Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bridget's Birthday


I normally don't write about stuff like childbirth. It's highly personal, and is boring as all get-out to anyone who isn't one of the three people concerned--Mom-Dad-child. Last night Craig and I were talking about Bridget's birth--her birthday is today, October 5. He said her birth story deserved a write-up.

Bridget is my third child so I thought I knew everything about childbirth by the time she came along. Child #1 pregnancy had been the routine sick, then not sick, then disastrous delivery. Child #2 pregnancy was average until 5 1/2 weeks before his due date when I woke up that morning in labor and birthed him at lunchtime.

With #3 I was sicker than I thought possible, for just over five months. Then came a blissful six weeks of no troubles, during which I took a 2 1/2 week trip back east with my mom. We met in Pittsburgh, then traveled the northeast visiting family and had a fabulous time.

By my sixth month my iron level had dropped into the basement making it nearly impossible to even drag myself out bed. At the beginning of the seventh month it was discovered I was dilating and was ordered to stay down for the rest of the pregnancy (and to let my three-year-old and four-year-old run amok, I guess). My Mom had to come help out. I was on meds to keep labor at bay (vasodyline and phenobarbitol). It was a tough period for everyone, but then two weeks before my due date, which was October 12 (Columbus Day!), I was able to be up and around.

Dr. Coleman decided to induce me on the morning of Monday, October 5th, but Sunday evening, October 4th, I chickened out and cancelled the appointment at the hospital. I showed up the morning of October 5th at my regular weekly appointment. The doc said I shoulda come in for inducing, because this baby was going to drop out any moment, and there was no way we would make it to the hospital in downtown Boise from where we lived out in Meridian, 10 miles away. Mmmmm. He rescheduled induction for October 7.

That Monday night the teenage boy from next door, Tim Johnstone, dropped by for a visit. He left just after 8:30 and it was then that I began to feel the usual every night contractions, so I crawled into bed to rest. Craig wondered what I was doing and when I told him about the labor, he made me get in the car. I whined that it was just the usual nightly pattern but he knew what the doc had said. We left home at 8:50 p.m.

We got maybe two miles down the road and suddenly I could feel Bridget coming--I was sitting on her head! Yikes, I demanded Craig run the traffic lights--we weren't going to make it to St. Luke's! I began the last stage of lamaze breathing, the one that puts you in control of when you push out the baby, and that held us off until we pulled up at St. Luke's at 9:10 p.m. Once out of the car I doubled over with an intense contraction and was sure baby was going to enter the world on a Boise sidewalk.

I was wheel-chaired in to an examining room, despite my pleadings that the baby's head was nearly out. The nurses did what they do best, calling me honey, and saying surely I was not as far gone as I felt. They took a look, then grabbed the nearest doctor (Dr. Poole), and he delivered Bridget at 9:18 p.m.  When my neighbor, Tim, heard our news the next day, he couldn't believe we had sat in my kitchen having a casual conversation, and I had a baby 45 minutes later.

There were four miracles that worked in our favor that frantic crazy night, to get me to the hospital for delivery:

First, my mom was already at our house, so we did not have to call around for a baby sitter.
Second, it was evening. Craig was home to get me to St. Luke's, and traffic was much lighter at night.
Third, I had learned the lamaze breathing only a few months before, and that saved me from a car delivery.
Fourth, the doctor's warning from that morning (that we would not make it downtown) caused Craig to react immediately that evening.

We were deeply blessed that everything worked out so well.

Happy 30-something birthday to Bridget!







Thursday, September 14, 2017

Burning Man For Nerds: Totality and Solartown (part 1)


Create thousands of campsites, invite tens of thousands of campers with a multitude of cars, add enough gear to fit out a small nation, fly in 400 small planes and executive jets, trek a collective millions of miles, line up hundreds of porta-potties, blend the air with smoke from local forest fires, drive in a fleet of food trucks, throw in scores of bicycles and a couple of imposing NASA satellite trucks.  Stir all together for an extended weekend, then toss that batter out into the desert around Madras Oregon to bake.  Voila!  You have Solartown USA!

11 of our family enjoyed the experience of living in the miracle of Solartown for three days and two nights, for the sole purpose of viewing our first total eclipse.  Our six months of planning paid off as we lacked for nothing.  We even bought a canopy to shield us from the August sun, and it was worth every cent.  We transported all of our food and water, pillows, sleeping bags, tents, chairs, camp-stove, etc.  No outrageously expensive hotels for us!  And no standing in line for meals either, although a few times the porta-potty lines grew long.

 our campsite: 3 tents, 2 cars, 1 canopy
We camped among thousands but it did not feel like we were in a crowd. With one exception that I witnessed, every soul behaved, most kept to themselves on their 20’x20’ campsite, and we were all united in one nerdy purpose: that two minutes of totality on Monday morning, August 21.  I expressed to our camp neighbor that I hadn't known if this event would resemble "Burning Man" or what.  She said, "It's 'Burning Man' for nerds!!"  And she was right-on.

Solartown was birthed on a Kentucky blue grass seed farm, so we were not camping in hot dust, yay.  The grass was killed in 15-foot swathes to create roads between the rows of campsites.  Each campsite was divided from its neighbor by a one-foot strip of killed grass, to create a vast green checkerboard of 20’x20’ spaces.  The sites were tight, but we got lucky by discovering a row of sites that were (mistakenly, we presume) half again as large.  That made for a more luxurious area for our group, which brought three tents, two cars, and a 13’x13’ canopy.

 photo from our drone shows the layout of Solartown; we had 2 adjacent sites for our group

Our local media relentlessly gushed with gloom and doom predictions of 12-hour traffic jams, gas supplies sucked dry, empty grocery stores, etc.  Yet we breezed down to Madras, leaving at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, and made it there in the normal 2.5 hour driving time.  We filled up with gas at Warm Springs, no problem.  What a pleasant surprise.  Contrast that to heading home on Monday afternoon.  Though our traffic-y trip stretched to nearly 4.5 hours on that leg, we relaxed and felt it was a small price to pay for the marvelous experience of viewing a total eclipse.  Madras, population 6,000, certainly knew how to roll out the red carpet for its nearly 100,000 geeky visitors!

