Monday, December 31, 2007

The Seventh Day of Christmas: Best Books of 2007

It was a very good year for reading for this Late B(l)oomer; I read more books this year than any other year since I began keeping records - eighty-two books, forty-seven of them fiction. That’s a much more balanced reading list than most of my previous years. Of the total number of books read, ten were rereads and I listened to twenty in audio format in the Saturn. I was surprised the list was as long as it was, since I did much more time-consuming painting. In considering my favorites for 2007 I eliminated any book read in a previous year, although some actually were among my favorites. The list was arbitrary; I chose ten fiction books, and ten non-fiction. These choices aren’t necessarily classics, but for whatever reason, I found them entertaining, informative, moving, or possibly all three. I tend to like books that are have strong narrative voices, interesting language, and complex characters. I want a book to take me somewhere new, to help me see the world through new eyes, to kick me up side of a head.

Ideas for my reading come from lots of places. My local book group of neighborhood friends is a source of titles, and often they nudge me to read books I wouldn’t have chosen on my own. Likewise, I belong to a couple discussion groups on AOL, and their wide and varying interests point me to lots of good books. Over the past year I have kept lists of books I read, as well as comments about them on a web site called Shelfari. That community of readers is generous with their comments and suggestions for titles to consider. Sometimes a book just jumps into my hand at our excellent local library.  The list I’d like to tackle in 2008 is probably longer than the time I have to read. But back to 2007.

Here goes. My favorite ten fiction titles were as follows (no particular order):

1. An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishaguro
2. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera
3. The Darling, Russell Banks
4. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
5. Falling Man, Don DilLillo
6. Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
7. The Gravedigger, Peter Grandbois
8. The Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins
9. Stoner, John Williams
10.The Summer Book, Tove Jonsson

Here are my favorite non-fiction titles:

1. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes, Awal Gawande
2. Isaac’s Storm, Erik Larsen
3. Log From the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck
4. Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
5. Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
6. Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson
7. Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson
8. The Amateur Emigrant, Robert Lewis Stevenson
9. The Golden Spruce, John Vallaint
10. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichel

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Sixth Night of Christmas

One of my favorite things to do with all the great snow is go out and look at the neighborhoods lit up at night. Whether illuminated by street lights or by Christmas lights, the snow is magical after dark. I'd love to do a better job capturing it in my photographs, but until then these snapshots will have to do.  The top picture was taken from my dining room window.  The bottom photo is of a neighbor's wonderful light wrapped trees.  I hope he knows how much pleasure they give on December's dark nights.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Happy Birthday

Me, 1951, at my grandparents' house in Elkhorn

Me again, on the farm, 1958

Today is beautiful. We received fives inches of snow that fell in fat puffy flakes all yesterday, and this morning the maples, oaks and pines in our neighborhood are wearing coats of white down.

It's my 57th birthday. The pictures are of my first birthday at my grandparents' house in Elkhorn, and of my seventh birthday at the farm. Today my aunt called to wish me well. A friend sent me an electronic card with kittens singing "Happy Birthday", and several others sent snail mail birthday cards. My husband gave me a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream (I love it in coffee); and I made myself a batch of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

I have never liked having my birthday fall between Christmas and New Year. Actually, I was due on Groundhog Day, 1951, but I came early. Mother says it was because she had a baby shower on December 28th, and she had to dig the car out of a snowdrift to get to the party. She went to the hospital that evening, and I was born after midnight. Anyway, my gifts were received all in one week, and the emphasis was always on warm clothing. Socks. Sweaters. Boots. Once I was old enough to have some say in it I usually had Mother promise not to wrap my present in Christmas paper, and I always had us move to a room without a Christmas tree for gift opening. Today it would be present enough to have her back to tell me the story of my early arrival one more time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Let it Snow Again

We're waiting for another snow storm here in southern Wisconsin.  My sister-in-law cancelled our holiday get-together, since we all needed to drive for an hour or so, and she feared accidents.  The television news says local road departments are deciding to cut back on salt usage, so as to conserve their supply until the end of the season.  My husband has covered the car, and we're settling in for a day of reading, painting and watching old movies.

I was thinking about how snow affected us on the farm in the 1950s and 1960s.  Dad could usually plow us out with the Ford tractor, equipped with a snow blade to make a path to the county road.  Sometimes if the drifts were especially high, the county plow would make a path for the milk truck. We had supplies, a freezer of frozen beef, all the milk we could drink.  But if the bulk tank couldn't make it to the farm, the milk would need to be dumped to make room for the next batch. I only remember us having to dump milk once during a bad storm.  The neighbor was in the same situation, and his wife, rather than completely wasting the precious milk, climbed into the tank and took a milk bath before it had to be put down the drain.  

Once I was in school getting out got interesting.  In grades one through four of elementary school I attended a two room school house, the same my dad attended, and my grandfather. There was no bus service, and it was too far for me to walk, so I usually went in the car or pickup.  I remember one snowy day, though, that Dad bundled me up, wrapped a knit scarf around my face, and I went to school on the fender of the tractor.  That was really exciting. After fifth grade I walked the quarter mile driveway and waited for the yellow school bus.  I was lucky because my grandparents' house was at the end of our driveway near the road, so I could wait in their breezeway, out of the wind.

We played outside lots when we were kids.  The photo shows us with one of our snowmen, covered in leaves and bits of grass.  We built snow forts by the barn, then hid in them.  My favorite thing to do was to slide on our dented up aluminum saucer.  We didn't have any hills, but there was a wooden chicken coop beside the driveway.  The plowed snow piled up by the coop so that if we climbed up on the roof, we could sit in the saucer, slide down the steep pitch, hit the banked snow, and then slide into the driveway.  I'm amazed I lived to grow up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Third Day of Christmas: Winter Monotypess

One of my current goals with my artwork is to learn to appreciate and paint snow scenes.  This is the ideal year for it, because southern Wisconsin has gotten more snow than I remember for quite a while.  All the folks who bought snowblowers, or who have been moping over their unused cross-country skis, are happy at last.  

