the story is more about the narrator, Mr. Sippy, a half-dime novelist who goes out west to experience the west, first hand.  He fails as a train robber and ends up meeting Billy.

Unlike McMurty's Lonesome Dove novels which were deep and sad, this is light and fun.  It is fast paced and filled with excitement.  A great western novel.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: "Between the Dark and the Daylight" by Willam Dean Howells - 1907

This was another from Project Gutenberg.  It is no secret that I thoroughly enjoy Howells.  He is the realist of realists, and that suits a realist like me.  His stories may not have much going on, but I love every minute of them.

This is a collection of lightly connected short stories.  Most of them involve the brain and its mysterious functions--particularly memory.  One of the characters in most of the stories is a psychiatrist that gives explanations about what he thinks is happening.

All of the stories were completely enjoyable.  A few of them were simply a group of friends telling stories of their experiences.  Most of the stories involved love.

Highly recommended for realists.

Book Review: "The Grey Woman" by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1861

I read this book on Project Gutenberg.  It is a compilation of short stories.  The first and longest of the stories is "The Grey Woman," and it is also the best of all of them.  Who would have thought Elizabeth Gaskell would write a page-turning adventure, mystery story?  I loved it.  I hope to find other stories such as this among Project Guttenberg's collection.

"Six Weeks at Heppenheim" was good, too.  I didn't even understand the purpose of "Disappearances."

The rest of the stories had fine qualities, but they were too moralistic for my tastes.  A few were downright preachy.  They were worth reading, but  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: "Ruth" by Elizabeth Gaskell = 1853

I believe that this book was a more relevant book, back in the time it was written.  It is about Ruth, a fallen woman, and how she has to live with her reputation.  It is a very, very sad book, and as with all of Gaskell's books, filled with illness and death.

It dragged in the middle and got more exciting as the book went on.  The ending was a horrible, "happy" ending.

I guess I would say that I am glad I read the book, but I really didn't like it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: "The Accursed" by Joyce Carol Oates

This was certainly different from all the other books I have read by this author.  I would even say it was a little weird, but it was also fascinating.  It dragged a bit in the middle and certain chapters were very boring, but then the next chapter would be great.

Taking place in 1906, it involves a family and a neighborhood that was attacked by some strange, occult experiences--and felt they were accursed.  Oates involves historical figures, such as, Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt.  With Sinclair and London, we get a healthy dose of the Socialist movement at the time.  We get to learn a little about presidents and a lot about the Princeton area where the story takes place.

I liked most of the book, and it was a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: "Sphere" by Michael Crichton

Who can resist an good book by Michael Crichton?  Fast-moving, science-filled adventure stories.

Five people walk into a submarine: An astrophysicist, a zoologist, a mathematician, a biologist and a psychologist--and then the fun begins.  They are to investigate an alien spacecraft found on the bottom of the ocean that has been there at least 300 years.

This was one of the better ones. It is filled with lots of interesting science.  The conversations between the characters--all from different points of view was particularly entertaining.  The story was anything but predictable and a real page turner.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

Yes, I don't only read old books by dead authors.  I like modern books, too.  I have always liked to read murder mysteries since about the age of 12.  This is a particularly good one.

It is written from the point of view of 3 people, and you have to pay attention to the dates on the chapters to keep the sequence of events straight.  None of the people are model citizens and half of the fun is seeing how their minds work.

The main witness is an alcoholic that witnessed something during a blackout and is struggling to remember it.

The suspense kept me going right through this page turner.

A great, entertaining book.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: "Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1851-1853

This book was published in a periodical as installments, and each installment can stand on its own, but they interlink with each other.

It portrays Victorian England in a small town.  The characters are widows and spinsters with very small incomes.  The narrator is a woman who visits them and stays for protracted times.  There is very little known about the narrator.  The stories are about the elderly ladies and their customs.

It is quite funny, actually, and sad in other ways.  There isn't much of a plot, but that doesn't harm the story in the least.  The story telling is always entertaining.

Book Review: "Founding Mothers" by Cokie Roberts

I try to get a few non fiction books in my line up, and I like American history.  This was a good pick because it gives a different view of the Revolutionary period.

It is no surprise that many of the women of the time were politically engaged.  The book delves most heavily into the lives of Abigail Adams and Martha Washington, but includes many other women, too.  Some are active players, some are just defending their homes, some are supportive of their husbands and then there is Peggy Arnold--supporter of the traitor Benedict Arnold.  All of them are interesting.  I really liked this book.  It still tells of the male side of history, so we can see where the female side fit in.  The nice thing about it is that all the people felt real.  They may have been heroes, but they were human heroes.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Great Morning

The weather was terrific, again.  After I went on another somewhat successful trail ride with Ellen, I hung out with Kevin.  First, we went to see a Great Horned Owl nest he found on the parkway in Rocky River Reservation.  It is just south of Uranus on the opposite side of the street.  Just look for the gathering crowd of birdwatchers.  We were able to see the owl on her nest without binoculars, but with them, we could see her little baby, too.

