Some Awesome Suggestions for Awesome Summer Reading

If you’re smart you’ve been vaccinated and now, mask free. And it’s summer! Time to dust off your Speedo or your polka dot bikini and head for the nearest beach. The nearest beach to us is Lake Clear…about five miles away. Normally I would avoid going anywhere near water. This is the Adirondacks and the summer is under control of black flies, gnats and mosquitos. But I do make an exception for Lake Clear Beach. There is a constant breeze from the lake that keeps the number of biting insects to a reasonable level, whatever that is. One is too many for this less-than-hardy soul. But it’s nature, it’s the Northern Forest and we should all make an effort to become one with our environment.

But I digress.

If you’re like me, stretched out on a Walmart Beach Chair, staring at the cumulonimbus clouds building to the west can get a little boring. What’s the solution? Read something. I’ve collected a few can’t put down books to serve as a guide to help you wile away the hours on the sand. So grab your Visa card and iPhone and Google Amazon to order these literary gems. Ready?

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

This is truly an awesome book. Unique and very original this novel imagines the grief of Abraham Lincoln just after the death of his son, Willie. Much of the narrative finds Lincoln making mid-night visits to the vault where Willie is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery on the edge of Washington, D.C. This story brought more than one tear to this reader’s eyes. Totally original and awesome. Makes for a great bed time read as well.

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust (Moncrieff translation) Vol. V of In Search of Lost Time

If you can get past the cover you will be treated to one of the Masterpieces of Literature. Once known as Remembrance of Things Past this translation uses the updated title. It is often compared with the works of Jackie Collins or Nora Roberts. You have to start with Volume I of course. There are six books that make up this awesome piece of literature. Volume V (the one I’m reading is a mere 1,000 pages. I looked at Volume VI and was relieved to find it was only 700 or so pages long. This is a contender for one of the longest books ever written. To be honest, it’s not a real page turner unless you enjoy reading thousands of pages of nostalgia brought on by the smell of a Madeline cookie. [Note: Do not read this book in hardcover when in bed. The weight will crush a few bones in your chest and collapse your sternum.] Look, if after a few thousand pages you find that this is not for you just leave the book on your coffee table or carry it to Starbucks and stare at a few pages. It’s a real chick magnet and will impress the in-laws. Walk around with any of the volumes tucked under your arm and people will make way for you and give you more credit than you probably deserve. It helped me on my dates with a gypsy (Romani) woman named Tanya. We read to each other, cooked a chicken over an open fire, drank red wine and talked of going to Oslo. It’s truly an awesome book.

Mosquito by Timothy Winegard

This is a totally awesome book. It contains a complete study of one of the most dangerous insects. Malaria wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the tiny mosquito. Me? I just find them really annoying. Reading it brings out the urge to scratch my knee.

Ned & Ashtabula: The Erie Canal Hauntings by Patrick Egan

This awesome writer has given us yet another novel to move your soul and scare you silly. The author deftly weaves a tale of the mysterious happenings along the Canal in the 1830’s. A coming of age tale with foreshadowing and scary scenes. The author uses foreshadowing, metaphors and gratuitous nudity to weave a tale of dread. There’s magic in this book. Demons and a pretty young woman compel our protagonist Ned, to come to terms with his past and to face the future with a new found wisdom. Another awesome book by this gifted writer and is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

Essential Muir

We all love Greta from Norway don’t we? Well pick up this collection of writings by John Muir who founded the Sierra Club. Nature writing from the Master. It is truly awesome.

A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo

We all can agree that Bob Dylan is one awesome guy. This memoir by the woman who is shown clutching Dylan’s arm on the cover of A Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. The book reflects the heady days in Greenwich village in the early 1960’s. It’s not a kiss and tell and avoids revealing the real Dylan. I could tell you more about this awesome book after I read it. Rotolo passed away in 2011.

So there you have it. A handful of suggestions from yours truly. Don’t blame me if you’re bored this summer. You could always go into your own lockdown if that’s your thing. Don’t forget the sunblock and have an awesome summer.

