Friday Book Whimsy: Winter Counts

Virgil Wounded Horse is the enforcer on the Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota. He handles business that regular police — both on and off the Rez — ignore. Despite his life work, he has lost touch with his native Sioux roots.

One of the reservation council members approaches Virgil, asking him to handle the Rez’s newest and most difficult issue yet — heroin has made its way onto the Rosebud Reservation. Virgil is asked to find out how it’s coming in and stop its distribution in its tracks. He is hesitant to take on this dangerous task until the heroin problem hits close to home, to his own ward and nephew.

He enlists the help of the council member’s daughter, who also happens to be Virgil’s old girlfriend, and the two begin their hunt for the culprits. The hunt takes them all the way to Denver, where a powerful drug cartel is working hard to begin distribution on the Rez.

In the process of finding the root of the heroin problem, Virgil must come face to face with his own issues. As he does so, he becomes closer to his native roots.

Winter Counts, a novel by Native American David Heska Wanbli Weiden, hits to the heart of Native Americans’ issues in America. In that respect, it’s a difficult book to read. It’s hard to see how many American Indians live and what reservation life is really like. But it’s important for all of us to look at the problems facing natives Americans.

In addition to being an eye-opening novel, it is also a heck of a good mystery, and a good look at life on reservations, not just the Rosebud Reservation, but reservations around our country.

I highly recommend this book. It will be on of my favorites this year. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a series. I want to see more of Virgil Wounded Knee.

Here is a link to the book

Thursday Thoughts on Wednesday

Travel
When you read this blog post, Bill and I will be on our way back to AZ for my niece Brooke’s wedding. When we left at the beginning of May, we thought we would be driving back home following the wedding. However, since then we bought our new car and made the decision to keep one car in Denver (the Honda) and one car in Mesa (the Hyundai). It may not work out to have only one car, but I think there’s a good chance that it will work out just fine. At any rate, having made that decision, we are flying back on June 7. That means that all of the stuff that we thought we could throw in the back of the car will need to either be put in a suitcase or mailed home. I don’t think we have any sizable items, but undoubtedly I am forgetting something.

Pinterest: You’re Scaring Me
I have commented before on the randomness of the items that Pinterest feeds me. For a while, it was feeding me information on building a chicken coop, something I’ve never even thought of doing. Yesterday morning, I checked Pinterest and found that they fed me two articles that caused me great concern. The first was what to do if I’m ever lost in the woods…..

The second was how to escape when you are tied up with duct tape…..

Perhaps Pinterest knows something I don’t know. Or perhaps Pinterest knows that I read a lot of mysteries. The above are for your safety.

Blog
Since today is a travel day, I may or may not post a blog on Thursday. I will be back on track for my book review on Friday.

Ciao.

Computer World

I heard a story on the national news yesterday. Apparently there is a critical shortage of the microchips that go in our cars and, frankly, make them run. As the owner of a brand new car, I can tell you that my 2021 Honda CR-V is run by a computer. My car’s computer tells me when to change lanes. It shuts off the engine when I’m at a traffic light. It runs my radio or connects my phone to the sound system so that I can play my own music. Somehow it knows that I like my country music playlist the best.

But according to the news report, the shortage of these chips (thanks to COVID) is resulting in a shortage of available cars. That’s, in fact, what my BFF/car salesman Sean told me when I bought my car and wanted it to be red. Microchip shortage, he told me. Might be that we no-can-do red. As it happens, we did do red.

The other day I walked into my kitchen to find water dripping onto our beautiful wood floors from the refrigerator. Yikes. Not a ton of water, thankfully, but water all the same. I did not get my associates degree in HVAC/refrigerator repair last week, but I concluded the water was coming from our ice maker. I shut it off, and then shut off the water because my stepson happened to be at our house and he made that suggestion. The water dripping from the fridge might have given him a clue. He too doesn’t have an HVAC/refrigerator repair degree.

Here’s what I know: Whatever is causing the problem with my refrigerator will be related to a computer. The repairman won’t be an old man chewing on a cigar with a chest full of tools. Instead, his tools will consist of a diagnostic instrument of some kind and the result will be a very expensive fix because it will be a computer problem. I’m not being cynical, just practical.

A while back, our very old washing machine at our AZ home went on the blink. We called in a repairman, and he could fix it for $300. While a new machine wouldn’t have been a whole lot more than that, we elected to get Old Faithful fixed, because she’s old, but faithful, and there isn’t a computer chip to be found anywhere near her.

As I always say, computers have undoubtedly made our lives better. Still, I can’t help but remember the olden days when people could change their own oil in their car, or install a new headlight. Bill’s parents still had the original refrigerator they bought when first married well into the 1990s.

As I write this blog post, it remains to be seen whether it will be an easy fix or if it would make more sense to buy a new refrigerator.

I will let the computer decide.

