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Monday, August 31, 2015

My Talented Cousin - Colleen Raney

 I have a wonderfully talented cousin, once removed (that's a 2nd cousin), one of the youngest of my first cousin Pat Raney and his wife Barbara, who have oodles of wonderful kids. Colleen's talent as a singer in the Irish folk tradition is a wonder to hear. I really didn't know about her (Pat and Barbara live in Seattle and Colleen lives in Portland, until I was peppering Pat on Facebook about our Irish ancestor (who came to the U.S. about 1730 from what is now Northern Ireland) because Jay and I are going to Ireland and Northern Ireland.  He mentioned that Colleen had studied at the National University of Ireland at Galway - and that she was a professional singer. What??? So, I googled her and then I ordered her three available albums from her website.  What a delight she is to listen to.

Here is a sample of her extraordinary voice, the first song on her album, "Here This is Home."

You can hear more of her songs on YouTube. Just look her up by her name, Colleen Raney.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sentimental Journey Back to Laramie, Wyoming

Jay and I drove down to Laramie, Wyoming, last week - the first time we've been back since 2007. I wanted to see my friends Sue (in middle) and Mary (at right). We've corresponded via email since I left to come back to Idaho to care for Mom, but emails are no comparison to seeing people you love  in person.

I love statuary and the University of Wyoming has in recent years planted mythic images of the Old West across it campus.  You may know that the bucking horse Steamboat and his rider is the image on the Wyoming license plate. It is also the official image of the university. While Jay was working at the university,  a huge statue of Steamboat was erected outside the football stadium.

Later a large colorful statue of the Shoshone Chief Washakie was erected in front of the university's Washakie Center. The university is proud to educate members of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Reservation .

I was delighted with the newest installation (added spring 2015) near the athletic field titled "Breaking Through," in honor of Title Nine women, depicting a young woman in 1920s western garb on a bronco. It is enormous, intended to match "Steamboat." Her hat alone weighs 500 pounds. The wall is reminiscent of  Wyoming sandstone blocks  used to construct early university buildings (still in use).

There are plenty of nice hotels and restaurants in Laramie and it's a tourist draw in the summer. One of the nicest places to visit is the American Heritage Center and Art Museum, the building designed by architect Antoine Predock.

So, next time you fly into Denver and rent a car, drive two and a half hours north through Cheyenne to Laramie and spend a couple of days. And be sure to eat at the restaurant down on 1st Street (originally Railroad Street) and Ivinson, where you can watch  trains go past on the old Union Pacific rails across the street. The restaurant's second floor and that of other buildings near the tracks were originally  whorehouses attracting railroad workers and cowboys off the range, the university boys being too poor to indulge in that particular sin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interesting Animals I've Met at Charity Thrift Stores


I lead a rather mundane existence, going out a few times a week, following a route from the Spokane Valley to Post Falls and then Coeur d'Alene, haunting charity thrift shops for goods to resell on eBay. Unlike restaurants, thrift shops allow well-behaved pets to walk the aisles with their people. Birdie, above, saved her master's life on his drive from Arizona to Idaho, furiously licking his face as he nodded off. "It's not our time to die," she whined in his ear.


Horace (I think that's his name) can play dead if he feels like it.

This is the sister of Horace's owner with Lillian, who needs her claws clipped. Apparently, this brother and sister team make a day of shopping with their dogs.

Pixel or was it Pixie?

I forgot to ask this cutie's name
This part Doberman, part Brittany, wears a muzzle, removing worries from owner and shoppers

I should have written down this dog's name

Even parrots get out sometimes
When I mentioned my blog project to a young clerk, she told me I'd just missed the woman with the white rat wrapped around her neck. And sometimes a man with a ferret in a cage strapped to his chest makes an appearance. I can only hope.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lilac Legacy

My mother loved lilacs. At least I believe she did because over the years, she planted a variety of bushes. They come on, one type  after the other, filling the area around the old house with a variety of fragrances - lest you thought they all smell the same.

For Mother's Day, my son Donovan gave me two Korean dwarf lilacs and planted them up here at our house, one in front and one at the dining room window. Its fragrance wafts in through an open window..

Saturday, April 25, 2015

First Impressions - Lunch at Tillie's

 For looking in on her cat Bella while she was in California, my friend Cheryl took me out to lunch at the new restaurant, Tillie's, in a charming bungalow.

Tillie's on 7th Street in Post Falls, Idaho

This isn't about Cheryl, though she has had an interesting life.


And it isn't necessarily about me, although I have had an interesting life, too.


It isn't necessarily even about Tillie's, but I recommend it for lunch. They will start serving dinner after Mother's Day.

Some of Tillie's interesting decor

It's about first impressions. Before seeing the red bicycle as I went through the gate, I saw these colorful tables and chairs below.

I immediately said to Cheryl, "I have a blog friend in Boston, who would be enamored with those tables and chairs."

Front porch of Tillie's

The male half of the married couple who own the restaurant waited on us while his wife cooked in the kitchen. She could be heard calling out, "Thank you" when a customer left. Next time, I must look in on her. The husband related how they came to open the restaurant. What I took away with me were phrases he used, which reminded me how we project our own self-image when we meet people.