For me, though, the fresh snow has gotten me out with my camera, and then upstairs in my studio.  My most recent efforts have been monoprints.  I don't have a printing press, so I'm limited to using a hand printing process.  Actually, I use an antique wooden doorknob to rub the back of my damp paper.  I get more of the original painted image on the paper than I do by simply rubbing with my hand, or with the back of a spoon.  I am also experimenting with scratching detail into the painted image.  I don't want to be too picky, but it seems to be a way to suggest branches or bits of snow.  The other thing that is happening with these winter images is that my colors have changed.  Generally I use lots of bright colors, but not in these scenes.  White, blue-gray, and the rusts of dry oak leaves are the colors of the day.  I hope to get a decent series of these local pictures.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Second Day of Christmas: Winter Photos

The day after Christmas was a beautiful one.  The skies cleared, and the temperatures were in the forties, so I got out of the house for a walk on the Springbrook trail.  The winter sun made long shadows on the snow, highlighting the tracks of deer, rabbits and birds who inhabit the green spaces of Janesville.  The water in the brook is crystal clear, and for me it was a  chance to appreciate winter's beauty before the next storm heads in.  If it does snow, I have some photo references to work on my snow paintings.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

1957 Gimbels Santa

These photos are of me and my sister on Santa's lap at the Milwaukee Gimbel-Schusters store (ironically now Macys), about 1957.  Have you ever seen such an awful Santa beard?  I'm sure I thought this was the real Santa item at the time.  I don't remember much about that day except the excitement of it all.  My grandmother and mother got us girls train tickets, and we rode from Elkhorn to downtown Milwaukee.  Gimbels had extravagant displays, and a toy department that was heavenly to a little girl.  I remember going to a movie on that trip, the 1957 re-release of Bambi.  I haven't had the nerve to watch it since.  All that remains in my dim memory is a cavernous movie theater, and the forest fire that kills Bambi's mother.  

This is still two years before my mom and grandma went to Milwaukee without us to shop for the hottest new toy, Barbie. Years later Mother told me that Grandpa was not pleased that we were getting the curvy doll instead of a more age appropriate Madame Alexander or Miss Revlon.  I wish I knew what happened to that number one Barbie.  I suspect her final resting place is our local landfill.  

One more story about 1957.  I was six, turning seven right after Christmas, and I still believed in Santa.  Maybe it isn't surprising, since I started school the next year (no kindergarten for me), and I was the oldest child.  There were no older spoilsports in my life, but I wasn't completely innocent.  I had my suspicions about those Christmas morning piles of Santa gifts. This particular year, though, something happened to make me believe a little longer.  We had a herd of dairy cows, and Christmas Eve they broke out of their fence and left Holstein hoof prints in fresh snow - that's what Dad told me much later.  When I looked outside that day, there was the evidence of Santa's visit, trampled snow around the farmhouse.  I believed for one more year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December Poem

On Turtle Creek, 8x10 inches, watercolor (sold)

Linda Pasten

The white dove of winter
sheds its first
fine feathers;
they melt

as they touch
the warm ground
like notes
of a once familiar

music; the earth
shivers and
turns towards
the solstice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No, There's More...

Just when I thought I had all the information about this chapter of my family history, Noel from The Skagit River Journal sent me two more newspaper clippings. It's interesting that while there is repetition, each clipping adds a little more detail. The email I received yesterday was a pdf file of the actual newspaper page, and off to the side the there was a little note about Judge Houser, who would have normally presided over the superior court, being admitted to a Port Townsend sanitarium, for tuberculosis, I'm guessing. Another thought I've had while reading these accounts is the emphasis on local color and the visual description of the proceedings. I imagine there were fewer photographs than in modern newspapers. Finally, I was struck by how quickly the entire process was completed, from the killing of Grandpa Adams in May, to the verdict at the end of June. It's hard to imagine such speed in the courts today.

The Mount Vernon Argus
, June 26, 1914 VOL.XXII


Before a crowded courtroom Matt Snyder was placed on trial Wednesday night in the superior court charged with the murder of L.E. Adams at Hamilton on the morning of May 24. Judge Pemberton of Whatcom county is one the bench in the absence of Judge Houser, who is ill. The case promises to be a hard fought one. People who attended the trial Thursday believe that the attempt to clear Snyder will be based on self defense.

Considerable delay was experienced before a jury was selected. Late Wednesday afternoon a special venire was made and the last member of the jury was selected early during the Wednesday evening session. Those serving on the jury are: Mrs. E.A. Griffin, Sedro-Woolley; Wm. Borland, Mount Vernon; Thomas Fortin, Mt. Vernon; Charles Johnson, Burlington; F.L. Hemingway, Sedro-Woolley; A.M. Pierson, Mt. Vernon; W.D. Gladwin, La Conner; D.M. Flaherty, Sedro-Woolley; James Dunlap, Mt. Vernon; Charles Wessen, LaConner; James Eagle, LaConner; Gorge L. Stendring, Mt. Vernon.

The Mount Vernon law firm of Shrauger & Henderson, and W.H. Morris, well known criminal lawyer of Seattle, are defending Snyder. Prosecuting attorney C.D. Beagle and Deputy Lester Whitmore, are representing the state.

A particularly large crowd of witnesses were on the stand Thursday, all of them called by the defense. The court room has been crowded to the doors since the beginning of the case. Many of those in attendance are friends and neighbors of the accused man. Snyder’s wife and child were in the court room yesterday.