Visions

In 2008, Bill and I took the trip of a lifetime. We took a two week cruise to Barcelona and then spent three months traveling around Western Europe. I had just retired when we took this trip for which we had spent two years planning.

I wanted to keep some sort of a journal during our travels. In those days, blogs were on the cutting edge. Now they have kind of gone the way of My Space. I’m not interested in learning new communications technoIogy, so it better stick around for a few more years. Anyhoo, I decided that’s how I would share our travels with friends and family and store my memories for posterity.

Every once in a while, Bill and I will begin to reminisce about the trip. If our reminiscing happens between April 26 and August 7, we are likely to look back on my blog and see what we were doing on that particular day back in 2008.

That happened the other day. We were trying to remember where we were when we got the news that our granddaughter Maggie Faith was born. Somewhere in the vicinity of northern Italy or southern France, we both guessed.

The correct answer was Lourdes, France. I know this because I announced her birth on my blog.

Lourdes is the place where Catholics believe the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three peasant children in 1858. When the parish priests doubted the youngsters, they asked the trio to have Mary provide some sort of proof. The children made the ask, and Mary complied. The next time she appeared to Bernadette, Mary told her to begin digging in a certain spot. Bernadette did so, and after a great deal of digging, a water spring began bubbling. The priests believed, and the spring has been providing curative waters ever since. Or at least many people believe the water to be curative.

Believing that Mary appeared to three poor children is difficult- to-impossible for some people. As Christians, we believe in a lot of things that are difficult- to impossible. I can’t prove that she appeared in this little French town over a century ago, but I love to think that she did. And I love the message she shared with Bernadette: pray the rosary.

Bill and I, of course, visited the grotto and gathered some of the water from the spring. It is believed to have cured many people with serious illnesses. Bill and I both put our hands into the spring and splashed the water on our faces. My arthritis didn’t disappear, but it made me feel blessed to stand on a spot where it’s possible Our Lady stood 150 years ago. People come from far and near for a possible cure, as evidenced by this line of nurses taking patients to the spring…..

I remember Lourdes not only for the grotto, but also for the beautiful mountains we looked at from our hotel window. I also recall eating bleu cheese flavored Pringles we had purchased at a little market because BLEU CHEESE PRINGLES. As we sat and ate our picnic, a dog came up and looked hungrily at our food. I greeted him, but then remembered he spoke French. I offered him a potato chip. He sniffed, and turned his head away from it.

“That is not real roquefort cheese,” he seemed to be saying. “Hmph. Americans.”

Saturday Smile: Four Eyes

Our granddaughter proudly showed me her brand new glasses the other day. “I only need them to see things far away,” she explained. I think she looks adorable. It makes me so happy that the stigma against glasses no longer exists. Isn’t she pretty?…..



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Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Postscript Murders

I first became familiar with Elly Griffiths when I read a couple of her Brighton mysteries, featuring D.I. Edgar Stephens and his friend, magician Max Mephisto. The books take place in the 1950s, and are fun because of the magician element. I stumbled upon a new book by the same author, called The Postscript Murders.

Natalka works as a caregiver for elderly people, and is very good at her job. One day, she visits one of her favorite clients, 90-year-old Peggy Smith. Given her age, her death shouldn’t be suspicious, except for three things. The day before, when Natalka visited Peggy, she was healthy as a horse. Also, as Natalka and her coworkers go through some of Peggy’s things, she notices that on her shelf are mystery books by very many writers, and they are all dedicated to Peggy. Finally, she finds a card with Peggy’s name on it, and her occupation is Murder Consultant.

Peggy’s neighbor, the dapper 80-year-old Edgar, is saddened by his friend’s death, and also suspicious. The two express their concerns to the friendly coffee shop owner Benedict, who opened up his shop after leaving a monestary where he had been a monk. The three vow to solve the mystery of Peggy’s murder.

Along the way, some of the authors who had dedicated their books to Peggy become murder victims themselves. D.S. Harbinder Kaur, who has been given these murder cases, isn’t sure whether the gang of three are helping or hindering her investigations. But they seem to find out things that she can’t.

The mystery’s solution was a good one, and the author’s writing is wonderful. But I will tell you what made this book one of my favorites so far this year were the characters. Both quirky and lovable, they wouldn’t stop until they found out who murdered the much-loved and much-respected Peggy. They do so, and find out just what a Murder Consultant is!

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Flying Leap
I have never googled the intelligence level of squirrels. Mylee informed me recently that the size of the brain has nothing to do with the intelligence of the living thing in which the brain resides. I’m not sure she’s right, but I would never argue against Mylee. She pays attention in school. I will tell you, however, that we have a very smart squirrel. In my continuing battle with squirrels v. my bird feeder, I have done what I could. I have my potted plants far away from the feeder. I spray Pam on the feeder stand regularly. Nevertheless, I looked out my window the other day and saw that Bill had momentarily left the wheelbarrow unattended right underneath the bird feeder. The squirrel quickly jumped up on the wheelbarrow and made a successful leap to the feeder. Successful, that is, until I ran out screaming obscenities at him. As I have said in the past, I’m not sure why I’m so opposed to squirrels eating my seeds. They, too, are God’s creatures. But yea, they get on my very last nerve.

