St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas and Reading

  First an update on Margo's back surgery:

   The news is all good as Margo's surgeon says the surgical opening is closing fine and healing well.  She has no leg pain, just scar pain but can began bending and somewhat normal activities again with limits.   I think this means washing dishes, washing and ironing clothes, sweeping floors, watering plants, and maybe even cooking. Scott and I had pretty much taken this over as of June 2012 when she started cancer treatments and had a slow recovery, then fell and had a concussion and then spent the summer at her father's helping out until her back got so bad she began the 6 months of back doctoring leading to the back surgery.  

I think we will start her out slowly, teaching her how to do a good job with each task and see if she can handle each one!  Scott and I are so good at cooking, cleaning, and general housework, it will be hard to share it with Margo again. 

The Hanson Christmas party is Saturday.  It is our second one where my brothers and I are the old timer's.  It always seemed less of a responsibility with Dad and Mom and then just Mom, but we are getting used to it.  

Grandma always got something very noisy for her great grandchildren -- a harmonica one year, a warbling whistle another, and a plastic pipe flute or maybe drums or a party noisemaker.  She couldn't hear too well and liked to make sure she could tell the kids were enjoying themselves.  I'm afraid it may be a quieter Christmas this year as we couldn't think of any good noisemakers.  

Another tradition that stopped with Mom is the gifts that came from "Santa" alternating one year with males and another with females.  It was always wrapped anonymously and the handwriting disguised and some little trinket for each.  She always made a fuss wondering who was Santa so we never suspected her.  As no Santa gift was given last year it must have been her.  She did have a lot of frilly women's handkerchiefs in a box, so that may have been her plan for 2013. 

 For Christmas day, we probably will have brother Ev and son Scott over to the farm for a noon dinner.  Margo hasn't felt well enough to make cookies this year, so I gradually had to eat the chips, stars, kisses and other toppings to keep them from spoiling.  

Margo is not ready to try a trip to her visit her family in West Bend at Christmas, but maybe we will try in January.  So, she and Scott made a trip to the local cheese factory -- Burnett Dairy Co-op and sent some cheese boxes to a few of the relatives there.  She sent them on Monday morning directly from the store and Tuesday at 4 pm she got a call from Aunt Bernice in West Bend (all the way diagonally across WI) thanking her for the cheese box!   Pretty fast service!

My Christmas present this year will be a new computer tablet.  I got a Nextbook 7 ($79 at Walmart) for Father's Day 2013 but 18 months later it refuses to start up.  I did the usual things like doing resets, factory clears, trying different power supply and so on and it gets stuck starting up.  I didn't realize how dependent I was on it -- mostly as my book reader at night in bed. 

My vision is a little on the blink in my old age and reading a fine print book in bed calls for a bright night light, reading glasses and annoys Margo who likes to lie down and immediately fall asleep.  I have to read for a time until I drop the book then turn off everything.  

With the tablet, I downloaded dozens of out-of-copyright books, stories and magazines from the millions of free ones scanned by Google Books and dozed off reading them, dropping the tablet instead.   With extra carpet along the bed this has mostly been without problems to the tablet, but maybe it had it's last fall on Sunday.  Anyway, I announced my Christmas present would be a new tablet, this time the $59 Walmart Nextbook 7 new version (a Chinese clone of Android tablets that are more expensive).  This one has twice the memory, higher screen resolution, longer battery life, and a quad-core 1.7 GHz processor (about 2 times better in teh details than my old one and $20 cheaper).   They didn't have them on hand, so I ordered to be delivered to the store on Monday with free shipping.  

The old one lasted 18 months at $80 so about $4.44 per month cost for the use I got out of it.  I really can't complain about that!  If the new one lasts as long, I will be happy.   I hope to figure out a drop-free strategy for this one, although I don't think the dropping was the problem, but rather some memory inside that failed -- it seems to complain it can't boot because of some problem like that.  

I think this will be the 5th tablet (or book reader) I have bought.  None cost more than $80 and some of the old ones still work, but are limited without internet access or too slow to read complicated pdf files with lots of images (right now I am reading old Harper's magazines --the bound volumes per year from about 1850-1923 are all scanned and online in large pdf files--thanks to Google's plan to scan every single book in the whole world!).  I am doing the 100 year old stuff -- 1914 -1920.  The magazines have many stories, many essays, poetry, along with political and cultural information about the time.  Teddy Roosevelt and WWI are big items along with Taft, Wilson and others of that era.   

Want to try it?    Go to Google Books  and then search on something.    Want to find the free Harper's magazines?  
Free Harper's Magazines old   

So for the past week, I have turned on the light and forced myself to read paper books.   My tablet lets me zoom the print huge with a black background and white print for easy night viewing.  My paper books are intransigent and bothersome.  However, I finally started reading some of the books from fellow local authors some in our book club -- Northwest Wisconsin Regional Writers.  