Friends of both Snyder and Adams who were in town Thursday discussed the case at length in the corridors of the court house. Many think that Snyder, if he did kill Adams as alleged, was justified. Others differ with them, and in addition point out that his past record, said to be a bad one, will go hard with him.

The shooting which resulted in the death of Adams occurred May 24 in Hamilton following the return of Snyder and Adams from a circus in Sedro-Woolley. It is expected that Snyder, when he is placed on the stand, will say that Adams attacked him with brass knuckles, and that he called to his wife to bring him a gun that he might protect himself.

Mount Vernon Argus
, Tuesday June 30, 1914, page 1


Hamilton Man on Trial in Superior Court Liberated by "Not Guilty" Verdict Late Saturday Afternoon -- Sensational Murder Case Occupies Four Day Session-- Crowds of Up Valley and Local People Attended

"Not Guilty" was the verdict of the jury in the case of the State vs. Matt Snyder, who was placed on trial last Wednesday in the superior court, charged with the murder of L.E. Adams on the night of May 24 at Hamilton. Following the reading of the verdict by the clerk at 5:15 Saturday afternoon came some fo the most touching scenes ever enacted in a Skagit county court.

The attorneys in the case finished their arguments shortly after twelve o'clock Saturday, and at 12:15 the jury retired. They arrived at a verdict at 5:05, and as they filed into the court room, the crowds in the halls and in the nearby streets hurried into the court room to hear Snyder's fate.

Snyder sat at a table directly in front of the judge, his face downcast and his fists clenched. Stillness reigned in the court room as the bailiff conveyed the sealed verdict to the clerk, who upon instructions from the judge, read the findings that set Snyder free.

Snyder was upon his feet in an instant, making his way to the jury box, shook hands with every member of the body that acquitted him. The freed man was instantly surrounded by friends and neighbors who were jubilant over the verdict. There was hardly a dry eye in the group around Snyder.

It was some moments before Snyder could make his way to his wife who was waiting outside the railing. A moment after he reached her, his little son came running up. Clasping his wife with one hand and his little boy with the other Snyder exclaimed: "Come on, let's go home," and filed out of the court room surrounded by friends.

The Snyder case was tried with great dispatch. The securing of a jury began Wednesday morning, and completed at a session that night, when the trial itself opened. A large number of witnesses were examined, most of them called by the defense. Thursday and Friday were devoted to the examination of witnesses, and Saturday morning to argument by the attorneys.

Shrauger & Henderson and W.H. Morris, of Seattle, appeared for the defendant, while the state was represented by Prosecuting Attorney C.D. Beagle and Deputy Lester Whitmore.

The most damaging testimony in the trial was given by Bert Medford who claimed he was near Snyder and Adams when the fatal shot was fired. Another witness stated that he saw a gun in Snyder's pocket on the night of the crime as he lay asleep in the caboose on his way home from Sedro-Woolley. Attorney Morris exhibited a fountain pen and holder which he claimed might have been mistaken for a gun.

When Snyder was placed on the stand he testified that Adams had struck at him in a Sedro-Wooley saloon earlier in the evening. Snyder said that Adams claimed he had taken his job away from him which the former denied. Snyder said that he tried to get Adams to come back home that night, but that he refused. He did not see him again, he said, until he overtook him on the track near Hamilton.

Snyder stated that Adams attacked him in front of his home, and that when he was down, called to his wife to bring him a gun. He then fired the shot which killed Adams. Snyder says that at that point he lost consciousness. Snyder's face was in bad condition after his struggle with Adams. When Adams' body was found there were brass knuckles on his hands.

The case attracted great deal of attention. The court room was crowded daily.

Added 2011 - I found a bit more about Matt Snyder from Find-a-Grave. Matthew Daniel Snider (spelled this way on his grave stone) was born in North Carolina in 1879, and died in Skagit County in 1966.  Apparently he shot another man by accident in 1902, a fact that somehow never was mentioned in the papers.  His wife, who handed him the gun with which he shot Ed Adams, was his second wife, a woman named Anna Lee Moore.  The baby mentioned in the newspaper articles was Willard David "Bo" Snider, born April 1915, and who died in 2000.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Murder Mystery, The Final Chapter?

Your humble servant and his chums the 3 tallest Snake agents in Cascade Division - written on the back of an old photo

Edward Lemuel Adams, 1872-1914

The top photo here has always interested me. The man in back is my great grandfather, but I have no idea who his "chums" are. Is one of these distinguished looking men Matt Snyder? As I read over the text of the newspaper clippings that follow I wondered about a few things. My grandmother, Len's daughter, described a nasty head wound, which she remembered as made by a bullet, yet the article indicates Adams was killed by a shot to his side. Was her 10-year-old observation wrong? Perhaps the wound she saw was the result of their fight. I wonder too about the detail that indicates nobody was called until an hour after Adams' death. Why wouldn't somebody summon the neighbors or the police sooner? Wouldn't one of the neighbor friends who attended Snyder's trial have heard a gunshot? My other thought is the fuss the papers made over Snyder's children, the baby who was in the county jail over night with the mother, the six-year-old boy delighted to be reunited with his father after the trial. Len was divorced, but he was also a father left a young daughter who grieved for him for decades.

Here are the last two clippings my friend in Fairfield sent this week.

Mt. Vernon (Washington) Herald, June 25, 1914


Logging Engineer Charged With Killing L.E. Adams, In Court To Answer, Self-Defense To Be Set Up

Matt Snyder, charged with the murder of L.E. Adams at Hamilton on the morning of May 24, following their return from a circus at Sedro-Woolley, was placed on trial at the superior court yesterday. In the absence of Judge Houser, who is too ill to sit, Judge Pemberton of Bellingham is on the bench.