Chickadees
Every year since we moved into our house, we have had house finches that make nests in our trees and dine at the bird feeder (when the squirrels aren’t there). For some reason, this year there is not a finch to be seen. Instead, we have chickadees living somewhere in our yard and dining at our feeder. I think they might be nesting in one of our apple trees. In the evening when we sit out, I see a lot of flitting around in that tree, and a lot of their characteristic song, which sounds like, well chick-a-dee.

Market Visit
I was so jazzed up from my visit to the Asian market day before yesterday that I immediately texted Addie and asked her if she would be available for a field trip. We made the surprise trip yesterday, and she enjoyed the experience very much. She had taken a school trip to Japan last year, and recognized some of the goodies that were available. Her eyes lit up when she saw the Pockys. She apparently enjoyed them very much — and very often — while in Japan.

Coins in a Fountain
We have a fountain in our back yard that was there when we bought the house. Bill has puttered with that fountain for nearly 29 years now. It’s made out of stones, and the water runs down to a little creek that then goes into a pond. Almost every year he has made the fountain part shorter. This year, it looks like he is going nearly to the dirt. He’s got his pick and his hammer, and every day it gets shorter. Yesterday when Addie came for lunch following our trip to the market, she just sat and watched him work. “He’s unbelievable,” she said. Yes he is.

Ciao.

What’s For Dinner?

I’m not much of a shopper. I can’t imagine, for instance, going to a mall just for the sake of going to a mall. That’s not always been the case, as my BFF in elementary school and I would walk downtown and shop when I was in my formative years. We had no money and no interest in thievery. So we just browsed the hanging clothes and unfolded shirts and sweaters to hold them up to ourselves, imagining how they would look if 1) we could afford it; and 2) we weren’t required to wear uniforms to our Catholic school.

But I’ve mentioned before that there is one kind of shopping I really do enjoy: food markets. I love big grocery stores like Wegmans and the huge Kroger stores that they are now building. But mostly I love shopping in international food markets. Italian markets. Mexican markets. Asian markets. Middle Eastern markets. I love them all.

I love them because they offer varieties of foods that I have never before seen and simply can’t imagine buying. Fruits with names I can’t pronounce. Amazing varieties of cabbages, more than I ever knew existed. Sausages and pastas and noodles that blow my mind.

Recently I have been hungry for my mother’s vegetable beef soup. I blogged about her soup here. Her vegetable soup is like most vegetable soups, except hers calls for beef shanks. The shanks give the soup a flavor that is delicious, and simply reminds me of my mom with my first bite.

In Arizona, I have never had a problem finding beef shanks. All the grocery stores have them readily available. But for the past week, I have been on the lookout for these particular cuts of meat in Denver, to no avail. I tried a fancy butcher, but shanks are too plebeian for their customers. Not even Walmart had them in their showcase.

Yesterday morning I woke up and it suddenly popped into my mind: Eureka! Try the Asian or Mexican markets.

So as soon as I was dressed, I climbed into my new red car and drove to H-Mart, a large Asian market not far from our house. As soon as I walked in the door, I was hooked. I started in the produce department, where I couldn’t believe the number of kinds of chilies and cabbages being displayed. Onions of all sizes and shapes were offered. Fruits I have never tried, from jackfruit to durian; they were all interesting. (By the way, if you ask my half-Cambodian grandkids to name their favorite fruit, they will say a persimmon. I only recently tried one for the first time, and it was yummy.)

But where I really got lost in paradise was in the meat and seafood department. I simply can’t believe the kinds of fish and meat that is available. They had meat from every part of the animals, from the feet to the head and all manner of things in between. I wonder how one prepares a sheep head…..

Lamb’s head; it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

There were whole rabbits and whole chickens. There were more kinds of fish than I ever knew existed. There was a case full of dungeness crabs and lobsters, still alive and more active than I’ve ever seen at a grocery store. There were whole fish and fish filets and stomachs of fish and cheeks of fish.

The one thing that was a big surprise yesterday was the black chickens, an animal with which I was totally unfamiliar. I looked it up when I got home, and learned that there really are black chickens. I assume the flesh is the same color as a regular chicken, but the skin of black chickens is as black as tar….

Who knew?

By the way, they don’t lay black eggs; I checked.

I was able to find beef shanks with no problem. They were the most beautiful beef shanks I have ever seen, thick and huge…..

…..and I was able to finally make my mom’s vegetable beef soup…..

