Monday, January 31, 2011

Hearing Voices

I don't know why, but it takes me a while to catch up to new movements. Most of you probably already have a Kindle or some kind of digital reader. Not me. It's not that I believe that I have to hold a real book--arthritic joints often make this difficult, especially with the bigger volumes of nonfiction that I like to read. No, it's mainly that I can't stand the idea of paying for digital books.

Before you suggest the lists and lists of books that are free to download, I'd suggest you look at those lists and tell me if you would like your reading limited to older classics and newer romances.

Long ago, I cleared out my personal library so that it only contains fiction books I like to read again and again, or certain kinds of books I like to refer to frequently, such as cookbooks and books on the development of language. Besides, we live in the dusty desert, and fewer books means less dust, sitting there and making me feel guilty. But, as a librarian (retired, but still a librarian in my heart), I am a confirmed library user. I love to drag home piles of books to read--all for free.

But those Kindles--so lightweight, so portable. So nice for trips (and we're planning a wonderful trip that I will tell you about later this week). With all that in mind, I started digging around my library's website to see if they made any free book downloads available for digital reading devices. Sadly, they didn't, but I did make a great discovery. [Later note: I went back and rechecked the library website and yes, they do have downloadable e-books, over 3400 of them. They are, however, the usual classics, but I could read a few, I guess].

Free downloadable audio books! Thousands of of them! 3,107 at last count, and more being added all the time! In spite of a kind of clunky interface, the list can be sorted by author, title, subject, or by latest titles added.

It took me a while to get over my disappointment that my Mac will only accept MP3 files, and that a great many of the books were in WMA format, whatever the heck that is. (I really know how to find out, since I'm a librarian--did I mention that already?--and you can find out, too, right here). But I bucked up and soldiered on, and found that I could still choose from tons of titles, download a book in just a few minutes, and then move it to an iPod very quickly.

Laugh at me if you will, but I've finally caught up with the rest of the world. I can knit and read! Well, I can knit and "read!" I can do the morning mile and read while walking! Perhaps I could even dust while reading...

I'm still thinking about that Kindle, though. Do you have a digital reader preference? Have you found a good source for free downloads?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skywatch Review

I'm just not feeling very inspired these days, but I hope to come up with a better Skywatch post for next week. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites from the past, probably because I like the names of the posts.

If you would like to look at some truly amazing and beautiful photos, check out these posts at 7MSN and  at A New England Life. Linda and Sharon are very talented people, and I never miss checking out their blogs.

Now, to my recycled Skywatch photos. Forgive me for posting old news...

The Storm That Didn't

You will see similar prints, framed and titled "Storm of the Century," at the Las Cruces Farmers Market. I guess we were all out there madly snapping away on that memorable day. 

Tinnie Greens Up

We desert dwellers just love anything with green...

Tranquil Sky with Cranky Swallows

... and ditto water.

Yes, It Did!
We sure do have some incredible skies here in New Mexico!

For much newer photos of wonderful skies from around the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Knit for Kids, 81-90: Closer to the Goal

I'm sending off another box of sweaters to Knit for Kids today. This will bring my total of sweaters completed to 90. I'm closer than ever to my goal of knitting 100 sweaters for this organization.

I don't want you to think that all I do is knit--I do attend a knitting group a couple of mornings a week, but then I carry my knitting along whenever we are driving in the car, and I knit while keeping Beez company in front of the TV during football season. That's a lot of football, as you can see!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hard Stuff Just Got a Little Easier

In my last post, Talking About the Hard Stuff, I discussed all those grown-up things we are supposed to deal with, such as living wills, advanced health directives, and so on.

Your comments showed a common "Yikes!" reaction. Yes, we all know this is something we should do, and no, most of us haven't gotten around to it. I want you to know that just because I wrote about the need for this kind of planning doesn't mean that I have filled out the forms myself. I have that vague, underlying guilt that I don't seem to be brave enough to confront some scary decisions.

However, there is help out there--and believe me, it practically has to walk in my door for me to get started on this project. That good Beez came across a bunch of legal forms under our library's online reference section. Provided as a part of their Infotrac subscription that is available to all their patrons, the Gale Legal Forms suite contains every kind of legal form you can imagine, and some you probably can't--leases, name changes, something called a "pour over" will, and so on. There are also entire handbooks available for download on pet law, patent trademark law, paternity law, and elder law, just to name a few.

