Monday, April 29, 2013

The Aviator's Wife: A Novel, by Melanie Benjamin

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Lindbergh had already made the extraordinary solo flight across the Atlantic and was "the man of the hour," Anne Morrow was the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico when they met at Christmas 1927. It surprised many people when he selected the unassuming Anne to be his wife in 1929. However, Anne learned to fly and served as his navigator/co-pilot on subsequent landmark flights and achieved flying feats of her own. 

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were the golden couple of the late 1920's through the 1930's.  Most people know the basic facts of their lives.  He was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. Once they married, the public fervor surrounding their lives has been compared to that focused on Princess Diana with equally disastrous results.  In what was termed at the time as the "crime of the century," their first child, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and murdered when he was a toddler. 

They survived this tragedy and went on to have 5 other children together.  In the years before World War II, Lindbergh disappointed his admirers when became a Nazi apologist, a believer in racial purity and an isolationist. Anne was even persuaded by her husband to aid his cause with writing of her own.

Later, Anne Morrow Lindbergh redeemed herself by renouncing her lapse in judgment and authoring a timeless book, The Gift from the Sea.  No doubt like many of you reading this, I read The Gift of the Sea long ago and loved it, but that book and the sketchy facts outlined above were the extent of my knowledge of the Lindberghs.

(Delacorte Press, 2013, 402 pages)
This fictionalized account of the Lindbergh's life together fills in some of the emotional landscape of their relationship.  I wasn't surprised that I didn't care for Charles Lindbergh as I read this novel.  After all, the title of the book is The Aviator's Wife so we know it will be from her perspective, but I was surprised to discover that I didn't find Anne herself to be a sympathetic character in this book, though she is obviously meant to be.  At the first of the book Anne was so full of doubts and angst that I found her tiresome.  When she finally became her own person in the book, the transition was rather abrupt.

Charles Lindbergh would leave his wife and family for months at at time.  Later the world would discover that he had three other families and fathered 7 children by women in Germany.  Two of the women were sisters, one was his secretary in Europe.   In this novel, Anne discovers his other families at the end of his life and confronts him and they achieve some measure of peace as he dies. 

I did find the author's notes at the end of the novel to be interesting as she described some of the events she fictionalized and what she gleaned from the biographical documents of the Lindbergh's lives.  Reading The Aviator's Wife has made me curious enough to want to read more about Anne Morrow Lindbergh so I can judge her character for myself.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Blessing of Ordinary Days

"We need to learn to appreciate the ordinary days," explained a lay speaker at my church recently.  "Those are the days when we and our family are all alive and well, when we have a job to go to, when we turn on the tap and water comes out, when we go out to our car and it starts immediately."  These are the days that we often take for granted, that essentially escape our attention.

My preschool class at the Methodist Church
So far I have been blessed with essentially an ordinary life.  I laughingly have told my friends, "I can't write my memoirs--my life has been too ordinary."  I grew up in the fifties in a middle class home with two loving parents who worked hard to provide for me and my two younger sisters.  My dad was in the furniture business with two of his brothers. 

After my youngest sister finished grammar school and we moved into a "suburban" home near my grandmother and two of our uncles, my mother went to work for the federal government. 

My Oklahoma cousins, my sisters and me at the house beside the railroad tracks (before suburbia)

Our home in "suburbia" where my mom still lives

I grew up in small town America, in one of the most beautiful parts of the country--the mountains of Southwestern Virginia.  We enjoyed picture perfect Christmases with neighborhood carolers and, often when we were little, with personal visits on Christmas Eve from Santa Claus, i.e., our great-uncle who worked for the town newspaper formerly owned by his father.  Our great-uncle Joe was a volunteer fire fighter and served as Santa in our small town for 50 years or longer. 

Santa (aka Uncle Joe) visits my sisters and me on Christmas Eve at our grandmother's house!
Winter also meant sledding on the streets of our neighborhood or, as we got older, walking to "Cow Hill" behind our neighborhood to ice skate on the frozen pond there.

Spring is beautiful but a tricky season in the mountains, warm days and cold ones intermixed.  Spring mainly meant the tulips and dogwoods in the yard bloomed, Daddy had to start mowing the lawn again on Wednesday afternoons, and the end of the school year was approaching.  For me, it also meant my hay fever would begin in earnest, and I'd walk around with a fistful of tissues.

