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Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring in North Idaho

It's spring in Shenanigan Valley. Sunshine, warmth and wild grasses greening really does lift the spirit.

 The buttercup is always the first wild flower to bloom, sometimes as early as the end of February -- depending. When I was small, Mom and I always had a race to find the first one. Inevitably, I'd get off the school bus to her chortle of, "I found the first buttercup."

 The purple grass widow is always the second wildflower - a meadow flower like the buttercup. But it grows everywhere on our 66 acres -- among the pines, in the pastures.

Then the spring beauty, which Mom and I called the May flower. I don't know why - it normally blooms in April.

I didn't know until recently that this lily is called the yellow fawn lily - we always called it the wild Easter lily. It bloomed around Easter.

And the violets are blooming in the grass down at the house where I grew up. Oh, they weren't always there. I brought some to Mom in the early '80s from a meadow in Maryland near where I was stationed at Ft. Meade. Then they were white with violet spots, but through the years they've changed. Why? Soil composition? I just don't know. I'll just enjoy them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sadness of Dementia

Mom about 1949 wearing my new cowboy hat.

My mother, Geneva "Jeanne" Charbonneau will be 89 on March 20th. She has been in assisted living at Guardian Angel Homes in Post Falls, Idaho, for nearly six and a half years because she has dementia. She'd shown symptoms of dementia a few years before 2007, but it was her not knowing who I was when Jay and I came up from Wyoming for Mother's Day that sounded an alarm I couldn't ignore. Anymore, it doesn't matter whether she was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's or Lewy Body Disease or just plain senility. Seven years of her life have disappeared into the mist.

Her mother lived to be 97 and still had her wits about her when she died. Her dad was 84 and a complainer to the end. None of her brothers and sisters had dementia before they died in old age. Mom was the youngest and is the last of her generation of siblings and in-laws. But Mom's Uncle Gus had dementia in his eighties - the family figured it stemmed from his having been  run over by a team of horses in his 20s. The resultant head injury caused him to "go off his rocker" from time to time, wander away from his farm until the neighbors found him and brought him back. And then he'd be all right again. Until the last couple of years, that is.

Mom 1968

Mom had owned German shepherds since 1953; would walk them sometimes three times a day over 66 wooded and hilly acres. Exercise increases your life span, they say. Perhaps so, for Mom's heart keeps beating, though she can't speak or understand when spoken to, or walk, or even focus her eyes on me. Exercise didn't keep her from getting this awful end-of-life disease.

She deserved a good old age because her fifty years married to my dad, who was schizophrenic, had been  difficult and often unhappy. The marriage of my fictional couple in my novel A Devil Singing Small is based on their marriage. But as we know life is seldom fair.

I am filled with grief to see her as she is now -- a grief that continues month after month, year after year.  I go once a week to feed her lunch and to see how she's doing. She receives quality care and attention at Guardian Angel, which is another reason she is still alive.  I go because she's my mom. She was always there for me and so I try to be there for her. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Feeding Mom a bit of maple bar, always her favorite pastry

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Winter Discard - Our new Cat, Claire


 This is Claire. She was in our woodpile when it was below zero and the creek was frozen a few weeks ago. She was eating the bread  I'd left for the raccoons for its moisture content, by-passing the dry cat food. She was dehydrated and  famished (a big black tom was thinking he got first choice at the food - not sure the raccoons were getting any of it, but they always manage). It took a couple of days to catch her. Once inside a warm house with some decent food, she showed that she was gently raised, affectionate, and has good toilet habits. Someone had dumped her - city folk think cats will do just fine out in the country. Not true.

Pepper and Claire

Claire and Pepper get along well. But we have to keep her in Jay's office (especially since she was recently spayed), because Geordie


furiously attacks her, intent on driving her from his home. He is so big with long sharp claws and big teeth, with fur like armor. She is so small. I doubt she's fully-grown. 

How did such a cute little fellow

Geordie as kitten

                                               become such a bully and ruffian?

Harry, our 16 year-old, just stares at her through the open doorway and goes on his way. Sleep is his priority.

I'm sure it will eventually work out -- in the spring.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Light & Stained Glass Windows

In the 1880s and later, Pittsburgh was called "Hell with the lid off." These two stained glass windows I purchased about eight years ago came out of an 1880s house in Pittsburgh, still bearing coal dust ground into their seams and pits on the outsides. It's a part of their history. The house wasn't torn down, but the elderly lady who lived there had them removed and windows with bars put up. My seller is a stained glass maker named Kari in Pittsburgh, who repaired them and put them up for auction on eBay.

When I purchased them I had a positive attitude that someday I would have a house I could install them in. Finally.  Our neighbor Davy framed all of our windows in an arts & crafts style this autumn. We carried the old windows in their original heavy frames to a stained glass maker and she carefully removed the old frames. Then Davy made new frames and installed the windows on the inside this past weekend. I am so pleased with the result.