For those of you in the Las Cruces area, just go to the Branigan Library website, click on "Reference," then "Databases," then "Gale Legal Forms." You will need to put in your library card number to gain access, but we all know you have one of those. Right?

If you don't live near here, be sure to check out the services available from your public library, either online or at the library itself. I am always surprised at the range of helpful assistance offered by libraries. I'm sure they can either provide the forms you need or show you how to get them for free.

Just download and print--now that is something I can do. Perhaps I'll even get brave enough to read over the forms and, who knows? We might even get them filled out and filed with our doctor's office and hospital of choice. I'll let you know!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thinking About the Hard Stuff

They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo (Bantam Books, 2010).


I first read about this book on the blog, greenchilesandroses, in a post called How to Deal When Parents Aren't Immortal. Charlotte, the blog's author, is a retired social worker who writes with great empathy about people. Even though we've never met, I feel as though I know her, and I didn't want to let her down by not reading this book, especially as she recommended it so highly.

It was hard for me to read, I have to admit. Oh, the book was fascinating and told the stories of people--real people--who were struggling with issues of aging parents, and that part was easy enough. For me, though, there were a couple of reasons why I found the book so difficult.

The first was point of view. Talk about feeling a part of the so-called "sandwich generation," and worrying about both aging parents and ourselves as parents to grown children! I had to read over many paragraphs more than once--the first time from the point of view of having elderly parents, and the second time from the point of view of being an older parent.

The second difficulty I had in reading the book was due to the subject matter of planning itself, because it is something I haven't really completely dealt with for my life. My own mother was a wonderful example of careful and thoughtful end-of-life planning--there was a living trust, and all aspects of health and finances had been taken care of; her wishes and plans were very clear. When she died it was, of course, a difficult time emotionally, but we "kids" didn't have to deal with any of the practical issues, so things went as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.

Me? Not so much. Beez and I do have wills, and have kept them updated through the years, but every time the doctor asks if I have made out a living will, also known as an "advance directive," or an "advanced health care directive," I mumble that I haven't, and look at the floor, the wall, anywhere but in his kindly face. I just haven't been able to summon the courage to examine what I want done medically if I find myself helpless and at the end of life.

Here's one reason. A few weeks ago, I read on another blog about an elderly lady in the emergency room of the hospital. Her son asked that no heroic measures be taken to prolong her life, as that was her wish. Perhaps lacking any signed paperwork on file, the hospital staff went ahead and revived her. That evening she was well enough to sit up and phone friends for a chat. Oops.

So, yes, I know there are some hard decisions to make and papers to fill out. This book makes it clear how necessary those decisions are, because I know that Beez and I don't want to leave a mess for our kids to clean up when we are no longer able to make our needs known. In this new world of families separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, of parents living longer than any previous generation, and of the loss of the extended family of several generations living under one roof and caring for each other, the last thing we want to do is to leave trouble and worry behind.

I will have a bit more to say on this subject in the next post. In the meantime, I am wondering how you have dealt with these issues. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. We're all in this together, you know.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My (Very Fleeting) Martha Stewart Moment

I really did have a Martha Stewart moment at Christmas. We had some friends over for a Christmas Eve afternoon tamale and sangria party, just before we all departed to spend some time at the Mesilla Plaza.

I had so much fun designing the table in blue and silver and white. I put together this centerpiece.

I found the perfect fabric and made napkins, using these very clear directions. There shouldn't be anything to making napkins, after all, but I liked the method shown for doing the corners. Even so, the best directions can't seem to help me make absolutely square napkins. Oh, well, I figured that our guests would be drinking sangria, and wouldn't be planning to examine the napkins too closely. 

I used pieces of sparkly blue garland and little glass balls to wrap the napkins. (Hey, how did that knife get knocked aside? Stay tuned).

The table looked very festive and my Christmas cacti all bloomed right on cue, making a nice backdrop. I forgot to take photos at the time, however, and thought I would re-create the table and take some pictures in this morning's nice sunshine, even though the cacti shed all their blossoms weeks ago.

Alas, I had forgotten just why we don't always live the well-decorated life. As soon as I got everything set up and climbed up onto my little step stool, little Skippy Kee came along to shift the silverware and to swat at the bits of garland.

