Saturday, May 31, 2014

Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus

The Minimalists
Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn

Last month, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus made a stop here at an independent bookstore on their 100-city book tour. These two fellows, who were quite entertaining, write the blog 
The Minimalists. 

Everything That Remains is Joshua's tale of how he came to realize that his high-powered job, all his high-powered material stuff, and his high-powered life were not how he wanted to be powered. 

So he quit his job, moved to a smaller apartment which necessitated his giving away and/or selling the majority of his stuff, worked on getting rid of debt, and started a blog with his best friend, Ryan.

OK. There is a little more to it than that and this book is part memoir, part inspiration, and part laugh-out-loud funny. I have an autographed copy (which strikes me as going against the practice of minimalism as it is yet one more possession, but oh, well).

Anyway, these guys - both are barely 30 years old - seem to be having a ball and, based on the 50 or so people who attended the signing, have inspired others to take a clearer look at their own lives.

I enjoyed meeting these fellows and enjoyed reading the story of their discovery of a life without stuff. Although I am not exactly an extreme minimalist in that I do own more than one coffee cup and one spoon, I do tend toward the uncluttered life (except, apparently, when it comes to books). 

Joshua writes that he got rid of 2000 books and kept ten - all books about writing. Although that may be something to think about, I am not ready to go that far...yet.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

This is a post from Memorial Day 2013. Today, the Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold a ceremony honoring all veterans buried at historic Cave Hill National Cemetery. 

This day is especially tender for me as I think of my nephew Bryan who served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard and then in the Air Force Reserves. 

Rest in peace, dear one.

Union graves
Cave Hill National Cemetery
(photo source: Belle)

Today is Memorial Day in America. It is a day when we as a nation honor those soldiers who have died fighting in our many wars.

Originally created in 1868, this holiday was named Decoration Day and was set aside as a day to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the American Civil War (1861-1865). 

Within the historic Cave Hill Cemetery here, there is a four-acre national cemetery dedicated to Union and Confederate soldiers who were killed in battle or more likely died from disease or exposure. 

Confederate graves
Cave Hill National Cemetery
(photo source: Belle)

There are over 6000 Union soldiers buried along the green hillsides of the cemetery and over 200 Confederate soldiers. On this day, the cemetery places a flag at each marble tombstone; an American flag at each Union grave, while Confederate flags mark the graves of those who died fighting for the South.

(I had a great-uncle on my mother's side who fought in the Confederate Army. I wrote a little about him last Memorial Day which, if you are interested, you can read here.)

It is quite moving to gaze upon row after row of white markers and realize that under each one lies someone's son, brother, husband, father, uncle. Most of the gravestones are inscribed with the soldier's name, date of birth and death (if known), and the state that he called home. 

The saddest stones are simply a short, square marble post - name unknown.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, Called Birdy is a young adult story told in the form of a diary. Not so unusual, you might think, but Catherine is a 14-year-old girl writing about her life in the year 1290.

I discovered this book when it was first published in 1994 and recently came across it at a used book store and snatched it up to reread. It was as fun to read as I remembered.

Author Karen Cushman has created a spunky, clever, and fearless heroine in her tale of life in a large manor with its attendant village as seen through the eyes of Catherine, called Birdy.

Things were a lot different in the Middle Ages.

Without romanticizing conditions in the least, we learn that Catherine spends minutes picking fleas off her arms and legs; hours mending and hemming sheets and other household linens; days longing to be playing outside with her best friend Perkin, the goat boy; and weeks trying to foil her father's plans of marrying her off to the first wealthy suitor who happens to call.

As to the running of the household, we get to attend holiday feasts featuring eel pudding, herring pie, fried milk, turnip soup, figs stuffed with cinnamon, an onion and mustard omelette. Some days are filled with clearing the floors of debris and freshening the rushes that serve as a carpet with fragrant dried herbs such as lavender. Visitors to the manor all pile into the main hall and sleep wherever they can - sometimes even on the floor in Birdy's room which she already shares with the nursemaid Morwenna. 