Here's a remarkable thing about those who inhabited Solartown: they did not trash the place.  Is that the Oregonian in them?  Well, tons of them sported license plates from CA, WA & BC. On Monday late afternoon after about half the campers had cleared out, I exclaimed that there was not a single piece of garbage left in the campsites. Everyone put their trash in a sack, then either took it with them, or set the sacks in a central spot for collection.

We're looking ahead to totality in New England in 2024😃

 another view of Solartown

 before departing for home

the local fairgrounds featured push-pins and a map to show where visitors originated

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Burning Man For Nerds: Totality and Solartown (part 2)

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What can I say about viewing the totality of solar eclipse, except to use every superlative there is?  Magnificent, humbling, breathtaking, spectacular, striking, spiritual, sublime, impressive, awe-some, exquisite.  All of these words fall short of describing the experience.  I marvel at God's creations each and every day.  This aspect of the Creation will always be tops for me.

I have been in several other partial solar eclipses, first when I was about seven or eight years old. There were no eclipse glasses back in the day, so our neighbor cut a hole in a shoebox so that we could watch the progress of the moon covering the sun. 

In February 1979 there was a total eclipse in NW Oregon where we live now, only we didn't live here then.  We got close to 99% totality at our home in SW Idaho.  It became quite dim outside, streetlights came on, and the air had an eeriness about it.  Until this August 21st, I thought our 1979 experience was pretty amazing.

But there's an enormous difference between totality of a solar eclipse, and a 99% experience.  They are actually two different things.  Knowing what I know now, I would journey far to participate in totality.  It's worth whatever effort or cost is involved.

To note the growing darkness, feel the evening breeze kick up, reach for jacket, gape at the sun's flaming corona, behold planets and stars in all their shimmering glory, in the middle of an August morning! 

 our granddaughter with her custom made eclipse glasses, easy for a 3-year old to manipulate

 eclipse has begun!

totality
One bonus about our experience that made me supremely happy, is that everyone in our family participated in viewing the phenomenon.  Three of our children and four of our grandchildren were with us in Madras, Oregon.  One of our daughters lives in SE Idaho in the totality zone, and her family watched it with a gathering of friends and relatives.  Our daughter's family in Finland watched NASA's online broadcast that originated from the campground where we were staying!!  So in a sense, they were with us.  I'm elated that everyone felt as strong as I did about embracing this (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime event.

Watch our eclipse experience here

[see part 1 to hear all about Solartown in Madras Oregon]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

DNA Update

Except for one of my sisters, I now have DNA results for every immediate family member, and a couple of others besides.  On Craig's side three of his siblings have not tested.

I put all results (percentages) in a table for easy viewing and comparison.  Craig is listed twice, once with me to make sense of our children's DNA, and then again with his own parents and siblings. Those in the upper part of the table are my family; his are in the lower.

All DNA tests were done through Ancestry, except for my uncle highlighted in orange (done through 23andMe).  The geographical categories of the two companies differ slightly.  I've used Ancestry's categories and put the percentages from 23andMe in the closest matching column.  I hope that makes sense.

NOTES: Pa Uncle and Pa Aunt are my Dad's siblings.  My nephew's percentages don't add up to 100% because his sharing feature didn't work, so he related to me what he could remember.

Abbreviations are:
Irel=Ireland; Est Eur=Eastern Europe; Grt Brit=Great Britain; Iber=Iberia; Scan=Scandinavia; Fin-Rus=Finland/NW Russia; Cau=Caucasus; Wst Eur=Western Europe; Eur Jew=European Jew; Itly/Grc=Italy Greece; Balk=Balkans/Southern Europe; the 3 Asians are Asia Central, Asia East and Asia South; Mid Est=Middle East; Nat Am=Native American; Afr=Africa; Mel=Melanesia










Monday, June 26, 2017

Damascus Syria Through the Eyes of Mark Twain

Damascus, Syria, is my most cherished city, of all the wonderful cities I have visited.  In 2005 I spent a month in this desert oasis exploring the fabled old city, riding the servees (sp.), hailing taxis, visiting museums and mosques and Muslim friends, wolfing down fresh-baked flatbread and chilled mint lemonade, strolling the precarious broken sidewalks, and marveling at the treasured antiquities all around. 

The Syrians of Damascus and surrounding towns were curious about us, and welcoming.  America's war in Iraq was raging, and multiple times we were approached by friendly Syrians who let us know they hated George Bush / our government, but loved Americans, and wanted us to tell our friends to come visit.  Some were concerned as to whether we felt safe there, and we did; they emphasized that Syria was a safe country, and it was then.

I recently re-read Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad, a chronicle of his travel in Europe and the Middle East, published in 1869.  I treasure his description of the ancient-ness of the city.  I have included excerpts below giving Twain's impression of Damascus (in blue), along with a few photographs of the city.