I sorted her out with a fearsome banshee shriek, slid the table down to where the sun had moved, and climbed back up onto my step stool, camera in hand. 

This time it was Miss Cleo--a former recluse, just now finding a need to socialize--who decided to get into the picture. I gave up any pretensions regarding the Martha Stewart life, and decided just to show you a slice of reality, Zee-style. 

This is it. This is how we really live.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Emma Saw; for Skywatch

Emma is a quiet, observant little dog. Her back legs have never worked very well and often make it hard for her to get around, so she watches the sky and thinks about things. We know this because on nights when the moon is out she will request some extra time outside in the dark. When we go looking for her, we find her sitting and gazing upward in a thoughtful manner. 

She is also a fan of a good sunrise. This is the one she watched the other morning from our porch. 

For skies seen through many different eyes, please visit Skywatch Friday. It has Emma's most earnest recommendation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Supper at Andele in Mesilla

I'm sure you know by now that we love to go to Mesilla, which is just south of Las Cruces. It is always charming, with its narrow brick roads winding between crooked old adobe buildings, its wonderful plaza that is always good for people watching, and its shops and restaurants.

Somehow, we had never visited Andele Restaurante in Mesilla until a few weeks ago. It is now one of our all-time favorites in this little town, and I can't wait to go back.

Fresh, warm, homemade tortilla chips were brought to us, along with an invitation to visit the salsa bar. What a great idea--salsa choices in all kinds of reds and greens! All were fresh and delicious, and we tried several.

For the main dish, my son and I decided to share the specialty of the house, Tacos al Carbon, which they say serves two. We could have shared it among the three of us and still had leftovers. It came with our choice of two meats. At the recommendation of our server, we chose marinated and flame-broiled pork and chicken (beef was also available). The meats were so flavorful! (This is how they are prepared). We got a heaping platter of pork and chicken with grilled onions, and a really good-sized bowl of fresh guacamole, wedges of lime, sour cream, frijoles charros, cilantro, Mexican slaw, lettuce, and tomato. We could assemble our tacos with any combination and top them with any of the salsas from the salsa bar. Squeezing fresh lime juice over a taco was a new experience for me, and now I understand why our local Mexican grocery store sells so many limes. Delicious!

I didn't get any photos of the place--it's pretty plain looking, situated as it is in a small mall to the side of the road. But the eating experience was not to be missed and the service was wonderful--the perfect balance. Click here to check out the menu.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christmas Eve: Mind Tricks and a First Edition

As we strolled around the old Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve, we recalled that a friend had told us about a book store on one of the side streets, and so we made our way to the Cultural Center of Mesilla, which houses The Border Book Foundation and hosts the annual Border Book Festival. 

We were welcomed into the charming old adobe building, once a garrison and then a store (the faded sign on the side of the building remains, stating simply "Store"). The shop consists of a series of small rooms with an uneven brick floor leading from one room to another. The owners were serving a delicious kind of Mexican coffee flavored with cinnamon, chocolate, and vanilla; they had cakes and cookies, as well, in honor of their special Christmas open house. 

I borrowed this photo from the Viva Mesilla website 
As you can see from the photo, this is just the kind of bookstore that is perfect for browsing--there were books everywhere, in stacks and on shelves and tables. They were also selling records (remember them?) as well as all kinds of art work. 

I was pretty amazed to find that the co-owner chatting with us was none other than Denise Chavez, who I've been hearing about ever since we started visiting New Mexico. She "is widely regarded as one of the leading Chicana playwrights and novelists of the U.S. Southwest" and her book, A Taco Testimony, is on my list of books to be read. 

Ms. Chavez was an extremely intense person, to say the least. She performed a kind of Jedi mind trick (remember when Obi Wan said "These aren't the droids you're looking for") on Beez, who was gently handling a copy of Pueblos, Gods, & Spaniards, by John Upton Terrell. 

Denise: This book is a first edition, and it's only fifty dollars!
I watched, expecting Beez to put the book right down like a hot potato. Fifty dollars! Good grief!
Beez, in a dreamy voice: This book is a first edition
Denise: You really need that book
Beez: I really need this book    

I was, nevertheless, surprised when I met him at the register to purchase my bookmark (it was December and we were on a budget, after all!), to find that the total came to almost fifty-five dollars. There was Denise, slipping the fifty-dollar book into a bag, and there was Beez, muttering in a quiet, but amazed and kind of proud tone to himself: I have a first edition. I collect first editions now, I think. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Christmas Eve in Mesilla

Here we are, well into January, and I haven't told you about our Christmas experiences yet.  I will spend a bit of time looking back during the coming week.