Nearly There

The purpose of this short but sweet blog is two-fold. The first is to let you know that we are on our way to our house in Fort Meyers, Florida. It was just as the snow was nearly melted at Rainbow Lake when we decided to see what it was that we bought. It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be humid, much like we needed it.

The flowers shown above are from the rear of the parking lot behind Starbucks which is located just beyond the car lot at our Marriott Residence Inn. I thought you’d like to see the colors unlike the small patch of green outside our lot at the Residence in Scranton.

We’re taking the car/train from Lorton, VA to Orlando.

The tree colors are better than snow and patches of green.

The second reason for this blog is to try out my new iPad. This my first blog attempt at this…while the fish bakes.

The Great Suet Cage Conflict of Rainbow Lake

[Source: Johns Hopkins.edu]

After an hour of lying on my sofa I felt it was time to get up and stretch my chronically sore back. I was lost in a copy of The Principles of Leadership and Management. It was a interesting and informative book. I’ll tell you how it ends when I finish it, sometime in the next few months.

As I was deciding which shoulder needed a rubbing of CBD lotion, I glanced out of the picture window to concentrate on our green suet cage. I noticed a small white object at the bottom the feeder. There were two explanations:

Either a small bit of suet remained or it was the body of a dead albino finch. Since the ‘door’ was latched from the outside, I decided it was the remains of some suet. A locked-in albino finch presented a whole new mystery and I failed to find the energy to play Agatha Christie at the moment.

Suet cages and I have a history. I put one up and it was gone the next day! Gone. I know that squirrels love suet, but to figure out how to open one and/or drag the entire object away made me angry. I decided to fight back.

Study the photo below:

Do you notice the small curvy latches that are supposed to ‘lock’ the cage door? A field mouse with a case of bad arthritis could open those latches. I came to the conclusion that some other, stronger and squirrel-proof device was called for.

My wife suggested using a twist-tie. A twist-tie, I thought, could easily be chewed by a large woodpecker. No, I thought, that won’t do.

So I went to the hardware store and bought several ‘S’ hooks. Now these are harder than they look, so I tried to alter the shape with my fingers. I immediately cut a bit of my forefinger and thumb off.

[Source: Google Search]

Mariam helped me with the Band-Aid. I needed something stronger so I used a pair of pliers (actually two). Things slipped and I cut myself again. After several attempts, I had the ‘S‘ holding the door secure.

Some lessons I learned: use a hand tool, use a twist tie if needed, keep your wife and first-aid kit nearby and never try this at home.

Now I have to change the suet again because the Downy Woodpeccker has a large appetite. He or she must have finished off the last bit of suet and let it drop through the cage holds to the pile of rotting leaves below.

But, I’ll be prepared next time.

Split Personalities

[Source: Instagram Search.]

Don’t worry, this is not going to be a symposium on Multiple Personalities or a detailed peer-reviewed paper on Schizophrenia.

Maybe it will.

Many of you know that after I retired, I chose several ways to keep my sanity and be assured that boredom didn’t become an aspect of my life. I tried Literacy Volunteers and teaching the incarcerated. Both were quite satisfying but getting myself to a library or prison in the middle of a typical North Country winter was a challenge you don’t want to even contemplate.

I tried guitar lessons, watercolor, banjo and recently purchased a fine concert ukulele complete with a one-hundred song book that uses only 3 chords: CF-and G. None of this matters, of course. I comprehend nothing at all about music. So, it’s merely a way to hang up cool looking instruments and talk about them.

My seven-year-old grandson, Elias can even play Wild Horses, in his own sweet way.

I always had a desire to write so I began by blogging. I have no theme or special topic so I write whatever interests me. The topics are serious, funny, satiric but usually profound in some small way.

I tend to be nostalgic in my choice of subjects as I grow older. So many memories to recall. Recently, I posted my five-hundredth blog. It’s hard work to keep coming up with original and thoughtful ideas.

It’s the same with writing (a large leap for a blogger.) I always felt the need to be a writer. (I ended up spending over thirty years as a science teacher.) I’m no Stephen King but I have my own style. Y/A horror and the supernatural seems to be the genre I’ve fallen into, for now.

