An Evening with the History Nerds

Civil War BooksFriends of the Glenview Library hosted a program last night with John Alexander, a Civil War scholar who runs a used bookstore downstate with his lovely wife.  I found him particularly charming because he said several times that his interest was not necessarily in the military, so when he was doing the Q&A and someone asked about the action he would say something like, “Well, my military friends would tell you that the West had the A team in the field.”

He argued that Senator Douglas has been made to look like a villain because “every hero needs a villain”.  But in fact, Douglas totally had Lincoln’s back after the election was over and he made sure to bring the unionist democrats with him.  Mr. Alexander maintained that the election of 1860 killed Douglas and I rather believe it.

Another intriguing line of thought was that it has been popular to argue that Grant was the worst president ever, but he thinks the tide is going to turn and History will declare that he wasn’t so bad after all.  He didn’t have time to elaborate  - he literally had to talk over the “library is closing” announcements.

So.  Next time you are downstate, please look up Books on the Square in Virden, IL.  It’s for history nerds.

Book 20 – 27 2014

It seems to be November and I barely started recording the books I’ve read.  I am also at least two books behind schedule if I am really going to finish 60 this year, but nevermind that.  Rather than go chronological, let’s see if we can group them:

Books 20 – 22: Some Agatha Christies

Pocket Full of Rye/Murder at the Vicarage/After the Funeral

I am a big fan of Hercule Poirot, so I was very pleased to find a World Book Night Edition of After the Funeral at the Used Book Store this year.  It absolutely was as good as billed, with a couple of genuinely likable characters and the solution was pretty good.

My mother is a big fan of Miss Marple, so when I saw several of the novels available in audio – narrated by Richard Grant – on the library book app – I started with Murder at the Vicarage.  I found the Vicar and his wife much more interesting than Miss Marple herself, but I enjoyed the story.  Pocket Full of Rye was a good mystery – rather sick, actually.  But again, Miss Marple was not my favorite thing about the story.

Books 23 – 24: Flavia de Luce novels

Speaking from Among the Bones/The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

These are the ones with the 10 year old girl in a small English town in the 1950s.  She is a budding chemist with her own laboratory and an obsession with poisons.  Solves local murders.  I remember someone saying that there could not be so many murders in one small town as were on the TV show Murder, She Wrote.  It is sorta like that, and the backstory becomes awfully heavy, but Flavia is fantastic.

The sixth novel tied up a lot of plot threads and, if the series continues, suggests an entirely new direction.

Books 25 – 27:  Some Star Wars novels

Allegiance, by Timothy Zahn

Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn

Razor’s Edge, by Mary Wells

All three of these are set between Episodes IV and V which I love.  Zahn takes these two novels to introduce us to a young Mara Jade.  As the nineteen year old apprentice of the Emperor she is far more skilled than young Luke Skywalker, but rather lonely.  The contrasts drawn between the two – who barely brush paths – are striking.  We are also introduced to a team of five defecting stormtroopers.  They are technically outlaws – and have stolen some pretty impressive supplies from the secret police – but are loyal to the original values of the Empire.  They go vigilante and cross paths with both Mara Jade and the rebels on a couple of missions.

Princess Leia is, I have determined, my favorite character.  While all three stories play around with the origins of Leia/Han, Razor’s Edge in particular uses both perspectives to develop her character as it relates to the destruction of Alderaan.  She is a warrior and a diplomat with no room to mourn her family or her home and she feels so very, very responsible.  How does she cope?  There is a moment when she is making a questionable decision and he pushes back.  Leia said, “I have to help these people.”  I don’t remember if he said it out loud but Han was all, “Yeah.  You have to help all the people.”  But he totally has her back.  There is a continuity problem between these three books in regards to exactly when Han Solo formally joins the Alliance.  It bothered me, but didn’t wreck anything.  Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed these stories.

Shout Out for Amy

The other day a post popped up on my Facebook feed from Heartland Animal Shelter.  This isn’t unusual, as they are active in social media, but the post was a flyer for a fundraiser in memory of Amy Thier, founder of Splash Dog.  My mother, Kay, used to take our late dog, Shadow, to Splash Dog in his senior years and it was great for his arthritis.  I wrote about them when Gibbs went for a visit a couple of years ago.

I hadn’t known Amy well and hadn’t even heard that she died, but she was active in the local rescue community.  I decided the least I could do was show up at the fundraiser yesterday and plug our common causes today:

Heartland was founded by a veterinarian and the facility is adjacent to his practice in Northbrook.  They are very active in the community, with volunteers bringing adoptable animals out to meet potential forever families in the neighborhood almost every weekend.  The next event listed on their website is Portraits with Santa Paws on December 7 from noon to 3pm.  I am considering taking Fiona, as you know she photographs beautifully.  (This is from a similar fundraiser a couple of years ago for a different rescue.)