We finally got to visit the Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve, something I have always wanted to do. It was magical in every way. The night was cold and fragrant with the smell of luminarias and fireplace fires. If you have never smelled a Southwest fireplace fire, you have a treat ahead of you, because there is absolutely nothing like the fragrance of burning juniper and piƱon on a frosty night.

Let's see, we have covered one sense--that of smell, which is always important in the desert Southwest. For sounds, we had the tolling bells of San Albino, the laughter of children, singing carolers, and a brass band. For sights, there were strolling families, lights strung about, Christmas decorations, and, of course, the thousands of authentic luminarias--each made of a candle inserted in sand inside a brown paper bag (assembled by the high school band for an annual fund raiser).

Here is what it looked like, with the church of San Albino lit up in the background.

We followed a little side trail of luminarias and found that it led into a tiny alleyway between old adobe walls. Turning a corner, we saw this lovely sight in the darkness--a little outside altar in honor of la Virgen de Guadalupe, whose procession we had seen just a couple of weeks before. I took the first shot without a flash, so you could see it just as we did.

To show you the scene in greater detail, I tried a shot with the flash. Just bear in mind that the little grotto was much darker, and was actually lit only by the flickering candles and luminarias.

We had another unexpected meeting before we left Mesilla to go home, but I will tell you about that tomorrow.  In the meantime, I leave you with this image of one of the stained glass windows of San Albino. If you have a moment, you can go to the parish history page and click on the tab entitled "Crowd leaving 1908 dedication of the new San Albino Church" to see a lovely historical photograph of the church, its parishioners, and the plaza over a hundred years ago. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Scariest I Ever Saw, for Skywatch

The pecan harvest is over now, as we complete our first year living here in our adobe house in the middle of the pecan orchard. We have pounds and pounds of pecans in the freezer, just from the nuts that fell into our yard when the trees were shaken

Last year, I missed this part of the post-harvest pruning. When everything else is finished, a huge machine with eight really big saws mounted on it comes through and trims the top branches of all the trees. It's a very scary and very loud machine, indeed. It moves down the rows between the trees fairly quickly, and in no time at all the tree branches have all been trimmed. 

However, now I understand how all the tops of the trees are so even and pyramid-shaped.

For photos looking up at various things and into the sky, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Books Read in 2011

Just as in the past couple of years, I will keep adding to this list of books that I have read. Last year, I finished 92 books, so I have quite a job ahead of me if I plan to keep up the pace. However, at the moment I have 299 books on my "to read" list (click on my Shelfari shelf at the side of the blog to see the books I have read and that I plan to read), so I'm not likely to run out of ideas for reading material.

Later note: For my favorite books from 2010, see the comments, below.


Abbey: Desert solitaire

Agatston: The South Beach Diet

Alexie: Ten little Indians

Amador: Southwest flavor; Adela Amador's Tales from the kitchen

Andrews: The fixer upper

Barr: Borderline

Beaton: Death of a celebrity

Beaton: Death of a charming man

Beaton: Death of a gentle lady

Beaton: Death of a macho man

Beaton: Death of a maid

Beaton: Death of a prankster

Beaton: Death of a traveling man

Benjamin: Alice I have been

Binchy: Heart and soul

Binchy: Return journey

Binchy: Whitethorn Woods

Bradley: A red herring without mustard

Bradley: The sweetness at the bottom of the pie

Bradley: The weed that strings the hangman's bag

Byrne: The new adobe home

Cannell: The trouble with Harriet

Carr: Mexican country style

Carr: Mexican details

Chan: Mill River recluse

Childs: Finders keepers; a tale of archaeological plunder and obsession

Childs: House of Rain

Conroy: Prince of tides

Conroy: South of Broad

Crombie: All shall be well

Crombie: And justice there is none

Crombie: Dreaming of the bones

Crombie: A finer end

Crombie: In a dark house

Crombie: Kissed a sad goodbye

Crombie: Leave the grave green

Crombie: Mourn not your dead

Crombie: Now may you weep

Crombie: A share in death

Crombie: Water like a stone

Crombie: Where memories lie

Drabanski: Artists at home; inspired ideas from the homes of New Mexico artists

Ebershoff: The 19th wife

Edgerton: Lunch at the Piccadilly

Evanovich: Plum lovin'