All this sets up a serious problem. For the better part of a day, I’m a twelve-year-old boy. The rest of the time, I’m Boris Karloff.

So, who am I really? I try to amuse and I try to frighten with only a few hours to be the real me. Sometimes, the wires get switched

Being a clown at times conflicts with creating profound sadness.

I don a mask and moments later I cover my face with tragedy.

My parents would have been better off naming me JANUS.

[Source: Instagram Search]

The Murder Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle Caper

[The Puzzle box cover.]

Several days had passed and I was still saddened by the way I had left the Troll. He looked so dejected as he headed back to his self-isolation under the bridge. I made a mental note to make sure I go back in the early summer and pay him a visit.

I had been standing in the kitchen for the last forty-seven minutes staring at the humidity level on my Costco Weather Monitor. It still read Very Low-Dry. Mariam was busy assembling the ingredients for tonight’s dinner: Blond Puttanesca (Linguine With Tuna, Arugula and Capers). Don’t get me wrong, Mariam has a full life here and doesn’t do all the cooking. She does like working in the kitchen and trying new recipes but, on occasion, I’ll make a Three Bean Soup or my signature Corn, Bulghur and Cheese  Casserole.

“Hand me the capers, please?”

I told Mariam to keep an eye on the Weather Monitor and let me know if the humidity level shows any sign of changing. Returning to the dining room table I put all my brain power and skills of observation on finding the missing piece that would complete the perimeter. It was an edge piece and was snow white. Sounds easy but I just couldn’t manage to find it.

This was not like a normal puzzle. It was a Murder/Mystery version. One is supposed to solve the puzzle which is supposed to look like this:

[The box top. You have to admit, it’s a bit “busy” isn’t it?]

Then read this:

[A short story to accompany the puzzle.]

Then solve the Whodunit. Sounds simple and fun. But…

Late in the evening, after binge watching Ozark, Mariam and I would spend an hour or three working on the puzzle. On our first night, after we had turned all the pieces face-up, Mariam said:

“This will be extra hard because of your color-blindness, Pat.”

“I’m not color blind.”

“Honey, remember when I sent you shopping for a few baking potatoes? You brought home six rotten apples.”

“They shouldn’t have been offered for sale.”

“But they were in the discard bin, dear.”

I had a flashback to something about bins, but I couldn’t put my finger on the memory. Mariam sighed and went to bed to play a few games of Words With Friends. I was left with this:

[Photo is actually sideways, but you can see the gap in the white edge.]

Out of desperation, I rechecked the box to see if the white piece got stuck inside. It was then that I noticed the notice. It was a RECALL NOTICE that was five years outdated. I failed to seen when I opened the box. Essentially, it read that this was a defective puzzle that was missing a vital piece. Apparently, a fellow on the second-shift at the printing factory had fallen asleep while watching a Hallmark TV movie called “My Second Honeymoon in Passaic”.

I was furious. I was seeing green. I went downstairs to my art table and found my Exacto knife. I was going to find another jigsaw puzzle and alter a white piece to make it fit. Then life would return to normal or whatever passed for normal lately. I put the notice in our recycle bag and went to work. Mariam called down to me and said:

“Honey, we forgot tonight is Thursday. The garbage and recycling bins have to be put out.”

A strange shudder ran down my already sore back. Those bins.

“Okay, I’ll get to it in a minute.”

“Don’t stop what you’re doing, the bins are light and I can manage,” she said from the top of the stairs.

I continued to carve away at the piece.

“What’s this?” She stood in the doorway holding the RECALL NOTICE. I held the altered piece behind my back.

“We’ve been wasting our time on this stupid thing,” she said with a tinge of anger. With that she grabbed another recycling bag and pushed everything off the table.

“I’m going to bed. I’m taking a half a Valium.”

I quietly opened the bag and dropped the altered piece in. I walked over to the refrigerator and found a can of Guiness. I stood in front of the Weather Monitor and stared at the humidity reading.

