Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Club: In the Garden of Beasts

Our most recent read for our neighborhood book club was Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. The book is set in 1933 when William Dodd, a scholar, becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany. Larson chronicles the year that becomes a turning point in history -- Hitler is the newly appointed chancellor and few in Germany believe his government will endure.

I had picked up the book at Costco and skimmed through it for research purposes before our group selected it. What better inspiration for fictional antagonists than real-life monsters? I did begin reading the book more thoroughly but I was sidelined by family events, so I assessed it based on my cursory perusal.

From my personal perspective:  In follow-up to Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, I read her Hugo Award winning Blackout/All Clear pair of books set in World War II London during The Blitz. The  Oxford historians in Willis' books visit London during The War to conduct research, already aware of what was bombed when and the end result of the conflict. The "contemps" (contemporaries) of course know none of this and live from day-to-day just as we do in our own lives. Reading Larson's book was similar. He had access to letters and journals written in 1933 by people living in the moment with no knowledge of what was to come. Which of course creates tension for the reader. Knowing the Titanic was sunk only makes you that more anxious to learn the outcome of the characters (real or fictional).

So -- knowing the result of Hitler's rise to power with the henchmen who rode his coattails -- it was remarkable to learn that so many people thought that Germany was undergoing a thrilling rebirth and revival of spirit. The German people turned their heads and chose not to see or comprehend what was really happening. The stories of brutality and repression were "exaggerated" or "isolated incidents." The foreign press was blamed for misrepresenting Germany. If an American visitor was beaten for not giving the "Hitler salute" it was the result of a misunderstanding. The official U. S. government stance at the time was the German oppression of certain citizens was a domestic matter and none of our business.

We discussed how this could come about in Germany and whether it could it occur here. The U.S. and Germany of the period had such different psyches. Ours was one of rugged individualism and Manifest Destiny. The Germans had a much smaller, densely settled nation that was culturally and socially regimented. Germany had also taken quite a beating following World War I and it was probably no wonder that the people tightly grasped at indications of recovery and prosperity while ignoring the negative. We hoped our system of checks and balances would prevent any one branch from dominating our own government (read Fletcher Knebel's Seven Days in May for a thriller about an attempted U.S. military coup).

What surprised us was the animosity between the members of Hitler's inner circle. I have to admit, we are all of an age when history was taught as a series of dates and events. We've had to learn "the good stuff" outside of school. This book delivers on the juicy, insider revelations. Hitler's mesmerizing pale blue eyes. Goebels' chilling "smile." Goring's costume of the hour. And not a one of the inner circle was a tall, handsome, blond Aryan. Go figure.

Our second surprise was Martha Dodd's loose morals. The petite, blue-eyed blonde socialized with the Nazi elite, had numerous affairs, left behind a secret marriage in the States, and was the object of a potential match for Hitler. Why she wasn't considered a liability we did not comprehend. We interpreted her rock star lifestyle to be a danger not only to herself but the Amercian diplomatic mission in Germany. How did her staid parents let her carry on in such a manner?

The saddest part of the tale was Dodd's failure to complete his book on the American Civil War. His life's goal and ambition was never realized. The ambassadorship in Germany proved to be anything but a quiet and easy assignment that would allow him to work on his book. In addition, we were repelled by the good-old-boy culture of the State Department where someone as intelligent and conscientious as Dodd was criticized.

I have to say that -- the more things change the more they stay the same. In 1933 the world was struggling with the Great Depression and out-of-reach economic recovery. The immigration issue of the day was the influx of Jewish refugees competing for jobs with Americans. Anti-Semitism was rampant and openly displayed.

Most of all, we were amazed by the volume of research conducted by Larson. His end notes were often as fascinating as the narrative. Because of or in spite of the level of detail he provided, the book remained a page turner and never bogged down. Granted, most of us were fascinated by Martha's antics. But the insider observations of history's most notorious villains was fascinating given our 20/20 hindsight.

Definitely not a "light" read given the subject matter and knowledge of what followed. But  an interesting perspective on a pivotal year in world history!