I was able to get home JUST before Bill dialed the police to report me as a missing person.

Like a Sock Hop

In yesterday morning’s news, there was an announcement that six of the Denver metro area counties have moved to all-clear on the COVID scale. This means that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or stay six feet from the person ahead of you or sitting next to you. From what I have been able to tell, everyone is being a little like the 12- and 13-year-olds at a school dance. No one wants to be the first one out on the floor.

I understand that some businesses are choosing to continue to require masks. I will follow their rules and will respect their decisions. I, too, am like the 12-year-old sixth grader who doesn’t want to blaze any trails. I was happy the other day when Ace Hardware had a sign on their door that stated if we are fully vaccinated, masks were no longer required in their store. I had my mask off faster than the roadrunner escapes from the coyote. Meep meep.

I could breathe. Some of the cashiers were wearing masks and some weren’t. Some of the customers were wearing masks and some weren’t. I imagine it depended on whether or not the person was fully vaccinated. Or whether or not the person was willing to take the leap. I sure was.

I have been told that there are at least three big stores that have lifted the mask mandate: Costco, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s. There might be others, but those are three that have been mentioned.

I visited Trader Joe’s yesterday. When I walked in the door, I noticed that everyone was wearing a mask, so I quickly put mine on. Throughout the store, people were masked. As I was checking out, I asked the cashier (who was wearing a mask) if they still had their mask requirement.

“Nope,” she told me. “If you are fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask in our store.” I immediately removed my mask, and felt just like I was back in grade school and had stuck out my tongue when Sr. Colista’s back was turned. But I kept it off.

I explained to Bill (who was with me and also took off his mask) that I felt it was my duty as a citizen to go without a mask when a business allows it. I feel compelled to be that first 12-year-old on the dance floor. He agreed. I considered burning my mask to mirror those efforts by feminists in the 1960s who burned their bras. I decided against it, however, in fear of burning down the one store that has lifted the mandate.

Costco may also have taken the big leap, but I will tell you that Bill and I were at Costco on Friday and there was not a bare face to be had. I guess it’s going to be a little at a time.

As for Walmart, I’m pretty sure the mask mandate is long gone. I just hope they keep the mandate to wear pants.

Little by little, we’re getting back to normal.

Evangelize

While I’m a cradle Catholic, my mother didn’t have a lot of religious items or decorations around our house. There was a crucifix in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Inside the crucifix were all of the necessary accoutrements for a priest in case there was a need for what was then called Extreme Unction (now called sacrament of the sick). As far as I can recall, that was the extent of our religious paraphernalia.

I went to Catholic school, however, and there was no shortage of statues and pictures and books and paintings of saints, sacred hearts of Mary and Jesus, the apostles, and such. From those pictures I learned that St. Peter’s beard was parted in the middle. In fact, I knew what all of the apostles looked like because I was very familiar with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

But in my 60-some years on this earth, I’ve never actually thought about the apostles as anything more than plastic statues or beautiful Carvaggio paintings, like this one I was lucky enough to see in real life while visiting Rome…..

The Crucifixion of St. Peter

This weekend was the feast of the ascension of Jesus into heaven. After spending 40 days with his friends, Jesus bid them farewell, telling them he had taught them everything they needed to know, and he would see them again sometime in the future. Later, Gators. And up he went, into the clouds. (Being a Christian requires a great deal of faith.)

On the Sundays following Easter, Catholics listen to the Acts of the Apostles — St. Luke’s account of life in the days following the resurrection. I love the Acts, and it’s my favorite time of the year, readings-wise. As I listened to the description of the apostles watching Jesus float up into the sky, I suddenly had this realization of just how scared they must all have felt. First of all, they are watching a man — their best friend — float away. They had spent three years following him around, watching him cure lepers and raise people from the dead. He had walked on water and calmed roaring sea waters. He had gathered thousands of followers. And now he was saying, “Bye, bye. I know you’re going to do great.” They must have been terrified. They didn’t know how to cure leprosy.

The apostles were real people. They ate and slept and got crabby and laughed at a good joke, just like us. But they were being given this amazingly difficult challenge. And on top of Jesus telling them to continue to build his church, they had to hide themselves to keep from being killed by the Romans or others who were pissed that they were leaving their Jewish faith for this new religion. How are we going to build this church if we have to hide out, I’m sure they were asking each other.

“Don’t leave us,” they probably said to the quickly-disappearing Jesus, although the gospels don’t mention that possibility. But they were human and they likely felt abandoned and scared as hell. But they managed to get it together, to push their cowardice aside, and go on to build his church, just as he requested.

As more and more people are pulling away from God, what seems to be left is us. Just like the apostles, I’m afraid of being responsible for carrying on our faith. Unfortunately, I’m not a saint, nor will I ever be a saint. All I can do is believe, follow my faith, model, and pray.