It was the same. It read Very Low-Dry.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sad Good-bye

[“Old Paint”. Now a part of history…ready for its final ride]

The white Casier truck backed down our driveway.  It was 10:30 on a muggy morning.  Before ten minutes had passed, we had brand new chairs in our living room.  The old L. L. Bean pair of overstuffed sofa-like seats were showing signs of aging.  Mariam’s was still in fair shape so a few hours later, a man came in a smaller truck and took hers away later in the day.

Casier (the chair merchant in Saranac Lake) agreed to take mine.

It was over quickly.

Before I had a chance to pull out my red bandana and wipe the stray tear from my cheek.

Before I had a quiet moment with my supportive friend to whisper a few last good-byes and reminisce about the past.

I felt like my Old Yeller was being taken out behind the barn by Fess Parker.  Life doesn’t get any harder.  Where do old chairs go when they have finished their duty to your weary body?  I’d really rather not know.  I can’t imagine my heartbreak if I drive out to the Franklin County Transfer Station one pleasant Saturday and see my chair upside-down next to two Barka Loungers, a wicker love seat and a chartreuse sectional.

We bought the chairs in 2000, when we acquired our Adirondack home.  In 2011, we moved to the North Country for real.  So many hours have been spent in those pale green chairs watching important historical events unfold before our eyes.  Several World Series (but don’t ask which ones or who won…I’ve no memory of those things).  A few Super Bowls (but we tend to avoid being here in mid-winter, so don’t ask which ones we saw).  The second inauguration of Obama.  The election of 2016 (again, don’t ask!).

It would be great to say we saw the moon landing, but that was thirty years earlier.  I would love to describe our interest at witnessing the Escape From Dannemora, but we were in France at the time.

We did sit through many sad and old films on TCM.  A few classic episodes of Hoaders, an intense season of the Bachelorette and two even more intense seasons of 90 Day Fiancee.

Mariam and I were glued to the TV to watch the rise and fall of Walter White in Breaking Bad.  And, most proudly, we didn’t run to our sets to check the connections when the black-out occurred at the end of The Sopranos.

All the while, our L. L. Bean chairs sat cheerfully beneath us.  My chair took the most wear, however.  Because of my dicey back, I can not sit normally.  I have to tuck one leg (the left) under the knee of the right.  That puts my socked foot against the arm rest…eventually exposing the fiber filling.  The tangle of my legs look like a yet un-named Yogi position.

All good things must come to an end…and our lives with our chairs are no exception.  So, now we have two new chairs in their place.  It’s sad, though, like a bad divorce.  Something new and fresh is taking the place of the old and worn out.

The time flew by so fast that I never had time to give my chair a name.  I’ve thought it over and decided to call it “Old Paint” after my trusty horse I had when I rode the West Texas range…back in the day.

But, I digress (and besides, that’s another blog).

[The new chair (it reclines)]

I Too Can Do Physical Labor

[Me on the steps…working hard.]

As a blogger I get tons of mail.  It’s mostly fan letters, notes of congratulations, invitations to weddings, birthday parties, fundraisers, dedications at mall openings and the occasional bris.  But I also get questions.

“Gee, Pat (I’m an informal kind of guy), what do you do when you’re not working on a blog post?”

“Gosh, Pat, you must spend most of your waking hours living inside your head.  That must be awesome and exciting!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell that fan that living inside my head is no picnic.  There are dark corners in my brain that I try avoid.  I know this because my insomnia forces me to confront the demons.  My nightmares are real and full of things that crawl on the ground and hiss and spit.

“Golly, Pat, your life as a blogger must so exciting and so totally awesome.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell the fan that my blogs often go unnoticed.

But I digress.

I am actually a very active guy.  True, I may spend weeks in bed waiting for the mosquitoes to die off.  But, on cool days when the breeze is steady and strong off the lake, I search for something to do around the house…outside that is.  One of the drawbacks to owning a home in the North Country is that there is never anything to do.  I mowed the lawn a few times last summer.  I stacked wood for about thirty-five minutes.  I swept the floor of the garage.  A couple times each summer, I put the ladder up against the house and I climb onto the roof.  I have Mariam pass up my favorite tool, the leaf-blower.  Then I attack the rain gutter to clear out the muck and pine needles.