There is an honored old tradition that the immense garden in which Damascus stands was the Garden of Eden, and modern writers have gathered up many chapters of evidence tending to show that it really was the Garden of Eden, and that the rivers Pharpar and Abana are the "two rivers" that watered Adam's Paradise. It may be so, but it is not paradise now, and one would be as happy outside of it as he would be likely to be within. It is so crooked and cramped and dirty that one can not realize that he is in the splendid city he saw from the hill-top. The gardens are hidden by high mud-walls, and the paradise is become a very sink of pollution and uncomeliness. Damascus has plenty of clear, pure water in it, though, and this is enough, of itself, to make an Arab think it beautiful and blessed. Water is scarce in blistered Syria. We run railways by our large cities in America; in Syria they curve the roads so as to make them run by the meagre little puddles they call "fountains," and which are not found oftener on a journey than every four hours. But the "rivers" of Pharpar and Abana of Scripture (mere creeks,) run through Damascus, and so every house and every garden have their sparkling fountains and rivulets of water. With her forest of foliage and her abundance of water, Damascus must be a wonder of wonders to the Bedouin from the deserts. Damascus is simply an oasis--that is what it is. For four thousand years its waters have not gone dry or its fertility failed. Now we can understand why the city has existed so long. It could not die. So long as its waters remain to it away out there in the midst of that howling desert, so long will Damascus live to bless the sight of the tired and thirsty wayfarer.
Damascus, entrance to Souk Hamadyiah with Roman ruins, by sbw 2005


Damascus old city, by sbw 2005
"Though old as history itself, thou art fresh as the breath of spring, blooming as thine own rose-bud, and fragrant as thine own orange flower, O Damascus, pearl of the East!"

Damascus old city, by sbw 2005


Damascus home, by sbw 2005

Damascus dates back anterior to the days of Abraham, and is the oldest city in the world. It was founded by Uz, the grandson of Noah. "The early history of Damascus is shrouded in the mists of a hoary antiquity." Leave the matters written of in the first eleven chapters of the Old Testament out, and no recorded event has occurred in the world but Damascus was in existence to receive the news of it. Go back as far as you will into the vague past, there was always a Damascus. In the writings of every century for more than four thousand years, its name has been mentioned and its praises sung. To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time, not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise, and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality. She saw the foundations of Baalbec, and Thebes, and Ephesus laid; she saw these villages grow into mighty cities, and amaze the world with their grandeur--and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted, and given over to the owls and the bats. She saw the Israelitish empire exalted, and she saw it annihilated. She saw Greece rise, and flourish two thousand years, and die. In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it overshadow the world with its power; she saw it perish. The few hundreds of years of Genoese and Venetian might and splendor were, to grave old Damascus, only a trifling scintillation hardly worth remembering. Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies. Though another claims the name, old Damascus is by right the Eternal City.
1300-year-old Umayyed Mosque, Damascus, by sbw 2005


 We reached the city gates just at sundown. They do say that one can get into any walled city of Syria, after night, for bucksheesh, except Damascus. But Damascus, with its four thousand years of respectability in the world, has many old fogy notions. There are no street lamps there, and the law compels all who go abroad at night to carry lanterns, just as was the case in old days, when heroes and heroines of the Arabian Nights walked the streets of Damascus, or flew away toward Baghdad on enchanted carpets.

 Ah yes, I would not have been surprised to see magic flying carpets in the skies above Damascus.


modern Damascus; photo by Rouah Challah, on Pinterest



Friday, February 3, 2017

Tragedy in Budapest Hungary, 1945-1946


 A page from Budapest, Hungary death records, 1946; Elizabeth Nobel was shot by a sharpshooter

I index thousands of records a year and most of them are straight forward births, marriages, deaths, obits, muster rolls and so on (if you don't know what Indexing is, click here).  Life's events play out on digititized pages that I download on my home computer.  It's all fascinating to me, to see naming patterns, occupations practiced in various areas, causes of death, and which ethnicities appear where and when.  It's a habit of mine to read between the lines and place the data into historical context.

Recently I was indexing Budapest, Hungary death records for the years 1945 and 1946.   The world war ended and recovery began during those years.  Well, recovery is hardly the right term for the immediate post-war period.  War-devastated European countries had years of turmoil ahead of them as survivors scrambled for food and shelter amidst the rubble of their former homes, searched for missing loved ones, and began the torturous process of punishing traitors and war criminals.

In the Budapest death records are causes of death that are not the usual tuberculosis, pneumonia, cancer, influenza and so on.  Using a weighty Hungarian dictionary given to me by a friend (a Hungarian-speaking former CIA officer) I have roughly translated these causes: shell wound; poisoning; self-sacrifice annihilation by explosion; bomb; explosion and fire; sharpshooter; Buchenwald (and other death camps); shooting by fusillade; aerial attack; explosion causing falling in (presumably the collapse of roof and walls); and execution.  Execution.  Execution.

For seven weeks beginning in late December 1944, the Siege of Budapest strangled the city.  As the one-million-strong Red Army tightened their grip, deaths from shelling and starvation mounted, eventually reaching nearly 40,000 in that short period.   In the area of Budapest where my indexing projects are taken from, the stretch from January 13-19 was particularly calamitous. 

 The arrows indicate the Red Army advance into Budapest in January and February 1945
[from www.flamesofwar.com]

The folks in charge of tracking and registering deaths were likely struggling for survival themselves.  Not until 16 months after the Siege of Budapest are the deaths from that time period entered into the register, interspersed among current deaths occurring in May, June and July 1946.  The war deaths are recorded in detail, even down to the time of day in some cases.  Where this specific information came from, I can't even guess.  And how many deaths were not recorded at all because no one knew what happened to the victims?   In wartime people disappear and bodies can remain unidentified. 

