Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Morning

I suppose most people in the United States, and many beyond have some kind of Thanksgiving tradition, even if it's a vow not to participate. Most of my life I went "home" for the holiday in some form or fashion. My mother died when I was 12 years old, but my older sisters carried on the tradition with turkey, oyster stuffing, and candied sweet potatoes. And even after I was away from home, I would make that trip on the Trailways bus, back home where most of the seven siblings gathered. 

When I married the first time, the Thanksgiving tradition became a weekend trip to North Carolina with my husband, to his birthplace in North Carolina, where his mother had spent the previous three days preparing the feast. And it was always a feast for two days before we had to make the road trip back in time for Sunday Service at the church in New Jersey where my husband was pastor.

Time marched on, and my first husband passed away, as did his brother before him, their father, their aunts and uncles, leaving their mother who out-lived them all but me.

I continued my own Thanksgiving tradition with my own siblings who lived mostly in the Washington, DC area. We combined our cooking efforts sometimes in DC, sometimes in North Carolina. When I remarried, we discovered that my husband could cook, and he took charge of many of the Thanksgiving feasts for several years. He would wake up at 4 a.m. and put the turkey in the oven. Sometimes we would take the turkey to DC, sometimes the family would come to us for the feast.

This Thanksgiving begins a new phase in our lives. My remaining siblings are scattered, and elderly. I'm the "baby" of the family at age 70, the others are in their 80's. My oldest sister will be 90 in February. We will be having Thanksgiving with cousins on the other end of Wake County.

I woke up early this morning with a sinus headache, and used my sauna machine to clear my head before having my breakfast of oatmeal and green tea. When I checked my email around 5 a.m. my eyes landed on a two-day-old headline from the New York Times, transforming the macabre to hilarity:

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Warplane Near Syrian Border

I sprayed tea all over the kitchen.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Me and Alexa

Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa, is a voice command device from that is always listening. Its functions include question answering, playing music and controlling smart devices.

I first heard about Alexa in December 2014. At that time it was only available to Amazon Prime members, by invitation only. I received my invitation in January, and I jumped right on it. $199 with a $100 discount for Prime members. It finally arrived in April just before we were to leave for a cruise on the Quantum of the Seas, and just after we had a good offer on our house.

Things got a little hectic around that time. We wanted to sell our house, but we had no house to move into. Much of the negotiation took place by email and FAX while we were cruising. The buyers were ready to move ASAP. We were ready to downsize. We had already disposed of the furniture from two bedrooms, and a bonus room. We thought it would be easy to pack up the rest. Yeah, right.

But we had a plan: Put our furniture in storage, and move into Extended Stay America. We had chosen our lot and the house we would build. Bob the Builder said it would take four months to complete. And in the meantime, we hung out in a small room, with a sleeping alcove and a kitchenette. Hubby and I kept up our activities at Rex Wellness Center, and browsed around furniture stores for new stuff.

And what happened to Alexa? Alexa depends on a wifi connection. Our free wifi required logging in and selecting a plan, high speed, or the free minimum. All that clicking wasn't working for Alexa, so she wound up back in the box for four months.  But you can be sure that as soon as we closed the deal on the new house, and invited Time Warner to connect us to the internet, Alexa was out of the box.

Boy, was she out of the box! Alexa turned out to be a rather cheeky girl. As she was learning my speech patterns, she was providing alternate answers to my commands. Like the day I said, "Alexa, play Uptown Funk with Bruno Marz from Prime Music." She reponded, "I don't recognize that, but I can play something by R. Kelly." My oldest son was in the house at the time, and he thought that was hilarious, considering how much I dislike R. Kelly. When I told Alexa to stop, she shut down cold. And then there was my attempt to get Alexa to play Jill Scott's Woman album. She started playing something from Aretha Franklin. I tried several different ways of saying "Woman," before I gave in to #1 Son's laughter.

