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Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Blog 3/21/13--Book Review--The Light Between Oceans


The first thing I have to say is M. L. Stedman is a wonderful writer.  His phraseology caused me to fall in love with his words to the point that  I was willing to accept a second rate story.   However, the story is exceedingly good.  Adept at painting word pictures, the writer captured the exact settings at all times.  The reader can feel the sea spray, the fog in the woods, the heat from the lighthouse light, see the ground crowded with crawly bugs, the expressions on faces.

The story takes place in circa 1926 Australia, as well as a lighthouse and one-acre island off the Australian coast.  The Aussie terminology is not overplayed, the descriptions clarify the differences Americans would find unusual--like kangaroos, the resourcefulness of a 1920’s war-damaged population, both physical and mental.  A lack of phones, TV, radios, the ingenuity of the way people functioned without these things.  Flag signals, morse code.

It's my theory that the best books cause a reader to be sympathetic to all the characters, whether “good” guys or “bad” ones.  But how about a book where all the characters are “good” as well as “bad?”  Human you say?  Probably the most human book I’ve read.  At least the best-of-humanity human.  Entwined are all the truths and all the lies, all the sympathy and empathy of each character for the other.  And thankfully, it's not overburdened with a cast of thousands.

This story is a state-of-the-art model for honesty and all its ramifications. “ Extenuating Circumstances” should have been the name of the book. The Light Between Oceans points out the clear path one strives for:  honesty, idealism, integrity.  As well as how perilous the danger of being idealistic can be.  It’s about one tiny decision and how it can effect unintentional collateral damage.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Grand Grandson Adventure

We had an adventure last night.  It all started when the grandson and friend of his (both 19) decided they wanted to try out some old kayaks, one of which, as grandparents, lay under dust in our basement.  The other kayak was in somebody else’s basement.

The grandson showed up at 4:00 p.m. to pick up the one we have.  It was a lovely afternoon--precursor of Spring.  The plan was to meet his friend and hustle over to the lake and paddle around for a little while then return the kayak until next time. 

The friend went to pick up his kayak while the grandson came to get ours. The kayak would not fit in the grandson’s SUV no matter what we tried.  There is no rack on top of his SUV.  The plan was about to fail when I suggested he take our utility trailer (which doesn’t get much use and the SUV does have a hitch on it).  Problem solved.  But that did entail cleaning the hitch enough to allow the parts to attach, find a padlock so the trailer wouldn’t disappear while the boys were paddling around like ducks.  Grandpa had all the necessary items including tie downs.  He even knew how to make the cinching knots in the straps. And bring the air compressor up from the basement to fill the tires with a little more street-worthy air.

HOWEVER, when the trailer was about to be attached it was discovered that the spare tire on the back of the SUV stuck out further than the hitch, so the grandpa suggested they take the tire off.  But, oops, the tool kit for the SUV had gone missing, so the tool to take the tire off was not present.  We were about to be foiled.  But teenage enthusiasm prevailed.

A call to the friend who by this time had his kayak in a small pickup truck, diverted him to our house and the trailer re-hitched to HIS truck.  There was the commotion of switching the kayaks around as the truck bed was too short for that kayak.

Hitch in place, chains attached, kayaks tied down, they were finally on their way with the admonition of being back before dark (7 p.m.) because the truck had no hookup for the rear trailer lights.

Two hours later (about 6:30) we got a phone call.  They’d been to the lake, kayaked for about an hour and were on their way back home when the truck’s tire went flat, and there was no jack for the truck.  That’s when our adventure really started.  The grandpa put every tool he thought he’d need into our car, including a truck jack, a drill, and ratchet set, and we set out for the “Shell Station on 400,” of which there are three and the boys didn’t know the cross street name.  We started with the closest one and worked our way down to the second one.  They were parked safely at the rear of the station.  By now it was dark.

The boys thoughtfully had removed the trailer from the truck so they could get the spare tire out from under the tailgate. The boys looked up how to get the spare off by going on line with their cellphones.  They’d examined the problem by using a flashlight app in those phones too.  However, they couldn’t get to it because the tool kit that had gone missing included the proper tool for removal. Grandpa had one, quite by accident. 