The pages in these registers show the Halasz family who died together when a shell hit their home on January 13, the Nobels, hit by sharpshooters on December 31, and Anna Perlak, who apparently gave up her life to set off an explosion in mid-January, perhaps at an arsenal belonging to the enemy.  The Reicher family home exploded on January 13, killing three inside.  A curious death is that of Alice Frances Meadows, age 64.  It doesn't give her nationality but she was in English teacher in Budapest.  She was shot down by a fusillade of bullets on January 5.  One wonders why she didn't get out of the war zone when it was still possible.  Surely her Allied connections would have been a ticket out of Dodge if she tried to leave early in the war.

The executions.  Almost all of these were Hungarian men between the age of 21 and 50.  The method or reason is not listed, but the time of death is.  It appeared that about every 15 minutes on some days in June and July 1946, executions were carried out.  Some of the men were married and / or had parents still living.  Did they collaborate with the enemy?   Steal food from their own troops to feed their families?  Perhaps they deserted the Axis lost cause and were apprehended after the war.

Budapest when the siege was over

Steeping myself in these pages brought home the tragedy of war.  Real individuals suffered tangible tragedy in one of the world's great cities.  Death did not discriminate.  Why this has to repeatedly happen to certain populations (or to anyone) is a question with no answer.






Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Book Roundup


59 books read in 2016
36 non-fiction, 62%
23 fiction, 38%
audio book format: 72% of all books read
2 books read previously: Emma and The Virginian
1 book did not finish

This year's books I decided to rate by giving stars.  Five stars ***** is the max; **1/2 is average.  If it appears that I rate the books mostly high, it's because I read reviews before checking them out, and generally avoid books given low opinions.  Audio books are noted by red asterisk*


NON-FICTION

****
The Great Escape* by Paul Brickhill: this is the true story on which the famous Steve McQueen movie is based.  I am astounded at the creativity of the men in the German POW camp.  They find a use for every little tiny thing they can get their hands on, including the foil wrappers off the sticks of gum sent by the Red Cross.   Their entire existence is focused on escape, and some don't make it very far.  Very good book.

***
One Hundred and Four Horses by M. Retzlaff: Retzlaff and her husband live happily on a farm in Zimbabwe with their children, their agricultural operation, and their horses.  But nasty nasty politics interferes and they are forced off their land, as are many others.  They become known far and wide as people who can save horses belonging to white farmers.  It's a gripping story, but Retzlaff is no Alexandra Fuller.  Still well worth reading.

*** 1/2
Dead Wake* by Eric Larson: everything you wanted to know about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.  Larson goes into detailed background on period society, and the history of ships, subs and World War 1.  I think he gives a well-rounded complete story of the tragedy surrounding the torpedoing of the Lusitania.  Contrary to popular belief, the US did NOT enter the war because of the Lusitania.  I'm not a big Larson fan.  Others have given this book higher marks.

***
The Illustrious Dead* by Stephen Talty: I thought this book would be more like that work about the diseased drinking well, but it was more about Napoleon's failed venture to Russia, and the typhus attacks seemed incidental to that historical event.  Educational but a little flat.

****
The Monuments Men* by R. Edsel: I saw the movie first and felt it wasn't as gripping as the true story must be.  And I was right.  The danger and suspense conveyed in the book make the story come alive.  A small group of soldiers--British and American--are assigned to rescue precious European art during World War 2.  They can't go into war-torn areas until they are secured by the Allies, yet they rightly worry that Germans will destroy the collections, spirit them away to hiding, or that the Russians will cart them off to Moscow or Siberia.  It's amazing that as much valuable art survived as did.  I held my breath when the author described the looting of one of Michalangelo's marble busts from an historic church; the German perps tipped it off its base onto an old, thin mattress.  It survived the plunge.

 ***
Where Men Win Glory* by J. Krakauer: Football pro Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death and the resulting US cover-up was a tragedy that has happened over and over.  I appreciate the author's thorough chronicle of Pat's tragic death.  Perhaps such an expose' will, or has led to better ways of protecting our soldiers in combat.   Much of Pat Tillman's journal is quoted, and that was fine for the parts that featured his thoughts about his football career, military service, lack of combat, etc.   But it felt a huge invasion of privacy for the author to quote extensively about Pat's feelings for his wife.  It got mushy and I started to hate it; it was much too personal.  I got to wishing the book was over due to the extreme amount of bad language, all of which occurred when soldiers were being quoted.


 ****
The Finest Hours by M. Tougias: Decades ago a monster nor'-easter tore asunder 2 large tankers off the coast of Massachusetts.  The daring, perilous rescue of some of the crew is detailed.   It's a great story.  A good movie has been made of the events.

 ****
All But My Life* by Gerda Weissman: a Polish Jewish woman loses her family in the Holocaust and survived against all odds.  Her story is important.  She details how she survived and it's a harrowing experience.  But the book was a little too long and drawn out.   It has a surprisingly happy ending.

* 1/2
Explore: Stories of Survival by L. Milman: A collection of adventure stories which I have now mostly forgotten.  OK.

***1/2
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town* by Jon Krakauer: Not a pleasant book.  Krakauer picked Montana State to demonstrate the rape culture that is prevalent on American college campuses.  Hundreds of sexual assaults were reported, few were investigated and fewer still were prosecuted.   There is never an excuse for brutish behavior and it's shocking that there are men who think it is no big deal.  Coaches protect their players.

One thing that was skipped over because it was not the point of the book is that sometimes women put themselves in dangerous circumstances with the naive expectation that guys will behave and respect them, and then they play 100% victim.  For instance, one woman got into her bed w/ a guy, took off her shirt and then was shocked when he assumed it was ok to go for more.  Seriously. 