Such a feeling of power to send clods of gunk sailing off into the trees.  It gives additional meaning to my life.

A few days ago, I decided it was time to apply a coat of Thompson’s WaterSeal to the railings and steps of our rear deck.  I gathered the rags, sander, the can of Thompson’s, the extension cord, my mask, a pair of ear protecters and a bandanna to keep the dust out of my hair.

The bandanna was orange.

To fully understand how intense this project is, I will simply say that I have fairly serious issues with my lower back.  My L3, L4 and L5 are held together with gossamer threads.

“Gosh, Pat, it’s age appropiate arthritis, said my doctor.”

I fully understood that  once the work was done (it took almost six hours) that I would barely be able to walk across the room without looking like Qusimodo or the Elephant Man.  (Full disclosure: it hurt like bloody hell at the end of the day).

As I was working my way down the stairs, step by step, my hand sander suddenly came apart.  Luckily, I had a spare so the work never stopped.  This was a good thing because it was proof to Mariam that for a skilled laborer such as myself (and for all handymen) that when it comes to tools, one should always have two of everything.

Later that night, after a couple of Ibuprofen, I was able to move about without actually crawling on the carpet.  The railings are good for another two years.

So, that’s how a blogger spends time when not sitting at a laptop.  Although, for me, even hunched over a keyboard can cause pain.

If you read this post and click ‘like’, then I will get better.  That’s the way it works.  My health is actually in your hands.

Use the power wisely.

Late Night Thoughts on Thumb Twiddling

[Mariam in the act of thumb twiddling. Photo credit: Me]

Twiddle. (v) To wait idly because one cannot take action.

Not that many weeks ago I found myself behind the wheel of an Avis Rent Car.  I had set the cruise control at 71 mph.  We were heading north out of Albany, coming home from several months in England.  I was fixated on the highway beyond the windshield.  We were on I-87, the ‘Northway’.  It was no use using the radio because if you found a station that was interesting, you only had about nine minutes to enjoy it.  Then it would fade into crackling static.  I was bored and apparently so was my wife, Mariam.  I knew that because I glanced at her during an hour of quiet.  She was twiddling her thumbs.  I never noticed her doing that before, but upon later questioning, she admitted she often twiddled her thumbs while I drove.  (Refer to the above definition.)  I further wondered about her actions knowing that she had a thumb joint replacement about thirty years ago.

Now I must confess at this point that I tried, really tried to enjoy twiddling.  I really tried.  But, like piano jazz, it wasn’t working for me.  I consider it akin to chewing gum.  I’ve actually chewed gum before, mostly while a teenager, and all I ever got out of it was a sore jaw.  I’m fully aware that the main purpose of chewing gum is that you can stare down a guy named Slash while sitting in a bar in Reno.  It makes you look confident and nonchalant.  I never actually tried it, but I assume it works.  I saw it work in a few Clint Eastwood movies.

But, I digress.

I decided to delve deeper into this twiddling thing.  The further I went the more fascinating it became.  For example, the word origin is likely a blend of TWIST (or maybe TWIRL) and FIDDLE.  It’s past participle form is Twiddled.  It’s Gerund form is Twiddling.  Don’t ask me about that.  I never really understood what a gerund was anyway.

A further confession:  I found myself twiddling my thumbs a few months ago while I sat in my doctor’s office in NYC.  Why?  Because the office staff had failed to put a recent copy of Arthritis Today magazine on the table.  I love those articles and sometimes I can copy out a recipe.

So, that’s it.  I’ve covered twiddling in my blogs.  Next topic?  Maybe Bone Spurs.  Who knows.

By the way, if you are a thumb twiddler, always keep your thumbs in contact.  Less stress on the joints.

Or, so I’m told.

One final comment: A priest once told me that twiddling your thumbs would make you go blind.  I haven’t seen any evidence of that in Mariam, although she may be having cataract surgery sometime in the next ten years.

[Photo credit: Google search (CartoonStock]

 

 

Looking For A Proper Lane To Ramble Along: The Excursionist IV

[Me rambling in Dorset. Deep in thought.]

