Sunday, December 21, 2014

Journey from the hometown library

This photo is more than ten years old, and the wreath is a
memorial, not a Christmas decoration. It marks the spot
where the ashes of the Risiera's victims are kept.
I saw Chris, my former librarian last week, and it sure did bring back memories.

I mean, you hear all the time that a book can take you to another time and place, but Chris helped me put that cliche` to the test.

It all started in a living room in Trieste, Italy, in the early 1990s. I had just visited the Risiera, a little-known concentration camp that operated under Nazi rule during the end of World War II. I asked my host about it.

I had the same feeling as when I asked people at home about Viet Nam. Nobody wanted to talk about it. But my host did tell me a little.

It was a bit of a shock to discover the place I loved had a dark past. A concentration camp. Violence between fascist and communist, Italian and Slav. Continued violence even after the war was supposed to be over. A British/American occupation. And I knew just enough about it to be curious.

That curiosity was shelved while I went home, finished my education, got married, found a reporter job, quit the job, became a mom. But eventually the children were old enough that I could focus on something for more than five minutes, and that old curiosity was still burning.

These Roman ruins were really interesting, but I later learned
they had their own controversy. Buildings in the Slavic side of
town were destroyed when Mussolini unearthed them,
presumably to strengthen Italy's historic claim on the region
.
In those ten years that had passed, more people had begun talking about Trieste's World War II history. They were writing books, too. I ordered a couple and read them with Merriam Webster by my side. I ordered another one from Italy and read it with my Italian/English dictionary in easy reach. I visited Italy with Husband and came back with an Italian book about the Risiera, which I somehow struggled through. Then I wished I had bought more books.

All of this was good, but very little of the research material I was laboring over had been written in the 1930s and 40s. For that, I turned to Interlibrary Loan. I can't remember how I found the books I ordered from our small town library. I just remember that Chris helped me order them. One--an account of the suffering of Slavic peoples under Mussolini's rule in Trieste--was so old its glue binding had failed. It was held together with rubber bands. Chris was there with me as I scratched my head, wondering if there was any way I could return that book the way I found it. As soon as I opened the pages, they fell apart.

Another book--my favorite of them all, because it was written in conversational English--was by Colonel Alfred Bowman, the military government officer who oversaw the American occupation of the city following the war. (The Allied Military Government stayed and ran the place into the 1960s. Apparently it's always been hard to come up with an exit strategy.) He shared my awe of the gulf-side view as the sun went down. It was amazing that watching night fall by the water could be shared between strangers across the decades.

Chris. You can't tell, but she's on Santa's knee.
I plowed through it all because I wanted to. After that I tried to write something academic and literary.

That article stunk. (I read it again recently. It's terrible. There's a reason my writing buddies told me to stay with fiction.)

Later I went to the library and found something fun. Chris was at the desk. "What?" she said. "You're reading a mystery?"

"Well, it is summer," I said.

Lately I've missed the mind-stretching, though. I'll be rolling that work into my next fiction project, I think.

Chris has moved on, so I'll have to find another librarian to shepherd me through the questions I will undoubtedly need to answer. I can find more online now than I could then, but I'll probably be hanging out with dusty books again.

The beauty of it--the true miracle--is that it can be done from a small town in a mountain valley across an ocean.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I did it for my brain.

I joined an Alzheimer's prevention study about six months ago. Like 75 percent of the participants, I have seen the effects of this disease firsthand (my grandmother had it). And like many of them, I am scared of the disease and likely to become scareder as the years go on.

I was assigned to the control group. I was about to say this means I did nothing, but that's not quite true. I underwent cognitive testing that left me feeling like I was already a muddled woman. I let them analyze my blood and filled out several online surveys about my relationships, my stress level and how often I eat butter (and other stuff).

And I thought about how the treatment group people were probably acting more on their good intentions to exercise than I was.

Today I went to a thank you meeting. They gave me an app for my smart phone that will accept information on my lifestyle and prompt me to do healthy things. I got a fitness tracker, too.

I also got a crash course in healthy living, which will reduce my risk for Alzheimer's disease as well as a lot of other health problems. Through it all I was thinking of the things I could improve on--but there was one bright spot in the discussion.