Fairstein: Final jeopardy

Fairstein: Lethal legacy

Fuller: Cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness

Fuller: Don't let's go to the dogs tonight

George: This body of death

Goldhammer: Still life with chickens; starting over in a house by the sea

Grimes: Fadeaway girl

Harrison: My lady judge

Harrison: A secret and unlawful killing

Harrison: Sting of justice

Hawkinson: The desert home

Hensperger: Breads of the Southwest

Hertzberg: Artisan bread in five minutes a day; the discovery that revolutionizes home baking

Holland: Valley of the Kings

Hyams: Mexicasa

Jance: Injustice for all

Jance: Until proven guilty

Karon: Home to Holly Springs

Karon: In the company of others

Kerr: Burning desires; salsa, smoke, & sizzle from down by the Rio Grande

Kincaid: Eat, drink, and be from Mississippi

King: Mile 81

Larsson: The girl with the dragon tattoo

Levick: Mexicasa; the enchanting inns and haciendas of Mexico

McCall Smith: The Double Comfort Safari Club

McGonigal: Reality is broken; why games make us better and how they can change the world

Miller: The Lake Shore Limited

Picoult: House rules

Picoult: Songs of the humpback whale

Read: Summer at Fairacre

Russo: They're your parents, too! How siblings can survive their parents' aging without driving each other crazy

Seth: Adobe! Homes and interiors of Taos, Santa Fe, and the Southwest

Shaffer: The ladies of Garrison Gardens

Shaffer: The three Miss Margarets

Sibley: Antojitos; festive and flavorful Mexican appetizers

Siddons: Fox's Earth

Siddons: Outer Banks

Slesin: Caribbean style

Stockett: The help

Street-Porter: Casa mexicana style

A taste of enchantment; treasured recipes from the Junior League of Albuquerque

Taylor: An Irish country girl

Thurlo: Changing woman

Thurlo: Plant them deep

Thurlo: Red Mesa

Thurlo: Shooting chant

Tolbert: A bowl of red

Walls: The glass castle

Walls: Half broke horses

Webb: Desert cut

Webb: Desert lost

Webb: Desert noir

Webb: Desert run

Webb: Desert shadows

Webb: Desert wives

Weinstein: Pizza; grill it, bake it, love it!

Wells: The crowning glory of Calla Lily Ponder

Wells: Ya-Yas in bloom

Wickenden: Nothing daunted; The unexpected education of two society girls in the west

Winspear: Among the mad

Wise: The well-filled tortilla cookbook

Witynski: Hacienda courtyards

Zweig: Hot kitchen and home collectibles (2nd ed.)


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Golden Memories

Did you have Golden Books as a child? They were the beginning of a publishing revolution that made affordable, high quality books available to children so that they could build their very own libraries at home. 

They were sold for only 25 cents when I was a child, but were sturdy enough for little hands.

They were books that were well loved, as you can tell from the worn condition of these books from my collection. 

The Poky Little Puppy was one of the first Golden Books published in 1942, and has remained one of the best selling children's books of all time.

When I was little, I must have gazed at the pictures in my own Golden Books for a long time, because when I look at the books now every detail is familiar from my childhood.

The Saggy Baggy Elephant was illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, a Swedish-born artist who moved to Cleveland, Ohio and who worked as a chief illustrator for the Walt Disney movie version of Snow White.

A great many well-known children's authors, like Margaret Wise Brown and Ludwig Bemelmans, contributed titles to Golden Books; as did children's book illustrators like Garth Williams and Leonard Weisgard.

For a fascinating history of the little Golden Books, read Golden Legacy; How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way, by Leonard S. Marcus (New York: Golden Books, 2007).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! But First...

Here is just one more thing that I would like to share with you about Christmas as we experienced it in New Mexico this year. We have a wonderful blend of cultures and traditions, and I think that this video expresses the diversity and experience quite beautifully. The Hispanic Las Posadas, the indigenous Matachines dances, and the procession of the Virgen de Guadalupe are all shown and explained here. Take a few moments to learn a bit about the unique holiday decorations, foods, and songs found here in New Mexico.