All day yesterday was spent in an effort to obtain a jury. At 3:30 yesterday the state had exhausted all of its three peremptory and the defense had two remaining. A special venire was necessary and six more Veniremen, two from each district, were summoned.


Indications are that the case will be bitterly contested. Snyder's defense will be handled by Attorneys Straughton & Henderson, assisted by W.H. Morris, a well known criminal lawyer from Seattle. Prosecuting attorney C.D. Beagle and Deputy Prosecutor Lester Whitmore will look after the state's interests.

While no statement of the case has been made on account of the inability to obtain a jury, it was given out yesterday afternoon that the defense would claim self-defense as a motive for the shooting which resulted in Adams' death at the hands of Snyder. The state will allege that Snyder threatened to "get" Adams as the result of an old grudge and this was the first opportunity to carry out the threat.


Snyder's wife and baby are present at the trial, as well as a large number of Snyder's friends and neighbors at the logging camp.

The shooting occurred at Snyder's home and Snyder and adams, both intoxicated, had engaged in a dispute. Snyder, it is said, will allege that he was attacked by Adams with brass knuckles, and that he called to his wife to bring his gun that he might resist the efforts of Adams to do him bodily harm. Both were logging engineers.

Mt. Vernon (Washington) Herald, Thursday, July 2, 1914 Vol. 31, No. 19


Pathetic Scene in Court Room Following Reading of Verdict -- "We've Got a Daddy Now"

Matty Snyder, charged with the murder of L.E. Adams, walked from the courtroom late Saturday afternoon a free man, Snyder's wife and babies and friends from the logging camp crowded close to the white faced man and wept and laughed hysterically, while Snyder, tears rolling down his face, grasped each juror by the hand and tried hard to express his appreciation.

Where there were many who were not in sympathy with the findings of the jury, the big crowd of spectators was visibly moved when Snyder's little six-year-old boy ran to his side and cried: "We've got a daddy now."


The meeting between the accused man and his wife following the adjournment of court was pathetic, with arms outstretched the little woman who said she gave Snyder the gun with which to shoot Adams and who stood by her husband during the trying times that followed his arrest, ran toward him as he arose from his chair, and the two stood silent in a long embrace.

Snyder gathered up his clothing in his cell in the county jail, and after a conference with his attorneys, set out for Hamilton and home in an automobile driven by a friend who said he had brought it down before the trial began so as to be ready to take Snyder home.

The case was keenly contested. Snyder's defense was in the hands of Attorneys Shrauger & Henderson and Will H. Morris, the latter of Seattle.


While admitting that he shot Adams, Snyder contended that he did it to defend himself from an attack made on him by Adams with brass knuckles. The two men had quarreled repeatedly before they engaged in a fight in front of Snyder's house on the morning of May 24 following their return from a circus at Sedro-Woolley. Snyder had been placed on a run which Adams thought belonged to him on the logging road. Both men were locomotive engineers.

Snyder testified that when Adams got him down and commenced beating him with brass knuckles he shouted to his wife and asked her to bring him his revolver. It was dark, and before Adams could prevent him from getting the gun Snyder said he seized it from the hand of his wife and shot his assailant in the side. Adams died soon afterward.

The state laid great stress on that fact that it was hardly probable that Adams would permit Mrs. Snyder to give her husband the gun if he had such an advantage as claimed. Prosecutor Beagle also pointed out that Mrs. Snyder's failure to notify the neighbors until over an hour following the shooting made the circumstances seem arranged. Evidence was difficult to obtain on both sides and all who are familiar with it admit that Prosecutor Beagle had an extremely trying case to handle.

Snyder declared emphatically that justice had been dealt out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Still More of a Murder Mystery

postcard image of a logging train

It's Christmas card time, and my most interesting mail came from Fairfield, Washington. One of my grandmother's cousins, who has been looking through microfilm of old Skagit River area newspapers, turned up two more articles about my great-grandfather's shooting in 1914. These clippings send me scurrying to the internet to search for more, and while I haven't found anything about Grandpa Adams, little by little a picture of the area at that time is emerging. I learned, for example, that two kinds of entertainment for men in the Hamilton, Sedro-Woolley area in 1914 were visiting the saloons (this is just six years before Prohibition), and attending the circus. Saloons in logging towns provided a place to socialize, play cards or shoot pool, drink, smoke, and often they were the location of the only public toilet in town. Evidentally the Al Barnes Circus visited the area yearly, complete with acrobats, a freak show, and a menagerie of wild elephants. In 1922 a huge elphant named Tusker escaped from the same circus and rampaged downtown Sedro-Woolley. That's another story. One writer, describing the logging town suggested that it resembled the town in the film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. These tid-bits are helping me form a mental picture of the time and place in which my great-grandfather lived and died.

Here is the first article.

The Mt. Vernon (Washington) Herald, Thursday, May 28, 1914.
Vol. 31, No. 14


Matt Snyder, a logging engineer in the employ of the Hamilton Logging Company, shot L.E. Adams, also a logging engineer, to death about 1:30 o’clock Sunday morning following their return from a circus at Sedro-Wooley where both became intoxicated and started a quarrel. Both men are old in the service of the company and both are well known in the Hamilton district. Snyder has a wife and baby and the wife says she handed her husband a gun with which to kill Adams after Adams had thrown Snyder to the ground and was beating him with brass knuckles. The tragedy occurred in front of the Snyder home in Hamilton.

The two men had been on bad terms for some time, owing to a disagreement over their work, Adams thinking he was entitled to the train run which had been assigned to Snyder. When they met at saloons in Sedro-Wooley Saturday they had words and continued to quarrel until the tragedy occurred on their way home the next morning.