They talked about challenging myself cognitively. It's good to do something creative, better to do something creative and completely new. If it's uncomfortable, it's probably challenging you and creating new neural pathways.

And I realized that over the last six months I have figured out how to publish a book. It was uncomfortable. Scary. Delightful.

It's probably the best thing I've done for my neurons in years.

What have you done for your brain?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Livestock roundup

I took the new camera out for a spin this weekend and shot the usual victims: local livestock.


Brown Swiss.


Sheep.


Llama in profile.


Another llama, also displaying his good side.


Basset on a Sunday afternoon.


Old red truck.


Finally, here is the inspiration for Sam's Cafe, home of
of the fictional Anthony Blackwell.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Merry Thanksgiving!


No, I'm not turning into a arts and crafts mommy blogger.

I just posted this to scare you.

Actually, I did make this wreath with my own two hands. It was fun, but I think it's time to go out and shoot some new material.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. It truly is a favorite holiday, even if I do break out the Christmas choir music before it's over.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Early Christmas

Laundry day.

Let's say, hypothetically, that you found a screaming deal on the top item on your wishlist: A souped-up DSLR camera. (The Canon 70D, for example.) After talking to your photographer friends and gathering pros and cons, you decide to get the camera even though you're a month and a half ahead of Christmas, because opportunity doesn't wait.

So you bring it home and take it out of the box and charge the battery and snap some quick photos, because, you know, it's important to make sure it works before you put it in the closet and wait for Christmas.

Except that by now, you don't want to pack it away.

Will you forgive yourself on Christmas if you've been playing with your new toy for six weeks, and there's nothing under the tree, hypothetically speaking?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Spam comments II

When communicating with the masses, it's best to target your audience. Automated messages are unlikely to be effective, especially if they're sent from an identity like ce8d632a-647c-11e3-94d3-000bcdcb2996.

Also, it's considered bad form to include self-promoting links in a comment on someone else's personal blog.

But then again, maybe this guy's onto something...


I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women? 
American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least. ...
I removed the link. Sorry,  ce8d632a-647c-11e3-94d3-000bcdcb2996.

Signed, 

An American Woman.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This year's Halloween animal story: "The Secret Life of Luke"

This year's animal mystery is now up, just in time for Halloween.

The Secret Life of Luke is just a teeny bit autobiographical. Luke is a real cat, and he's pretty amazing, even if he didn't do everything you read here.

He did, however, do something a little like this:

Later that night I could hear someone in the bathroom, using the toilet with the door ajar. I stepped back and waited to deliver my close-the-door-you-weren't-born-in-a-barn lecture, but when the tinkling sound ended, Luke strolled out of the bathroom.
      
Oh, no. Maybe I'd misinterpreted the sound. Maybe he was using the bathroom floor instead of the litter box. But the white tile was clean. The toilet seat was down, the lid was up, and the toilet had been used.
      
I glanced back at Luke. "No way," I said.
      
He walked past me, his tail in the air. "Max," I called, "Did you potty-train the cat?"
      
Max came into the hall from the office, peering at me over his reading glasses. "Did I what the what?"
      
"Never mind."

 A rough draft of this story appeared earlier on this blog.

Luke continues to live quietly with us--and he still does back massages now and again.

Emails from home

Most of our email is pretty mundane. Once in a while, though, the immediate flavor of country life sings amid the shopping lists and communications to the office. Here are some stored on our home computer, written by people in our house and edited for privacy.

Some of the terms are softened for a family audience, but not by much.

9/16/2003
Your evil kitty just woke up your son by urping up a mouse on his lion blankie.

10/13/2005
You know you live in a small town when…

...Fifty-year old people born and raised in town are ‘new comers’.

...You are more afraid of locking yourself out of your house than of being robbed.

...The library has a different schedule on every day of the week.

...You are darn proud that your town has a library. Incidentally, your library account is handled not by a card but by a number that the librarian types into her computer. You have trouble remembering it, but the librarian can always tell you what it is.

...You can honestly say, "The Mayor is in front of the house fixing his manure spreader."

4/26/2006
Good news: We caught another mouse.

Bad news: We have at least one more.

Good news: He must be hungry and he thinks of traps as a food source, since he robbed the bait of an un-sprung trap, finished the bait of the sprung one, and ate an eye from his dead brother.

Hope you're done with breakfast.