***
The Monster of Florence* by D. Preston and M. Spezi: An Italian serial killer has never been found.  Two journalists, one American and one Italian, author the story of their investigation.  They claim to have identified the perp and then are jailed and persecuted by police for stepping out of bounds.  Yet the police don't seem that interested in solving the crimes.  Those crazy Italians!  Interesting book, but the weird thing is, I wasn't sure for a while if it was an novel or non-fiction.  Remember, this was an audio book so I didn't have the advantage of checking the call number.  It was downloaded quite a while before I began listening, so I had forgotten.

***
While the City Slept by Eli Sanders: A man's untreated mental illness spirals downward leading to assault and murder.  Seattle is the setting.  The perp came from an abusive home, yet had goals to get through college, and attempted to.  The mess his parents made of their lives contributed to this fellow falling through the cracks.  He needed a strong advocate.  His aunt tried but he ended up probably killing her (unproven), and then attacked 2 strangers in their own home, killing one.  Tragic for all.

 *****
Boy* by Roald Dahl: I loved this book.  Dahl is a born story teller and selects stories of his own childhood at home and at school.  Listened to it twice over.  Read it!

 **1/2 as is, ****1/2 without the language and snark
The Oregon Trail* by Rinker Buck: Author buys a wagon and mules and sets out on the old Oregon Trail from Independence Missouri to Farewell Bend, Oregon.  He wasn't born yesterday but still made some mistakes.  Interestingly, his own father took the large family on a wagon trek in the 1950s back east.  This would rank way up on my list of books because I love anything about the Oregon Trail, and admire someone who does a modern-day recreation.  But.  But.  The author comes across as super snarky.  He puts down and pokes fun at people along the way, making himself sound superior to everybody else.  And the book is so darn full of cuss words it got hard to read--the F word in parts is repeated over and over and over.  If anyone wrote a book where they repeated a word, any word, over and over and over, I'd be sick of it.  Even if it was bubbles or pomegranate or dalmation.  Sheesh, it got tiresome.  Perhaps writers compete to see how many times they could throw in the F-word.  I was listening to the book and had to stop to switch to the print version which I could skim and skip as needed.  What a shame.  I know that people who talk this way see themselves as clever and superior.  But that's not how it comes across to the rest of us.  It's a disappointment and paints the author as a lazy writer.

****
Autobiography of Mark Twain* by MT: Great adventure, sweet happiness, and bitter tragedy were all facets of MT's life.  In that sense he was just like everybody else.  He lost three children (two of them as adults) and his wife during his lifetime and made a few unwise business investments that bit him in the butt.  Unlike most people he discovered a gift for expression saturated by droll humor.  I enjoyed learning more about his life and appreciate that he was able to express his sorrows and even reveal the mistakes he made.

****1/2
Eruption: The Untold Story of Mt. St. Helens by Steve Olson: This is a well-written detailed book about the loggers, sightseers, campers, journalists and others who were on or near Mt. St. Helens when it exploded in 1980.  I've read plenty about what happened to bystanders in the area, but never in this much detail or with this context.  Olson's account delves into the science behind the blast, the expansion of the railroad and the Weyerhauser empire that owned much of the land around the mountain, the role of the Forest Service, the decisions made and not made by Governor Ray,  and the effort to create a national monument protecting the area around the mountain.   After reading this I realized how much blind trust I put in the Forest Service which opened the mountain to climbers in the spring and summer of 2007 (??) while the volcano was erupting.  Witnessing that eruption from the crater rim was one of the transcendent highlights of my life, but was I stupid to be there?  My thought then was "they wouldn't open the mountain to climbers if it wasn't safe," but after reading about the mistakes made in 1980, I probably shouldn't have put so much faith in the FS.

**1/2
The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck: A man makes it his mission to correct typos on signs around the country.  Typos are a widespread problem and I've wanted to fix them myself.  I have actually heard of people who carry a full set of pens, colored markers and chalks and correction fluid in their car trunk, so that they are ready anytime / anywhere to set the world right.  Down the road from me, for many years a farmhouse had a sign out front advertising "Egg's."  Oh, how many times I was tempted to put that sign out of its misery.  Anyway, this guy describes his experiences with business owners and others.  It was actually rather tedious and not as amusing as I expected it to be, except when the author got arrested!

 ****
Lost on a Mountain in Maine* by Donn Fendler: True story of a boy who was lost alone in the foggy mountainous Maine woods for a over week.  This poor kid suffered so badly from cold, thirst, hunger, fatigue, insect bites, falls, scares by wild animals and so on.  Short and easy read and dramatically interesting.

 ****
The Boy on the Wooden Box* by Leon Leyson: The youngest Jew saved by Oscar Schindler tells his harrowing story.  This firsthand account brings to life the cruelty and brutality of the Nazis treatment of innocent Jews.  The author goes on to become an American success story--college degrees and a teaching career in California.  If one wanted to collect books on the theme of Jews during WW2 (say for a teenage audience), there's The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and this book.

****
Stealing the General* by Russell Bonds: Early in the Civil War Union soldiers steal a Confederate locomotive (under the direction of a Union spy named James J. Andrews) with the plan to run the engine east destroying railroad bridges along the way.  The goal was to paralyze the Confederacy.  A few spunky Southern railroad men go after the stolen engine so the Union plan did not work out very well.  The author traces what happened to all the men involved, all the way down to the turn-of-the-century reunions that were held with attendees from both North and South.  Exciting book, known to history as The Great Locomotive Chase.

****
Truman* by David McCullough: In 2016 we experienced a presidential election in which the character of the two main candidates cannot hold a candle to the average joe, let alone to previous presidents like HST.  And to think that this man was snatched from obscurity to be FDR's running mate in 1944, and found himself President of the United States a few short months later.  It's an incredible story and another excellent book by McCullough..