Since we were close, we just had to go see the eagle's nest on Grayton Road.  They are sitting on their eggs, right now, so we couldn't see the one that was sitting inside the nest, but we saw on on a tree, very close to the nest.  I guess the eggs will hatch, soon.  We will be back.  We have known about that nest for years.

Next, we hiked at the golf course trail.  It used to be a nice bridle trail, and the first section of it still is.  Once you go up the hill, though, the erosion is just awful.  It simply would not be worth the risk to try to ride a hose through it, but it is still safe to hike.  I doubt if the park will try to fix it, again.  The trail is a dead end, so it isn't a huge loss, but it is a shame to lose any of our bridle trails.

Lastly, it was time for lunch.  Kevin and I love Burger King.  Actually, we are rather addicted.  I like my whoppers without mayo and with BBQ added.  They are healthier and tastier that way.

Then I went home to rest a bit before me dog walk.  It was a busy and fun-filled day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Review: “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review: “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates

Is there any author out there that can bring a character to life better than Joyce Carol Oates?  In this highly fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe, she does just that.  The book isn’t entirely accurate, as Oates explains at the very beginning, but that doesn't matter.  It is the essence of Marilyn that is the most important part of the story.

Reading this book was much like watching the movie “Titanic.”  I knew the tragic ending from the very beginning, but in this case, I didn’t know much about the tragic life that led up to her suicide.  

This is a sad, sad story that is so well written.  It has forever changed how I view her movies and her image.

Book Review: “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1848

Book Review: “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell - 1848

This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel.  She wanted to show the poverty experienced by the working class in her town of Manchester, England.  Deftly, she describes the conflicts between labor and the owners of the cotton mill without taking sides, yet shows that the misunderstandings between the two are caused by lack of awareness and communication.

Yet, she doesn’t get bogged down in all of it.  The novel has a lot of death, just like the two previous novels I read of hers, but death seems like such an important part of life in previous centuries where medicine isn’t as advanced as today.  

The story also has romance--and even murder with a dramatic trial.

It was a great read.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review: "The Job, An American Novel" by Sinclair Lewis - 1917

What was it like to go into the business world in 1917 if you were a woman?  Read this novel and find out all about it.  It wasn't as easy as it is today, of course.

There were a lot of similarities, too.  I loved the descriptions of office life.  The humdrum, sheer boredom made me want to laugh.  Sounds like my old office life.  The way the noise can make someone want to scream, the attitudes of the fellow workers and the feeling like you aren't getting anywhere.

Our protagonist, Una, learned something that I knew and never practiced.  The only way to really move up is to move on.  Employers take the status quo for granted, and if you do a good job, they are happy to keep you in that position forever.

She makes friends, networks, tries love with mixed results.

It wasn't Sinclair Lewis' best book, but it was certainly a worthwhile one for a woman who used to be in business, herself, to read.

Monday, January 30, 2017

We Walk

My constant companion, Maggie, aka Dumb Dog, walk every day.  That is nothing new.  I have been walking dogs every day since I was a teenager.  The difference is now I have much more time.

We try to average an hour a day.  Sometimes it is more--sometimes less, but we seek our average of an hour.  We walk in the West Creek Reservation, but you won't see us too often.  Maggie is so bad when we see other dogs, that I try to avoid the more populated paths.

Weather permitting, I bring a book to read.  It actually encourages me to walk farther and I don't get frustrated when she spends too much time sniffing things.



Of course, walking is tougher this time of year, but I have still maintained our schedule.  Today, with all the snow, I didn't really feel like it, but as soon as I got outside, I felt invigorated.  We did our hour with no problem.  It was a little slower, but we did it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Algebra

I am such a nerd.  I love math--always did from about 10 years of age.  In high school, I went up to Calculus and got As.  I never took any math at Community College because I didn't have to.  I did get a job where I used math every day--printing estimator.  I even solved word problems all the time.  If I came up with something out of the ordinary, I would just turn it into a formula.

Since I have been retired, I don't have an outlet for my math skills, and I found I missed it.  I have been playing around with the idea of relearning all the stuff I forgot from lack of use.  I heard about the Kahn Academy, and I finally looked into it.

It is free on-line courses of the high school level.  I tried out a lesson, and I realized that this kind of learning would work well for me.