Mrs. Snyder and her baby accompanied Snyder to the county jail and spent a night in jail with him. She was held temporarily but later released, Prosecutor Beagle having no fear that she might try to escape.

The shooting was not reported to Superintendent Lyle McNeil, of the Hamilton company camp, until an hour and a half following the tragedy.

Snyder will be tried at the June term of court when 20 other criminal cases will be heard.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sugared Butter Pecans

My day started with an email that struck me as just foolish. I usually appreciate health tips and announcement of special hours and so on from my health club. But this one was about food and the holidays. It suggested there should be no Christmas treats in my house, and that if I was foolish enough to make some, I should drink many glasses of water and chew sugarless gum. Maybe I should put my fingers in my ears, squeeze my eyes shut and say "naw, naw, naw." I know they mean well, but I picture Puritans in black hats with pious looks sentencing me to a month of bread and water.  Making and sharing and eating holiday treats connects me to my friends and family, is a part of tradition, and it makes these short dark cold days happier - even if my jeans become a snugger.

That said, here is my beloved recipe for Sugared Butter Pecans. It's from the Zonta Club, when I bought a bag of their fund-raiser pecans, years ago. Every year I tear the place apart looking for this recipe. I package up the finished pecans in little tins and use them for gifts. The recipe has lots of sugar and fat, but it also has nuts, which are probably better for you than, say, fudge. According to the National Pecan Shellers Association, pecans are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Good, and good for you (not counting the sugar and butter).

Sugared Butter Pecans

1 lb. pecans (about 4 cups)
1 cup sugar (sometimes I add a dash of cinnamon)
2 egg whites
1/4 lb. butter (one stick)

Toast pecans in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Stir so they don't burn. Cool the nuts. Beat the egg whites until nearly stiff. Add the sugar to the egg whites, then put the pecans into the egg/sugar mixture. Melt butter in the bottom of a shallow pan (I use a cookie sheet). Pour the coated nuts into the pan. Bake at 350 until the butter is absorbed, 15 or 20 minutes. Stir. Store in a glass jar or airtight tin, if they make it that far. Note - This year I was short of pecans so I made up the difference with almonds. They're good too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Icy Beauty

We have been lucky compared to places like Oklahoma. The trees here in my neighborhood didn't crash down on houses and electrical lines, the power stayed on. That said, it has been quite a while since I remember so much snow and ice before Christmas. People are out shoveling, scraping, picking away at the ice on their sidewalks and driveways. I'm too cowardly to walk down the hill to the library because walkways are so slick and uneven.

Yesterday, after I complained about the cold and dishwater skies, the sun came out and lit up all the ice encased tree branches and telephone wires. For a few hours the effect was magical, sparkling, squint inducing. I took my camera out to try and capture some of it, but didn't come close to getting the true effect. I shuffled along on the icy sidewalks, mindful that a spill might break more than my camera, eyes looking cautiously toward the overhead tree branches. Every so often a crack split the air, and a shower of icy shards of ice fell out of the branches. These photos were the best I took.

Today we're back to dishwater, and the magic has disappeared.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recent Efforts

It has been ages since I remember so much snow and ice here before Christmas. Every other day we have more brown slush, white snow and blue sprinkles of de-icer on top. Yesterday we got the edge of the icestorm that hit Oklahoma, and all the schools closed, anticipating the worst. The view from our house is uniformly pale and dim, a study in gray. At seven this morning it was dark enough for me to need the hall light on to come downstairs.

The way I'm dealing with this dreariness is to work in bright colors. I have an idea to do a series of monotype prints that feature black and white animals, and bright backgrounds. I've experimented with several papers, masa paper, watercolor paper, and now Strathmore drawing paper. After I pull the image I go back with colored pencil. The effect is rich, I think, combining the texture and intense color of the print with the softer color of the pencils.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Some Recent Sketches

For the past few months I have participated in an online sketching group called Everday Matters, and have made an effort to draw their weekly challenges. I'm never, ever caught up. Of course they started a couple years before I joined, and I face an apparently impossible self-assigned job of drawing every challenge. That isn't the point of the group, I know. The point is to draw as often as possible and to realize that ordinary objects in our everyday lives are worthy of being sketched.

I have a tendancy not to draw from life. Readers here already have seen my whining about being nervous when people watch me draw. Heavens, I admire other people's loose and breezy travel watercolors! Some day I'll be able to do them myself, but not yet. The first two pictures here are of the sketchbook work I did on our Thanksgiving week in Jamaica. It worked out well for me, because I was able to draw some things from the privacy of our room, with its balcony and comfortable chairs. At the beach I had to work fast, but so many people were reading or asleep that they were unaware of me with my sketchbook. My new Moleskine probably could have just as easily been a diary, I suppose. I gave up trying to do watercolor sketches on this trip for a couple reasons. First, it involves hauling the materials around, even though I have a very small case with a tiny set that works fairly well. But the kit itself draws attention, and the other reason is I don't really want a crinkly warped page in my sketch journal. So, I've been concentrating on pen and ink or pencil.

The drawing of the tree was rendered from a photo I took up in Door County. I photographed this tree with its wonderful horizontal branches and textured bark at The Ridges environmental sanctuary. Lately I have been combining colored pencil with my graphite work, and I'm liking the combination. In fact some of my favorite artwork has been done in this very small format. Part of me like a little book of detailed drawings like this, and part of me knows if I'm going to do detailed work I should probably do it bigger.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Happy Birthday Mom

Carol Ann Tess was born December 8, 1930, youngest daughter of Howard and Bernice Tess. She graduated from Elkhorn High school in 1948, attended college in Milwaukee for a year, then married her high school sweetheart, Ralph Pierce, in 1949. She raised three children with him on a dairy farm in Sugar Creek, me, sister Patricia, brother Dean and my youngest sister Mary Carol.