 ***
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel: Author's small-town growing-up in Mooreland Indiana in the 1960s and 70s.  She proves that an almost ordinary childhood is an amusing and fascinating childhood.  Her experience was different than mine in that my parents were steady and dependable and hers were not.  It's a good story, not a great one.

*****
Washington: A Life* by Ron Chernow:  An excellent book (highly recommend) about a stalwart and great man, who was not without flaws.  Author is very thorough delving into Washington's life.  He describes everything from the food he ate to the clothes he wore to the tools he used to the frustration towards his own mother.

Occasionally the author brought up an aspect about GW's life about which not much is known, and then veered away from it without leaving me satisfied.  For example, did GW father any children by one of his many slaves?  Chernow gives all the reasons why that is so unlikely.  He mentions how Jefferson was proven to have done so by the use of DNA testing.  But he skips over why DNA testing was not done in the case of a favored slave of Washington's that many suspect was fathered by him.  Perhaps the man had no descendants or collateral descendants, but the author did not say.

I was moved by the fine detail the author used in describing momentous occasions in Washington's life.  For instance, he paints a vivid picture of the first inauguration.  I felt like I was in the room when it happened.  I hope no one would ever skip over the description of this special moment; the inauguration of an elected president had never been done before anywhere or any time in history, and Washington's dignity and his awareness that he was setting a pattern that would go down in history, permeated the experience.

I do wish the author had been more specific about Washington's land holdings, at least as far as price, description, and location.  My father was born and raised on Pennsylvania land that once belonged to GW, so more details would have been personally interesting to me.

 ****
Deep Down Dark* by Hector Tobar: "Los 33" are 33 Chilean copper miners who were trapped several thousand feet underground by the catastrophic collapse of the mountain under which they were working in 2010.  For over two months they lived in dank dark dreadful conditions.  Their physical, emotional and mental health were in peril.  Even after a rescue drill punched through to the cavern where they sheltered, it was still many weeks before they made it to the surface.  During that time they heard they rock shifting above and around them, and they struggled to maintain peace with one another in their rock prison.  Unless you yourself lived under a rock in 2010, you will remember their ordeal and the moment they made it to the surface.

An amazing sideline to the main story is the mighty women who supported these miners.  Wives, girlfriends, mothers, mistresses all gathered at the mine and set up a tent city where they lived until the men were brought out.  If these women hadn't pressured the mine company, the media and the government into action, the men would have died of starvation underground.  The attitude of those in power was that there could not possibly be anyone alive down there, so why keep looking?  Fascinating book.

****

Heroes of History* by Will Durant: Durant reviews the lives and contributions of a variety of individuals whose lives affected and changed history.  Book is a crash course in world history and enjoyable to listen to, a good book for brushing up on historical events and understanding cause and effect.  Written in chronological order.  Really good.

***
Escape From Camp 14* by B. Harden: A North Korean, supposedly born in an internment camp for political prisoners, escapes to China, then eventually settles in South Korea, then the US.  He is the only person who has ever escaped from a NK political camp.  I use the word "supposedly" above because the author found out after the book was published that not everything told him by the escapee was true.  This man had to learn what love and honesty and forgiveness meant as he had never been exposed to those values.  So it's no wonder that he told lies to his interviewer.  All that aside, it's a heart-wrenching thought to know how people, even innocent children, are treated by their own horrid government.  Read this with Nothing to Envy.

***1/2
The Nine* by Jeffrey Toobin: Who woulda thought that a book about the US Supreme Court could be a fascinating page-turner? Actually, I listened to the book, but if it had had pages I would have kept turning them and left the dishes undone.  Author delves into the personalities and practices of the Rehnquist Court and somewhat into the current Roberts Court.  This isn't a history of the founding, formation, and historic decisions of the Court, though he occasionally brings up an old case.  Roe v. Wade is the elephant in the living room so that comes up again and again.  I enjoyed hearing more details of Bush v. Gore and a few other cases that have been prominent.  It's also interesting to learn about the personalities of these 9 unique people who shape our government and even our every day lives.  The only serious negative is the author's liberal bias which is tiresome.

****
Two Years Before the Mast* by Richard Henry Dana:  Been on my must-read list for 40 years.  Dana takes a break from Harvard during the mid-1830s to crew with the ship Pilgrim bound for California around Cape Horn.  He describes Mexican California--the presidios, the missions, towns, pueblos, life of the natives, the work and danger of being a seaman.  These were the days when men were men; the seamen had to shoulder huge bundles of hides onto the ship--40,000 at a passage, after tanning and preparing them.  This is a fabulous story!

**
Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar by M. McAlester:  Book is a compilation of a handful of journalist's experiences with the local food in the various places they reported from.  An ok book, not great.  The stories were duller than they could have been.

*****
The Wright Brothers* by D. McCullough: It's a joy to listen to McCullough's books as he is nearly always the narrator.   He has a gift of writing about important events without inflating them or having to verbally remind us how amazing they are.  He just tells it like it is, and "it" is pretty darn marvelous.  I did not know that the development of the first airplane (s) were financed by earnings from the Wright brothers bicycle shop they ran in Dayton Ohio.  They were the right people in the right place at the right time (they were the Wrights!).  They were cautious, meticulous, humble, serious scientists, who even after success made them world famous, never tooted their own horn.  What a marvelous American story.