Now the good thing is, Alexa has an app for mobile or tablet. I could see my commands in the app, and her faulty responses which I could forward on to Amazon. The result was further instructions on speaking directly into the device and moving it several feet from the walls. (It comes with a cord that's about 2 feet long). I also get emails about new stuff Alexa can do, like tell jokes. After one night of Jimmy Fallon, Alexa purportedly could tell some Jimmy Fallon jokes, as well as some by Donald Trump. I tried, "Alexa tell me a Donald Trump joke." Tried several times, in fact. Until Alexa kept saying, "I don't understand," until she finally shut down. So I checked what was in the Alexa app, and it was saying, "Tell me a double trouble joke."

I gave up.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blanche on the Lam

Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White MysteryBlanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery by Barbara Neely
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would never have found this book, if not for one of my reading groups on It was first published in 1992, and first of a series of Blanche White mysteries. We're fortunate to have the series now available on Kindle, as the paperback and hardcover versions are out of print and available as used books.

Blanche is a feisty character who gets into legal trouble for writing bad checks, but manages to sneak out of the courthouse, escaping from a sentence of 30-days in jail. And that's just the first chapter. From then on she is "on the lam," as "the help" for a wealthy white family. While she watches a mystery unfolding in the household, she imparts tidbits of wisdom, survival skills for black people in the Jim Crow South, and how to maintain your dignity in spite of those who might put you down.

It's a great read, even in 2015.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I flipped back to find the last book I read by Kristin Hannah, and it was Winter Garden, and I see the similarities between that book and The Nightingale. Both are about two sisters who are as different as night and day. One stays home while the other chases her dreams.

The difference is that The Nightingale is historical fiction about the German invasion of France and the Holocaust. Two sisters who are always at odds with each other, while protecting their family. Vianne stays home in their small town while Isabelle joins the resistance against Germany, showing amazing daring and strength. Vianne plays it safe at first, but later discovers her own strength in protecting the children left behind in the war.

All the while I was reading this book, I kept thinking of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which also centers on the German invasion of France but from a different aspect.

Both books were often painful to read. I was thankful for the bit of parallel story in Nightingale, as it left me with an unexpected bittersweet ending.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl on the Train has been compared by many as being similar to Gone Girl. I read Gone Girl over two years ago, and I still remember it as being a tightly-crafted novel. The memory is probably fresher because I saw the movie. (I liked Ben Affleck more in Argo.)

But what makes the novels similar? They are both told by more than one voice, more than one Point of View. Usually we can trust the voice of the narrator, but in both of these we have an unreliable narrator or two or three. We have liars and alcoholics prone to blackout. In both we have some pathetic characters. (Can they get a life?)

I liked The Girl on the Train more because there was more positive character development at least in the case of Rachel, the girl on the train. I found the character development of Amy in Gone Girl to be creepy. Not someone I would want to be in the same room with.

I gave Gone Girl four stars because in spite of the well-crafted story, the ending was unsatisfying. I have to give Girl on the Train five stars for closure.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Life We Bury

The Life We BuryThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a selection for one of my book clubs. It was really slow starting, and I wondered if I would finish reading it in time for the discussion next week. But it improved as I got to know Joe, his autistic brother Jeremy, and Carl Iverson, the subject of Joe's biography assignment for his college English class. Carl is in a nursing home dying of pancreatic cancer, 30 years after he was convicted of murdering a teenaged girl. Carl has one friend, Virgil, from his time in Viet Nam, who is sure Carl is innocent. Joe's visits with Carl to get his story, bring out things in Joe's life that he wished he could forget, and help him to make a connection with Carl. As Joe gets deeper into Carl's history, he finds himself trying to solve the mystery, and determine if Carl was the monster portrayed at his trial.

With the help of his housemate and his autistic brother, they are able to solve parts of the puzzle which leads Joe further into a dangerous adventure. The last half of the book is a thriller, a real page-turner. I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Passing through Perfect

Passing Through PerfectPassing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book I have read by Bette Lee Crosby. I enjoyed The Twelfth Child, and the author contacted me to read her latest book Passing through Perfect. She provided an ebook download for me to read and provide a review. I told her I was stacked up reading two other books, but once I read the first two pages, I moved the other books down in my stack. I was hooked.

The author warned me that the story was told by a young black man in Alabama during the Jim-Crow era, and I supposed that she wanted to know if his voice rang true. I didn't tell her that I grew up in Virginia in the Jim-Crow era, a time when public accommodations were restricted to "Whites Only," and as a little girl riding my tricycle around the block, I was told I didn't belong on that street.

