Sunday, December 24, 2017

A quick, easy read, and an important piece of history: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's rare that I find a work of non-fiction to be an easy read, but Killers of the Flower Moon flowed well while telling an important story of a great injustice that was new to me. In the early 20th Century, the Osage Indians, who had been pushed onto land in Oklahoma (just as so many Native Americans had been displaced and moved to lands not of their choosing), found that their land sat over large oil deposits.

Much to the chagrin of white people, this made the Osage quite wealthy. Sadly, blatant notions of white supremacy had the government and its citizens doing everything they could to disenfranchise the Osage, including routinely having perfectly competent adults declared incompetent, so white "guardians" could be appointed; those guardians then free to steal Osage money.

But for some, that wasn't enough. The Osage were being murdered at a staggering pace by people who had set up underhanded arrangements, through marriage, insurance policies and other means to steer Osage wealth into white hands. The indifference to the murders that underpinned these schemes was shockingly blatant, but nothing really was being done until the precursor of the FBI got involved.

With glimpses of the sociopathic madness that we'd eventually learn drove the actions of J. Edgar Hoover, he pulled the strings of an investigation that eventually curtailed the ongoing murders. The real heroes are no-nonsense lawmen who worked in the Osage Nation on behalf of the Bureau of Investigation (the FBI's name at the time). That didn't end all of the killings, as some have clearly gone unsolved and went well beyond the more commonly known reign of terror, but the federal involvement at least seemed to stop the worst of it.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a quick read, likely because of the writing skill of David Grann, its author and a veteran of The New Yorker, and it's an important piece of American history. I highly recommend this book!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A book review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Devil in the White City is a fascinating tale. Combining a vicious serial killer's ongoing brutality with the concurrent World's Columbian Exposition (the World's Fair of 1893) in Chicago, Erik Larson paints a picture of a harsher time, not because of the killer but due to a host of circumstances surrounding life in the era, while illuminating the hope and progress embodied in the Fair.

Reading the book, one can't help but be disturbed by the sickness of the killer, Herman Webster Mudgett (who went by H.H. Holmes, among other aliases), while at the same time being impressed by the audacity of the people taking on a seemingly impossible task and eventually succeeding, thereby bringing pride to the city of Chicago and hope to its people in the midst of terrible economic times nationally. It's also startling to see how many famous names of the late 19th and early 20th centuries figured in the creation, progress and aftermath of the Fair.

I'd say I enjoyed reading Larson's Isaac's Storm a bit more than this book, but I think they both merit four stars. The Devil in the White City is an excellent book, well researched and only embellished (as when Larson admittedly paints certain murder scenes on the basis of his suppositions) as needed to complete the picture as responsibly as possible. Larson's writing can be a bit stiff. He's more professorial than one might like. As a result, the book doesn't flow as smoothly as some non-fiction works, but much can be forgiven with a well researched historical work (as opposed to a novel), so that must be a secondary issue. The somewhat stilted writing kept me from finishing this book sooner, but I do feel richer for having read it and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or even a good true crime story.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

This dog!

We've always had reasons to be proud of all of our dogs. We've loved them and been impressed by them on many occasions, but there's something about Lexi that's rather extraordinary.

Watching her carefully, you can see a rather impressive mind at work. That mind doesn't work like a human mind, but there's clearly a lot going on in there. Today, she gave us another example.

Before Marc left for work, he gave me a kiss as I was still lying in bed. He often leaves before I'm up, but this was pretty much guaranteed today, since I was out very late because it was election day. I've been working on a couple of political campaigns, and last night's results didn't come in until quite late. Anyhow...

As Marc said goodbye, he told me to keep a close eye on Lexi, because a Milk-Bone had gone astray. After an errant throw, it had landed under/behind an antique tea cart we have. Since Lexi forgets nothing, he knew she'd be after it at the first opportunity.

When I got up, Lexi and I headed downstairs. I looked under the cart to see if I could spot the biscuit. No luck. She watched me, but then she went on her way, leaving things untouched. Such a good girl!

So we did our stuff...
I had coffee.
We went out to the yard.
I fed the birds.
I read the newspaper and watched CBS This Morning.

She never went near the cart. Still being so good!

Then I hit the bathroom. And as I was indisposed, what do I hear? Yup, she's getting under the cart!