I started Algebra I.  As I go through it, I remember a lot of it, and for the most part, I am finding it easy.  I have the same old usual problem I always had in high school--forgetting to bring down my negative signs!

One of the reasons for starting from the beginning is that I don't remember the terminology.  Without that, it may be hard to understand the explanations on the harder math

Since this is fun, I believe I will keep going with it at least through this course for now.  It would be awesome to get as far as Calculus, but it could take a few years to get that far.  I am sure it won't remain so easy as I climb out the early courses.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: "Free Air" by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  With all the talk about "It Can't Happen Here," he has been on my mind.  I thought I would see what other books of his were available on Project Gutenberg.

I decided to try "Free Air."  It was serialized in "The Saturday Evening Post" in 1919.  A daughter decides to take her father on a road trip for the betterment of his health.  Now imagine the conditions and the types of cars back in pre-WWI.  That was what attracted me to the story, initially.  What I found was a love story between a well off young lady and a working class young man.  They learn about each other's world as they learn about love.  They also have a few adventures on the way.

I liked this book a lot, as I have liked all the Sinclair Lewis novels.  He is another somewhat forgotten novelist, and I really hope that the attention that has been drawn to "It Can't Happen Here" will revive interest in his other awesome novels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell 1854

Book Review: "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell 1854

This is another book recommended by my niece.  It was very different than the first Gaskell book I read.  

When an American thinks of north and south, we think of our own country and the Civil war.  This takes place in England.  The south that the author is referring to is a very rural area and the north is an industrial region.

Our heroine, Margaret, is from the south and finds herself living in the north.  As she learns about her new world, so do we.  Her new home is in fictionalized Milton which is based on Manchester.  Margaret befriends a working family as well as an owner of a cotton mill.  Being exposed to the contrasting friendships gives he a view of both sides.

The book deals with labor problems, bad working conditions, strikes and death--lots of death.  My niece seems to like books with sadness.  There is also some romance, but it is minor compared to the other themes.  Once again, the characters are well rounded and interesting.

The book is wonderful.  Score another one for my niece.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review: "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

Book Review: "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

Long time ago, I guess in the 80s, this was an award-winning mini series.  I didn't get to see it except in bits and pieces because my life was very busy.  My family saw it, though, and they loved it.  My mom and Ellen read the book, but it never crossed my path.

A couple years ago, Ellen gave me the sequel, "Streets of Laredo" and I really enjoyed it.  Last year, she saw the mini series at the Goodwill Store in video cassette.  I still have a working VCR, so she bought it for me for about a dollar or so.  It was really, really good.

I picked up the book to read.  The story was fresh in my mind, so I didn't have any surprises when I read it.  I wish I had read it, first.  The book was awesome.

It is a western about a couple retired Texas Rangers that decide to take a herd of cattle up to Montana, basically on a whim, because they were restless.  On the way, they run into many problems, and I have never known an author so willing to kill off main characters.  The trip was a disaster.  Basically, just about nothing worked out the way it was planned.

It was also very sad, and by the last hundred pages, I couldn't wait for it to end.

All the horse parts of the book were very accurate.  The horses played an important part of the story, and the author seemed to have a great appreciation for them.

I do think it cleared up one thing.  My sister, Ellen, has issues with crossing rivers.  They had one terrible river crossing and many difficult ones.  The cowboys dreaded river crossings throughout the book.  I think exposure to the mini series and the book may have traumatized her for life.  Maybe it is good that I didn't read the book until now.  That first river crossing is tragic, and they portray it so well on the mini series.

If you like westerns, cowboys, horses and adventure--this is the book for you.  Just be prepared to like most of the characters and willing to watch them die.

Book Review: "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Book Review: "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is a book that was recommended by my niece, Sarah, who prefers to read books by dead authors.  Published in 1865, the story takes place in England.  It is a book of relationships, manners and some romance.  The characters were so real, I can't help but wonder if the author patterned them off of people she knew.  They were all flawed, but not badly flawed--and they all had very good qualities, too--much like real life.

Our main character, Molly, lost her mother at a young age.  Now, as a young lady, her father decides to get married.  His new wife brings her daughter into the picture, and she brings in the drama.

Molly's father is a doctor, and illness is an undercurrent throughout.  We really don't always know what is wrong with his patients, and that must have been common back then.  A person could be failing, and it might be a lingering infection (no antibiotics back then) or untreated diabetes or leukemia.  Doctors didn't have the abilities to diagnose or treat like they do now, of course, and it made a very different world.

Having recently watched the entire series of "Downton Abbey," I was very prepared for this book.  "Downton Abbey" was the end of the era that this book takes place in.  Molly is solidly middle class, and the book is excellent for its portrayal of the differences in the classes and how they view each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to people who like books by dead authors.