In 1983 after five years of illness, Ralph died of cancer, and not long after Mary was hospitalized beginning twenty years of poor health that ended in her death in 1999. Carol lived with her, cared for her all those years. In fact she nursed sick people all of her adult life, starting with grandparents, then her husband, her youngest daughter, her mother, and finally herself. In 2004 she passed away at home in her apartment after years of heart and lung problems.

Carol would have been 77 today. I find it sadly ironic that my mother, who was just twenty years older than me, is getting this little entry for a birthday present. For so many years when I was teaching, this was a busy and difficult time of year. Between trying to keep students interested and learning, and trying to get ready for Christmas with all the card writing, cleaning, cooking and shopping that entails, I rarely had time for more than a congratulatory telephone call, and a greeting sent in the mail. Now that I have time to spend, she isn't here. She didn't fuss over birthdays, although she never forgot them. We always got cards, little gifts, telephone calls. She wasn't offended that her children didn't throw her a party every year, and in fact the last ten years or so of her life she was often ill with colds or pneumonia in the winter. She used to talk about her 11th birthday, the day after Pearl Harbor, about how awful it was, and how that birthday slipped by forgotten in the terrible news of the day. I tried never to forget. Anyway, happy birthday Mom. I miss you.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Today turned out to be a cow day. I had a "to do" list like many folks, little errands around town. One job was to go to the Janesville Performing Arts Center and photograph my Holstein monoprint. I entered three pieces in a recent Art League show, an although I didn't win a prize from the judges, I did sell my first piece of artwork. Wouldn't you know it was one that I forgot to scan before I had it framed. So, I went down and took a photo to remember my first sale. This is shot at an angle because the reflection of my flash hid part of the image. Anyway, I was excited that somebody liked it well enough to buy it. Now I need to do a few more, since I had a series of animals planned for an upcoming show.

One other stop around town took me to Utzig's body repair shop. Since a fender bender last winter, I am on their Christmas list. All I had to do to be entered in a drawing for a gift certificate was to answer some questions about It's A Wonderful Life (What were the names of Goerge's children?), and drop the answers off. So since they're such nice folks, I drove my beautifully repaired car over there. Then I remembered, they are the folks who gave Janesville's giant fiberglass cow, Bessie, an extreme makeover. I asked the receptionist if she could be viewed and was assured I could visit the famous cow in back of the shop. The last time I saw Bessie she was faded, peeling, with graffiti sprayed on her Guernsey hide. She had a bullet hole, for pity sake. But now she is repaired, repainted, and resplendent in a coat of white snow and two fresh evergreen wreaths on her horns. When the new Menards is finished she'll travel back across town to her permanent home. If you want to read about her makeover you can check this address:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Keeping Warm

I'm am trying hard to adjust my attitude about winter. My whole life I have hated being cold, even though as a child I played outside building snowmen dressed in dried leaves and twigs, dangerous snow forts, and searching for a pond somewhere on our 120 acres that wasn't too rippled for skating. Winter always meant chapped skin, fingers and toes aching with cold, and long series of respiratory ailments that seemed to last from December first until April. Of course when I was little we didn't have miracle fibers to wick away moisture, or insulated boots to warm toes. Our snow boots were the pull on rubber variety, good only to keep our shoes dry from winter slush. To keep me warm Mom piled on layer after layer of coats, hats, mittens, boots and scarves. She was a believer in scarves. We'd be wrapped around the mouth and nose, and eventually the moisture from our warm breath would grow a patch of damp frost over our faces. By the time I was old enough to ride the school bus I wore glasses. The warm breath that escaped upward from my scarf fogged my specs on the walk up our rural driveway, temporarily blinding me. The other reason I hated waiting to be picked up was that my vanity prevented me from wearing slacks under my dresses. School dress codes demanded that girls wear skirts, and the winter wind was cruel on my legs. I had a drawer full of tights and knee socks, but somehow I always froze.

These pictures show my aunt Ellen in a little knit snow outfit, and me in one of my snowsuits. The first photo is from about 1929. Even though there was no snow yet, Grandma obviously dressed her oldest child well for cold weather. I love all those little buttons, though they must have been miserable on a squirmy toddler. The other photo is me, about 1951, outside our trailer in my grandparents' back yard. I wonder where the scarf went?

These days I am grateful for all the new fibers that keep me warm in a house with the thermostat set low. And since I don't need to get up and shovel in the early dark anymore, and don't have to worry about how to stay warm and look professional at the same time, I am trying to learn to see the beauty of our Wisconsin winters. Now, if folks would just shovel their sidewalks...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Madison's Holiday/Christmas/Solstice Tree

This weekend my husband and I traveled to Madison to see a matinee at the Madison Rep, a thought provoking play about Vince Lombardi. Much to my husband's surprise, I suggested the trip. It was a surprise because those who know me best, know my profound lack of interest in sports in general, football in particular. But back in the Lombardi days, when we had four television channels and my dad controlled all of them, I watched the Packers every Sunday afternoon, rejoiced and grieved every week along with my family. Lombardi seemed like a person I actually knew. So sure, I wanted to see the play, which for the record, I enjoyed very much.

Before the play we took a stroll up to Wisconsin's beautiful capitol building. It is the centerpiece of Madison's downtown, and just last Friday the governor and his wife attended ceremonies for the lighting of the state's "holiday tree." It stands in the center of the rotunda, resplendent in LED lights and ornaments made by Wisconsin school children. A model railroad encircles the base of the tree, which this year was donated by the Menominee Indian Nation. It's cool. It's tall, packed with glitter and love, and it smells really good.