I got done as quickly as I could, came back out and found her trotting away with her best I didn't do nothin' look plastered on her face.

She waited until a time when she knew I couldn't react quickly, and then she went for it! OMG, this dog! Even after a couple of years with her, she continues to amaze. Yes, sometimes she frustrates, disobeys, angers, annoys... but still, she's impressive!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A down to earth kind of girl

Lexi is a beautiful dog. She's also very smart and very stubborn. Her intelligence and willfulness make her a challenge at times. We thought we'd be done with her training collar by now, almost two years after we got her, but she still needs it a lot of the time.

If she's wearing it, she listens. If she isn't, she knows she isn't and can be very difficult. I might laugh that off, but she could get herself hurt outside by disobeying. She's smart but not about the risks to herself.

This post, however, isn't really about all of that. Well, not directly. Rather, it's about what we expected when we got to know her. We figured that a strong-willed girl like her would be difficult about what food she would eat. For that reason--and also because we tend to spoil our dogs and want the best of everything for them--we bought her the finest gourmet dog food from the start.

What we found over time is that she has what Marc calls "luncheonette tastes." The less fancy the food gets, the happier she is. Today, we were at Petco, and I suggested we try Beneful. Yeah, I know, it's not like it's Alpo, but from the lofty heights of what we used to buy her (gourmet, super-healthy dog foods that were just this side of a Michelin-starred chef coming over to cook for her), this is a serious drop. So did she turn up her nose? Of course not! "Oh, this smells awful! I love it!" And she dove right in! The girl is a mystery.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A different world

Marc has a school reunion this weekend. So that had us flying back to Wichita, Kansas, to attend. Our friend Bob has been gracious enough to put us up in his lovely home. Bob has had the kind of brutal year I wouldn't wish on an enemy. His partner of almost 40 years, Brad, passed away suddenly earlier this year.

Despite that, you wouldn't know it to talk to Bob or to see how wonderful he is as a host. We are very fortunate to have a good friend to stay with, as well as a comfortable place to stay. We could have used points and stayed at a hotel in town, but he wouldn't hear of it. We are very fortunate. To top it all off, his home is on a lovely little lake, and I love sitting out here, enjoying the view and listening to the ducks talk to each other. Bob actually puts out food for the ducks, and so they come up to his house to eat. It's cute to watch!

    A shot from the deck. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

An interesting time of semi-employment and volunteer work

I've been unemployed for a long time now. Over a year. I never thought something like this would happen. When the old CEO retired, a number of us discussed the possibility of our being let go by a new CEO. Sure enough, the new one let every member of executive management go. She used a budget excuse, but that clearly was a lie. She just wanted to bring in her own people.

When we had those discussions, we agreed that with our experience, we shouldn't be out too long. Well, the joke was on us. I think age has something to do with it. People don't want to pay for experience, and they'd rather have someone in their 30s than their 50s. So I've now been out for over a year, passed over for jobs for which I was very well qualified. If some employers had done that, well, that's how it goes, but to have so many jobs where I can't even get a face-to-face interview, there's only one explanation I can see.

So I've helped some organizations for free, and I've been doing a bit of legal work. That pays pretty well per hour, but that's a couple of hours here and a couple there.

Thankfully, Marc is working, and we haven't piled tons of debt on ourselves. Still, this is beyond unsettling.

I'll keep doing things. I'm also working on some political efforts I believe in. So I'm staying busy and productive, but I look forward to a more normal work life one of these days!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Blog Tribe and a time of loss

On June 30, 2004, before I'd ever heard of something called Facebook, I finally caved to pressure from my dear friend PatCH and started this blog. From the blog, I shared much of my life--and my life with Marc and our dogs--and I made some amazing friends. More true friends than I ever could have imagined.

It shouldn't have surprised me that I could make such good friends online, since my initial introduction to my best friend--my husband Marc--came on an old online technology called IRC, but still there's some surprise in the volume of dear friends who came into my life through blogging.

I often lament my lack of attention to this blog. Blogging is a far better medium than any of the newer social media, but it also requires a bit more time and thought than a Facebook post. Still, I should give it more attention.

