It’s All About The Book

5 star AStarting next week, every Monday will be my FIVE STAR READS day. I’ll talk about a book I’ve recently read, or, maybe not so recently read, that’s on my favorites list.

What makes a book one of my favorites? Ummm… could be because I stayed up late at night to continue reading. Could be because I absolutely loved the main characters, or the plot, or the sentiment, or… Perhaps I don’t know exactly what it is that tips an enjoyable novel over to the superlative.

Like they say, my choice might not be your cuppa tea. Even, on another day, it might not have been my favorite. But, rest assured, I’ll tell you what shivered my timbers with each book. Likely it will be a mystery. But, not always. (I’m looking forward to listing a particular middle-grade novel.) I also like historic fiction, especially historic mysteries. A few romances resonate with me (I have favorite authors). Often, a non-fiction will catch my eye.  I like comedy in stories, but I appreciate good suspense as well.

Along with my Monday with books, I’ll post another blog entry each Thursday. The subjects will be varied. I’ll include entries on both days to follow my mystery, history, and spooks, oh my caption. But, I’ll no doubt include some that could only be considered ‘rambling.’

Come back on Thursday, and again on next Monday. Hopefully, I’ll have refined my five star reads logo. And, hopefully, I’ll find out how to reorganize my first page to include an option to follow my blog, to shorten the list of past posts, and, possibly, even include other options.

What makes a book one of your favorites?


Saving Dogs

Dogs on a plane. A mercy flight for animals facing death in overcrowded shelters.

Recently our newspaper told the story of the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team when they brought fifteen dogs to the Lancaster County SPCA shelter. The PAART began when a couple of new pilots wanted a mission other than just flying around Pittsburgh. After one transported a dog for a friend, the idea took hold. When the group hears of an overcrowded shelter about to euthanize dogs, they fly in and collect up to one thousand pounds of animals and take them to a shelter that has room and people who want to adopt dogs.

Since 2006, they’ve moved more than 600 dogs. They’ve also shifted cats, ducks, even pigs and a python. Sometimes the dogs are in crates, other times they are loose. The altitude makes them sleepy. The only problem has been when an affectionate dog wants to sit on the pilot’s lap. (The only damage to a plane was when one Great Dane chewed up the co-pilot’s seat.) Many of the dogs are puppies.

The team of pilots has gone out nearly every weekend for the last two years. On occasion a pilot will adopt one of the dogs. But they know the dogs face a bright future. Locally, the Lancaster shelter had previously taken twenty-eight dogs from the same overcrowded shelter in another state, but these were the first that came by plane. All of those those taken earlier have been adopted.

“Our turnover has been phenomenal,” said Lancaster’s Susan Martin. “We live in such a great county. There are so many dog lovers.”

The full article with pictures is here.

More about Amish TV

I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the words “Amish” and “TV” don’t belong together. Many, possibly most Amish don’t even use electricity. We are befuddled about all this “Amish Mafia” stuff. We, especially me, only know about it from our local newspaper. In fact, today’s poll shows 80.9 % say “Yes, enough is enough.” But that doesn’t leave nearly twenty percent who want to watch it because 13.7 % say, “Honestly, I don’t watch this stuff and I don’t care either way.”

Okay, I’m getting the cart before the horse. What brought this subject up again? A couple of front-page articles in yesterday’s newspaper. One tells about another “reality” TV show being filmed right now, “Amish Haunting.” The other is the story of a local filmmaker who wants to combat those offensive Amish shows. (Follow the links to read their articles.)

The filmmaker, Mary Haverstick, calls it Amish-sploitation. She wonders what would happen if someone should produce such films about another religion, say, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Nope, they wouldn’t do that. They prefer to attack a religion that doesn’t believe in objecting to anything, or taking anyone to court.

Something I learned—all those shows are created and filmed by a production company called Hot Snakes Media. Besides “Amish Mafia” and the Haunting mentioned above, they have produced “Breaking Amish” and “Return to Amish.” Might sound like they specialize in Amish productions, but they also have others, among them “Elder Skelter” and “Naked Science.” One has to wonder about the brilliance of the TV audience.

Fly-in Pancake Breakfast

A lovely June morning, clear and comfortably warm. Saturday was a perfect day for our planned outing. My husband and I drove to Smoketown Airport in Pennsylvania for breakfast. Why? We do it every year when they have the Fly-in, Cruise-in Pancake Breakfast. We eat breakfast then stroll around to see the antique automobiles and airplanes. We visit with our friends Jack and Shirley who have helped organize and run the event for years, and any of their children or grandchildren who might be there. (Three generations of flyers in that bunch.)