That’s when the boys learned the emergency brake must be on, rocks found to put under the vehicle tires so it won’t move, the jack set in the proper location (three tries to get it right) so it will raise the axle instead of the bumper. While they worked on that problem, the grandpa addressed getting the flat tire off the truck.

The truck had lost its tire iron.  The tire iron brought by grandpa was not the right kind for the problem and the drill wasn’t strong enough to get the little rusted nuts loose.  But there was a wrecker truck at the gas pump with the owner just getting ready to leave.  So I ran over to ask him if we could pay him to change the tire.  He was on a call but very kindly pulled over to our problem and took time to loosen the nuts.  Would take no pay for it either.

With the spare tire eventually loose¸ we could start this second phase of the adventure.

Now the jack was ready to be raised.  After a hundred winds of the jack by first one set or arms and then another’s the truck came up high enough to remove the tire.  All of the nuts that had been loosened were removed with a bucking drill, but one stubborn one would not relent.  However, the grandpa had brought a magic ratchet!  The last nut finally gave in and the tire was finally off and tossed into the truck bed with the kayak.

The same bucking drill was adjusted so it tightened the nuts of the spare tire, the jack was lowered and also used to reassemble the works that hold up truck spare tires under the back bumper area.

Then the confession of being stopped by Mr. Policeman between the lake and the Shell Station for not having taillights came out.  When the kayaks had been replaced into the trailer and truck bed after they’d been in the lake, they hung over the corners enough to block one truck taillight.  He also mentioned there were no tags on the trailer.  Grandpa said trailers under a certain weight didn’t need tags.  Maybe they don’t tell the police about that.   Fortunately the Law gave the boys a warning.  Because of this we followed the boys back to our house in the dark so the absence of trailer lights (and one truck light) would not be noticed.

Now all we had to do was get the trailer backed down the driveway, detached and replaced, our kayak returned to the basement, the gathered tools replaced in their various storage places, and two hungry and late boys on their ways home.  They still had to take the other kayak back to wherever it came from as well.

I think those boys need tool kits for their individual vehicles.  They both now know how to change a tire with more than a cell phone.  They did every step under grandpa direction, not his doing it for them.

I’ve thought about this for 24 hours.  It is likely that the effort to earn the money to support a car, including the price of gasolene, let alone dates, etc. interferes with safety measures, always the last to be addressed since it’s not imperative in order to drive the things.

I’m old but not so old I don’t remember those days from my past.  We rode in cars that had no floorboard, whose doors would not close so they were roped closed.  I’ve helped push cars that constantly ran out of that pesky gas, even though it only cost 26 cents a gallon.  Only putting $1 of gas in the car because that’s all the money I had.  I remember starting one particular car that always had to start at the top of a hill by rolling down and popping the clutch.  My friends’ cars were rolling disasters.  I guess my father got wind of it at some point and began inspecting my dates’ cars before I was allowed to go any more places.  It was very embarrassing.  But then he didn’t know about a lot of other things we did, never since spoken of.

I suppose my grandson will live through this episode of his life.  I’ve seen it happen before.  Anyway, yesterday was a fun adventure down memory lane for me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Friends and Death

            I have a friend who has been given just a few months left to live. It's made me think about what I would do in her shoes. Would I try to finish off my bucket list? Would I feel like even getting up in the morning? Would I feel "ready" and have accomplished what I wanted to do with my life? Would I just savor every day, every conversation?           
           Would I notice things about people, about my home and neighborhood that I never noticed before? Would I be scared out of my mind? Would I be concerned about how leaving would affect the lives of my family and friends? Would I even care? Would I hope there had been a misdiagnosis and it wasn't really true?
            Would I get by every day by pretending it wasn't true? Would I try to forget about it and just live the life I had created?