But on to the story of Benjamin Church and the love of his life, Delia. I guess I loved them both. For me to be hooked on a story there has to be at least one character I cared about. This novel gave me many. But there were antagonists on both sides of the racial divide. Delia's father was a preacher, graduate of Howard University, one of the foremost HBCU's in the USA. Rev. Finch could not accept Delia's relationship with Benjamin, a sharecropper. And when he learned that Delia was pregnant, he disowned her.

Benjamin and Delia made the best of their hard life on the farm, with Benjamin's Daddy, and their son Isaac. Life in Grinder's Corner wasn't so bad because they had friends on neighboring farms, and everybody was struggling poor. It was only when they went to the larger town that they had to deal with the signs that said, "No Colored," and Delia realized she wanted a better life for their son Isaac.

The story was a page-turner. The only thing that didn't ring true for me was the broken English spoken by Delia. I expected the dialect from Benjamin as he had been educated in a one-room school with sparse resources, and his parents had not graduated from high school. Delia on the other hand was the only child of well-educated parents, and she herself attended a private school. When I think of my own late parents who graduated from Morris Brown College in 1924, I remember their love of good diction, and love of books. I would expect the same for Delia.

But I really liked the book, and will be looking for more from this author.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Adventures in Blackface and other shorts

I finally did it!! I recovered from writer's block by digging back into my archives of unused stories, and went KDP Select in the process. But as the cover says, they are "shorts," 99 cents on Kindle. And sometimes only your one of your besties will write a review for a 50-page book, even when I beat her at Words With Friends some of the time.
Thank you, Vicki.

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, engaging, and thought-provoking read., January 18, 2015

This review is from: Adventures in Blackface: and other shorts (Paperback)

I enjoyed reading Sarah Weathersby's newest book, a group of two short stories and a poem. Her detailed and descriptive writing is engaging and thought provoking. In the central story, Adventures in Blackface, the nuances of relationships between black and white students in the 1960's was poignantly described as was the conflicted and ambivalent feelings held by both black and white students of that early period of integration on northern college campuses. The second short story, Dusty's Last Stand, is a lighter and humorous story about a dog and his master that precisely captured the setting and the personalities of the characters. It was the third piece though, a poem entitled If
I had drunk from the colored water fountain, that I was most drawn to. Beautifully written, it is moving and powerful, and brilliantly exposes a slice of experience of a black child growing up in the Jim Crow south. Sarah Weathersby, I look forward to reading more of your work and hope you are working on more poetry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Loss of an Old Friend

When Tinker and I got married in April 2002, we both had household stuff with lots of duplicates. The most problematic duplication was our collection of cordless phones. We probably had four or five different brands that you answer four or five different ways. Imagine a Chinese fire drill where we're running around trying to find the phone and then trying to answer.

The easy solution was to toss them all and buy identical new ones. So we bought a Panasonic Expandable set, with a base and three handsets. When we converted to VoIP it was easy to plug in the base, and keep going.

I regret to inform you that our trusty Panasonic DIED on us. It was slow and painful. Sunday night the base wouldn't quit beeping, but we could still make calls. By today it had flat-lined. We will miss the old joker. He gave us 13 years of service. The good news is that we set up our Vonage service to automatically transfer an unanswered call to my cellphone. The caller on the other en never notices the difference.

I wonder if I can sell the handsets on E-bay?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Under the Wide and Starry SkyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. As a fictionalized account of Robert Louis Stevenson's life, it captured my heart with the romantic involvement of Louis (as he was known) and Fanny, an older woman who moved with her children to Europe for their education and to get away from her philandering husband.

I was familiar with some of RLS's works, Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and A Child's Garden of Verses. The story covers all of those and some I have not read, but all to capture the personality and adventurous nature of RLS, his assortment of friends, associates, publishers, etc who were essential to his writing career.

What I didn't know was that he was a sickly child, and a semi-invalid for most of his adult life. And it was his wife Fanny (whom he married after her divorce) who nursed him and kept him alive.

The book is very long, in some places tedious, but I plodded through. This was a book club selection and I'm a good book club member. 

Finished reading December 2, 2014.

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