This year we didn’t have any of our grandchildren along to take a Young Eagles airplane ride. That’s part of the event—a free airplane ride and a Young Eagles certificate for all children ages eight through seventeen. A band plays while people wander and watch a parachuter jump from 3,000 feet. (Our friend Jack piloted the plane.)

All the airplanes and antique autos are spiffed up and gleaming. We saw a bright yellow street rod and another car from 1927. The airplanes included a couple of ultra-lights, a home-built ir two, and a 1929 Fairchild 71. It’s one of only seven still flying, and it sparkled. It has a long body for extra storage and wicker seats for four or five.

Since we saw the newspaper photographer taking pictures, I waited until Sunday to write this up so I could include a link to the airport fly-in article.

I know this blog is my mystery, history, and spook writings, and this is only history with a real stretch. But maybe it’s inspiration. Hmm. Do I want to write a mystery about a daring Nancy Drew type with her vintage auto solving crimes?

One thing I do want to add is the link to the interview I mentioned in my last blog post. (It’s now broken.) Now, here’s where to find my Coffee Chat with Ally Shields.

Radium Girls

“Radium girls?” What does that mean, you ask. Think “glow in the dark.” Now cast your mind back to the 1920s. Okay, my mind doesn’t go back that far, and I imagine, neither does yours.

Let’s start from the beginning. I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home of Hamilton Watch and in the past, another watch company. A local newspaper columnist, Jack Brubaker, has been following radium girls. He found several, one is 102 year-old Cora Bodkey. When she was fourteen, she worked for Hamilton Watch painting radium numbers on watches. They used pens instead of brushes and were warned not to put the pens in their mouths. Even then, in 1926, they knew that many women liked to point their brushes by mouth and some were getting sick. Other than that, they had no clue about radium, only that it glowed in the dark.

Eventually, watch companies switched to using tritium and the government began to strictly regulate its use, although it was less radioactive. One woman, who used a brush, remembers they tested her urine every week, and, although it was always high, nothing was ever done about it. Few locally knew about anyone being sick, but one remembered a woman who died of tongue cancer.

Radium girls were at work in other places before World War I. One always thinks of the world becoming more dangerous. But now, in 2014, we think of a person of fourteen as a child, and radium as definitely nothing to handle. Come to think of it, every time I read of the dangers of mercury poisoning, I remember the time, maybe I was fourteen, when one of us broke a thermometer. We had a lot of fun rolling those little gray dots around the floor in semi-liquid balls, pushing them with our fingers. Yep, mercury.

April Showers-And April Memories

The last day of April, and the rain is pouring down. I’m trying to remember to sing the words to a song that was popular years ago – April Showers. I’m trying to remember that, according to the song, showers bring May flowers, but this isn’t showers. It’s a pound-through-the-umbrella downpour.

Okay, instead or looking forward to those flowers, I’m looking back to Aprils of past years.

Twenty-five years ago the Pennsylvania Super 7 lottery was at a then-record high $115,500,000 jackpot. Eventually, fourteen winners each received $317,524 per year for twenty-six years. They have one year more to go. (I don’t remember this story. I wasn’t into betting on the lottery.) I do remember the then-popular TV shows: “Alf” “Cheers,” McGyver,” and “Golden Girls.”

Fifty years ago the Ford Mustang made its debut locally, priced at $2,368. After sixty years in business, when the 91 year old owner retired, the Smithsonian accepted the fixtures of his pharmacy to create a “Gay ’90s Apothecary” at the museum. Movies showing locally were: “The Horror at Party Beach,” The Curse of the Living Corpse,” Cleopatra,” and “Muscle Beach Party,” (at the drive-in with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon). I probably didn’t see any of those movies. I was busy with a very young family of small children, and my husband was working three jobs.

Seventy-five years ago the local library got its very first bookmobile. Most of the county adopted Daylight Saving Time-but one town held out for regular time, however their banks and business opened an hour earlier to accommodate their customers. Popular radio shows were “Lum and Abner,” “Jack Armstrong” (the all-American boy-I do remember that one), “The Lone Ranger,” and “The Green Hornet.” These were all before I was married, so this was not my county. I definitely remember our bookmobile coming from Bellingham, Washington, and stopping at the bottom of the hill, after a thirty-mile trip.

Now, I have no personal memory of one hundred years ago. I’m old, but not that old. However, locally in mid-April it was Cleanup Week. Thousands of people including children painted, scrubbed, white-washed, and swept while wandering judges toured and awarded prizes. Another week some two hundred people attended an afternoon social honoring National Rally Day of the Suffragettes. The event began with singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Also during April, “The Last Days of Pompeii,” a silent moving picture was being shown – admission price ten cents.


Let’s Celebrate National Pie Day

I found out two days late, that January 23rd was National Pie Day. Who knew? But that bit of information segues right into a subject I want to visit. Well, two subjects—pies and mothers. Make that four subjects. Add books and movies.