****
The Romanov Sisters* by Helen Rappaport: Even though the Romanov sisters, daughters of the last tsar of Russia, burned their letters and diaries during their imprisonment 1917-1918, there is enough information remaining to give us intense detail about their daily lives.  Though tragic their sheltered lives seem to us, they were happy, and most happy when together with their family.  That's not to say they weren't curious and didn't yearn to be educated in the ways of the world.  They never got the chance as their lives ended in terror in a filthy basement room in 1918.  A good book that peers into the peculiar lives of the four girls.  The reign of Tsar Nicholas is the perfect example of why inherited monarchies are really bad ideas.  He was disinterested in ruling and did a bad job of it.

*****
American Heiress* by Jeffrey Toobin: This is the second Toobin book I have read this year.  It happens to be an account of one of the weirdest events in the already weird decade of the 70s, and one I remember well.  The whole SLA thing makes no sense, and the way some average Americans got on board with a Hearst turned revolutionary is plain crazy. Hearst was lucky to be from a wealthy prominent family.  The average citizen wouldn't have had a chance of early release and a later pardon given the crimes that were committed.  Toobin thinks she was guilty of willfully participating in the SLA.  I start to agree, but then I remember she was shockingly and violently yanked from her safe world and terrorized by thugs.  She would not have voluntarily chosen that world but for the kidnapping, but once in it, then yes she seemed to embrace it.  So I tend to cut her just a little slack.  Four stars if I had not lived through that time, but I give it five because it thoroughly examined the bizzarity of the crime, and I relived some memorable young-adult years through reading it.

****
The Big Burn by Timothy Egan:  An exploration of the early years of the US Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt's presidency, starring his dear friend, Gifford Pinchot.  I had heard of GP because a nearby national forest is named after him, but good grief, I had no idea he labored long and hard to get the USFS off the ground.  Thanks to him and TR we even have national forests.  The rich barons would have been happy to cut them all down and heaven knows they tried.  Public officials including some US senators were all for it.  One even suggested that if the forests were cut down, then there couldn't be forest fires that destroyed homes and lives.  So there.  The burn part of this story tells about a summer of smoke and flame in the mountains near Wallace Idaho.  When it finally blew up it consumed some towns and many lives, and I can't even recall how much timber was lost, but it was huge.  Forest rangers were killed and severely injured.  These men were paid pittances, when they even got paid at all.

****
Massacred For Gold by Gregory Nokes: In the late 1880s a group of 30 or so Chinese gold miners were murdered for their treasure, by some local ranchers and thugs.  The crime occurred in remote Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in the US, so the news just gradually leaked out, giving time for some of the perps to escape the country.  The crime became part of local lore but the facts were hidden by the officials in control.  The author discovered documents in strange places that had been secreted away for over 100 years, so as to keep the myth of the massacre.  He interviewed people who were helpful and others who must have had facts but refused to talk about it, even though over a century has passed.  Interesting and thorough investigation.

***1/2
Eighty Days* by Matthew Goodman:  The story of the well-known female journalist, Nellie Bly, who was appointed by her NY newspaper in 1889 to show that an around-the-world trip could be done in 75 days (a take-off on Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days).  Nellie did not know until about halfway through her trip that a completing NY publication sent another woman on the same journey on the same day, only in the opposite direction.  The book details both journeys, and delves into period details as well as the challenges facing women in the workplace.  Not great but good.  Guess I was disappointed to know that journalist Nellie on her trip did not pursue interesting stories and that her life afterward was somewhat harsh.

One thing that was constantly on my mind while reading Eighty Days was, 'what did my great-grandfather think of Bly and Bisland and their journeys?'  My great-grandfather was a New York journalist and a contemporary of the two women.  He would certainly have known about and followed the two women in their travels.  Perhaps he even knew one or both.  I wonder if he ever yearned to do this style of reporting, or if he was content focusing on traditional methods.   One of the few things I know about his career is that he was assigned to report on the first use of the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison.  Was that a scoop or was it the lot of the inexperienced reporter?   I don't know.  What I know is that he told his family it was the worst thing he had ever seen and he would never do anything like it again.

****
41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush: A loving tribute by a son to his father.  GHWB is a gentleman and a statesman who dedicated his many talents to serving our country.  I appreciate Bush Sr. more than before, after reading this book.


FICTION
****
Brighton Beach Memoirs* by Neil Simon: in play format, a hilarious peek into the trials and realizations of a Brooklyn Jewish family; obviously Simon really lived this because his characters and insight are right on.  Wry story.  I have family from Brooklyn, not Jewish, yet it felt familiar.

***
An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor: this is the first in a series that reminds me of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small.  Only this fresh-out-of-college doctor who arrives in a country village to practice medicine is not a vet.  He is paired with a set-in-his-ways old doctor and amusing and touching events are connected with his learning curve.  The story is not written near as well as All Creatures.   Average.

****
Emma* by J. Austen: I have lost count of how many times I have read this book and even though for me it takes a back seat to Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, it is a wonderful story.  The only thing that gets tiresome is how much the characters try to dissuade folks from over-exerting themselves, or going out in marginal weather, or walking too far.

***
Black Irish by Stephen Talty: A serial killer is on the loose in Buffalo NY and a female detective is charged with solving it.  There are great twists in this story so it's super intriguing.  I did not anticipate the ending.  It was a little much though.  Still a very good story.  Gratuitous nasty language was a downer though.
***

My Man Jeeves* by P.C. Wodehouse: Jeeves gets his aristocratic "master" out of scrapes using his genius.  Amusing.

***1/2
Beau Geste* by P. C. Wren: 3 brothers are accused of stealing a pricey gem.  They flee England and become soldiers in the French Foreign Legion.  It's a classic mystery/adventure story.

don't know how to rate this one
Slaughterhouse Five* by Kurt Vonnegut: Perhaps the weirdest book I've ever read.  Billy Pilgrim survives the Dresden bombing as a POW imprisoned in a meat locker in a warehouse.  He struggles for the rest of his life to be normal.  Such a deep, fatalistic story about the absurdity of war.