            I have no idea about these things.  Two thoughts have sustained me through previous deaths of relatives/friends.  The thought of all of the people in my family who are already deceased welcoming the newby into heaven has been helpful.  Because I know how much I'd appreciate it when it's my turn.  The other thought that I suppose is heresy, is what the Buddhists believe--that every life comes from the same source.  When a baby is born a pinch of this "life" is created into a human.  When that person dies, that little pinch of life (along with its accumulated wisdom) goes back into the ball of original source.  It sounds nice to me, like being part of a world whole.  Whereas, we're all alone in this world when the bottom line gets drawn.  Whatever it is, it'll either be a big adventure or a silent hole of nothingness.  The nothingness thing is what people fear, I think.
            As a Christian, the options are heaven and hell.  And I know plenty about both of those.  It just makes me more satisfied to think my life would not have been in total vain if I were a tiny part of the whole world that would go on forever.  Heaven sounds safe and beautiful, doesn't make me feel useful.  I don't even want to talk about hell.
             And even though I know I make every effort to "fix" things gone wrong in lives I touch, I do it alone.  If it satisfies me and those I'm able to "fix," does it satisfy God?  After all, even through all my efforts at doing the right thing, I'm automatically a sinner because I'm alive.    That doesn't seem very "Christian" to me.
             It isn't I who must face this "adventure" alone, at least at this moment. But having lived almost 90% of my statistical life, it won't be long before I'll have to think about it if I'm able.

            I think I'd pray for grace. Grace from God as well as grace in handling the time I had left. I probably wouldn't accomplish grace since I'm such a wimp, but at least knowing perhaps would give me a chance to be in charge of what's left.

            It's sad to think about being mortal. It's been a long time getting here and time is easily forgotten. Mortals have the arrogance of thinking only about today and me, me, me. Put all things bad out of my mind and I can pretend it into never.

But I will miss my friend, for a hundred reasons.

Monday, March 4, 2013


                                                        CHAPTER ONE


            Challenge sucked at Maria.  It tingled in an all-or-nothing opportunity to starve or crawl back to Phoenix.  Make the deal fit through the bunghole or starve.  Yay!  The nineties in north Georgia had been a grand old cherry pick for the real estate market.  Show three houses and one would sell.  That time was gone forever on pretty much a slide downhill ever since.   Last week she'd shown twenty-two houses to a couple.  They went back home to Michigan to think about it. 

            Land was a different story.  Nobody bought land who needed the magic commodity—a mortgage.  People without financing lined up weren’t looking.  Frantic from a ten-year wait at one percent interest, baby boomers fixing to retire had finally crawled out of their chrysalis, bringing their fortunes back to the land.  Tough enough to endure the game called Short Sale, accustomed to patience to wait out land appreciation, buyers were solid and Maria loved them. 

            Killer depression soared as she watched her over-leveraged friends fall one by one into a financial abyss inconceivable twenty years ago.  She'd been lucky...she didn't have anything to start with—nothing much to lose.  Life for Maria was a do-over, the new part was real estate, the old part a failed marriage.

            A Missing-In-Action boyfriend, sellers refusing to sell, lenders refusing to lend, a zero bank account and a recent chigger attack scrambled her brain.  She trudged through the woods on sun filtered mulch, hardwoods limbs overhead dressed in eighty shades of green.   Alone in a world straight from God. 

            Her Florida buyer, interested in seventy two acres of hardwoods for his retirement, would arrive Saturday.  When they’d walked the property, they could not determine the sidelines.  He didn’t want to pay for a new survey but didn’t want to put earnest money into a deal until he knew where its perimeter lay.  She needed the sale, so that meant scouring the land for old survey markings.

            His need for an emotional comfort level made the plat, tax records, seller confirmation, or at least ancient survey markings critical to this deal.  Best choice, she needed to find the listing agent who was off somewhere dancing the Macarena.

            She squinted at the sun, glanced at her watch and compass, looked north.  A glimpse of red stood out, forgotten storm debris.  The sun began to bake.  

            Ascending from a ground cover of leaves that lay as fallen for countless years, silver maple, hickory, sweetgum, and black oak towered over her.  Their magnificence made her woozy.   Her good fairy pretended to not notice when she stomped a poofy swollen mushroom that exploded into spores.  Her bad fairy’s eyes were closed.