Continuing up a flight of stairs to the first balcony to see the top of the tree better I was startled to see a substantial sign from the Freedom From Religion folks, stating their position that religion is not reasonable and that it hardens people's hearts. They persuaded lawmakers in the 1980's to change the name from the State Christmas Tree to the State Holiday Tree. Meanwhile, recently the state Assembly considered changing the name back to Christmas Tree. As far as I know, no decision has been reached, though I understand heated words have been exchanged.

Well gosh, I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of difference to most people who wander into the rotunda to be wowed by the beauty of the decorated evergreen. I was raised by folks who didn't attend church very often, but got into the spirit of the time with a tree, cards, food and presents every year. I didn't know anyone who believed anything different until I went away to college, more once I started teaching. But I never ran into anyone who had it out for the Christmas tree. One principal suggested we hold off putting up a tree until the last minute to avoid "fever pitch" in our middle schoolers, but nobody ever suggested we not put one up, or mandated what name we gave it. If lawmakers are afraid of hurting someone's feelings by calling the giant spruce a Christmas tree, I can live with Holiday tree. If people want to admire it as a Solstice tree, lighting up December's dark days, dandy. What I hope people can do is put aside their personal agendas for a few weeks, and do what they can to promote peace and good will.

BTW, I found nice clear instruction for making paper snowflakes, something I have messed up every year, until now:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let It Snow - Cookie Time

Resolved, now that I don't have to leave for work in the dark, and clear the car of snow while trying to remain dressed up and professional looking, I will try to see the beauty of snow. The first snow of the season happened while we were gone, and then it melted right away. I was maintaining denial and keeping a pot of yellow pansies alive by the front door. But then yesterday I sent the pansies to their reward and went to the garden center for an evergreen wreath. That must have done it, because you can see the results piling up on my front steps. The other photo is of a tin that originally held Christmas cookies, though later Mom used it to store buttons, zippers and other sewing notions. I liked the graphic, so when she died I snatched it up. It still has buttons and zippers in it, though I rarely sew. I keep it because it reminds me of her.

I'm currently avoiding sugar and most carbs, but I thought I'd share the recipes for the Christmas cookies my husband loves best. It's rough, because I like to bake, but I should not have sugary treats in the house. Still, even looking at these recipes puts me in a holiday state of mind. I see that all four recipes are in the shapes of little balls; I hadn't noticed that before. Anyway, they're all easy and taste tested. You could store them in a nice tin, out of sight but probably not out of mind.

2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla (or almond) extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease two cookie sheets. Cream the butter and add the egg and extract. Stir in the dry ingredients. Form the batter into balls the size of a walnut and place on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cool just a little on a wire rack, then roll in powered sugar. These are so buttery and delicious with a cup of hot tea, I cannot tell you.

Brandy Balls
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tblsp. cocoa
2 1/4 tsp. light corn syrup
1/2 cup brandy
Combine everything and form into balls. These get better as they age. We Wisconsinites love our brandy, especially when it's cold outside. If you like rum better, use that instead.

Date Balls
1 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups chopped dates
2 Tblsp. milk
Combine and cook over low heat until thickened. Then stir in:
2 tps. vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup chopped nuts
2/3 cup coconut
Form into little balls and store in an airtight container. This was my husband's mom's recipe.

Sugar Plums
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dried figs
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup coconut
3 Tblsp. orange flavored liqueur
Finely chop apricots, pecans, figs, raisins and coconut in a food processor. Add liqueur. Stir together. Shape the mixture into 1" balls with your hands (it gets sticky). Roll each ball in some granulated sugar. Store in an airtight container in the icebox for up to a month. Actually, they're fine stored on the counter too.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Murder Mystery, Part 3

Grandpa Adams and his engine

The man from the Skagit River Journal of History and Folklore who is helping me research my great grandfather's death sent me another bit of the puzzle. It came in the form of a photocopied clipping from the May 14, 1914, Mount Vernon (Washington) Argus.

Little Baby Snyder Laughs and Coos in Jail While Father Waits Trial on Murder Charge.

I went down to the jail last night to get the story of the killing of Ed Adams by Matt Snyder at the English Camp near Hamilton last Saturday night. And I walked in where the mother was nursing a six months old baby girl of the "killer" and the soft, sweet little angel put out her tiny hand and grasped me so I couldn't and I wouldn't get away. I didn't want the story of one who killed Adams; I didn't want the story of why Adams was killed; I wanted to take that pure sweet innocent baby out from the bars and bolts of jail and let her spread the sweet influence of infancy upon the whole lot of us sophisticaed men of affairs who are really respected.

There was a circus in Sedro-Woolley.

People came from miles around.

Saloons are operated in Sedro-Woolley by common consent of the best citizens.

Matt Snyder got drunk.

So did his friend, Ed Adams.

They went home to Hamilton together.

A trivial matter brought on a quarrel.

The quarrel brought on blows. From blows a killing resulted and a jury must say whether the "killer" was justified or must spend his life in a prison cell.

Let the verdict be what it will, there is still a little cooing babe close up against its mother's breast that loves every human being that comes within its touch and yet must bear the everlasting stigma of a drunken father's act.

He may be guilty.

His wife may have acted rashly in handing him the weapon.

The little blue eyed babe is still cooing in a cell in the Skagit county jail and the state or county or city that licensed the father to kill must answer to that baby if they can.

In addition to this florid bit of reporting (a temperance editorial?) , there was a short quote from a biography of Matt Snyder that his granddaughter wrote:

"During that time he got into a drunken argument and shot a man to death. There was a trial ad he was acquitted on the basis of self-defense. Matt was not a very big man, but Nam (grandma Anna, Matt's second wife) said in later years, that after the trial nobody ever fooled around with Matt Snider again."