**1/2
Sole Survivor* by Ruthann McCunn: fiction based on a true story of a survivor of a torpedoed ship during WW 2.  The story is amazing.  This Chinese steward who had labored on the ship lasted over 4 months at sea on a raft and faced terrible perils.  The book is longer than it needs to be.

****
So Brave, Young and Handsome* by Leif Enger: A Minnesota farmer and struggling author (Monte Becket) meets an outlaw and sets out on an adventure with him to find redemption from his past life.  Trouble comes to both, and Becket is now pursued by the law and in danger of becoming forever separated from his family.  I really took to this book and will read others by Enger.  Also, it's squeaky clean, what a gift.

****
Little Dorritt* by Charles Dickens: This is a sweet story and so droll.  The circumlocution office is one of the brilliant features of Dickens' literature.   The characters are typical Dickens, some so good they can't possibly be real.  I do like the story but it is very long and there is one negative about listening to it.  I could hardly tolerate Mr. Dorritt's manner of speaking.  His speech was too affected and it was annoying as all get out.

***
A River Runs Through It* by Norman MacClean: A well-known story due to the successful movie that came out of it.  In some strong ways this book reminds me of Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, one of my favorite books and a painful one to read.  There are 3 other short stories with it that are also biographical.  All the stories take place in Montana and involve either fishing or lumberjacking.

****
Dissolution by C.J. Sansom: A murder mystery set in a 16th century English monastery, a monastery that is in grave danger of being dissolved by King Henry VIII's henchman, Thomas Cromwell.  Sansom's skill at creating the monastery in my mind is so thorough, I could almost smell the aroma of fresh bed wafting from the kitchen and the dank smell of the boggy marsh.

***1/2
The Capitol Game* by Brian Haig:  I'll try not to give spoilers here.  A well-written convoluted story of how a man "earned" several billion dollars by using his wit to market a product that a powerful company purchased without testing, and then twisting things around so that the company had to pay THEM off when it was discovered the product wasn't what it claimed to be.  Intriguing.  I did not anticipate the ending.  There is nothing predictable in this story.   Very little objectionable content in this book.

***
Westward Ho!* by Charles Kingsbury: Novel written @ 1840 and set in the time of the Spanish Armada with animosity between Spain and England, Catholics and Protestants in full swing.  This book was very hard for me to get into what with the antiquated early 19th century language and confusion about who was who, etc.  I nearly stopped listening, but am glad I persevered.  It's an exciting adventure story, almost as good as something written by RL Stevenson.  Am surprised no one has made this into a swashbuckling movie.

***
The Inner Circle by Brad Melzer: A National Archives archivist accidentally involves a childhood friend in a web of mystery and deception that involves the President of the United States.  Not a great book but pretty good.

***
The Others by David Guterson: 2 young men, so un-alike, delve into Washington's wilderness, and then go their separate ways to live lives of meaning for each.  Good story.

***1/2
Firewall by Henning Mankell: 2 unrelated events eventually seem connected to Wallander; he doesn't give up in trying to make the connection despite the disbelief of his colleagues.  This one involves an intriguing bit of technology.  I like the Wallender series.

****
Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom: The second book in the Shardlake series.  Like the first (Dissolution), Shardlake is acting as agent for Earl Thomas Cromwell to discover the nature of Greek Fire and who has possession of it.  During the investigation people are killed to keep the secret of Greek Fire, and he nearly becomes a victim himself.  The author brings in the tense frightening mood of English society under King Henry VIII's imposition of a break from Rome, and Cromwell's unforgiving iron-hand.  He weaves a vivid tapestry of the sounds, sights, smells and sufferings of 16th century Tudor London.

****
The Nightingale by Kirsten Hannah: A WW2 novel set in Paris and the adjoining countryside.  2 sisters, such opposites, fight the Germans in their own ways, one actively in the French resistance and the other in quieter ways as she has German officers billeted in her own farmhouse.  She has children to protect, a dear Jewish neighbor, a distant father, a soldier husband imprisoned in a German POW camp.  Not the most skilled writing but good enough to keep me riveted.

***1/2
Hornblower and the Atropos* by C.S. Forester: The Hornblower series by Forester has been produced on the screen, much to my enjoyment, but this is the first Hornblower book I have read / listened to (but it's not the first one written).  I loved it!   It's a good old-fashioned sea adventure set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars.  A fairly young Hornblower captains his own small ship, is given responsibility to recover some sunken English treasure, and finds himself in a pickle surrounded by the Turkish navy.   I'll work my way through more in the series.

***1/2
Hornblower and the Hotspur* by C.S. Forester: More adventures about the upstanding Horatio Hornblower.

*****
The Virginian* by Owen Wister:  On my all-time top ten great books list, I've read this countless times and listened to it several.  The fabulous narrator is Gene Engene.  I start chuckling right away when the Virginian teases Uncle Hughey to distraction, and again soon after when The Virginian replies in deadpan response to The Traveler's query about getting to Judge Henry's ranch that very night, "It's 267 miles."  One of the most brilliant tall tales ever, about a frog ranch in Tulare CA, comes out of the mouth of The Virginian.  Set in 1880s Wyoming.

DID NOT FINISH:

The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank: Maybe got one chapter into this book.  Maybe.  Way too slanted for me; in fact, slanted isn't even the word.  Sinisterly conspiratorial.  I can't enjoy anything about a book like this.  I guess the subtitle should have kept me from picking it up at all: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation.  Was hoping for an intelligent investigation of wrongs done but no, it was just rotten fruit thrown at the Republican stage.  A waste of my time.