Last Sunday Parade Magazine included with our newspaper had an article about an upcoming movie called Labor Day. Both the picture (see below) and the subject and title of the article (Life of Pie) caught my attention. Of course, it’s about pie. Many years ago Joyce Maynard, author of the book of the same name, had spent the summer with her mother who was dying of cancer baking a pie nearly every day, while her mother’s friends visited. She’d rolled out the crust on wax paper, just as she’d learned from her mother. That summer inspired her to teach many others how to make pie. And baking pies inspired her to include a pie-making scene in her latest novel, Labor Day.

Pie and a pie-baking mother struck a cord with me. My mother loved to bake. We always had dessert of some sort, always homemade, usually cake or pie more often than cookies. We lived on a farm, so we had our own fruit and berries. I especially remember apple pies. After we children left home, my mother continued to bake pies. Since she had become diabetic, she’d bake a small sugar-free one for herself and another for my dad. Often she’d bake two and give one away. After my father died, Mom still baked. She couldn’t eat all the pies, so she gave them away. A neighbor stopped by? Have a pie. Any family activity? Bring two pies. A doctor appointment? Take a pie for the entire staff to share.

Although I don’t make many pies myself, I learned from my mother. She used a board instead of wax paper to roll out the dough. I use a cloth for my rolling surface. The author uses wax paper. But we all did one thing the same—use the absolute minimum of cold water when mixing the dough. Those memories inspire me to see the movie, and definitely to read the book, Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard. (In fact, due to the marvels of the internet and Kindle, I have it already, when a week ago I didn’t even know the book existed.)

Life of Pie-from Parade Magazine

Life of Pie-from Parade Magazine

The illustration with the article shows the author demonstrating her pie expertise to the movie’s stars, Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Josh plays an escaped convict who hides out in Kate’s house. He makes the pie in the movie. (Kate came to the demonstration as she wanted to learn how to bake pies too.) While they baked and ate three pies, author Joyce Maynard found a pie connection with actor Josh. His mother, who had died young, had also been a baker. I too found a connection with both of them—a mother who baked pies.

On Amazon’s page for Labor Day, I learned more about the book. It is told from the thirteen-year-old son’s point of view. More information about Joyce Maynard’s book can be found here. You can read the entire Parade article here, see a clearer picture, and even watch a video of Joyce Maynard making an apple pie. Incidently, the movie will open January 31. And, for a local humor column on the subject, click on National Pie Day.

Old News That’s Still New

I’ve been busy which is really not a good excuse. Everyone is busy this time of year—the holidays, visits, cooking, cleaning, bad colds—and I’ve had them all. Plus, I’ve been pouring over the proof of my new book and discovering lots of things that need to be changed. But I must take time out to write in my blog. And—I’ve found a good subject—the continuing realization that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Every Monday our local newspaper has a column of old news taken from papers 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago. Yes, our newspaper has been in business that long! (Well, the paper’s name has undergone a few name changes. It’s now a combination of the two previous ones put out by the same company.) Would you believe the local news 25 years ago was similar to one a fellow mystery writer based her first mystery on, and incidently, started my habit of clipping these columns? The author is Stacy Juba, and her book is Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. Her book centered around an unsolved murder. My local article tells of an unsolved disappearance of a 15-year old girl who left with a man “well known to her.” Foul play and her death were feared and she is still missing. Stacy, are you up for another plot? Or, since Stacy has several other books completely plotted and published, am I?

Not only was the 50-year-ago news of a huge snow storm with ultra-low temperatures one that I remember well, those ultra-low temperatures were repeated this year. Fortunately, the twelve-foot drifts weren’t. Of course, that affected the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show—both times. In fact, that happens so often, the frequent bad, cold weather for the same week is referred to as Farm Show Weather.

Now, 75 years ago the weather wasn’t really mentioned. That news was from 1939, a year still in the depression that started ten years earlier and wasn’t completely erased until the arms build-up to win World War II began after Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, 1941. Locally, 21 “relief chislers” had defrauded the government for a total of $1,408. One woman thought the government knew she had a job. Her husband was in jail and she had to walk ten miles to and from her job. Personally, I think I’d have let her keep the $100.10 she was overpaid. (There are certain facts in this story that remind me of today as well. Can you say “hard times for many?”)

Fortunately, the 100-years ago today story doesn’t remind me of current events. A man who owned the local store and ran the enclosed post office came down with “the dreaded” disease of small pox. Not only was his business establishment quarantined and closed, but his entire family was quarantined and two nearby schools were closed for two weeks.

Have you heard any old news lately that could have been said about yesterday as well? If my comments section is working, I’d love to hear it.