   -- Swanberger's Song by Buz Swerkstrom.  In the last century, a River Road neighbor from Burnett Co, WI, Arthur Birnstingle (?) lived on a 680 acre sand farm.  When his first wife got a divorce and then second wife, leaving him with children,--1940s-- he wrote his US Representative, Alvin O'Konski in Washington DC asking for help in getting a wife.  O'Konski passed it to the Washington press who had great fun with it including a story with photos in Life Magazine.  My friend Buz, in his newspaper reporter days, back in the 1970s when Birnstingle was pushing 80, interviewed him for a new article.  Buz changed the names and some of the details and wrote it up as a play.  I helped him with the cover layout and got a free copy for my efforts.  I had long heard of Birnstingle and had dismissed him as sort of nut, however, he comes through as a humble, intelligent, thoughtful and interesting person.  Some of the 18,000 letters written to him by women seeking a husband are included.   He never got married again, but his natural foods, no-TV, somewhat secluded lifestyle is rather appealing.  

The next book I plan to read from Buz is "Did Adam and Eve Live in Wisconsin," a collection of Wisconsin history that Buz wrote over his years as a newspaper free-lancer and reporter.  He wrote for the Osceola Sun, which I turned to when some complicated issue came up at the county government and I wanted a clear, concise description -- Buz was best in the area for doing that.   However his real interest was visiting and interviewing interesting persons.  I suppose that is why I didn't get to know him in his newspaper days. 

  Buz is not in the writer's group, having retired from journalism a few years ago and trying out the secluded, quiet, low maintenance lifestyle himself in nearby downtown Atlas.  You can get his books by calling him in the local phone book (James Swerktrom) or on Amazon.  He doesn't usually put them in ebook form, believing it is not a book if it doesn't smell musty (ha!).   He has local history, novels, and is just completing a family history of the Liesches.  He is a polished writer and I like his books from the Alice in Wonderland spinoff to Swanberger's Song. 
Buz Swerkstrom Amazon Books

Next I read "The Bells of Red Glen" by NWRW writer Michael Vieth (I think from the Frederic area or thereabouts).  I had resisted this as I thought it was a child's book--a group of mice, cats and dogs acting sort of human with a big battle at the end.  I don't like to put effort into reading books which I don't think I would like.  

However, I read the first chapter, where I got introduced to the main character in the book, a mouse named Montgomery Worthington, who made his living as a negotiator settling disputes in the mouse world.  He seemed like a mouse I wanted to get to know, so read the whole book.  The main story is of a coming attack of alley cats and Montgomery's travels as a negotiator to try to enlist dogs, other mice in the impending doom ahead.  Although a battle is a part of the book, the message that comes out is that alternatives are better.  I liked it, and think I will pass it along to one of my great nephews or nieces.    I just bought the sequel to the first volume (which is broken into books 1 and 2) and if I can find where I set it down after the meeting last Friday, will read it next. 

Michael's writing is very well edited and during the whole read, I found nothing to quibble with about the writing itself.  I think I will mention to him that his mice community is pretty much stereotyped as for roles for males and females.  The villain is a mean queen cat, but the females are support cast only.  
Michael Vieth on Amazon

The book I am on right now is not from my club, but from an old friend of mine, Beth Blodgett.  We were both in the college physics program together where she and I both competed for the best grades in these classes.  The difference between us was that Beth would finish her tests in about 1/2 the allotted time whereas I took every minute, and at the end our scores were equal.  Frustrating to me.  She married early, moved away in her senior year, then went on to school to become a pediatrician.  I managed to keep in touch every few years as she began doing humanitarian trips to Honduras as part of her medical practice.  

About 2005, she gave up her US practice and decided to move permanently to Honduras, in two roles--as a health provider and more interestingly, founding a United Methodist Monastery for Women.  The emails of her first years are collected into a book. I bought a copy off of Amazon (paper version) and am re-reading it again.  
Her updates from Honduras are online at: Amigas del Senor  
Her book is at   Book Amigas del Senor (friends of God) 

I have a pile of other books to read yet-- I read a few pages per minute unless it is a physics or math textbook and then I slow down just a smidge.  I plan to re-read my friend Walt's book on his 14 years in a New York orphanage--not at all depressing like you might imagine.  I read it as I helped him put it together, but want to now read it as a book rather than a book binder.  
   You Don't Belong Here Anymore! : Hey Gunther

More books in the pile ahead!   I think the evening reading sessions are my favorite part of the day!