I remember summer as being perfect-- the streets full of kids to play with, running through the water sprinkler or swimming in the neighbor's pool on really hot days, visits from out-of-state cousins, long evenings of Hide and Seek or Kick the Can, extending across multiple contiguous lawns in the neighborhood while the adults sat out on my grandmother's patio loosely monitoring our whereabouts.  As darkness fell, the lightning bugs would appear creating their own light show if they managed to elude our grubby hands and old mayonnaise jars.  I was also free to wile away hours during the heat of the day, lying on a cot in the cool basement, reading my books.  The days might be hot but once the sun disappeared behind the mountain ridges, the sweaters came out.

While fall meant the end of summer fun, I enjoyed returning to school, seeing school friends who didn't live in my neighborhood, and getting new clothes and school shoes each year.  Fall meant the inky fresh smell of the new Sears catalog, which my sisters and I pored over although we rarely purchased any clothes from there.  My dad believed in patronizing local clothing stores, and my mother made some of our new outfits to cut down on the cost of clothing three girls. 

I'm wearing navy blue jumper Mother made me. 
Fall meant football games, the smell of bonfires, especially in high school when I was a cheerleader.  My dad was a big football fan: the last year he was quarterback of our hometown's high school team, the team was undefeated.  My sister and I found a small gold football in the cedar chest that commemorated this feat.  Even when I was small, my father would take me to football games while the younger girls amd Mother stayed home.  Mainly I remember being cold and begging for hot chocolate.

I could go on and on with details of my ordinary life where things were predictable and my sisters and I were sheltered from life's harsher realities.  I'm now incredibly grateful for this stability, this happy childhood to build my life on.  And when horrific events occur, such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, I am saddened that the ordinary lives of so many disappeared in the blink of an eye. 

There will be a new normal, families will survive, life will go on, goodness will prevail--and hopefully, you and I will wake up each day and thank the Divine when it turns out to be just another ordinary day.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Exercise Space of Ones Own

A room of ones own needs to be part practical, part whimsy, part funky, with a mixture of indoor and outdoor elements.  Today's featured space is my exercise room.

You may have seen Daisy, the cat, and I enjoying a warm morning on the patio this week (if you look at Facebook), but today I'm featuring Katrina, the neurotic sleeping porch cat, because she often keeps me company as I ride the recumbent bike in the mornings.  I love my tiny "bike room" that used to be kind of a fancy potting shed where I also made teacup bird feeders out of vintage teacups and saucers. 

Katrina watches the patio & backyard as I exercise.
Now it's morphed into the exercise bike space but still retains the close to nature feeling next to the patio.  We added this area onto the guest cottage when we renovated it, but the room is accessed only from outside. 

Hmmm, my better photo of this entry area turned out to be on movie setting rather than still photograph.  Oh well.....I used the phone on these shots rather than my good camera because I always have the phone with me when I exercise so it's convenient.

You enter through the door and you're in my private, "room for only one person" exercise area. 

This is what I see from the exercise bike as I ride each day, catching up on emails, Facebook and, of course, reading.

Painted floor of the exercise room

Ricky laid the floor in this room and then we painted and distressed it.  I'm certainly no expert with sponge stencils but I still like the effect, splotches and all.  There are a couple of more utilitarian elements of this room not depicted in these photos, i.e.,  a TV and a sink, both of which come in handy at times.

Garden fairies also occupy this space.  They bring good luck to all the plants.



And I'm pretty sure this pot shard lady keeps an eye on things when I'm not in here.

This planter beside the back door that made it through the winter.  See what I mean
about the English flower fairies bringing good luck to our flowers!
English dogwood, or mock orange, growing beside the carport.

One great thing about my partial retirement is having more time to move about
our house & grounds, enjoying all the special places.

What about you? What do your special places look like? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Christmas Mysteries

It's the first week in April, and like much of the country we've experienced a chilly spring in Louisiana--but not the surprise snowfall that some of our friends and relatives recently had in Virginia .  While we gird our loins here in the Deep South for the approaching summer heat, in my volunteer life I met yesterday with a group of women to plan the Christmas Tour of Historic Homes that we do every other year in our National Historic Districts neighborhood.  I can't believe we are starting this early, but such an event takes a lot of advance planning and behind-the-scenes work just to line up the venues. 