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The Puppy Mill Project serves the rescue community by educating the public about and actively protesting against puppy mills.  In particular, they shine a light on the connection between pet store puppies and the horrible industry that mass produces them.  Besides the cruelty to the breeding dogs, the puppies that come from these conditions are notorious for coming with major health issues.  It is so bad that the state of Illinois literally has a Puppy Lemon Law.  They do not have any upcoming events listed on their page, but I am sure donations would be welcome on their website.

Finally, both Amy and I adopted from Wright-Way Rescue.  You might remember reading about a bus crashing into their old facility (no people or pets were hurt), and they have recently re-opened in Morton Grove.  Wright-Way has an interesting “business model” for their work – they take in pregnant mama dogs and the litters of puppies that are dumped in county shelters.  Gibbs was one of a litter of eight.  Wright-Way maintains a page of Facebook for people to hook up with the families of other adopters, which led to Gibbs having a play date with his brother, Kermit:

 

and Kermit

 

I don’t see any upcoming events listed, but I did find that they are now doing kids’ birthday parties.  Education, celebration, support rescue work!  I hope this catches on.  Also, I have a fundraising project for Wright-Way on Crowdrise that you can find here.

Rest in Peace, Amy.  We will do our best to continue your work.

 

 

Vicksburg – Day One

We arrived in the afternoon and the door to the Library Suite was open.  The first thing my brother did was take a picture of the chess board.  “So we know where all the pieces were.”  I remember that one of the white pawns was missing and a rook was in its spot – upside down.  Then down the wrought iron spiral staircase to the bedroom/wine cellar/morgue.  Just the right combination of creepy without feeling dirty.  Then, the bathroom.  Scott took one look at this and said, “You know blood is coming out of that thing, right?”

 

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And so the horror movie jokes began.  We unpacked our stuff – my poor brother had to lug his camp bed across the lawn, into the house and down that staircase – and then took a walk around the property.  Again, excellent combination of from-another-era but cared for:

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Outside, by the pool were a couple spending the weekend for their anniversary.  Apparently, they had gotten married at Cedar Grove several years ago and they told us all about the place. Scott was talking to the husband and the wife asked where we were from.  When I said, “Chicago” she asked how we came to stay here.  “Online,” I replied.  “I was looking for hotels in Vicksburg and Tripadvisor had a pretty convincing review that said the place is haunted.  We’re staying in the Library Suite.”  She did a double take and said she didn’t know anything about that.  As we were walking away, I recounted the conversation to Scott.  They got married here and couldn’t speak to the ghost stories?  How very horror movie.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant that night.  The food was decent, but pricey.  The service was terrible.  Then we went back to the room to take more pictures and see about the ghosts.

First, the Library was also a game room – hence the chess board – and the decor was very dark, Victorian masculine.  The fireplace was no longer operational and the lighting was insufficient so we brought a lamp upstairs from a bedroom end table.  Then I took these:

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As I circled back around to take a picture of the game table, something odd happened.  There was a shaft of light on my phone that I could not see with the naked eye.  I looked up and down four or five times before finally snapping this:

 

Light that made no sense

 

See the diagonal shaft of light?  That’s what I’m talking about.  It was dark outside.  The lamps were not pointed in that direction and to the left of the picture are the door to the room – then closed – and the dark fireplace.  The reflections in the glass bookcase don’t explain it, so I am at a loss.

We had heard that “manhandling” the books was the fastest way to make the ghostly gentleman of the house angry, so we decided against it on Night 1.  I took a shower in that ancient tub and managed to soak the entire bathroom.  Also, the drain was painfully slow which bothered me a lot.  By the time I was ready to climb into the bed, my brother was watching Sharknado 2 on the television.  So much for ghost stories.

 

 

My Own Private Mind Tricks

(I am going to write about the vacation, I swear.  But I really want to get this out.)

I read a lot of personal finance stuff online.  A lot. I don’t actually learn a heckuva lot these days, because the truth is that saving money is a lot like losing weight.  We all know how to do it if we could just do it.  But every once in awhile, an article has a small piece of insight that hits home.  Remember when the talking heads first started yammering about “the Starbucks effect”?  That we could all save a bloody fortune if we just gave up that stupid $4 cup of coffee?  That’s what I’m talking about.  For example, my friend Jodi quit smoking not long ago, and she can tell you with a lot of accuracy how much money that has saved her.  

So Huffington Post online has an article called “Nine Habits that Will Put You on the Path to Wealth” and I clicked.  Number three struck me:  Adopt your own private mind tricks.  It said, in part:

“Also known as ‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves — such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes — can help simplify the many choices we make in a day.”

I totally do this.

Notwithstanding dropping my own personal “Starbucks effect” – which was magazines at the checkout line of the grocery store – I have used several mind tricks and none of them involve freezing my credit card.

The first rule I made was that if I wanted anything from an infomercial or “as seen on TV” or QVC, I had to watch the informercial or program at least three times before buying it. This worked wonders and now I buy almost nothing from TV because:  1.  I have pretty much stopped cooking and 2.  I have pretty much stopped watching television in real time.  I don’t even need this rule anymore.