            Before wearing its web on her face, she ducked a fat yellow bellied orbweaver perched in the middle of her path, suspended in time.   A length of barbed wire lay draped on the ground ahead, one end embedded in a red oak standing in for a corner fencepost.   She unfolded a land lot map and noted where she thought the corner tree stood.

            Seeing the Georgia woods in person, how impossibly close together the limitless trees grew, she visualized a tattered Confederate army, mostly shirtless and shoeless, running pell mell through the woods, long rifles in their hands and knives clenched in their teeth.  Impossibly gritty and what else?  Romantic?

            Georgia owners knew their land. A seller told her a recent description...”You know that red boulder next to the creek 200 yards from the road?  If you go east about 500 feet you come to a dead pine with no branches.  Turn south fifty feet and you’ll find some fine mushrooms.” 

            Better keep her mind on the present if she didn't want surprises.  She scanned the ground for snakes.   A knee tree artificially bent toward a dogtrot.  A little further on, a second one pointed toward something.... on the other side of wire fence remnants hillocks loomed six feet long and four feet wide in two rows.  In all she counted seven.  An Indian burial ground.  She wriggled through a dilapidated barbed wire fence and quietly approached the center mound. A piece of trash lay on the first grave among tall stalks of planted buttercup leaves, their blossoms gone for this year.

            She picked it up.

            No birds chattered, no leaves fluttered.  Ever present squirrels disappeared.  Long dead ancient eyes crept her.  A sudden violet burst of wind spurted adrenaline into her veins.  The sun folded behind a smudgy tin ceiling of thunderclouds.  She could taste being unwanted, even though in the back of her mind fresh dry earth lying exposed on top of the leaf cover at her feet was just wrong.  Funny.  The woods still dripped from last night’s shower.  She wanted to touch that rich dry dirt. 

             RUN!” said her good fairy.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

As Golden as the Anniversary

Lately my time has been spent in preparation of a huge anniversary party.  About midway through gathering snail mail addresses (think monster Christmas Card list,) having formal invitations printed, deciding on a cake and on the flowers and on the venue, it took on the aroma of a whole wedding.
I had to stop and think what I was doing here.  It seemed like I was having a huge party for myself for something I'd done already 49 times over 49 years.   When I let myself second guess me, I could see that there was no way we were going to get all our friends and relatives to come all the way to the outback of Georgia for a couple of drinks and some nachos, and this encouraged me to continue toward a bit of a gala affair.

Did I mention the retinue of party planners we've accumulated on that list of friends and relatives over the years?  Volunteers popped up from everywhere.  Who I loved before this event but whom I now cherish as thoughtful talented people who work toward creating beauty wherever they go.
Diane Kulish, in case you don't know her, is a delight.  She's like the girlfriend you had in fifth grade who was ready for anything.  Celeste Caudill surpasses all with her impish addition of delightful ideas such as pork crudites, water bottle labels with our old wedding pictures on it.  Gayle Horne, Terri Tragasser, Jeanne Tompkins supplied glassware, dishes, silverware, gorgeous serving trays and chafing dishes from their own homes and turned a plain old (but beloved) building into fairyland with gold tablecloths, covered chairs, trays and trays of cute foods.  Blankets of flowers reigned over the food tables and spread across the visiting tables like little blankets.  It smelled like an inside garden.

A raft of loved ones, Kate Brandt, Kirstin Pedersen, and the genius of Lorin Small threw  together fifty of these labeled bottles about an hour before the event.  Lording over all, presided a "wedding" cake filled with raspberry and ten gorgeous flower arrangements to die for, and a hundred of our best friends.  I didn't even know I HAD a hundred best friends.

Kate and Kirstin and Lorin also compiled old pictures from our albums for a slideshow that continued during the party at the Bowen Center for the Arts, such as these below.

Since after all our years we have friends from all over the universe, one of which is an ordained minister, we considered renewing our vows.  Then decided that should remain a one-time occasion, just as this one should.

We had a renewal of love and fun which everybody brought as a gift we will never forget.

When the pictures come in I'll post a few.