Indeed. I wonder if my great grandmother kept clippings of the death of her first husband. I wonder if she felt vindicated in leaving him, sad, or perhaps a bit of each. I'm sure that the publicity must have been humiliating to the woman so proper she wouldn't be seen out in daylight while she was pregnant. I wonder if she ever missed him.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thanksgiving at the Beach

I haven't posted here in a while because we decided to spend Thanksgiving away from home. Our parents are all gone and we have no children, so we booked a flight to Jamaica. We've been there before, but in the past our schedule was tied to my teaching. This time we were able to escape the most crowded days, and get off season prices.

We like the Grand Lido Braco resort. The last time we were there was in 2000, and we had nothing but happy memories of clean and pleasant rooms, friendly staff, delicious food and drink, and the beautiful blue Carribean. My husband loves to bake on the beach, and I like to find some shade and read and draw. At first I thought we had made a mistake returning on the off season. Monday through Wednesday were rainy and windy, making eating, drinking and playing Scrabble our most frequent passtimes. I did work out and get a manicure, but the wind on the beach made lounging there unappealing. To add to our displeasure, our room leaked. Water ran down the shaft of the fan, showering out on our bed. Water ran down the walls pooling on the tiled floors, making walking trecherous.

The resort had no control over the weather, but we hoped we'd get better accommodations. Sure enough, we were moved to a nicer room, perfectly dry. The same day the wind died down and the sun began to shine. We were able to swim and work on our tans, and we were thankful for the last little bit of warmth and sunshine before we had to return to wintery Wisconsin.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Poetry Sunday

Patty Sue, about 1956

This is my next youngest sister, probably about 1956. Mother always bundled us up within an inch of our lives; I imagine if the poor child fell in the leaves she'd have a real problem getting back up.

It's fun sometimes to look in the background of these old pictures. Behind her is the old outhouse. When we moved into the farmhouse, and our grandparents built a new house at the end of our long gravel driveway, my parents had plumbing put into the house. Because it had formerly been a bedroom, our bathroom was larger than most. But even though we had indoor facilities, we kept the outhouse for years. When I was in college the youngest siblings donated it to a homecoming bonfire. I guess it wasn't that decorative anyway.

I like this little poem, even though the poet has an unfortunate name.

November Night
by Adelaide Crapsey

Listen. .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Current projects

I am thankful that I have so many old family photos. I enjoy looking at the faces of people who came before me, and trying to discover, or imagine, what their lives were like. One of the saddest things to me is going to antique stores or my favorite consignment shop and seeing unidentified family photos for sale. Who were these people? Who loved them? What were their lives like? One motivation I have for posting some old photos on this blog is to memorialize my family members, because people are not really gone until nobody remembers them any more.

With those thoughts in mind, I have been trying to find ways to use scanned my scanned photos and documentation in art projects. I've always confined myself to watercolor painting and graphite or pen and ink drawings, but lately I've been experimenting. The altered post card is one example. I like the old postage stamps, and the handwriting, so I try to leave some of that showing. The example here has a skeletonized oak leaf (a messy project), doily, some stamping done on foam plates, and a photo of my great grandmother and an unidentified friend. I'm playing with this format and finding it very interesting.

The other project I have been working on is a personal shrine. This is really a departure for me. I have never worked 3-D, except for an ill-fated carving project I did in college. I used the directions in a book entitled Crafting Personal Shrines: Using Photos, Mementos and Treasures to Create Artful Displays by Carol Owen. I did the simplest one, using foamboard and rice paper as a base. The decorating is the fun part. I wanted a shrine, a little house of memory, dedicated to my late mother. Her birthday is coming up December 8, and I wanted to remember her in a special way. I have all sorts of things in this box, sewing paraphanalia, love letters, postage, quotes, a paint brush, a memorial card. It isn't done. I still keep trying out new items to include, and it needs a roof and a base. But I'm happy that I started something new that incorporates my family into my art.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Murder Mystery, Continued

Great grandpa Eddie Adams is on the right

Edward Lemuel Adams, 1912?

I never know what surprises the day will bring. I received a package in the mail recently from one of my grandmother's cousins with another piece of the puzzle that is my great grandfather, Lemuel Edward Adams. I recently wrote about the difference between the story my grandmother told about her father's death in 1914, and the obituary clipping I found in a family reference book from Fairfield, Washington. I had written this kind cousin, a man who is a much more diligent researcher than I am, enquiring about what he knew of Len Adams' death. He sent some new to me photos and two interesting clippings.

The first is from the Spokane Spokesman Review from May, 1914.

"Logger Charged With Murder"
Mount Vernon, Wash., May 25.--
Matt Snyder, a logger, of Hamilton, is in the county jail here charged with killing Edward Adams, a fellow worker, late Saturday night.

The second is from the Aberdeen World, and it reveals a bit more. It also raises more questions.

"Logger Slays Comrad"
Quarrel Ends Fatally -- Wife Hands Husband Deadly Gun.
Mt. Vernon, Wash. May 25 --
Matt Snyder, a logger of Hamilton, is in the county jail here charged with killing Edward Adams, a fellow workman, last Saturday. Adams is said to have attacked Snyder with brass knuckles, and the latter shot his assailant with a revolver handed him by Mrs. Snyder.

Oh my. I can well imagine why my grandmother, who was ten years old, wasn't told all the details of her father's death. But I wonder, what really made Len bring brass knuckles to a fight? Why was he working at the logging camp and not as an engineer? What happened to Matt Snyder, who evidentally was defending himself?

The search continues.