This first one catches the morning light in our bedroom.

The second one takes the western afternoon light in my study.

And my Christmas cactus did well this year. I bought it last year at Walmart and it had been over-watered. The blooms and buds all fell off. But it was worth waiting a year for it to recover and reward me with a multitude of blooms.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Paean to Outlander & Diana Gabaldon

Why this giddy sense of anticipation for the Outlander TV mini-series, scheduled to air in 2014 on STARZ? Familiar feelings, yes. I had them as a teen many years ago. We all look forward to events as a part of our pursuit of happiness - vacations, holidays. But this? My husband Jay, who has not read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, just shakes his head in wonder at me.

If you are not already a fan of the novels of the Outlander series - seven so far with the eighth due out in Septermber 2014 - then may I suggest you try the first book in the series, Outlander.

 Then you'll be ready when the series airs on STARZ. As I write it's being filmed in Scotland with fine actors and a lot of money behind the production.

I nearly bought Dragonfly in Amber (book #2) at a library book sale years ago, but a woman looking over my shoulder said, "That's the second in the series . . . don't read it until you've read the first book,  Outlander. They're really wonderful." I put it back on the shelf.  Finally, in the autumn of 2010 I began  Outlander (it was then free on Kindle). And I was hooked. I read the next six, one after the other, each longer and more complicated than the last. I finished them sometime in February, 2011. I can't think of a better way to spend a cold winter.

It all begins shortly after the end of World War II when Claire, a married English nurse, visits some standing stones in Scotland and is flung back to 1743, two years before the Battle of Culloden.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall

 The fantasy in these novels is butter cream frosting on a superb dessert of historical fiction. Claire's forced marriage to Jamie Fraser, who epitomizes all the attributes you would want in a complicated male protagonist, begins one of the great romances in popular literature.
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

 Each book is better than the last. Why?  Accurate historical renderings, complicated relationships, a lot of action -- and gentle humor.

Even if you aren't overwhelmed by Outlander, give the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, a chance.

 Claire and Jamie go to Paris in an attempt to stop Bonnie Prince Charlie from raising the highland clans in Scotland against the English crown, a rising that will end on the bloody field of Culloden. Gabaldon really hit her stride in that book - and hasn't stopped since. The series eventually takes Claire and Jamie to North Carolina prior to and during the American Revolution.

And if you become a fan, as I hope you will, you can watch with others as Karen Henry rounds up the latest on this fansite Outlandish Observations.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November Apples

In September and October these three varieties of apples were hard and bitter. I picked from other trees. What a difference a month makes.

Last year we allowed our neighbor Davy to feed his hogs apples from this tree.  Nights of frost, but not hard freezes, have allowed the apples to perfect themselves. The leaves have fallen and the apples ornament the trees like old-fashioned glass Christmas balls.

Even Pepper got involved, running off with an apple and digging a hole. Realizing it wasn't a bone, he walked off without burying it.

We'll see how the apples last during the winter in the garage. I"ll probably plug in a little oil radiator to try to keep them from freezing. As they deteriorate or, if we have a heavy snow, I'll feed them to the many whitetail deer that will come begging.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Trip Over Moon Pass, Idaho

I'm writing a novel titled No Law South of Wallace and had wanted to experience the famous tote road that ran south out of Wallace, Idaho, across Moon Pass and into the St. Joe Valley to Avery, an area where much of my story takes place in the logging camps during World War I. The Indian summer has been perfect and off we went. We arrived in  Wallace, once a great mining town and still a fine town, and then  headed south on Forest Road 456. In earlier days pack mules carried supplies over the mountains. It had been especially crucial during the great forest fire of 1910 until Wallace itself partially burned. Along the road through a valley we saw remnants of what we thought had been great cedars that died during that conflagration, their hulks still standing. They're called the Silent Sentinels and the valley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The tamaracks and foliage were glorious.
Jay's Brittany Pepper came along, as usual -- he insists on the car windows rolled down so he can poke out his snout -- but because we drove slowly and it was warm, I didn't complain.

There were sparkling streams, low at this time of year.

Over the mountains and down the other side, the Forest Service road enters the old Milwaukee Road railroad bed, now a part of the Hiawatha Rail-Trail for hikers, and cyclists (and autos). The Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railroad was laid over The Bitterroots out of Montana, through the St. Joe Valley, and on to Puget Sound, completed  in 1909. Below is the Kyle Tunnel, one of the few totally rock-faced tunnel portals on the Milwaukee.

And so we came out at Avery and then followed the highway down the Shadowy St. Joe River, the highest navigable river in the U.S., to St. Maries and then home again.