When I think about the friends I've made on here, I'm sometimes reminded of the ones we lost. This week, we mark the passing of Scott Barnes of the blog "Sardonic Bomb", gone suddenly at the age of 50 last weekend. Earlier this year, we also lost Alex. He was only 43. He had a couple of blogs/sites, the main one I followed called "Epicureal Thoughts." Both of them were artists. Scott was a photographer. Alex painted. Both brightened their parts of the world.

The funny thing is, there are members of this blogger tribe I feel close to, even though we never met. These two are good examples. We never got to meet, but Alex's death crushed me. I agonized as he fought for his life, being in intensive care for weeks, only to lose a battle when the damage was more than the doctors could fix. Then we got the news of Scott's sudden death--at least, as Jay explained, he had just finished having fun on a rollercoaster when he died an instantaneous death. Nothing makes death okay, especially at only 50, but at least he didn't suffer.

Although we never met, Scott and I had spoken on the phone. Interestingly, one call I remember was when he'd suffered a loss. I had been through a lot by that point in my life, having lost loved ones and found ways to cope. So we talked about it. Even in tough times like that, I enjoyed our talks, as I've enjoyed the many talks I've had with his partner, Jay.

It's a human failing that we think there always will be time to meet people. That's how I thought of Scott. I missed a visit he made to New York not so long ago, but I figured I'd catch him next time. Now, after our schedules not clicking multiple times, he's gone and "next time" will never come.

I've been blessed to make so many friends on here. I hesitate to start mentioning them, because I'll miss someone. But to give you an idea of how many people this medium brought into my world: Byrne and Andy and Pony and Rob and Jay and Scott and Alex and Patrick and Jason and Matt and Patrick and Michael and Aaron and Deidre and Pua and Richard and Toddy and Jeff and Glenn and Atticus and Joel and Steven and Albert and Karen. And there are more. I feel quite sure I've missed any number of friends.

Most of these people became friends IRL (in real life). Some of them are among our dearest friends now. But even those we never got to meet became close. Over time, you can develop quite a connection through blogging, then private messages and then phone calls. Three of the people I just mentioned are gone. They were too young, but we don't get to decide that. They're gone, and while I never got to hug those three and see them face-to-face, their loss is very real.

Rest in peace, my friends. And the rest of us? Let's not allow too much time to slip by between meetings. Okay?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I've discovered the secret to immortality!

And the secret to immortality is... mothballs!

My grandmother died over 13 years ago. We inherited some lovely furniture from her. In some of the furniture, she'd used mothballs.

Sometime last year, my sandals got dropped into a drawer. Probably after our summer trip to Savannah.

Since it's pretty warm today, I dug them out. I'm now walking around with the smell of Nana Nan's mothballs wafting up at me. *sigh*

Nana lives on!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sorry blog. I don't mean to abandon you. For now, here's a book review!

The Prisoner (John Wells, #11)The Prisoner by Alex Berenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Prisoner is the latest installment in the John Wells series by Alex Berenson. Unlike too many other authors' series, the John Wells novels don't take the easy or simple route. Our hero doesn't have magical strokes of luck or flashes of (literally) unbelievable intuition that save the day.

Wells is smart, experienced and tough, but he's still human. He makes mistakes and he feels his wounds. He can endure things that would finish most of us, but he still pays a price. In The Prisoner, he tries to balance a part of him that's pulling him to domestic life and tranquility that he's certainly earned against his internal call to duty that he can't resist. A serious threat is looming--a threat coming from a place that jeopardizes the US too much for him to ignore--and he can't just walk away.

To try to get to the bottom of it, Wells has to put himself in dangerous places he knows all too well, risking his own safety in the process. The tension in The Prisoner is palpable, and, sadly, much of the action is all too plausible in today's world. If you like espionage/terrorism-centered novels but find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the more simplistic authors' work, then you should try this series. Alex Berenson writes novels that make you think, don't take easy ways out and still give you an exciting ride!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

This is the example a leader should set?

Our new president continues to be hard to understand or believe. Still, the ease with which people can push his buttons can be entertaining.

Honestly, I'm partly horrified and partly pleased with every silly thing that sets off a Trump storm. The pleasure comes from the fact that few people deserve the irritation more than he (that, and it keeps him from doing more damaging things with that time). The horror is fueled by the example he's setting. How many millions think this kind of childish behavior is acceptable in an adult? I don't believe that leaders used to be without flaws--far from it--but there were certain expectations and levels of respect that were understood to be a requirement of such positions.