Birdy takes part in village fairs and celebrations; attends her first hanging which she discovers is not the gay affair she thought it would be; prepares tonics and salves for the ailing in the household; witnesses the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor, led by the handsome King Edward and his entourage; and longs to go on a crusade of her own. 

She writes about her days and muses about life in her own funny way. Her diary entries are filled with saints, curses (Corpus Bones!), odd characters, and all sorts of hilarious and sometimes sad goings on. 

A delightful tale. Although I surely wouldn't want to live in Catherine, called Birdy's time, I think I would surely enjoy having her as a friend.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink

It is only May and I already have my Book of the Year! It is a vintage copy I was delighted to discover on the sale table at the library: The Pink Motel written by Carol Ryrie Brink and
published in 1959.

You may be familiar with Ms. Brink as the author of the 1936 Newbery Medal winner Caddie Woodlawn

The Pink Motel is one of those old-time, individual small cabin motels that used to dot the American landscape. This one is on the beach in Florida (before monster hotels and condominiums took over) and has been left by Uncle Hiram to his great-grand-niece and her family. Mr. and Mrs. Mellen, 10-year-old Kirby and 9-year-old Bitsy, live in Minnesota. They leave the cold and snow and fly to Florida over the children's winter school break with the thought of selling the motel. But the warm winds and soothing surf begin to work their magic on the children as well as their parents.

The kids have adventures. They make new friends their own age and meet the regular winter guests: an artist who seems to have a few witchy-like powers; a magician whose magic seems to have disappeared; the woodcarver who crafted the weather vanes atop each cabin; and, two shady characters that Kirby, who proudly wears his Junior G-Man badge, is sure are gangsters. They investigate a mystery. They put on a talent show. 

There are no vampires. No one has a deadly disease. There is no sex or violence. 

It is all great fun. Ms. Brink captures the sounds and tastes and sights of this cozy spot by the sea. The weather vanes on top of the cabins flap in the breeze, the palm tree leaves rattle in the wind, the waves whoosh against the shore, the sky is colored a bright Southern blue, and the taste of fresh coconut lingers in the mouth. There are also entrancing illustrations by Sheila Greenwald which add to the charm of the tale.

One of my favorite parts of the story concerns the messy desk in Uncle Hiram's office that Kirby gets to investigate. 

No one had made any attempt to tidy it. The roll-top desk was bulging with papers and shells and old books and fishing reels, and many other things. Nothing seemed to be valuable. A shelf ran around the wall, and on it were a great many coconut shells which were also stuffed with string and fishhooks and small pieces of paper. The bits of paper were of many colors, but most of them were pink. Kirby suspected that the coconut shells, like the filing cabinet in his father's office up north, kept Uncle Hiram's business secrets and personal treasures. The only difference was that Father's filing cabinet was so neat that it was quite uninteresting, whereas Uncle Hiram's coconut shells were full of mystery and promise.

Don't you wish you could go on a treasure hunt through Uncle Hiram's desk? I sure do. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A New Harmony Photo Album

This is the 1840s Guest House where I spent a peaceful week in New Harmony, Indiana.

The cottage's screened-in side porch overlooks a garden and gazebo. I spent much of my time here reading, sketching, writing, and staring into space.

A shelf-top parade of teapot, sugar bowl, and creamers in the kitchen.

The cottage's sunny desk.

The living room had a working fireplace. The wall covering (I think those flowers are peonies) is not wallpaper but is a cloth material with a little padding underneath. The wooden floors creaked pleasantly - an added bonus.

The comfy four-poster bed was so high that I had to leap into it at night! 

The fragrant lilac bush outside my bedroom window.

More lilacs. They were in bloom all over the village.

A view from the walking path along the banks of the Wabash River.

A friendly, folk-art woman on the lawn near the Atheneum, New Harmony's visitor's center.

A centerpiece of sculpture in one of the many quiet parks. I couldn't walk very far without coming across a pleasant place to sit and rest a spell.

The Working Men's Institute was founded in 1838 with its mission to provide useful knowledge to working men and their families. Its home here, erected in 1894, is the oldest continuously operating public library in Indiana. I stopped in to do research on identifying the flowers in the cottage's garden. The building also houses a museum, historical archive, and a rare book collection.