Finding places to ramble (walk) in England is something even a guy like me can do.  That is unless I’m going to wear my clean hiking boots.  Who wants to track mud into our host’s home?  And, it is the mud season here.  I haven’t seen any snow since we left Rainbow Lake, sometime in late January.  (There is a God.)  Now, if I had a proper pair of Wellies, which I don’t, mud would not represent a problem.

But here I am searching for a paved lane or byway to stroll on a Sunday afternoon.  That brings up a new problem.  Avoiding the possibility of being an accident statistic.

“TWO ELDERLY YANKS FORCED INTO THORNY HEDGEROW ALONG NARROW DORSET LANE.

LOCAL HEDGEHOG FRIGHTENED!”

Let me say in my defense, there is NO shoulder along these rural lanes…or are they byways?

I found one that had a perfect tree in the perfect place with perfect hedgerows.  It was very narrow, so I only used it as a photo-op.  We didn’t walk far.  Once the photo was done, we turned back and walked along a more traveled road.  The cars rushed by and pinned us against the hedges.  Which lane to walk? They drive on the left so we walk…on the right? On the left?

But, no problem.  That’s what English rambling is all about.

When the soil begins to dry from the spring rains, we shall be taking to the off-road footpaths.

Then I will be in my blissful space.  Then I will walk along paths that others have walked for 10,000 years.

I’m not the only one who likes to ramble.

 

Another Adirondack Tragedy

 BREAKING NEWS 

REGULAR GUY GOES MISSING WHILE SHOVELING A PATH TO DRIVEWAY!

AVALANCHE SUSPECTED

[The Egan Cabin at Rainbow Lake at time of search. Aerial photo from Channel 7 News Drone7]

[Photo credit: Google search]

Rainbow Lake, NY (AP)

Only days after a lone ice fisherman had turned, basically into a snowman, another winter-related incident occurred on a lonely loop road in the town of Rainbow Lake.  A regular average man (name is being withheld pending further investigation) vanished only yards away from his front deck while shoveling his way from his front door to the safety of his, as yet, unplowed driveway.

This following a major snowstorm that dumped nearly 20″ of snow the previous night.

This photo was taken by his wife shortly before the tragic event.

[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]

His wife spoke to state police Search & Rescue: “I don’t know.  One minute he was there and the next minute, he wasn’t.  I thought he wandered off to take some pictures for Facebook,” she said while taking another sip of her fresh cappuccino mocha.

“Oh, I see you like a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee,” said the Trooper.  “What else can you tell us?”

“Sometimes I don’t use cinnamon, I just take it neat.”

“No, I meant about your husband, ma’am.”

“Well, he kept complaining about how he had no place to put the new fallen snow.”  The Trooper looked out at the piles of newly fallen snow.  The tiny crystals twinkled in a sun that was struggling to break through the cloudy sky, as gray as a wet sidewalk in Schenectady.  “He spoke to me through a crack in the front door.  He told me that every time he would heave a shovel-full of snow onto this giant pile on the deck, much of it would slide back, forcing him to shovel the same place all over again.  Poor guy.  He has a bad back, you know?”

“It’s unfortunate but most men his age have back problems.  Does it affect his golf game at all?  I’m looking for suggestions to lower my handicap.”

“Oh, heavens, we gave that up years ago.  Those little white balls kept getting lost in the snow.”

“You can paint them red, ma’am.  Besides golf is a summer game.”

The wife looked out over the mound in the driveway (which was her Honda CRV, she hoped) and pondered this comment.  “Summer? like in the season?”

“Yes, ma’am.  The time when people swim, fish, take walks, go camping, sit on the beach…things like that.”

“Really?”

“Well, the search dogs are getting a little tired.  They don’t like deep snow.  I best be calling off the search for now.”

The Trooper surveyed the yard and the front deck.

“Sorry to have to say this ma’am, but from the looks of this accumulation, we may not have any luck in locating your husband until late-May at the earliest.”

“I’ll probably be in New York City then, so here’s my contact number.  Don’t hesitate to call if you find something.”

“Rest assured.  And thanks for the cappuccino.”

“No problem.”

[Happier days at Rainbow Lake. Photo taken by Pat Willis]