Our next book is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. I read this one ten years ago but I am again loving Atwood's descriptive writing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Stills: The Letter "B"

"B" is for bit.

Experiencing a stressful August, so I took snaps of the handiest subject I could come up with.

To see more interpretations of "B" visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Tough Mother

Gert Boyle of Columbia Sportswear fame.
Columbia Sportswear had a humorous ad campaign featuring former CEO Gert Boyle testing the durability of their products worn by her son (the current CEO) under bizarre circumstances. It was known as the "One Tough Mother" campaign and Boyle borrowed the title for her autobiography.

Well, Gert Boyle has nothing on my mother. One week ago today, after two falls and a broken hip and finger, one of the many physicians who saw her in the hospital told me the best case scenario was to get her home on hospice care. In fact, my mother was released from the hospital today to a nursing home for rehabilitation.

Lydia after her first tumble of the weekend.
Lydia fell on August 6 when her slipper caught on the linoleum of her bathroom floor. She did a face plant that immediately resulted in a huge knot on her forehead (the EMT said she looked like a Klingon), a broken finger, and bruised ribs. I called 911 and she was taken to the emergency room where she was scanned and x-rayed and miraculously pronounced good to go home with a splint on her finger. The running gag, of course, was "What's the other gal look like?"

Then the next day my mother took another fall in the living room and this time she broke her hip. For so many seniors this is the beginning of the end. Usually the surgical procedure goes well -- it's the pnuemonia, infection, stroke, heart attack or other complications that bring down the person. We had already been told by our doctors that my mother was not a candidate for surgery. Given her heart condition it was likely she would not survive general anesthesia.

I was terrified. As soon as she fell and said she was sure she had broken her hip, I was afraid I'd lost her. In the emergency room the break was confirmed and she was admitted into the hospital. Given her existing health issues, the options were to bring her home without surgery for hospice care to keep her comfortable; or attempt surgery with only a 20% chance of survival. One choice offered no opportunity for recovery to resume a semblance of her prior lifestyle. The other option at least provided some chance, no matter how meager.

My aunt and I opted for surgery. My mother's primary care physician concurred, knowing my mother was a fighter and that I was fully aware of the risks.

The orthopedic surgeon, of course, was all for surgery. Although he did outline the risks. The anesthesiologist met me with an astounded expression on his face. He was not at all confident that my mother would survive the surgical procedure. I acknowledged the risks but my aunt and I stuck to our guns. At least give my mother the chance.

Surgery began around 6:00 p.m. on the 8th. The more time that passed without someone emerging with bad news, the better. After a couple of hours the surgeon appeared to say all went well. No problems. It was a "boring" surgery -- in a good way. When the anesthesiologist caught up with me, he said my mother sailed through without a hitch.

However, recovery was another issue. In ICU they had to intubate my mother and place her on medications to raise her blood pressure. It was touch-and-go on the 9th.

Then gradually and steadily, my mother improved. The doctors who didn't know her visited the ICU with amazed expressions. Our two cheerleader physicians beamed with each stage of recovery. My mother wasn't out of the woods yet. The breathing tube had to be removed, and the blood pressure medications reduced. Would she be able to maintain oxygen saturation and adequate blood pressure on her own?

As one cardiologist expressed it, my mother "flew" off the blood pressure medications following removal of the breathing tube. Twice daily physical therapy sessions began immediately. She was transferred from ICU to a regular room at the hospital. My mother made her first exit from the bed with the aid of two therapists and a walker, and spent 3 hours sitting upright in a chair.

One week after I was advised that the medical chart indicated she had little hope of ever recovering -- my mother walked 30 feet using a walker under the supervision of a single physical therapist. And she was released from the hospital to begin rehabilitation.

There is still a chance of serious complications, but medical tests and examinations don't measure attitude and determination.

So -- move over Gert Boyle. I've got one tough mother!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Stills: Macro or Extreme Closeup

Eggbutt French-link snaffle bit on hunter bridle.

Fox hunting scene on white plate.
The bit and bridle belonged to my little chestnut mare. The plate was my grandmother's. What I love about the plate (in addition to the picture) is my grandmother's name written on the back in grease pencil. Obviously she took it to a potluck at the Grange or elsewhere.