 For a few years after I ceased practicing law, I continued to say that I was an attorney. It took time to stop viewing myself as one; I finally tacked on the word "retired". I once met a woman who, within a minute of our introducing ourselves, identified herself as the mother of a Down's Syndrome child, that had died two years earlier at age eight. We spent some time in conversation about her experience being the mother of this child during and after those eight years. She finally mentioned that she had two strapping sons in college and a six-year-old daughter.

So, the part-owner of Tillie's identified himself as a retired businessman, who sold his business, intending to do what retirees do, when his wife expressed her dream of opening a restaurant in this bungalow he had renovated. It has a charming interior, so he can be justly proud of his work.  He also said that working with his wife is a new experience. I had the impression he is withholding judgment on the type of experience it is. But he seems a cheerful man, so at the very least, he is an indulgent husband. And a friendly, welcoming host. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies on which to end our lunch. So, Cheryl and I had a lovely time. We'll bring our mates next time.

And then we went to Good Will, where I bought this folding rocking chair to go with my antique walnut Victorian bed in the guest room. It was a very nice day.

Mother's folding rocker

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How The West Was Written Volumes 1 & 2, by Ron Scheer

When I was a teenager living in rural Idaho, I couldn't get enough of fiction of the Old West, paying ten cents a book at Clark's Old Bookstore in Spokane or hunting through the shelves of St. Vincent de Paul's charity shop. The cowboy hero was rugged and moral and he fell in love with the independent-thinking heroine. So, it was a pleasant dose of nostalgia when I discovered Ron Scheer's blog, Buddies in the Saddle, in which he reviews old frontier fiction (and movies and other bits that catch his eye). One of the joys of reading Ron's blog is his fine writing. Now he has published in paperback and on Kindle two volumes that encompass his reviews, analysis and interpretation of these early westerns: How the West Was Written, Volume 1 (1880 - 1906) (283pp) and How the West Was Written, Volume 2 (1907 - 1915) (331pp). In reviewing these two books, I will call Ron Scheer by his first name because I feel that I know him from following his blog, commenting on it, and his commenting back to me.

If you think that Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) was the first western novel published, you'd be wrong. Novelists, many of them women, were already contributing to the mythologizing of the frontier west of the Mississippi before that watershed year.

On his blog, Ron reviewed each novel as he read it, and it's a great source if you're hunting for an old western to lose yourself in, because most, if not all of these books, are available to download free from Google (anything published up to 1923 has lost its copyright and has been put in the public domain).

His original plan had been to understand how the cowboy western evolved. What he discovered was that frontier fiction encompassed every aspect of life. As Ron says in his Introduction, "There were not only novels about ranching and the cattle industry. Writers told stories about railroads, mining, timber, the military, politics, women's rights, temperance, law enforcement, engineering projects, homesteaders, detectives, preachers, Indians, and so on." So, in writing his own books, he approaches these works more analytically than perhaps he did in his blogs, but no less entertainingly.

Some of his chapter headings in Volume 1 (1880 - 1906) are: Social activism and romance; Waiting for Wister; Cowboys, railroads, and miners; New directions; Westerners; The year of The Virginian; Plains and Deserts; Enter Willa Cather; Waiting for Zane Grey.

In Volume 2 (1907 - 1915), Ron writes of western fiction booming, based not only on the success of The Virginian, but silent movies were depicting the western hero, too. He makes a cogent point that "[f]ans and writers of the traditional western novel today often draw a direct line of descent from Wister and his imitators of a century ago. . . Today's western novel is chiefly an adventure story in which a central admirable character confronts villainous adversaries in what is often a formulaic revenge plot." Wister's and other authors' early novels offered more than a "singular plot line." Because it was a period of change, the novels written during this time offered ideas. "Reformist sentiment pushed hard against existing social and economic structures and would lead to trust busting, women's suffrage, labor laws, and Prohibition." The western was a  forum to look at these ideas.

His chapter headings in Volume 2 are: Cowboy stories; Women writers of the West; Oh, Canada; Western adventures; Ranching an homesteading; Engineering and reclamation; Big timber; Western romances; Story collections; Old meets New West.

If  your curiosity about western fiction arises from being a student of the history of the Old West or because you enjoy literary criticism, you can do no better than Ron Scheer's two books. They are available in paperback on Amazon and as a digital download on Amazon Kindle.

Ron died of brain cancer on April 11, 2015. He will be missed, but his blog remains. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pussy Willow Days

It's pussy willow season. The east coast may be deep in winter, but here in north Idaho, with so little snow and daytime temperatures  in the 40s, spring has come early. We're at only 60 per cent of moisture content for this time of year,which we'll suffer for  this summer as we keep a sharp eye for fires in our forested valley and surrounding mountains. But back to this first harbinger of spring.

The old pussy willow bush down by the creek is in full bloom, so I climbed a ladder to cut some branches, but the good stuff was so far over my head, Jay had to bring down his long-poled pruning saw to lop off branches for me. Trimmed up, they're now sitting in bundles on the buffet, drying, and I'll give them out to friends. When I was a kid, Mom would spray them with hair spray, but the Internet says that's unnecessary.

Must end with a poem, of course.


They call them pussy-willows,
But there’s no cat to see
Except the little furry toes
That stick out on the tree:
I think that very long ago,
When I was just born new,
There must have been whole pussy-cats
Where just the toes stick through—-
And every Spring it worries me,
I cannot ever find
Those willow-cats that ran away
And left their toes behind!
–Margaret Widdemer