The second thing I tried was a brief moratorium on stupid shopping mall stuff that I was mindlessly buying.  Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle seem to go together in every full sized shopping mall and strip mall that I know and it is so.  freakin’. easy.  To just go in and spend $25 on stuff I don’t need.  The trick I decided on was that I would only shop at these stores during the semi-annual sales.  The one after the holidays and the one in June.  I did this for three or four cycles, found I survived just fine and have pretty much broken the habit.

I had a $25-a-week Barnes and Noble habit and now I volunteer at a Used Book Store.  I still need to stop buying books.  But never mind that one.

Right now I am working on rules for the fabric stores.  The trap I have fallen into is that since it is “for charity” – i.e. Project Linus, it doesn’t bother my conscience that I am spending money needlessly and the spare room that I was using for a library is also storing a completely unreasonable amount of yarn. 

Yarn 2014

 

This does not include the bin, large basket and two overflowing bags in my bedroom.  I’m not in the habit of buying anything fancy, and I am all into the double up on the deals while shopping, but still.  This is a lot of yarn.  (Albeit not enough to impress the Project Linus ladies, I imagine.) 

I remember my friend Bob telling me that he and his wife were getting into fights about money because he would drop a couple hundred dollars on electronics without consulting her, but she would spend just as much money over a few weeks buying nonsense for the kids at Target.  It led to a really great conversation about the different ways that money was spent in the household.

I have a financial planner and he tells me that spending money is fine, as long as we do it thoughtfully and genuinely need or enjoy the stuff we buy.  Emotional spending is like emotional eating, I guess.

So just like mind tricks for the diet, we can have mind tricks for the spending.  Do you have any?

Road Trip 2014: How it Began

Road trip 2014 started with..I blocked a week from my work calendar for a vacation and then didn’t plan anything.  By the time I got serious, the ticket prices had skyrocketed.  At the same time, I had decided that I have not had enough summer and I wanted to be someplace where I was absolutely certain the weather would be balmy.  I was looking at New Orleans when my mother – who can’t stand the idea of my being in New Orleans by myself even though I have been there plenty of times before – reminded me that Vicksburg, Mississippi has been on my road trip bucket list for awhile.

Why, yes.  It had.  It’s a History Nerd thing.  Don’t judge.

So I started looking for hotels.  I came up empty with my usual suspects – chain hotels where I have points or status or something useful to keep the cost down.  Then I went to the website for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and found they have a whole lot of Bed and Breakfast places where the prices were quite reasonable.  Because, you know.  Who wants to be in Mississippi in August?

This Yankee.

So that is how I found Cedar Grove Inn.  It was once one of those old antebellum mansions in town that became and B&B and has since built out to have 33 rooms, a bar, a restaurant and a swimming pool.  It looked like a lovely place to sit outside and read books.  So I clicked over to Trip Advisor to read the reviews, and the first one I found was a guest that had experienced a haunting.  You might want to take a minute and read this.

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Filtered picture I posted to Instagram when we arrived.

Short version:  the Library Suite is a two-story room.  The library is on top and the ghostly gentleman of the house seems to hang out there.  The bedroom is down a spiral staircase in what had been a wine cellar…and later, during the siege of 1863, a morgue.  The dead soldiers were kept there because it was cooler.

Damn straight I wanted to stay there.  But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay in the Library Suite by myself.  So I started asking everyone at work.  Stay at the hotel, they said, but not in that room.  Yeah.  That wasn’t the only room that was haunted.  It just sounded the scariest.

When I told my sister-in-law, Becky, about the place she said:  “Oh, you need to go there.  And you need to stay in that room.  And you can take your brother with you because he needs a vacation.”

It took a little bit of schedule juggling, but I booked the Library Suite the next day.

Conversations with My Brother

I went on a road trip with my brother.  I will have stories and pictures as soon as I get around to uploading them but for now, a conversation from the car:

 

(Leonard Cohen is playing on the iPod.)

Scott:  Leonard Cohen songs are all about sex.  Even that really popular one..what was it?

Me:     Hallelujah.

Scott:  Yeah.  Hallelujah.  It sounds all Biblical and stuff, but it’s really about sex.

Me:     No.  It’s a break up song.  I was just talking about this on Facebook.  Everyone thinks it’s about a religious experience, but I swear, it’s a break up song.

Scott:  It’s about sex.

Me:     It talks about sex and uses religious symbolism.  But it’s a break up song.

Scott:  Hang on.  “She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair….”  that’s clearly Biblical.

Me:      A Biblical break up.  “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song…”

Scott:   …damn.  It’s a break up song.

Me:     It is possible that I think everything is a break up song.

Scott:  No.  It’s a break up song.

 

(Two days later.  “A Thousand Kisses Deep” is on the iPod.)

Scott:  Damn.  They’re all break up songs.