Visit Sunday Stills to see up-close creative visions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Stills: Sunrises or Sunsets

This is "sunrise" from our deck -- the sun peeking through the Douglas firs behind our neighbor's house. It is well into mid-morning before the sun actually rises above the firs. ;-)

To see sunrises or sunsets from elsewhere, visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Barn Shopping

Not me. But friends and their barn buddies.

The owner where I previously boarded Phantom made the difficult decision to change from a full care facility to a self care barn. As a result, most of the boarders have made the equally difficult decision to relocate their horses. Sadly, those jobs that pay for our horse habit don't usually fit a self-care schedule.

So my former barn buddies compiled their lists of "must haves" and "would be nices" and started perusing the metro area. Although Oregon's land use planning laws can begin an argument at the drop of a spotted owl feather, it does mean equestrian facilities are still relatively accessible for urbanites/suburbanites lacking acreage. Still, the selection process can be stressful when seeking safe and affordable accommodations with the amenities desired (turnout, covered arena, trainer in chosen discipline, trails, etc.). Based on my sources, it seems most everyone involved in the current change has located and secured stabling. Whew.

However, any barn shakeup (whatever the cause) is traumatic. There is the change in routine. You know where everything is as well as the daily schedule. The move may require a change in professional services (trainer, shoer, vet, etc.). The car knows the way to the barn. Most significantly, a barn shakeup usually results in the separation of a close-knit group of boarders and students.

A bad barn shakeup can mean hurt feelings and the permanent end to friendships. Not to mention a loss of business. I've been known to duck behind cover at horse shows to avoid running into folks from barns past when the parting of ways didn't go well.

However, I've also been delighted to unexpectedly encounter prior barn buddies when out and about.

That's the message I have for my former barn buddies who are in the midst of change. Yes, your cohesive group seems to be scattering to the winds. But you will make new friends at the new boarding stable. And best of all, you will retain the friendships of your former barn buddies. Your circle of equine friends is growing!

My former barn buddies have presided over a statewide equestrian organization, started a successful equestrian clothing business, completed their education, married and begun a family, become grandparents, etc. And I can always say I knew them when....

How cool is that?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Off But Not Off

I've been dealing with girth galls the past month. Periodically Phantom's string girth rubs a spot but a few days later he's back in action. This time, however, each time I tacked up after the spots started to heal, the girth rubbed them again. And that occurred on the longe line before I even got on. *sigh*

So I went through the check list. Same girth, same saddle. I stretched Phantom's legs to prevent wrinkles under the girth before snugging it up. I did change saddle pads to one that's a little thicker. And Phantom (and herd buddies) plumped up on the new grass in their pasture. So I went back to a thinner pad -- without success. I noticed horses at the dressage show wore their girths in the approximate location of the illustration above, but on Phantom my saddle rests such that the girth lays right behind his elbow. Problem is, my mutton-withered little Arab is so short coupled there is nowhere else for the saddle to settle.

I decided to try a longer girth to raise the buckles above his elbows. I was positive I was using a 24" dressage girth so I ordered a 26" string girth online. When it arrived I took it to the barn only to discover I was already using a 26" girth. Duh! So I went back online to order a 28" string girth. I used it last Friday and it seemed to do the trick. The buckles are now located above Phantom's elbows and it's long enough that I can leave a smidge more room between elbow and girth. I'm not yet considering it a success. We'll see what happens today.

The whole thing began with Phantom appearing "off but not off" on the longe line. Not head-bobbing-limping lame. Just a barely perceptible shortening of his left front leg. Hmmm. Same thing in the saddle. A little off but not really off, a tendency to scramble at the trot when pushed, but a normal stride at the walk. Then when I got off and removed the saddle I found the culprit. Not as serious as an abscess or lameness issue, but still troublesome and enough to give Phantom some "vacation" time in July.

So, I'm hoping he's on the mend. Not that I'm doing much with my riding of late anyway. But saddle time is saddle time and, as Winston Churchill said (or thereabouts), the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man (or woman!).