But this behavior? The way this man behaves would have gotten me in trouble as a child, let alone as an adult. My parents weren't old fashioned in most ways. In fact, they were very open, accepting people, but they did expect certain standards to be observed, particularly in public. For example, when I was a kid, I was taught that if I were lost or in trouble, I should look for a police officer. And then there's that title, police officer. I remember once using the term "cop," and I was nicely but quite firmly reminded that this is a person who works to protect the rest of us and is entitled to respect. I was to say police officer. RESPECT mattered.

Okay, that example may be a little out of date--different times--but respect still matter. Certain levels of civility and respect are vital. In the latest Trump bad behavior, he is showing his disdain for the courts, because judges have dared question the Constitutionality of his actions. This is unspeakably damaging to the Republic. No president before this one would do this. He is signaling to millions that it's okay to disrespect the judiciary. Not that judges don't make bad decisions--no one is perfect--but respect for the courts' role is vital. The three branches must respect each other's role.

This man isn't fit to be president. Anyone who could act as he does is simply unfit. So keep torturing him via Twitter and wherever else. He deserves every bit of it! Sadly, none of that is going to measure up to the damage he may be doing to our country!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sources of satisfaction

As you may know, I lost my job about 8 months ago. Nothing I did to deserve it. My CEO retired, and the new one wanted to bring in her own people. I (and some other people) were in the way. That's life, unfortunately.

Since then, I've been looking for work. Given my experience and credentials, prior periods of unemployment (like when St. Vincent's went bankrupt and we all got laid off) were relatively short. A month or so. Not this time!

I've had some nibbles, but really very few interviews for this much time. No new job, either. Along the way, Marc and I talked about my starting my own business. I'd certainly seen others do the same.

So I went through the process to create an LLC for some protection, got myself insured, and I'm figuring out what to market and how. Luckily, my husband is a marketing guru!

Did I mention that it's unnerving and depressing to be unemployed? And every rejection for a job is a rejection of you as a person? Maybe I shouldn't take it that way, but that's how it feels!

Half our income is gone, but we've been careful over the years, so we're not buried in debt. Our care is being rewarded now. We have to budget much more carefully, but we're okay!

Back to the main thought behind this post--in the midst of disappointment, frustration and self-doubt, working on this business idea has been a real mood booster. We don't have the first penny of business yet, but building a structure and watching it come together has made me feel so much better!

All I'm doing this evening, as I watch the Super Bowl in the background, is sketching out more of the services we can provide, and it's so satisfying to see it down on paper! Not doing business yet, but I'm getting something done. That's enough for now!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Maybe there is no complete healing

Marc has told me many times that grief over the loss of a dear loved one is something you get through but you never really get over. He may be right.

Like so many of us, I've suffered terribly painful losses in my life. My Dad. My Mom. A number of others dear to me. I've realized over the years that my reaction to grief is to try to bury it as deep as I can. I was raised to be strong for those around me and not cry. That was my Dad's advice. He was a very loving father, and he meant well.

In any case, I did that with the biggest losses in my life. But I've realized over time that the pain doesn't go anywhere. It's buried in there, just waiting for something that makes it leak out. 20 years ago, I might have been moved by a film I saw but never would have been brought to tears. But now? Push the right buttons, and I'm all choked up.

What really brought this home today was a reminder of Jet. She was our dog when I was a boy. She was two years older than me, and she died when I was in elementary school. Here's a photo of me and Jet when I was 3 and she was 5:

Today's reminder brought me back to a day in 1978. I came home from school as usual. When I got here, the TV was on, and there was a commercial on for the Bronx Zoo. There was a lion on the screen. I said to Mom, "speaking of lions, where's Jet?" And Mom told me... Jet was gone. I remember I cried then, but in the years to come I got better about burying it, even as the losses piled up.

I'm crying as I type this, remembering that day when Jet died. That's almost 40 years ago. So when does the pain fade away? I guess maybe it doesn't. I'll always miss everyone. Dad, Mom, Uncle Allan... everyone. And the doggies... Jet, Hoyt, Bernice, Mandy and my baby boy Dodger. It seems the pain's never gone. I've just hidden it away. I guess it's how I am, and I need to make the best of it.