We have several Bed and Breakfasts in our neighborhood, and we hope to feature a newly renovated one in this year's tour.  Below is the entrance to another B & B featured on our last tour!

I guess prepping for Christmas this early isn't freaking me out as much as it might, because I had so many Christmas mysteries laying around the house that I continued to read them long past the holidays.

In my mind I subtitle a post like this as Book by Book: Reading a Home Library, because I continue to pick books off my shelves to read as the mood strikes me.  Then a few other books enter my life through gifts and passalongs from friends.

Christmas mysteries I've read since Christmas:

A Fatal Winter, by G. M. Malliet (2012)
A former spy who became a cleric, Max Tudor serves a rural English parish as their pastor but still manages to use the skills of his former profession to solve murders that mar the peacefulness of village life.  When several members of the wealthy Footrustle family die as the estranged and far-flung relatives gather in the family homestead (a castle) for the holidays, Max is asked by the local authorities to assist.  The setting of the castle and the Footrustle family became tedious for me as I read this book, though Max and other village characters are likable.  This was a passalong book from a friend.

Antiques Flee Market (a Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery), by Barbara Allan (2008)
This paperback appeared on my front porch left by the neighbor who passes books on to me and I to her.  Written by husband/wife writing team, Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins, this light mystery series is set in Mississippi and features a neurotic mother-daughter duo who "pick" and sell antiques. In this book, they track down the killer of one of the mother's old boyfriends.  Mildly entertaining read for the holiday scene.

Dude on Arrival: A Christmas Mystery, by J.S. Borthwick (1992)
Who knows where I got this book but I found it packed away with some holiday decorations.  A dude ranch and resort in Arizona appealed to me as a different place to spend Christmas.  Add to the western setting some colorful characters, a feisty older woman and her English teacher niece as protagonists and this was an enjoyable, escapist mystery.

'Twas the Bite Before Christmas, by Lee Charles Kelley (2005)
I learned so much about training dogs and dog behavior in this book by dog trainer Kelley that I was ready to read more in this mystery series just to add to my knowledge.  The mystery features an ex-cop and kennel owner, Jack Field, and the plot to me was forgettable but I was fascinated by the dog psychology information.

Holly Blues, by Susan Wittig Albert (2010)
If I let time elapse between reading books in Albert's China Bayles series, I enjoy them.  This mystery set at Christmas is the 18th book in this series.  The ex-wife of China's husband comes to town with a hard luck story and an expressed desire to spend some time with her son, China's step-son, Brian.  While the ex-wife is Trouble with a capital "T," China can't turn her back on Brian's mother and when a killer begins to stalk the whole family, China has no choice but to act.  Reading this book was like catching up with an old friend.

The Fleet Street Murders, by Charles Finch (2009)
The story begins Christmas 1866 and finds amateur sleuth Charles Lennox newly engaged to his neighbor, Lady Jane Grey, and standing for a Parliament. seat in Northern England when the murder of two newspapermen captures Lennox's attention. The police appear to be after the wrong men, which pulls Lennox into the case.  The climax comes rather abruptly, but the man who is pulling the strings of the "puppet perps" is brought to justice.  The ancillary characters are well-drawn in this series, and I've enjoyed all of Finch's books that I've read.

The Snowman, by Jo Nesbo (2011 audio book)
I listened to this unabridged version of Norwegian author Nesbo's 2010 (English version) mystery when I drove to and from Virginia at Christmas.  If the other books in this list are cozies and forgettable, though relaxing, reading, this thriller was the opposite.  It served its purpose in keeping me awake during the
drive, but the stark horror of the murders and the
graphic descriptions of the violence made this book hard to listen to at times.  Don't get me wrong, Nesbo is a masterful writer and the intricate, terrifying plots are extremely well-done.  If you enjoy "Nordic Noir" (as some critics term the books coming out of Scandinavia, such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series), you will love detective Harry Hole.  In this book, a serial murderer stalks women in Oslo and seeks to show he can outwit Harry, and even if you guess the murderer's identity before the end of the book, it doesn't matter, this book keeps you holding your breath until the final scene.  With a giant exhale, I felt like I had accomplished something by completing the book, but oddly enough I was ready to read more thrillers featuring Harry Hole.